Facing homelessness for months after its former headquarters was put up for sale, the Trinidad Theatre Workshop (TTW) hopes once again to reinvent itself at a new location in Port of Spain. Tomorrow at 3 pm, the iconic, nomadic theatre reopens its doors to the public for a fundraising event.
Back in February, the workshop’s home of 13 years was put up for sale with little warning. A Facebook post from an estate agent announced the sale of the building on Jerningham Avenue, Belmont. It quickly circulated and was met with some consternation by people who had followed the company’s history – indeed, by anybody interested in the arts.
The sense of finality deepened just a month later, when its founder, Nobel laureate Derek Walcott, passed away in St Lucia. Though he had been long estranged from the company, the histories of both Walcott and the TTW remain inextricably linked, and this apparent eviction, coinciding with the passing of its original creator, sounded, to many, like a death knell.
What was to become of the theatre?
The answer materialised in September when the TTW moved to a government-owned building at 6 Newbold Street in St Clair, formerly home to the Schools Feeding Programme and the Police Youth Club, which was procured for a nominal $10 rent a month. The show will go on.
Meanwhile, the 100-year-old Belmont house, TTW’s from 2004 to 2017, remains on the property market, offered by a US-based architect for $2.3 million and, according to its agents, Guillen Realty, “in need of a lot of work.”
On the eve of a meet-and-greet fundraising event (open to the public tomorrow at Newbold Street, from 3-10 pm) Newsday caught up with TTW veteran and artistic director Albert Laveau to talk about the move and the future of the grand old theatre company.
“I was instructed by the (Property and Real Estate Services Division) to take a look at the building,” Laveau says.
“I had previously asked them to give us back the Old Fire Station (now part of the National Library complex), where we were for about ten years, from 1989 to 1998, but they said that’s not available.
“Almost exactly one month later, Derek Walcott died, and we thought it would be nice to make a home for his work at the TTW, as a tribute. So I dashed around to the building that was going to be our home – and found water running through the building, wires torn out and all that kind of thing.”
The company asked for funds for refurbishment from the Ministry of Public Administration, which Laveau still hopes will come through, but he was advised to take the building as he found it. “You’ll work it out,” they told him.
With only a small space to stage plays, the committee will have to use its ingenuity.
“We can do small-cast productions with an audience of about 30,” says Laveau. “And there is a space outside, where I hope the government in its wisdom will allow us to put in a theatre.”
In the meantime, the space is to be used in a similar way to its original intention – as a workshop where classes can be held. Raymond Choo Kong has already booked three nights a week into December, to train young actors and rehearse with casts for forthcoming productions. Then, during the Carnival period, beginning around mid-January, the TTW’s first comeback shows will take place: a series of performances by Lord Superior.
The TTW has had something of a nomadic life. Established in 1959 as the Little Carib Theatre Company, it was evicted from its first home by Little Carib founder Beryl McBurnie by the mid-1960s and found shelter in the basement of the Bretton Hall Hotel. Then in the 1970s, in Laveau’s words, it “drifted from one living room to another,” using founding member Errol Jones’ home, the Catholic Centre and the zoo pavilion, among other temporary shelters, before moving to the Old Fire Station, then Kiskadee art gallery on Rust Street and, latterly, the colonial-era gingerbread house on Jerningham Avenue.
Whether Newbold Street becomes a permanent abode depends on the government. For now, the TTW has a five-year lease, allowing its committee to focus on creativity rather than the property market. Laveau’s vision is to “deepen and intensify the relationship between the TTW and the Trinidadian.”
TTW’s only surviving founding member, Eunice Alleyne, who preceded Laveau by a couple of years, says she’s simply “happy that at last we have a home of our own. We’ve been a flagship for so long in Caribbean theatre, but never had our own place.”
Alleyne added that although there are “still huge obstacles to clear, hearts are in the right place and we just need the support.”
The new building needs around $250,000 for repairs, some of which TTW hopes the government will stump up and some it will seek from corporate-sector sponsorship.
You can do your bit tomorrow at the TTW’s “informal lime” by buying food, drinks and donating what you can in return for performances by a line-up of entertainers.