N Touch
Friday 17 August 2018
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Finding our voice through art

Excellent production. Fantastic. Relevant. Should be shown all over TT!

These were some of the responses received from our first showing of Eintou Springer’s I-Hyarima at NAPA yesterday, put on primarily for schoolchildren in the lead-up to the main performance in October.

Michael Cherrie, renowned local actor, made the point that the production celebrates one of the first heroes of our country, who stood up against oppression and decimation of his peoples. Cherrie encouraged the young people to draw on the lessons from the play, and use their creativity to resist attempts to silence their voices.

These reactions are welcome, but they raise the question: how do we sustain the euphoria and positive energies once the show is over? The idea of sharing the work with young people and nationals across the country is a good one, but how do we get there? How is it going to be funded? And perhaps more importantly, how can productions like I-Hyarima be integrated into the curriculum, using Theatre in Education to assist with developing critical thinking and support other, more standard subjects?

It is not that the value of arts to academic and personal development is questioned. Studies consistently find that “drama in schools significantly increases teenagers’ capacity to communicate and to learn, to relate to each other and to tolerate minorities, as well as making them more likely to vote…”

Culture and the arts teach other important skills such as time management, budgeting, developing people skills and self-discipline. Artists must work hard to produce excellent work and fine-tune their natural talent; the script and choreography also must be meticulously researched. Lighting, sound and set must all work together as a cohesive unit.

Yet, the more we work and interact with young people and communities, the more we recognise that there is still a great gap between art as practised by people in the field, and art as integrated into society. Education is perhaps the most glaring example, but tourism is another area where we continue to miss opportunities to make a difference from a developmental or a diversification perspective.

We speak of wanting to develop tourism so that it will become a viable economic alternative, but there seems to be little innovation, little understanding that the only way we can stand out in a very competitive industry is by making the most of our vibrant arts, culture and heritage. So, for example, Pitch Lake, Maracas Beach, the Red House, Woodford Square all have important stories that are part of their history and legacy — yet we rarely go beyond the surface when we explore these places.

Further, we have yet to see serious links being made across the disciplines of tourism, culture and the performance arts, not just as essential aspects of teaching about who we are, but towards creating a viable, alternative industry.

As we work towards putting on the other shows, it is our intention to continue to touch and inspire young people to learn about who they are through creative outlets. After the actors leave and the lights are turned off, we go back into the trenches with communities. At this stage in our growth, our nation needs to find its own voice. Artists and cultural practitioners have an important role to play in that process, as by raising our voices we empower others to step out of their own silence.

The applause is welcome, but what will really make a difference is sustained intervention with our youth, using the arts as the medium and tangible recognition of our value as the driving force.

Dara Healy is a performance artist and founder of the NGO, the Indigenous Creative Arts Network – ICAN


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