LAUGH and cry does live in the same house, according to a local saying, and in many ways this now applies to man of the theatre, Raymond Choo Kong, who is destined to be remembered first for the laughter he gave us and then his shocking death.
Many have blazed a trail within the TT theatre fraternity, but Choo Kong was one of few figures who attained national prominence. It is a testimony to his work ethic that no matter how critics viewed his plays, he was one of a select few thespians who became a household name. His became synonymous with a particular brand of theatre – farce. He was larger than life.
What is particularly traumatic about Choo Kong’s death is how it has come at a moment when he seemed poised to offer so much more. On the day of his death, he was due to mentor a class. He was also involved in LGBTQ activism through the staging of another production for the ongoing PrideTT festival.
Choo Kong was a true son of the soil, one who grew up in Arima. He attended Arima Boys’ RC School and then the Arima Government Secondary School.
His complex ethnic background is not often appreciated. By his own account, his father was of Chinese descent, his mother a mix of Venezuelan, Spanish, Carib and black lineage. The family ran a laundry; and even as Choo Kong established himself in the world of theatre, he still lived in the district where he grew up.
“I have always had the kind of personality that made me feel that eventually I would end up on stage,” he once said. “I’m a people person. I tend to like people. I tend to observe people. A lot of the theatre is about people and communication.”
Yet, though it would come to define him, Choo Kong’s career in theatre actually came about by accident. A friend was auditioning for a Derek Walcott play. He went along and was spotted. Ten years followed at Helen Camps’ Tent Theatre.
Over the decades, Choo Kong’s own productions, which saw him amass an astonishing 18 Cacique Awards, implicitly made the case for theatre as a regular part of our cultural life. They kept actors employed. At times, though, Choo Kong was driven to openly advocate on behalf of culture.
“Not everybody in difficult areas is going to want to play sports,” he once argued. “Being involved in the theatre, in the arts could be very rewarding, even if you don’t stay in the arts. The fundamentals of a good actor are the fundamentals of a good person.”
On occasion, he would look back wistfully at his own life.
“I think about whether I have done enough in my life as a person,” Choo Kong said in 2014. “I am satisfied.”