NO more sadness, but joy and celebration. This was the common bond that united the people who assembled at Queen's Hall in St Ann's on Thursday night to remember veteran local actor, director and producer Raymond Choo Kong.
Choo Kong, 69, was stabbed to death at his home at Green Street, Arima on Monday.
The memorial celebration began at Queen's Hall with comedienne Nikki Crosby and co-host actor Conrad Parris setting the tone for the proceedings.
"We are not crying tonight," Crosby said to the applause of the large audience.
Chairman of the board of Queen's Hall Dr Helmer Hilwig recalled that Choo Kong was the "master of improvisation," with an uncanny ability to “localise” foreign plays and get "lots of laughter" out of anyone. One such person was former president Noor Hassanali, who, Hilwig said, fell off his chair laughing during one of Choo Kong's performances and sent his bodyguards into a panic.
Choo Kong's passion for theatre was reflected in his efforts to find venues at a time when theatre space was scarce. Hilwig said Choo Kong used a lot of his personal resources to create the Space Theatre at Bretton Hall in Port of Spain. He was sad that Choo Kong's life did not have the happy ending of many of his plays.
"You deserved better. Thank you for your vision and your leadership."
Community Development, Culture and the Arts Minister Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly said Choo Kong's death was " a great loss for our country." Choo Kong represented hope and an inspiration to many young artistes, she said, and that was why she was happy Choo Kong had agreed to be part of the ministry's Mentoring with the Masters programme.
The audience was amused as Gadsby-Dolly had some difficulty finding a quote on her cell phone to read to them. While searching for it, Gadsby-Dolly said she felt as if she was doing comedy. The audience laughed when someone in the crowd told her: "But you don't know the lines."
When she found the quote about Choo Kong, Gadsby-Dolly said, "Love doesn't die. If all that's left is love, then give the rest of me away."
Parris read a speech from actress Sonya Moze, who won some of the first Cacique Awards with Choo Kong in the 1980s. Moze said she could not come to grips with the brutality of his death, and described him as "just brilliant."
Ellen (Helen) O'Malley Camps said she had been friends with Choo Kong for over 40 years, and remembered serving shots of frozen vodka to him and other local actors before performances in the Trinidad Tent Theatre.
She asked the audience to close their eyes and capture a vision of Choo Kong in their minds. They laughed when Crosby said her image of him was wearing a “wife-beater” shirt and with a Chinese chopper in his hand. Recalling some people thought they were related, Crosby said she felt as if she "lost a dad" when Choo Kong died.
Penelope Spencer and Cecilia Salazar performed an excerpt from the play Mary Could Dance, which Choo Kong directed. At the end, they each recalled many personal memories of Choo Kong as a friend, actor and director.
Spencer said it still hurt her a lot to know how Choo Kong died. She was grateful for the outpouring of love and support coming not only from people who knew him but from the wider population as well.
"We are his legacy, she said, and in the artistes who were inspired by him, she said people will see "shades of Raymond from now to eternity."
Salazar said Spencer and herself were just two of the actresses who played Choo Kong's wives on stage in various plays.
"We will be the Merry Widows of Raymond Choo Kong," she declared.
Reflecting on Choo Kong's life, actor Wendell Etienne said, "We lost a gem." He echoed the statements of previous speakers that the love for Choo Kong in Queen's Hall showed his legacy will endure.
Several times during the evening, video clips of Choo Kong were played on a large screen on the stage. In these clips, he reflected on his time in the theatre and spoke of how he wanted to give something back to the country's young people.
The audience was also shown photos of Choo Kong with his family and close friends and from his various performances over the years.
Choo Kong's funeral takes place next Wednesday at the Santa Rosa RC Church, Arima.