Local theatre actors struggle during pandemic

Wendell Manwarren of 3Canal agrees that the local entertainment industry has taken a real hit from the pandemic.  Photo by Sureash Cholai
Wendell Manwarren of 3Canal agrees that the local entertainment industry has taken a real hit from the pandemic. Photo by Sureash Cholai

Globally, the entertainment sector has been one of the hardest hit by the pandemic.

Although vaccines have begun rolling out worldwide, second and third waves of infections plus vaccine shortages have delayed the reopening of the sector.

New York mayor Bill de Blasio plans to have the city fully reopened in July, with Broadway (the theatrical district in midtown Manhattan) reopened by September. In TT, the situation seems not as hopeful.

On Thursday the Prime Minister imposed further restrictions in the wake of increasing infections. For some theatre practitioners, this means yet more “agonising uncertainty.”

Veteran actress Penelope Spencer has not been on stage in nearly a year and a half. Spencer said it has been very tough for actors and other theatre practitioners during the pandemic.

All theatres and performance spaces were closed even before the Prime Minister extended restrictions on Thursday, she pointed out. This struck the fraternity a hard blow, as it is the only way many earn an income. “We were really disturbed by that. The amount of artistes in TT now that have been affected by covid is sad.”

A collective of arts associations representing entertainers and members of the creative and cultural sectors questioned a decision by the Health Ministry to selectively ban certain public gatherings for entertainment or concerts in a media release on April 23. Spencer said she can now understand the decision, with the rising cases.

She pointed out, though, that theatres have been following all covid protocols and “there was never a theatre closed down because of an outbreak or anything.” She added that it was really sad that artistes are paying the price again, as usual.

The one-off $5,000 cultural relief grant given to creative artistes last year is “gone now,” she said. “There are other artistes who did not get it and they are still in limbo waiting for it,” she added.


She said many artistes have also lost their jobs and some, who would work in the food industry or other industries to make supplemental income, have also lost that with recent restrictions.

“But now they are out of job and out of pocket for three weeks,” she said. “It is very hard right now.” Spencer hopes TT can recover, but says the theatre sector will need the help of corporate TT to do so.

Spencer, fellow actress Cecilia Salazar, Nikki Crosby and entertainer Rodell “Ro’dey” Cumberbatch were set to début their live show called Threesome Funsome this weekend. Now it has been postponed because of the latest restrictions.

ON HOLD: Local actresses Penelope Spencer, left, and Nikki Crosby in a scene from their stage play, Ladies' Room. Such plays and other theatrical productions have been on hold for over a year thanks to the pandemic. 

But Spencer plans to host the show virtually, since, “I am not going to let it keep me back, because I can’t sit down and wait on nobody. So we are going to do a virtual presentation as soon as this restriction is let up,” she said.

She also hopes when restrictions are lifted, Government and other bodies would rent out theatre and performance spaces at a reduced cost.

Actor, director and singer Wendell Manwarren also recognised the blow the entertainment sector has suffered because of the pandemic. In a phone interview on Friday, he said it has been hardest hit because the nature of what theatre practitioners do involves working closely with people and having audiences.

Manwarren is also part of the local performing trio 3canal, which also manages the performance venue Big Black Box on Murray Street, Woodbrook. He added that it has been hard, as the space too depends on people and activities.

Although he too acknowledged the cultural relief grant, he added that by no means could it sustain a person for six months, much less a year.

But while it is hard for them and many others, he understood that TT as a country is in a precarious situation with the recent spike.


For theatre practitioners it is hard to plan and commit because the sector does not know what situation it is going to be in. Manwarren said the biggest thing the sector and anyone faced now was what he termed the “agonising uncertainty.” When we look at all the factors, we are in this for a long haul, so something have to give.”

He said in other countries of the world there have been several bailouts and direct interventions. “I understand our economic picture is not what it used to be, but by the same token, how do we measure the cost of the lockdown versus the cost of the economy and the cost of people’s livelihoods and the cost of people’s sanity down the road?”

He said any decision taken right now is not going to be a popular one. “I find a lot of people have become relaxed with how they deal with each other. I think if we all take a little more precaution, we could beat the spike, which is really preventing us from moving around with each other and really going to affect the economy.”

“When we get the spike down, we will see what is the next step.” But going forward will not be a one-sided thing. “The whole economy is what we have to look at and we are part of the economy. And I think that is not taken on board sufficiently,” he said.

A HIT TO THE GUT: Local theatre artiste Cecelia Salazar who said the latest public health restrictions were like a hit to the gut.

Salazar and Spencer hosted virtual events last year. Both said that it was very difficult to generate income from virtual events. Further restrictions announced on Thursday, felt to Salazar, like a hit to the gut.

“But we are getting back up, and we have been saying we have to go virtual with it only.” Salazar’s upcoming virtual show with Spencer, Threesome Funsome, has a few sponsors on-board and the organisers still hope to do the show virtually and live.

“Maybe it is a whole new paradigm. Long ago, you would do your show live and then show it virtually. Now you do it virtually and people would be dying to see it live,” Salazar said.

She said live performances would now become something rare. While many wait to see what happens next with covid19, Salazar believes entertainment is essential since with people facing economic or health stress, TT must still be able to laugh and find safe enjoyment wherever and however it can.


"Local theatre actors struggle during pandemic"

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