What's the Question: Lilliput, Noble Douglas companies explore how children fared in pandemic

The Lilliputians –drama intermediates and seniors during rehearsals for their upcoming show, Question. Photo courtesy Maria Nunes -
The Lilliputians –drama intermediates and seniors during rehearsals for their upcoming show, Question. Photo courtesy Maria Nunes -

After two years of being away from the stage, the Lilliput Children's Theatre and Noble Douglas Dance Company are set to entertain audiences with the live show, Question.

Lilliput Children's Theatre’s drama director Wendell Manwarren said the show will be a mix of drama, dance, and a type of spoken word. It is based on a piece he wrote for a previous show and asked the questions who, what, when, where, why, how and what if.

He explained that the children are encouraged to keep journals which touched on a number of topics. So he took what they wrote, put it together and created a script.

“It’s a sequence of pieces they have created that I have strung together and then the dances are placed in between.”

Some of the topics include: Who started covid19? Why war? And if I could, I would.

“One of the things that comes across very strongly is the impact of them being away from their peers for two years and the sense of isolation they felt. We also deal with the impact of social media on their real-life socialisation.

“It’s funny. It’s full of curiosity. And hopefully by the end of it everybody should be asking themselves more questions.”

He added that it is important to allow youths to process what they have been through.

“I think we need to take a lot of this onboard because we want to know about school violence and other things not going right. Children have been affected tremendously by that two-year lockdown.

3canal singer and Lilliput Children's Theatre’s drama director Wendell Manwarren in the midst of his students. Photo courtesy Maria Nunes. -

“But you can’t just sit down and talk to children. You have to give them outlets to express themselves creatively whether through sports or drama, dance or music. These things have the power to transmute energies. Let them channel it into something. I think we would all benefit positively from it.”

Manwarren, who has been working with Lilliput for about 25 years, said he loves children’s honesty. He said children process things, have feelings and opinions on events and situations, and it is his job to get them to tell a story.

“Sometimes when they speak their truth, most times the adults are not ready for it and we shut them down. We also come from a culture where asking questions is not necessarily encouraged.”

He said TT’s culture is for children to be seen and not heard, and adults often tell them they are asking too many questions even though children are curious by nature.

“And then when we get big and can’t express ourselves, we want to know where that come from. When we want to cuff down one another instead of having a conversation, that stems from being told, ‘Hush yuh mouth. Yuh talking too much. Yuh is ask too much questions. Yuh to fass.’”

Manwarren told Sunday Newsday the pandemic has affected both Lilliput and the show.

Performer Camryn Cunningham during a dance class at Lilliput Children's Theatre. Photo courtesy Maria Nunes -

He said about 150 children used to participate in the annual show but this year there were 19 children between the intermediate and senior classes as well as five juniors.

He said Lilliput tried to “bridge the void” with online classes but it was difficult to teach dance and acting online, especially to the junior students who are as young as three years old. The older students who were more experienced with the sessions and exercises continued online and then in person as classes resumed in September 2021.

As a result, Lilliput combined with the Noble Douglas Dance Company Inc (NDDCI) as Douglas, who founded Lilliput with the late Tony Hall in 1975, is the artistic director of both companies.

He added that classes will begin again in September and Lilliput will continue to offer theatre arts including acting, singing, moving to children ages seven to 18, and modern dance to children ages three to 18.

“There is a strong element of them knowing themselves, having self-awareness, knowing where they are, where they’re from, and our cultural heritage.”

Also, when the company puts on productions or its mas band, interested children assist and learn other elements of theatre including costuming, set design and choreography.

Also performing in Question are a mother and her two children.

Denise Dickson-Cunningham and her son Asa Cunningham, 18, will perform together in a group dance choreographed by Dave Williams while her daughter, Camryn Cunningham, 17, will be performing in drama pieces.

“The dance focuses on a lot of shapes, working together and a melding of bodies.”

Dickson-Cunningham was one of the actors in the local TV drama No Boundaries and has been dancing since the age of six. She started learning ballet with the Caribbean School of Dancing and moved on to modern dance with NDDCI in her early 20s.

Dancer Asa Cunningham will perform together in a group dance with his mother in Question. Photo courtesy Maria Nunes -

Ten years ago, she stopped dancing to focus on getting a master’s in agriculture with the Australia Institute of Business but has been serving on the board of the Noble Douglas Lilliput Foundation For The Arts. This year, she has returned to the stage to perform in Question with her son in his last performance with Lilliput.

Asa, a student of Fatima College, has been dancing with Lilliput since he was two and is an apprentice with NDDCI.

“I’m excited to dance with my mom because this is the first and probably the last time I’ll dance with her.”

He dances in several styles including hip hop, afro beats, dancehall, soca, island hop, folk and modern, and plans to continue doing so in the future. He also plans to further his education in project management in the hopes of applying his knowledge to the arts.

“My family is in dance and I grew up practising it. It’s always just been part of my lifestyle and it comes naturally. I can’t help it. Whenever I hear music the first thing that comes to my mind is to dance.”

Camryn, on the other hand, will be performing two dynamic spoken word-type pieces, one solo and one duo, sharing her reflections of the past two years.

She has been with Lilliput, dancing since the age of three and doing drama since age 11. She also sings and has performed musicals with Lilliput and recently sang with the Holy Name Convent choir at Fatima’s Gift of Blue and Gold concert in December 2021.

This year at Lilliput she decided to focus on drama since she genuinely believes she is better at it than dance although she has won dance competitions with the group, Holy Name Convent Bomb Squad.

“I love the expression of drama on stage. I would love to be able to experiment with on-camera acting but I haven’t gotten to that yet in my journey. But I love how dramatic we can be on stage. We get to be out of ourselves and nobody is embarrassed because it’s a safe space. We just get to be out there and pretend to be something we’re not and address social and political matters, anything really. We just get to express ourselves.”

Camryn also wants to pursue a career in performing arts doing drama, dance and singing.

Question will take place at Queen’s Hall, St Ann’s on May 14 and 15 from 6.30 pm.


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