DRAMA therapy may not be a familiar concept to many people.
But to Melinda Alfred, who won the Miss Tobago Heritage Personality competition on July 21, it can be a virtual life saver in helping the troubled, depressed and others who may have experienced traumatic experiences.
Drama therapy is defined as the deliberate use of drama and theatre processes to achieve therapeutic objectives. Regarded as an embodied approach that is both active and experiential, drama therapy provides a forum for participants to tell their stories, set goals, solve problems and express feelings in a congenial, non-judgemental environment.
Come September, Alfred, 20, will begin studies in social work at UWI’s Mona campus in Jamaica. She intends to combine her love for the field with her passion for acting.
“I have decided that I want to merge social work and the performing arts, to help people work to overcome over trauma. I want to merge them to create something like drama therapy,” Alfred told WMN at Goodwood’s Yam Festival and Ole Time Market, which returned to the Tobago Heritage Festival on Tuesday after a six-year absence.
“Drama therapy is an innovative approach that offers holistic and creative platforms for healing and personal growth.”
She believes drama therapy will also enable teachers and others in the education sector to engage fully with students who learn differently.
“It could help persons to identify those who are having challenges with the way we teach in schools as well as in detecting problems with students who may be perceived as rude, mischievous or have a low attention span.
“The creative space can help persons to be more relaxed and comfortable, helping them to communicate fully within their environment.”
The Signal Hill Secondary School alumnus is also hoping to raise awareness about the benefits of the performing arts in social work settings and to educate people about the potential of this approach in promoting healing and well-being.
In hindsight, Alfred told WMN she benefitted immensely from drama therapy some years ago. But little did she know then it would provide the emotional foundation she needed to enter the Miss Tobago Heritage Personality competition.
Growing up in Canaan, Alfred said she faced several challenges, which her cousin, Kimmi Potts, a technical production officer at the Tobago Festivals Commission and well-known cultural performer, enabled her to overcome.
“I live close to my cousin whom I look up to and she is very versed in the culture. She was and still is my role model who has taught me everything that I know and it is because of her that I have this love for culture.”
Alfred recalled while Potts was studying, she had organised a workshop as part of her course work in which she brought students in the community together to learn about Tobago’s heritage.
She said the experience was enlightening.
“We did dances and created folk songs. Going through that process was the platform that I needed to meet where I am right now.”
Alfred said Potts, a former Miss Tobago Heritage Personality queen, encouraged her to enter the competition.
Up until that point, the Canaan resident said she had never thought about entering a pageant as “I consider myself more of a performer.”
But after some prodding, she said, “I decided to come out of my comfort zone and follow in her footsteps.”
Now, Alfred, who represented Delicia’s Dance Agency in the competition, is hoping to use her platform as pageant titleholder to help cultivate a greater appreciation for Tobago’s cultural heritage among the island’s youth.
She said she intends to pursue this initiative with the help of a few friends.
“As it pertains to being a cultural ambassador, my friends and I actually talked it out and we said that we want to create something that helps younger children in Tobago to be exposed to the culture as well as use the performing arts as a way to help them to come out of their comfort zone and learn and show interest in the festival.”
Alfred does not subscribe to the view that young Tobagonians are not interested in the island’s culture. Rather, she believes many of them either do not know or were never sufficiently exposed to it. They’ve already started brainstorming about introducing colouring books and other material for toddlers and primary school students.
“Let the story books tell Tobago’s story about our history and folklore.”
In Alfred’s opinion, story books have traditionally focused mainly on Trinidad’s history as opposed to Tobago’s.
“We are not saying that Trinidad history is bad but why are we learning about Trinidad alone and not Tobago, where we live?”
In the meantime, Alfred said she continues to do her part to promote the island’s heritage.
As an actress, she has portrayed Carnival characters and performed monologues with THETA (acronym for Transforming, Healing and Empowering through the Arts), the Tobago Academy for the Performing Arts and other groups.
In fact, Alfred won the talent category of the competition with a monologue about Jane Lovell, a Ghanaian slave, who, along with many others, toted fire bricks from Mt Irvine to Mt Pleasant to construct the St Patrick’s Anglican church.
Her recycled wear gown, Bricks of Power, was also inspired by Lovell’s life and those of enslaved Africans.
Alfred said she became a member of the Delicia’s Dance Agency a short time ago. The agency’s CEO Shervelle Williams is a family friend and dance teacher at Signal Hill Secondary School.
She said she joined the agency to grow as a performer.
Since winning the competition, Alfred said she continues to receive love and support from family, friends and well-wishers.
“My experience so far has been filled with large crowds of persons gathering around me.”
She has also gained insight into the various components of the heritage personality competition as well as aspects of the island’s heritage.
During Charlotteville’s Natural Treasures Day on Monday, Alfred and THA Chief Secretary Farley Augustine, with bamboo in hand, led a lively procession from historic Fort Campbleton into the seaside village. She said she enjoyed chipping down the hill, dancing the cocoa and learning about the washing of the dead bed at the river.
“I am actually really thankful for this opportunity and the ability to grow in my culture and learn more about my heritage.”
Alfred, who volunteers with the Tourism and Environmental Sciences Club, said her life has been enriched by her experience in the pageant.
“I think my victory represents growth. Everything I did on that stage grew me as an individual. I came out of my comfort zone and learnt new things about myself.”
Recalling the obstacles she encountered in the run up to the show, Alfred said nothing comes easy in life.
“There were times when I didn’t think anything good was going to come out of me just being caught up in my mind. But I just needed the people around me to continue to push, guide and comfort me. It showed me that perseverance is really the key to success.”