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IGNORANCE OR INSULT?: Former Dir. of Culture blasts Tourism Min. over Broadway talks

Bethel laments anemic investment in local theatre

NASSAU, BAHAMAS — Former Director of Culture Dr Nicolette Bethel rejected suggestions the federal government was trying to Broadway to develop the local theatre industry as deeply offensive when state investment amounts to roughly 4 percent of ongoing efforts.

Minister of Tourism and Deputy Prime Minister Chester Cooper told ZNS on the sidelines of a tourism mission in New York that he was excited by talks with Front Row Productions founder Stephen Byrd and partner Alia Jones-Harvey about bringing a theatre festival to The Bahamas. 

His comments come because the 14th season of the international Shakespeare in Paradise (SiP) theatre festival enters the ultimate week of its three-week run in Nassau.

“Either the Minister of Tourism doesn’t learn about Shakespeare in Paradise, or the Minister of Tourism thinks that what Shakespeare in Paradise has been doing for the last fourteen years is just not adequate for his purposes,” said Bethel, a professor on the University of The Bahamas.

“We Bahamians should all take deep offence.”

Bethel argued that the one difference between plays staged in The Bahamas and the works of Broadway and the West End is the luxurious that cash should buy.

She furthered the dearth of local industry was a direct results of the failure of successive governments to make a “real, or substantial, or sustainable, into Bahamian theatre”.

Leah Forbes (left) and Devonte Hanna perform the play ‘Dry Dock’ within the Shakespeare in Paradise show ‘Short Tales’ on the Philip A Burrows Black Box Theatre. (Photo credit: Sloan Smith)

SiP has presented greater than 70 shows to 50,000 people because it opened in 2009, and has hosted some 900 performers across 20 venues, Bethel said.

She noted the festival has spent greater than $1.2 million, most of it locally “on food, drink, costumes, transportation, accommodation, t-shirts, set materials, programs, customs duties, freight, VAT, chair rentals, tents, stipends, fees, and other things”. 

“Of that, the Ministry of Tourism has provided us with perhaps $50,000,” Bethel said. 

“Perhaps a 4% investment in what we’re doing is commendable—you tell me. Nevertheless it isn’t constructing our economy.”

Bethel furthered the combined government grants from the ministries of Culture, Tourism, and Education average $9,000 a 12 months.

She questioned how internships and the usage of Bahamian content in Broadway shows would construct the local Orange Economy when producers were only trying to profit their investors.

The tourism minister led a delegation of senior tourism officials to take part in a lineup of meetings within the tri-state area with key stakeholders and media from across the tourism industry last week.

In accordance with a press release, cultural events were also held at The Manor in West Orange, New Jersey in addition to The Plaza Hotel in New York City on the evenings of September 28 and 29 respectively. 

“We talked so much about the potential for a theatre festival in The Bahamas,” Cooper said in a ZNS report on the New York leg. 

“We’re excited by this, there is critical opportunity overall. Within the film industry we’ve been performing some general work preliminarily taking a look at film incentives, how we will drive this industry. We’ve many partners already within the islands of The Bahamas, Tyler Perry within the Exumas for instance.” 

Cooper said: “We’ve had a variety of preliminary discussions already about constructing stages and infrastructure. We’ve had some very interesting dialogue about some potential stories for the long run, a way forward for broadway shows with a Bahamian element and Bahamian flavor. I feel we will bring a few of this to fruition.”

Minister of Tourism and Deputy Prime Minister Chester Cooper (center) is flanked by Front Row Productions founder Stephen Byrd (left) and partner Alia Jones-Harvey during talks in New York.

Bethel said SiP was explicitly founded to develop the Bahamian theatre industry, adding its efforts have garnered membership within the international Shakespeare Theatre Association. Bethel will likely be appointed the association’s president, and its annual conference will likely be hosted at Atlantis next 12 months. 

We’ve mounted 33 Bahamian productions, from small one-person performances to full-scale musicals, reviving Bahamian classics and presenting new shows,” she said. 

“We’ve established an incubator for new Bahamian plays, directors, and performers which has produced 39 new plays by 25 separate authors and has trained 20 new directors. Shakespeare in Paradise has singlehandedly for the past 14 years provided Bahamians who’re interested by theatre with the exposure, training, discipline, and opportunity to have interaction of their craft at a world-class level.”

After 14 years, Bethel lamented stakeholders are still not working within the creative industry full time because of the dearth of monetary support.

Bethel said she couldn’t recall if the local festival has ever been featured by the Ministry of Tourism, or if the local industry has ever been promoted.

“And the Minster of Tourism is talking with two New York producers about internships,” Bethel said.

“About brain drain. About tiefing (sic) Bahamian stories to placed on their stages to feed the Broadway economy.”

She noted the upcoming ‘Yr of Bahamian Theatre’ that may see SiP produce one play every month by a unique Bahamian playwright to mark the country’s fiftieth Independence. 

Bethel added: “We don’t need the Minister of Tourism to be bringing any theatre festival here. We want the Minister of Tourism to take our festival to the world.”

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