Story and photos by Shahein Fitzpatrick
The National Youth Theatre (NYT) is being prolific in its efforts to develop the arts and cultural scene in Antigua and Barbuda.
Leaders of the club, which meets every Saturday at 5.30pm in the Prices and Consumers Affairs Division building in St John’s, passionately spoke to Observer media about the importance of creating avenues for artists to grow and monetise their craft.
Owen Jackson, a founding leader who first got involved in 2005, said that his vision from the group’s inception was for it to eventually become self-sufficient, able to sustain itself and its members, employing them as full-time staff.
He said it had a similar format to Jamaica’s Ashe Company which specialises in edutainment, entertainment and traditional dance and music.
“That module is one where a group of young people is employed by the government and it is their job to perform,” Jackson explained. “A lot of what they do is, taking social issues affecting people, especially the young, and they go to different community centres, village squares, wherever, and perform and engage people as to the cause, effect and solutions to problems.”
Active members of the NYT also added insight to the conversation.
O’dane Doyley said the difference between Antigua and Jamaica is the support from the general public.
He said, “We would put on a show and not many people would turn out to that show, that is because the arts here in Antigua does not have much exposure. We don’t have much support here.”
Desire Markham said the implementation of various art forms within local schools would help to stimulate the growth of the industry.
Jackson agreed saying, “I lived in Jamaica for four years and I observed that one of the things they have done is inculcate the arts in their young people from an early age, even preschoolers are doing drama and various arts and this is what they have over us.
“If the government would implement something for artists to look forward to in the future, then the artist wouldn’t be deterred from pursuing their dreams. Yes, we do have groups here that dance and do drama and so on, but after those groups are finished, where do they go? Where do we artists go?” Doyley expressed.
“There are really talented youths in Antigua and it just slips by because nobody ever gets to see it,” Markham said.
Melissa Mcleish revealed, “It is important for us as artists to tell our stories to keep tradition alive, to keep records and documents of our stories and experiences and create an archive where generations of the future could research things of the past.”
Jackson said the group is open to anyone who wants to harness their skills in the arts.
“It is open to anyone who has an interest in performing; you don’t even have to have an interest in performing, you can be a part of the group and never go on stage. Because theatre is so broad, it has a lot of areas that people can develop their craft in,” he explained.
Markham stated that being an artist is just being able to express yourself in any way you choose, whether it be dance, drama, painting, drawing, poetry or writing.
She added, “As long as you are able to put yourself into the work, or put yourself into a position to actually feel whatever it is you’re delivering, then you can consider yourself an artist.”