The Hatuey experience: Did the Budget miss Culture?

There is a hole in the Budget presented to Parliament on Monday last.  There is scant acknowledgement of culture, particularly of our performing arts despite their huge potential for assistance in diversifying the economy and its significant contribution to social stability.

Photo: Finance Minister Colm Imbert.
Photo: Finance Minister Colm Imbert.

Presumably the new Minister of Culture, who is a member of the performing arts community, will tell us in the course of the budget debate, by reference to policy, how her Ministry’s allocation will be spent.

By the time this column is published the late Raoul Pantin’s play, Hatuey, hopefully would have had a successful four night run at the Central Bank Auditorium, with four more nights to follow next weekend.  I was asked to read for a part in this play and was accepted to play the role of Don Berrio, a dissolute Spanish colonial governor.

Everything about my Hatuey experience re-confirmed what I have from time to time written about the performing arts sector. The director, Rawle Gibbons, and the young cast of actors have warmly welcomed me temporarily into the fold and unselfishly assisted me during eight weeks of rehearsals, three times a week.


Director Rawle Gibbons is a former Head of the Department of Creative and Festival Arts at the University of the West Indies.  He moulded us with the assistance of another formidable member of that Department, Louis McWilliams.

Photo: Statue of Hatuey. (Courtesy Travelblog.org)
Photo: Statue of Hatuey.
(Courtesy Travelblog.org)

The Department is a powerhouse, its teaching and research spanning a wide cross section of the arts. For example Jannine Remy, who recently published against the usual funding odds, a delightful book, The History of Invaders Steel Orchestra, has been a senior lecturer there.

Dr Remy has spent a lifetime in pan. Her Invaders book is more than the history of one steel orchestra.  She paints the wider picture of the sorrow as well as the joy of keeping pan alive and advancing its musical artistry. It documents part of our history, yet its publication was delayed by what I have just described as the usual funding odds against the arts including publishing.

In less than a month’s time I will be launching The Daly Commentaries.  I have found out for myself that having a book published costs a significant sum and that Trinidad and Tobago has few publishers in the entrepreneurial sense in the business of paying authors and selling his or her books.

If fortunate, sponsorship may be obtained, but there are so many worthy causes all seeking sponsorship from the relatively small pool of those enlightened individuals and enterprises that take on sponsorship.

At least as far as documenting our history is concerned a publishing policy should form part of any coherent cultural policy if a fair and objective policy ever emerges.

Photo: Culture Minister Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly. (Courtesy Elections.TT)
Photo: Culture Minister Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly.
(Courtesy Elections.TT)

I hope to describe some more of my Hatuey experience in a subsequent column but no account of this experience would be significant unless I focus first on the work of our director, although he avoids spotlight for himself. He treats curtain call applause as a measure of how well his actors have communicated with the audience.

A director is an arranger, not of music, but of words, the raw words of the play, in order to give those words their emotional and interpretative value and to keep the audience engaged in the story. He sometimes listens to the actors with his eyes closed to hear whether the value of the words spoken is reflected in the delivery of the speech.

The director crucially also arranges the physical interaction of the players on the stage as they speak their lines in a process known as “blocking”.  The blocking may be changed several times in the course of rehearsals until the director is satisfied that it “works” to convey the meaning of the words spoken.

I soon discovered that learning the lines is only a small step in playing a role. The actor’s brain must multi task by speaking the words correctly accompanied by the correct timing, conveying the underlying emotional intent of the words and moving around the stage in conjunction with others and at the same time carrying out additional tasks as the moment may require, such as using props.

Photo: Martin Daly SC will play the role of colonial Spanish governor, Don Barrio, in Hatuey.
Photo: Martin Daly SC will play the role of colonial Spanish governor, Don Barrio, in Hatuey.

Our Hatuey director also effectively conducts a literature class when he reviews what we have done.  There were many times I was taken back fifty odd years as though I was sitting again at the feet of my revered teacher, of whom I have written in these columns.

My Hatuey experience is another manifestation of the discipline, robust work ethic and stimulus for self esteem contained in the performing arts sector.

Ironically I was in the middle of this rich, but inadequately acknowledged, environment at a time when international agencies are critical of our country’s work ethic and the Budget statement had little creative to say about the sector.

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9 comments

  1. Abeo Jackson I know you would agree

  2. Dr. Vanus James, economist and fellow Tobagonian undertook an analysis on the copyrightable arts contribution to the economy of Trinidad and Tobago, on behalf of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) . His main conclusions were
    1. Copyright based industries contribute 4.8 % to GDP and 5% of all jobs in 2011, in Trinidad and Tobago, up from 3.6% and 3.9% respectively in 2000
    2. Such estimates were in line with global trends which average 5.5% of GDP and 5.8 % of jobs
    3. Trade in Copyright output (goods and services was a net positive contribution to flow of foreign exchange $USD 32M in foreign exchange in 2000 $USD 35M in 2007 and $USD35M in 2011
    4. He undertook a useful review of the copyright law in Trinidad and Tobago including works of mas”

    • So it’s evident copyright based industries in T&T can generate revenue and contribute to GDP. The question is, why is this source of revenue not aggressively pursued? Why is our intellectual property policy still in its draft form? I’m disenchanted my seeing studies done, data provided yet no implementation taking place. It’s a bitter pill we all swallow.

  3. Culture as it relates to the performing arts can be seen as both Economic and Non -Economic.
    The role of appropriate Government ministries is crucial to the development of the Cultural Industry. The cultural industry has the potential to generate revenue, foreign exchange earnings and create employment. It can be recognised as part of government’s diversification thrust and as such, a viable alternative to the country’s dependency on the energy sector.
    I would support the economic aspects of culture associated with the Ministry of Trade and Industry rather than Community development, Culture and the Arts.

  4. Comment on site from Earl Best: “Martin, two responses occur to me, the first one a question: (1) Are you planning in Part II to identify the performing arts’ “huge potential for assistance in diversifying the economy” and to provide details about their “significant contribution to social stability”? I thought the allocation for CEPEP and URP, our non-performing arts, took care of the second.
    (2) Would your piece have been any less accurate if the last three words had been completely omitted?”

  5. Martin, two responses occur to me, the first one a question: (1) Are you planning in Part II to identify the performing arts’ “huge potential for assistance in diversifying the economy” and to provide details about their “significant contribution to social stability”? I thought the allocation for CEPEP and URP, our non-performing arts, took care of the second.
    (2) Would your piece have been any less accurate if the last three words had been completely omitted?

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