Judd Batchelor
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Dorbrene O’Marde – Orator of Arts & Culture in Antigua

Dear reader I am spending the afternoon with the lovely Mr Dorbrene O’Marde, and I think If my late father were alive today he would be very proud to see his baby girl conduct an interview with a man who has such an extensive knowledge on a subject (this being the arts & culture) I personally think that Mr O’Marde knows every single word in the Dictionary-just like my dad. I’m not kidding. So here goes.

Judd: I am just going to put this to you straight away because I’ve done my research and it says you are a pioneer, advocate and someone who is completely consumed by the arts for over 46yrs so my question to you is…. do you ever get tired?

DO: No I don’t (pause) I don’t get tired because I’m not doing the same thing in the arts all the time, there’s the novel at one point in time, the theatre at another point in time, I’m writing music and producing music and producing shows, radio programming…occasionally I slip into a poet’s mode but not very strong and it’s not very good, but every now and then it calls me and I go there (thinks) No I don’t get tired.

Judd: You’ve never been asked that question before either (we both laugh) I can see that

DO: No I don’t get tired at all…if there’s a block somewhere I simply switch

Judd: Can we let our readers know that at this point in time, (whenever someone reads this!) that you have just celebrated your birthday- so how ‘young’ are you now?

DO: I’m 66yrs

Judd: 66? You wear it well

DO: Yes 66 yrs- on the 24th March 2016 (proudly grinning)

Judd: Lets go right from the beginning then, you started the Antigua Students Association?

DO: No I didn’t start it; it was already there. The Antigua Students Association was a gathering of sixth formers from the various secondary schools across the island…

Judd: Which you were part of right?

DO: Yes, when I got to the sixth form of the Antigua Grammar School I was then eligible to join. It would have existed a few years before my time and so essentially it was the sixth formers who gathered on Friday afternoons after school and invited speakers and also did other various activities like sports and netball with the girls. Then we got involved with theatre. Before I got there the group would have been doing I guess what would have been considered the English comedies and drawing room comedies of the classics…I believe just as I joined we began dealing with Caribbean material, and that would have been essentially new in many ways- even in this Caribbean society, (pauses to think) that would have been early 60s. Stories told that the governor, and I’m talking about the colonial governor representative of the Queen, that he would go to dress rehearsals to decide whether that material was fit for stage

Judd: To be staged??

DO: Oh yes, oh yes…

Judd: Wow… and that experience gave you the appetite for the arts?

DO: Yes, but even earlier than that, at primary school we were exposed to the theatre, and as a sixth former in secondary school we had a history teacher and English Lit teacher who both used drama in their classes, although I wasn’t in history or literature

Judd: You wasn’t in history or literature!?

DO: No

Judd: I’m amazed.

DO: I got caught up in the presentation of their material…no, no I was a science student, physics, chemistry and biology and that sort of thing, so I was on the periphery of all of this but not seeing it as a learning mechanism but just seeing the beauty of it.

Judd: You founded the Harambee Open Air Theatre, how did that come about?

DO: We did a presentation simply called A Cultural Happening, the genesis of this is that I had gone off to university, I’d acted in university and started writing there, and then I came home. I had a good friend called King Frank I Francis, he was a year ahead of me and he had come home and had formed a group called the Open Air Theatre and that group was going in a particular direction. There was also another group called the Little Theatre along with The Community Players being one of the most productive groups. There was also a small drama group at the Antigua Grammar School called the Grammarians, when I got there it was like, people popping from group to group and I wanted to do certain things, I not only wanted a theatre company I wanted to see dance, I want music, I wanted poetry and the group sort of forced me to form Harambee and so the first production we did was a variety performance

Judd: What was first night like,  was backstage manic, and who forgot their lines?   I know my first production was crazy

DO: No, no I don’t remember it being that way at all

Judd: Oh it was perfect then? (we laugh)

DO: No, I don’t think it was perfect at all, but it wasn’t that tightly scripted that you had to worry about lines and you’re dealing with a very young active group who are very very egger…we did a play, we danced, we sang…(smiles) I remember one reviewer said “he appreciated the theatre but they sang and danced to the wrong song” (laughter) after that we sort of left the dance part out of it

Judd: Did you do the singing and dancing?

DO: No, no I don’t think I sang (chuckles) I don’t think I would have been that foolish

Judd: Our readers will be from London, Canada, New York and may not know about the arts in the West Indies, can you sum up Caribbean theatre and roughly when it all started to take shape?

DO: Modern expression of Caribbean theatre would have started in the 50s, early 50s out of the University of the West Indies, the university started in the 1940s. It would have appointed a coordinator to look at this whole issue of Caribbean theatre. And then critically they started publishing Caribbean plays with the original playwrights: Derek Walcott, Eroll John, Rodrick Walcott, and the work tended to be a middle class view of what went on in the lower class society. So a lot of the theatre in the 50s would have been about human values as they were expressed in the ghettos in the back yard

Judd: But from a middle class point of view?

DO: Perspective, yep! Lots of nice space for character acting though from the madman to the drunkard to the crazy woman to the wife beater to the obeah man. And I think we did all of those plays till about the mid-sixties, and that’s when that whole black power consciousness started to creep into this society

Judd: So who were the writers back then, because surely that middle class/upper class perspectives started to dwindle?

DO: It didn’t totally disappear, but there was a refocus at that point in time and I was part of that movement that began to look at this society from the original settings like the market scenes and that they were explored from a black consciousness. And a lot of us would have come out of the University of the West Indies at that time: Alwin Bully in Dominica, Robert Leo in St Lucia, Blazer Williams from St Vincent, from St Kitts there was bouncing Williams and people like Roy Williams from Trinidad. And in Jamaica you have Trevor Rhone, Denis Scott. So the works started to take on a lot more social issues and the politics of the region. These days I am seeing a lot more de-emphasis on message, there is a whole lot of fantasy and imagery and I’m seeing a lot of that on film, some film scripts tend to be more super natural, but there are still folks like me who still want to hear the message

Judd: I was here for the Antiguan independence in 2014, but I sadly missed your play ‘This World Spins One Way’ I like working out what the stories mean from the title and I know it’s a love story, so is it from a man’s perspective of how he sees the world or is it the woman’s?

DO: I think in this particular instance that it was a male perspective of the same thing happening to him in different relation

Judd: So he hasn’t changed

DO: No…no…

Judd: So each woman is different, but the problem still arises- that means he is the problem??(laughter, Dorbrene smiles)

DO: No he changes, when his wife in the play decides to leave him he goes through tremendous changes and I guess his pride and his manliness doesn’t deal with it well. But this is the second time, and then he gets back together with his university girlfriend but then the same thing happens again. And so he just sees this single direction as far of relationships is concerns

Judd: So where did the inspiration come for this play?

DO: I had become very interested in relationships and started paying attention to a lot of feminist writers about relationships and thought that there was a male Caribbean cultural approach that had not been explored on stage.  In Spin, the male character comes out as the wronged person

Judd: The wronged person?? Not the person who did wrong?

DO: Well… he comes out the of the play as the wronged person who has been also doing wrong! (Laughs) it’s a Caribbean male perspective around relationships. Around issued of love and trust, sex and the sanctity of marriage, so all of that landscape I explore in the play. And it also generated serious arguments on both sides of the conclusion. I go back to a post- productions discussion at the home of a friend in Dominica and that persons who saw the productions took up one half of the room and spent the whole night just dealing with those issues, older persons, younger persons had different perspectives of it, perhaps it has been my most successful piece of work in terms of the scope for acting and the lovely production values in terms of lighting and sound

Judd: Did it bring out the softer side of Dorbrene, because you explained this was your first play that dealt with love and not political issues?

DO: Probably…but those issues were not ignored in Spin…actually that question you asked was questioned when the play was performed in Jamaica and that was one of the comments that came to me that that play could have done well without any reference to politics at the time.

Judd: But It was your ‘writers’ right to do so.

DO: Sometimes you just have to go with it

Judd: What advice would you give to young writers

DO: Two things. Firstly, I want them to write, keep writing it will get better as you write more

Judd: What about reading other materials?

DO: Of course, reading and understanding what other people have done, their theories, because their theories and their approaches you can learn from essentially. But outside of that I was invited to judge about ten scripts, they were all film scripts written by young persons in the OECS and so ‘Alwin Bully and myself and another from Martinique were invited to judge these scripts. And one of the comments I made -which seemed to rattle some of the young writers, was the total absence of socio political concerns in this region, at this particular point in time when there is so much need for concern and there is so much need for understanding the post-colonial independence bind that we find ourselves in, that our leaders find themselves in that we as persons trying to inform leadership have not really clarified for ourselves. And my view of the role of the artist is to help in that clarifications. And I use that to suggest the mind-set of some of the young writers

Judd: Did they get that?

DO: They did.

Judd: But did they take on board, what you had said?

DO: No, I’m not too sure they did? But I think it is totally important to not give up, we have lost it in many ways in our music, the reggae music has gone one way with the man woman relationship that’s sometimes very crude material. Also with calypso music which has gone straight to ‘jam n whine’ and “hand in the air” and the consciousness of our music I find is decreasing. Unfortunately, I haven’t seen a lot of Caribbean theatre lately but from what I have seen I am tempted to make that same statement. The work here is sometimes crude- slap- stick- make- me- laugh

Judd: Time for a refocus I think… Ok we’re coming to the end of our interview and I said to your lovely wife (who also was an actress) the other day that I planned to keep this interview really short, and she raised her eyebrows in amusement. (Laughter) Dorbrene here are your quick fire questions

Judd: Film or Theatre?

DO: Theatre

Judd: Favourite time of day?

DO: Early morning

Judd: Superhero or Super Spy?

DO: Neither

Judd: Favourite play you have written?

DO: Fly on the Wall

Judd: Calypso or Soca?

DO: They are the same.

Judd: I thought so, but I also thought that Calypso dealt with more social and political issues which is what you have been saying that’s missing in a lot of theatre and Soca was more commercial and festive?

DO: That’s true

Judd: So your answer is?

DO: Calypso

And that dear reading sums up Mr Dorbrene O’Marde 

To learn more... well just Google him- Enjoy! JB

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