Jean Genet´s “The Maids” was the final project for the first cohort of Theatre Arts students from the Academy for the Performing Arts of the University of Trinidad and Tobago.
Under the artistic direction of Mervyn de Goeas, three actresses (Karian Forde, Aryana Mohammed and Kemlon Nero), a lighting designer (Megan Gill), two stage managers (Tricia-Rae Boyce and Rachel Bobb), a costume designer (Marcelle Mathew), a prop master (Wendy Thomas) and a sound designer (Prester John), all students of the programme, faced the challenge of producing a professional level project at the Little Carib Theatre, one of Port of Spain´s most prestigious venues for serious theatre. All crewmembers, the people in charge of building the sets, producing the props, assisting in makeup and costumes, doing all the technical work backstage and taking care of the front house operation, were also students of the Academy.
In the absence of set designers at the final year level, I assumed, with the assistance of two of my students, Al Mathurin and Daniella Walcott, the design of the project. Both students were involved in the whole process, from the creation of the concept of the set, to the painting of the faux marble floor, the construction of scenic elements (with support from professor Richard Bryant), sewing the set fabrics and then assembling the set on the stage. In future productions the full responsibility for design, construction and operation will be transferred to students under my mentorship.
The intention of the set design was to create the look and feel of a bourgeois Parisian apartment with a few realistic elements (chandeliers, antique furniture) and then take it into the realm of a nightmare scenario, in which the women would appear trapped between very vertical walls, acting out the roles of a macabre ritual of socially imposed violence. The walls were created hanging simple pieces of cheap lace, an adequately feminine material that evokes old wallpaper, which allowed interesting transparencies and very theatrical lighting effects. A marble floor helped to isolate and enclose the performance space. Empty picture frames / windows emphasised the absurdity of the space. The colour palette was very limited: whites, off whites and grey, to enhance the coldness and cruelty of the action. The whiteness of the cyclorama at the back complemented the harshness of the space and allowed a dialogue of colours between the inside and the outside. The sides of the cyclorama were bundled (normally a mistake in the theatre) to create the effect of draped curtains. Dozens and dozens of fake red/pink gladioli (the “horrible gladioli” of the text), in vases all over the apartment and strewn on the floor, were the only element of colour. They created a strong contrast to express the muted violence of the situation.
In balance, I think our Academy rose to the challenge of presenting a difficult, potentially controversial text, a premiere for local audiences, and did so with the highest possible production values. In doing so, it has not only demonstrated the talent, discipline and creativity of its students but has taken an important step in its mission to educate and promote the arts in the local community. We are a very young institution and still have a lot to accomplish but it certainly feels good to be a part of this effort.
All photos by Stefan Simmons.
You can read a review by The Guardian´s theatre critic Simon Lee clicking here http://www.guardian.co.tt/entertainment/2014-04-16/graduates-insanity