Theatre is a gem of an artform. Anyone who has seen a staged play live knows it can be likened to magic.
Kentillia Louis is an Artistic director, lecturer, manager and curriculum officer advocating for and enriching Arts and Culture in Saint Lucia. She has worked as the Artistic Director for the Walcott School’s Festival and as Director of Requiem for a Badjohn, a play staged for the first time in Saint Lucia earlier this year. She also manages the Youth Studying Performing Arts and Culture (YouthSPAC) organization, and works as a part-time lecturer at the Sir Arthur Lewis Community College and University of West Indies open campus, among several others gigs.
We were fortunate to have the opportunity in May of this year to pose a few questions to Kentillia on her experiences working as an Artist on a small, Caribbean island.
Q: Can you highlight the aspects of this profession you enjoy?
K: One of the things that I enjoy about being an artist in the Caribbean is that because of, I suppose, size there’s a camaraderie between us all. It doesn’t matter if it’s in Trinidad, Barbados, Grenada, Jamaica, everybody’s always willing to lend a helping hand. Always willing to try and see how they can collaborate or assist, because as much as we think we’re different, we all have similar issues.
Another thing is we have a rich culture. We have so many cultural forms that provide for the arts. We have material to create plays, to create performance styles, to use in so many different ways as stimuli for dance, drama anything. To find inspiration for anything that I do, it’s very easy, I just have to close the books, close the laptop and go out there and just observe my people, listen to the radio, listen to the music, watch the dancing and within there, something always comes up.
The good thing about our cultural forms is that it’s participatory. I mean you can go to the La Rose festival and you are not just be a spectator on the outside. Those different groupings are always very willing to include you, listen to what you have to say. So I really have enjoyed that, his is what gives me my identity and my unique approach. I’ve been able to really make sure i’m well grounded in it, in everything that I do to use it as my base.
Q: Can you highlight the challenges?
K: Always training-training and space. There are never enough spaces for training or opportunities for training – long term training I should say. There are always persons who approach me to join the group but i’m very particular about numbers. That’s why I have not increased the size past a certain point because we have a lot of young persons in Saint Lucia who are very, very talented, but they just have the raw material. What if we invested in them and helped them with the training and the exposure. As well as training them for showcasing opportunities because you can train, but you have to be trained to perform and be showcased.
We forget that not everybody starts off at the top, nobody did. Everybody had to build their way there and we have to, as a nation support them. That’s one of the major challenges, so sensitizing our public to the importance of supporting their own, even those up and coming, support them, because they will be the next big thing and it will be nice if you could be part of that experience with them.
Space has always been a problem- performance spaces. I mean right now we only have the National Cultural Center which is extremely limited and expensive. So persons who are building should put an auditorium. That’s what a lot of organizations do, and they will rent it out at a reasonable price. We can take that into consideration here. People think there are not a lot of groups but there are a lot of groups out there. They just don’t have the opportunity to perform in a proper performance space. That’s one of the major issues that we have right now.
I think as much as people understand the performing arts and culture, there is also not a respect for it and that’s one of the things I’d like to see change. That’s where your identity comes from, that’s where your sense of you comes from. We go to all of those platforms to balance our selves out when we feel angry, sad, and so forth. They’re crucial to us and our development as a person, as a society. And the respect that art should be given,it’s not being given right now. We do it as a by the way thing, we do it only as something we can use to maybe enhance the tourism product. But it’s more than that. Every society you find persons really holding on to their arts and culture because that’s where you find a sense of pride, you find reflections of yourself, that’s one of the things that we don’t have here.
Q: You seem to have a passion for the performing arts as do many, but people often forego theirs after leaving Secondary School. As someone who continues to do work in this field, what other options can those with similar interests consider outside of school?
K: There are a lot of opportunities. I think though, when people think of the performing arts they only think of the performance aspect of it. To go out there and really survive in the arts you need to have more than one skill, for example I direct, I teach, I do production managemnet and I do stage management. So, you do more than one thing, it’s the same way everywhere else. You have to pay your dues. There’s also the amount of work you are going to have to do for free because you have to get your practical in as well as you building your name and your reputation. I see a lot of young persons going around saying “not for exposure” (referring to the ‘exposure not currency’ local campaign) and so forth, but I think we miss the point because I see every body jumping on that band wagon, but we have to be very careful… first of all if you’re an amateur you’re an amateur let me be very clear about that. You chose to be an amateur, you chose not to go an train yourself, you chose not to certify yourself, you chose not to do that, therefore if that’s the level you are going to hold yourself at, you’re going to be treated at that level. If you want to be a professional then invest in it, invest in it and pay for your training. There are a lot of clubs and certification courses you can do here, do them, pay the money and do it. And then start to build your credit within it, so then yes you can then look at a business or someone, a client and tell them this is my worth. That’s what needs to happen and once you have that skill you will get a job.
Q: Can you tell us a little more about Youth Studying Performing Arts and Culture?
K: The first group of students were students from secondary school and they were interested in continuing to look into the field as their employment, as their profession. And so, I continued with them, to train them in the various artforms, make sure to provide them with
various opportunities. Not only do you get training but you get real life opportunities to use your training whether it be in dance, drama, music and so on. And a lot of the work that we do has a cultural heritage component to it.
It is for the youth, the age range is about 14-25. So it really is for young people and their wants and needs really pushes everything that we do within those fields. We also do stage management, production management, we teach various parts of the different artforms and how to use performance to help bring about some kind of change or awareness.
Q: Do you and the group’s members share a vision when it comes to the future of Saint Lucia’s Art and Cultural industries?
K: Yes, it’s about producing the next set of artists and producers, stage management and so forth. We want to make sure we have a world class arts and cultural industry in Saint Lucia that someone won’t come and say “well that’s how they do it in Saint Lucia apart from the rest of the world”. No it has to be on par – whether it is you’re in Trinidad, Jamaica, New York, London, everything must be on par, that is what we are working towards, so that that way too, you have more opportunities, more changes, more chances of persons getting big not only here but going international and being able to make their name and to develop.
And, What kind of work do we plan to do in the future? Same like we’ve always done. Right now we just came from two major projects so we’re on a break because one of the things I encourage is that my group members also do their individual projects and have their individual activities, because I also want to train them to have leadership qualities and take the initiative. A lot of them do individual work at carnival time, so usually we don’t do anything as a group during this time. But as soon as that’s done we do social events, we start training again and then we get ready for activities later on in the year and next year. So we are hoping to do a play or a short film towards the end of the year.
Q: Are there any current or upcoming projects from yourself or the organizations you work with that you would like people to know about?
K: At this point in time, I think we have found the fruits of our labour, it’s actually starting to show right now. There are lots of performance based youth groups around the island. From Youth on Fire in Anse La Raye, to Kiddie crew. So I’m just happy that all of those organizations are working. And what people fail to realize is that we are not in competition with each other. There’s this misconception that we are, but we all work together, we help each other because we realize that we are trying for the same thing and there’s not going to be a situation where there is too many of us. It’s all of us coming together to help to build Culture and Arts in Saint Lucia as well as to provide a medium for young persons.
There’s a lot going on when you look at carnival bands, when you look at Kiddie’s carnival bands coming on, a lot of people who have created the bands are persons who went through some sort of training as performers, in Theatre Arts, music stage management, stage production and so forth. A lot of those persons who have bands now will tell you its in those kind of groupings they got their start. I think a lot of those young persons are becoming their own entrepreneurs, I’m very happy to see that.
In terms of me personally, I’ll be working with CVS to ensure that their summer youth platform program comes off and is as educational and entertaining as possible for the participants. And I’m working towards Nobel Laureate week, that’s my next big thing.