Young Jamaicans Chronicle ‘Experience of a Lifetime’ at Theatre Workshop in New York

Kaleb D’Aguilar from Ardenne High School, Davia Blake from St. Andrew’s High and Kingston College’s Jovaughn Vanriel recently participated in a week-long cultural Sustainable Theatre Workshop in New York City which has propelled the students interest in drama, film and theatre.

The students participated in the workshop along with other Haitian, Senegalese and African-American students from March 20 to 25 which was made possible through the assistance of the RuJohn Foundation, the United Nations and the Office of the Prime Minister.

The Workshop was held at the African Burial Ground in New York City and culminated with a performance to commemorate the International Day for the Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade.

See below an account of each student’s experience.
Jovaughn Vanriel

Exciting, breathtaking, astounding, eye opening, and truly memorable are just some of the words and phrases that stood out in my attempt to recap the experience in New York, while I engaged in the Sustainable Theatre Workshop.

“Experience is not what happens, it’s what you do with it that happens to you”, this quoted by Aldous Huxley fits in perfectly in describing everything that took place  and was learnt in the week March 19- 25.

The name of the workshop clearly stated what it would be about, but as I participated the depth of knowledge available extended beyond the perimeters of the intended purpose of the workshop.  We had a splendid evening with a few professional actors; they spoke of the trials, tribulations and struggles they faced in striving for their dreams. They told us of the vast number of times they were knocked down but never out, they pushed and toiled just to get up to be knocked down again and even then they weren’t discouraged. Their personal experiences opened my eyes to the world that I was oblivious to, the world of not being afraid to have a vision, to have a dream and not be de-motivated by the seemingly insurmountable obstacles that life has in store but rather to be a confident peacock and a soaring eagle that will go the extra mile to translate that vision, that dream into a colorful reality. These professional actors gave birth and meaning to the quote “The world is yours for the taking, you just need a clear view of the horizon.”

As the week culminated into an astonishing, bewildering, and utterly amazing end, skills that were unknown to me, I might even say skills that were nonexistent, sprouted and slowly blossomed during my tenure in New York. I was totally oblivious to the fact that I was able write a play, especially in the short time I had. This would by no means be complete if I don’t mention the nerves that wreaked havoc in my mind, when the realization hit that I had a week to do so much work. Nevertheless, our performance at the United Nations headquarters turned out fantastic.

That week-long experience taught me a lot;  it took me to places I didn’t think I would go; it opened my mind and pallet to cultures and cuisines I had only heard about and most paramount of them all it opened doors to new amazing lifelong friendships.  Cultural realization met creativity and that marvelous synergy gave birth to a masterpiece that will leave an indelible mark in minds and hearts of everyone that took part in the Sustainable Theatre Workshop.
Kaleb D’Aguilar

From March 19, 2014 – March 25, 2014, I participated in the Sustainable Theater Workshop in New York, USA which was a cross-cultural writing workshop where students of Jamaican and African descent collaborated to develop a performance to be staged at the United Nations Headquarters on March 25th as part of a series of events hosted by the United Nations under the theme “Remember Slavery, Victory over Slavery: Haiti and Beyond.” The performance date was also important as March 25th marked the International Day for the Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade.

Three Jamaican students were selected; myself, Kaleb D’Aguilar from Ardenne High, Davia Blake from St. Andrew High School for Girls, and Jovaughn Vanriel from Kingston College. We met at the Norman Manley International Airport in the early morning on Wednesday March 19 and got to know each other on the connecting flight to La Guardia Airport in New York through Miami. When we arrived in the afternoon on Wednesday we met our workshop coordinator Ms. Shelah Marie Rhoulhac and a representative from the African Burial Ground Mr. Malick Kane.

On Thursday we had our very first writing exercise at the African Burial Ground. That morning the writing was geared towards relating different aspects of our life in varying forms of writing style and language. We all connected very quickly through the sharing of our personal writing. In the evening, we had a meet and greet session with professional actors Stephen Hill, Shamilia McBean and Sheria Irving. We got the opportunity to act alongside them and then to have a question and answer session. This is the greatest opportunity I take from the workshop as through that experience I have gained new insight on the field of drama and ideas on where I want to go in it as well as greater confidence in myself and my talent.

On Friday we went to see the Statue of Liberty in the morning where we also did some writing. This was my first time seeing the Statue of Liberty and the writing exercises made it an even more interesting experience. That night we went to see Rocky the Musical on Broadway at the Winter Garden Theatre which was a phenomenal play especially the stage craft and manipulation.

Saturday was an all-day rehearsal at African Burial Ground with an actual printed script that Shelah put together that unified the different writings by the Jamaican students, dancing from the African Girls, and a multi-language group poem. In the afternoon we got a tour of the African Burial Ground and also did small interviews with Shelah for a documentary.

On Sunday, we had rehearsals in the city followed by our last rehearsal at the African Burial Ground on Monday. Tuesday was the day of the performance and we went to the United Nations Headquarters and started rehearsing in the space. During rehearsal some of us were interviewed individually by Stephanie Coutrix from UN Radio (English). After rehearsal, we were brought into the United Nations Conference to hear the debates from the different countries on the topic of “Remembering Slavery” to generate thought on our role at the UN and the importance of our performance. After the conference, the Jamaican students met the Jamaican Ambassador for New York while the African students met the Senegalese Ambassador. We were then brought back to the performance space where we had to change and get ready to perform. The performance went really well and was well received and was also seen internationally on the UN website.
Davia Blake

I was at the airport enjoying my breakfast before boarding my flight to New York for the program when I met Jovaughn Vanriel for the first time. Within minutes we were chatting like old friends, laughing and forging the ties of a bond of friendship that would last a lifetime. We then met Kaleb D’Aguilar and soon all three of us became fast talking friends.

For our first day we were stationed at the National African Burial Ground Museum in an air conditioned room on the 30th floor when it was freezing cold outside. All illusions of thinking that this was an escape from school were thrown through the window right there. We went into full preparation mode for writing the pieces to be performed at the UN Headquarters in four days time. We did a lot of soul writing and shared parts of ourselves that were buried and hidden for years. It was a sobering experience, very therapeutic. Later that evening, we had a meet and greet with some professional actors and we got to create scenes with them, one of which was used in the play that was performed at the UN headquarters.  

Rehearsals began on March 22 and we got our scripts and were hard at work. We took a break for some pizza and soda pops and then we were at it again…, work. Time was winding down fast and there was a lot of work to do. A performance at the United Nations before diplomats and international politicians had to be as close to perfect as possible. A day off did not seem to be on the agenda as it was Sunday and we had rehearsals at a studio in Manhattan. Man, was I tired but practice makes perfect so I endured it.

The next day would be another busy one as a professional director came and gave us a few pointers on how to make the piece much better. He simply worked magic on our robotic selves and turned us all into a wealth of emotion. It was all in all a good day. We did some more shopping that day and then had Thai food for dinner. Anxious for the next day, we went to bed but slept like babes.

March 25 was finally upon us. We commenced the day’s outing by dining at an Italian restaurant for lunch. Then garbed in our pristine, full black attire, we gave the performance of a lifetime at the UN Headquarters which was well received by the rousing applause that was given at the end. It was official, we had been ‘celebified’ and the diplomats were just dying to meet us. We met a lot of very important people that wanted to steal us. It was most definitely the experience of a lifetime. I cannot wait to have another experience like this again.