Youth Studying Performing Arts & Culture (Youth S.P.A.C.) has been working with young people in theatre since 2007. Ten years later, the first generation of participants is on stage with Requiem for a Badjohn, an official selection of the 2017 National Arts Festival, written by local playwright, Katherine Atkinson.
Youth S.P.A.C. grew out of an initiative by the late Mrs. Petronilla Deterville at the Ministry of Education, and the Cultural Development Foundation to provide youth theatre camps over the summer months. Impressed by the show of talent and driven by the conviction that theatre has transformative powers, then-camp director Kentillia Louis determined to run a year-round programme. She teamed up with Mrs. Deterville who had identified a similar need in her community of Anse La Raye and had been working with youth in music. The programme convened each summer to produce a large musical theatre production under the auspices of the Student Performing Arts Company (S.P.A.C.) but in the intervening months participants met weekly for workshops in acting and stagecraft, and discussions about culture.
Since its inception, Youth S.P.A.C. has collaborated with UNESCO and regional organisations with similar commitments to social and behavioural change through theatre, like Arts-in-Action in Trinidad and Tobago. In 2013 and 2014 the troupe was invited both to perform and to conduct workshops at the Tobago Heritage Festival and the Tobago Bele Festival. In 2015 the group was commissioned by the Mexican Embassy to do a Saint Lucian adaptation of a popular Mexican play at the Regional Latin Festival in Saint Kitts and Nevis.
The production of Requiem for a Badjohn is particularly gratifying to Louis. She says, “These students were 12 and 13 when we started with them. It’s wonderful to see them on stage, their talents at their heights, but also to observe their confidence as young people, as individuals.”
Some of the Youth S.P.A.C. alumni have gone on to be entertainers and leaders in their fields. Says Louis, “Look at Steffi Ann, who plays the Old Woman; she is a youth leader in her church. Kiedel Sonny who plays Badjohn is a cinematographer and radio personality and has an enormous online following. Anthony Wilkie teaches Theatre Arts and direct his own plays. Shanne has been asked to sing for Jazz this year.”
Chriselda Cox, who plays the role of Lazarus in the current production and now works in the tourism industry says, “Coming from Anse La Raye people told us, ‘You can’t do this; it’s okay,’ but Youth S.P.A.C. said, ‘Yes, you can. Expect more.’”
It’s an interesting coming together of what Youth S.P.A.C. is about and one of the main messages the play conveys: Demand more of yourself. “I’ve always seen theatre as a way to start a dialogue with the work, with the society and with each other,” says Louis. “This year we have this incredible group of young people on stage with veteran actor David McLennon. It’s wonderful to see the interaction.”
This intergenerational approach creates a strong legacy. “David is prepared; he thinks deeply about his choices on stage, and he’s generous with the young actors. This is so important for them.”
Requiem for a Badjohn plays at the National Cultural Centre on April 29 and 30 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $25 and are available at CDF, Flow and at the door. The play explores adult themes and uses strong language.