No love for local arts: Dawkins says pandemic crippled theatre industry

Jamaican playwright and director Everton Dawkins said the COVID-19 pandemic had dealt a severe blow to the local theatre industry. 

A scene from 2018’s ‘Romi and Julie’ by Patrick Brown. (Photo: Centrestage/ Facebook)

According to Dawkins, since COVID-19 restrictions came into effect last a year ago, playhouses across the island have been closed, and those that the industry employs are struggling to stay afloat.

“We got a solid knockout punch,” Dawkins told BUZZ, adding “We are still on the ground. Even now we cannot get up. You know what I notice, I look at the hotel industry and all the other industries, and everybody get this and, everybody get that from government, nobody got anything at all in our industry,” he added. 

“A lot of people don’t really have the understanding or the knowhow and you know that in a play situation it is for a more mature audience.”

– Everton Dawkins

Dawkins said the suddenness of the pandemic had a great impact on the business which relies heavily on forward planning as a great deal of money is spent on marketing materials.  

“Last year March when the Prime Minister made that announcement that they were going to close down, I had shows booked from the month end of March right back to Father’s Day in June,” he said.

“Mother’s Day we were to go overseas for three shows for the weekend, all of that got scrapped. There were things that I had gone ahead and done like pay for billboards, all of them something there and, everything was a total loss – and nothing, nothing” added Dawkins. 

What about virtual shows? 

According to Dawkins, the transition into the virtual space is not as simple as it seems, noting that he made his first attempt at hosting a virtual show in August 2020.

Dawkins said there are a  number of factors that make hosting a virtual play in Jamaica difficult, including logistical challenges and the capacity to make the production profitable; and also because people have become accustomed to free content on YouTube. 

Another major factor making the transition difficult was that the industry gets majority of support from older adults, a demographic that Dawkins said still remains averse to using digital platforms. 

“A lot of people don’t really have the understanding or the knowhow and you know that in a play situation it is for a more mature audience. The more mature audience, the bigger women, they are the ones who enjoy a play. The young people are more into the dancing and the partying and so on.”

Dawkins said the government should give more assistance to the performing arts which he feels has been largely ignored.

“For now we just have to find another means of survival, as last time we heard the Minister was working on something but all now,” said Dawkins.

“Those in the performing arts industry like me have just been left to paddle on our own,” he added.