'We unblock people'

Theatre may be the answer to some of society's ills including youth violence.

So believes Guyanan Michael Gilkes who insists the stage can give young people a vital boost of confidence.

He is currently teaching a theatre workshop put on by the Department of Community & Cultural Affairs at the Berkeley Institute.

  • Professor Michael Gilkes.

    Professor Michael Gilkes.


Theatre may be the answer to some of society's ills including youth violence.

So believes Guyanan Michael Gilkes who insists the stage can give young people a vital boost of confidence.

He is currently teaching a theatre workshop put on by the Department of Community & Cultural Affairs at the Berkeley Institute.

"Every time I go on stage I feel nervous beyond belief," he said. "I can't believe I am going out there and facing these people."

But he said, with self-discipline, you get over the butterflies.

"When it works, when you feel the audience with you, you feel validated," he said. "That is what young people need.

"There is no need for violence to prove who you are. You can do it on the stage, or as a singer or actor."

He said that no society can develop fully without the arts.

"The arts are too often neglected. One could have the richest society in the world, but with no art no sense of film, theatre, the beauty in the world Bermuda wouldn't be the same."

Dr. Gilkes started in theatre in his native Guyana when he was about 12 years old.

"I began working in school theatre," he said. "Most of us do. I liked it. It seemed to me you could experiment in a way you couldn't normally."

He then became involved with the Theatre Guild of Guyana.

"Guyana had one of the most progressive theatre movements in the Caribbean," he said.

"We had a senior theatre guild and a junior theatre guild. We were able to use the adults who were pretty expert at what they were doing with the younger people coming up. This is the best thing that could have happened."

Dr. Gilkes has taught for 40 years at a number of universities in the Caribbean, Canada and the United Kingdom. He taught at the University of the West Indies for 18 years.

"I found teaching is also a form of theatre," he said. "You are, as a teacher, an actor of sorts. You have to be aware of your audience.

"You have to know how to catch their interest and focus their imagination and draw them out."

Recently, he produced a film about the Dominican-born author of 'Wide Sargasso Sea' Jean Rhys.

He moved to Bermuda a few years ago when he married writer Angela Barry.

Dr. Gilkes believed that everyone has an artistic flair within themselves.

"Develop that instead of developing the external things," he said. "What we look like is hardly important. What we think, feel and can inspire people with is what is important. All of that is part of the theatre workshop. We unblock people."

The theatre workshop includes students ages 16 to 60 years old.

"It is a great mix," he said. "They are playing off one another."

In the workshop, students learn such skills as acting techniques, voice production, stage management and stage production.

Seven of his students already have experience through the performance group 'Troika'.

"They are an ensemble group that has been doing some theatre in Bermuda," explained Dr. Gilkes. "They are very talented.

"So we are going more deeply into the business of theatre. We do physical work on the stage. We become different creatures. We use voice range as much as we can. Most people don't use their entire range which is about three octaves."

He said having a background in drama can help people in any field.

"People with theatre training tend to be more articulate and confident," he said.

Dr. Gilkes said as a kid he was interested in everything.

"I was always that way," he said. "In theatre, since it incorporated all of the arts, there was always something for everyone. I liked designing sets and music.

"Then of course I found that being on stage was not as scary as it sounds. So I began to do that.

He continued: "Eventually, I became fairly confident on the stage. And I can still memorise 20 pages of script without any problem. You develop an ability to handle language. That is important in any field."

For information about other workshops being planned by the Department of Community & Cultural Affairs in the areas of poetry, writing and drama, contact Folklife Officer, Kim Dismont-Robinson on 292-1681.

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