Troika: a passion play
Ten years on, Troika is celebrating as only it could.
Look out for Work In Progress #7 at the end of next month.
Appropriately, it’s a series of snapshots; a look back at past shows.
“How do you take a full-length production and consolidate a portion and make sense? That’s our challenge this year,” said Seldon Woolridge, who founded Troika in 2009 with Shoa Wolfe and Nishanthi Bailey. “The way the show is being presented is synonymous with the name of the piece.
“It’s an opportunity for the audience to come and get another taste of something they’ve loved over the years.”
The group’s first show, Ammunition, was a response to the social issues of its time.
“As young people, we were always involved in performing arts through the annual Road Show held under the auspices of the Department of Youth and Sport and Pride Bermuda,” said Mr Woolridge. “In high school at [the Berkeley Institute] we were very active in these programmes and had leadership roles in them as well.
“But when we got back from college, the Road Show was no longer. A lot of programmes that had been around didn’t exist and a lot of gun violence was going on.
“We felt it was imperative that the three of us come together to create something to give young people a voice to express themselves on social issues creatively.”
A theatrical production involving 14 youths, Ammunition was well received; an encore performance was ultimately requested for students across the island.
“The content came from their input, their experiences, what was going on at the time,” Ms Wolfe said. “That kind of sparked it all; it reintroduced people to youth theatre. It turned into a whole movement.”
With that came an expectation. The trio rose to the occasion, collaborating with young performers on a number of projects. Ms Bailey left Troika in 2011, the year the group put Misunderstood on the stage.
The show, which looks at how young people are misunderstood by society, was taken to the National Black Theatre Festival in Winston-Salem, North Carolina two years later.
The exposure brought many opportunities: performers attended musical theatre and dance workshops in New York City, visited NBC studios and saw a show on Broadway.
Funding for it all came from the proceeds of previous shows and a grant from the former Ministry of Community and Cultural Affairs. “Neletha Butterfield, [the Cabinet minister at that time], was a keen supporter and we will be honouring her this year,” Mr Woolridge said. “At our first show, Ammunition, she was our chief patron.
“Imagine at that point, three young people coming in new, as a collective, and seeking sponsorship support ... she believed in what we had to do.”
They built on that initial success with the popular summer intensive Bermuda Glee and, in 2012, Once On This Island; an adaptation of the Broadway show The Little Mermaid, it was Troika’s first musical.
“It was a different direction than our past three productions but we knew if young people [planned to study performing arts] it would give them better preparation for auditioning,” Mr Woolridge said. “Everybody they auditioned for would know the pieces and [the students] would know what was expected of them.
“And it allowed them to step outside their comfort zone, as they had to act, sing and dance.”
The show also offered training in behind-the-scenes skills such as set building and lighting, to give exposure in those areas.
“That show was received quite well, by performers as well as the audiences,” Mr Woolridge said. “It was truly another level for us.
“When you go from doing something original to something that is well known, it is such a different realm.
“We wanted to do as much justice as possible because we knew people would have a much higher expectation.”
It’s with that understanding Troika tackled The Color Purple three years ago.
“It was another show we felt would be relatable to our community and our performers,” Mr Woolridge said. “I’d researched it and knew it was going on Broadway and, so, to present it, we had to secure the rights early. It was one of those things where everything seemed to align and we went forward in hopes it would be received well.
“It was on Broadway, it was a movie, a book — everybody knew it.
“For us, the challenge was the content was deeper than [what we’d done] in the past. But we felt that if it was to be shown in Bermuda, we needed to do it.
“It was ambitious, another challenge and our most successful performance to date.
“It exposed the community to [a high] level of theatre on the island and the response for that was crazy. It was a big show.”
Although proud of the platform they’ve created, the standard they’ve set takes a huge commitment every year.
“It’s always, how do you do that again?” Mr Woolridge said. “We look at what is the next challenge or area that we haven’t exposed ourselves or young people to.
“What do we do to keep people inspired? How do we build a programme that continues to stretch and challenge the young people involved and the audiences?
“It’s key to realise as a leader [that ultimately] you have to give it away to someone else. The continuation of the programme was driven by pure passion — continuing pro bono is a real passion.
“We have board members, but it takes a lot of time and commitment.
“I think our focus now is how to position it so young people take on the leadership necessary to run a programme like this, that we encourage people who can help keep ideas fresh, new and relevant.”
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