Albert Laveau is a relative newcomer to the Trinidad Theatre Workshop – he didn’t join it until 1962. But as the company marks half a century since it was founded by Derek Walcott, Laveau is at the helm. Once a leading actor, he’s the TTW’s artistic director, a position he’s held for 20 years.
The TTW’s home is a converted gingerbread house in Belmont, in west Port of Spain. Its L-shaped back porch has been squared off and enclosed to form a tiny auditorium, where the TTW’s last production, Walcott’s Beef, No Chicken, was staged in 2006.
The little theatre is busy during school holidays and at weekends, when the TTW runs theatre camps and workshops for actors and technicians of all ages, from eight upwards, as part of its school for the arts. The company has staged five productions featuring casts trained in its workshops for new actors. It’s reviving its theatre-in-education programme, which travels to schools around the country, staging productions of plays and novels on the English literature syllabus.
Fifty years ago, Walcott’s workshop began with after-work sessions on Friday evenings at Beryl McBurnie’s Little Carib Theatre. Walcott intended it to function as a studio where actors could learn more about the practice of theatre, though a loose grouping of actors and theatre technicians had already staged his Ti-Jean and his Brothers there in 1958. In December 1959 the Theatre Workshop staged its first official production, six scenes from classic plays, Errol John’s Moon on a Rainbow Shawl, and an adaptation of a story by another Trinidadian writer, Sam Selvon.
It was here that Laveau joined the company, but by the mid-1960s Walcott had fallen out with McBurnie, and his workshop was evicted from the Little Carib. Since then, the lack of a permanent home has been a perennial problem. But over the years, the company has performed not only locally, but throughout the region, and in Europe and the United States.
By the time the TTW turned 30, however, any celebration, in Laveau’s words, would have been more like a requiem. Walcott had parted ways with his company, which limped along without him.
But in 1992, Walcott won the Nobel Prize for Literature, and past quarrels were forgotten. The TTW staged a celebration. Laveau did one of his star turns, as the world-weary Devil in Ti-Jean: once he was Lucifer, son of the morning, but “now he’s the prince of obscurity,” I wrote then, “and a pleasure to watch.” Another generation of young actors joined the rejuvenated company, which has produced some of the country’s finest performers, many of whom went on to start their own theatre groups. That’s why Laveau could say, “We see ourselves as a national theatre company. We could bring the world’s best here. Mind you, there are some of the world’s best here already.” Professor Rex Nettleford called the TTW the flagship of the theatre movement in the Caribbean.
In 2005 the TTW staged a large-scale production of Walcott’s musical Steel, about the birth of the steelband. But the following year saw another rift, so Walcott’s company cannot put on any of his plays to celebrate its anniversary.
But the work goes on. Laveau says his job is to “create policy, execute bits, and manage the execution of the rest.” He plans and co-ordinates events, writes proposals and archives records, and sits on the board, some of whom are founder members of the company. “We’re still here after 50 years,” Laveau reflects. “It’s amazing.”