2772040
The late TONY HALL, playwright, screenwriter, actor, director and cultural pioneer. (Image: The UWI)

BOBIE-LEE DIXON

([email protected])

More than his work or contributions to theatre and film, Anthony “Tony” Hall was truth and insisted on truth, whether it came through his storytelling, plays, television and film productions, or just by being a good friend.

Among the many memories held dearest, to close friend, business partner, and colleague Errol Fabien, about Hall, his truth surpasses them all, and Fabien says it’s an attribute he would forever remember him by.

In a telephone interview with Guardian Media, a distraught sounding Fabien who spoke on the passing of Hall, whose life curtains were drawn Monday morning in Tobago where he lived, having suffered a massive heart attack, said:

“Tony was a very very dear friend of mine, and he was my business partner in a couple of ventures we had, and we talked about life a lot. We would just meet and talk often at one time,” he said.

But even when the time came that they hardly got to be in each other’s company, Fabien said it would not matter how long they would have been apart, they would pick up from where ever they left off.

Talking immediately a bit on the deceased 72-year-old’s work, he mentioned almost with pride, Hall’s involvement in the first release of the American Walt Disney movie production, Pirates of the Caribbean which subsequently became a film series concluding in 2017 after its debut in 2003.

Fabien said Hall left a significant body of work in the plays that he wrote. And left an even greater body of work in the human beings, he worked with and trained in popular theatre, acting, directing and producing.

“Tony is one of the foundation members of Gayelle since it was just a programme when he was one of the first three presenters, “Fabien recalled.

Speaking on the company Banyan of which Gayelle was its product, Fabien said Hall was a part-owner of Banyan along with filmmakers Christopher Laird and Bruce Paddington.

He credited Hall for much of what he became acquainted with in the world of television, learned about the stage, and even life.

“Tony discovered something called the Jouvay process,” Fabien shared.

A process, which he said, Hall used to teach and train people academically and creatively all over the world.

He spoke of Hall’s introduction of the programme at Trinity College in the US state of Connecticut, where his students were working professionals from various spheres including the medical and law fields in the US who would often come across Caribbean clients.

“Imagine a doctor in Connecticut being told by his patient that they think they need to get jar-ray and they have no idea what they talking about. And Tony introduced a programme at Trinity College in Connecticut, to teach people about the Caribbean culture,” Fabien said.

It grew into an exchange programme, Fabien communicated, where students from Trinity College, Connecticut would come every year to the UWI Trinity House on Carmody Road, St Augustine, to participate in an apprenticeship programme directed by Hall where Fabien said students would be taken by Hall to Gayelle, pan yards and mas camps to broaden their horizons and to teach them what he called the Jouvay process— a dawning, a revelation and a bearing of one’s self—going down to basic nothing, much like the mud people wore on J’Ouvert morning.

A concerned sounding Fabien said the programme still existed and he was worried what would happen to it now that Hall has passed.

“I don’t know who is the person in Trinidad who will receive those students and run the house and all these things”

Reminiscing some more on the adventures he and Hall shared, Fabien recalls he and his one-time ‘sidekick’ presenting three J’Ouvert bands even winning segments at times in the era when mas was a play and placards by the Queen’s Park Savannah.

“We did it, but I know Tony really did it,” said a teary sounding Fabien.

In a croaky voice, he added, “I had just left the rehab center and I was full of all this energy and wanted to change the world. And we would have all these talks. We did a band called Abandoned Drugs, which looked at substance abuse and all those things from an old mas perspective, again using the Jouvay process,” Fabien mumbles, through tears.

He said that year a lot of people in recovery, as well as non-addicts and people in the arts, played in the band.

“You know we always do things with more than one meaning, so it was ‘a band on drugs,’ meaning stop the dugs and ‘abandon drugs’ which meant throw away the drugs, “Fabien explained.

Subsequently, Fabien and Hall would present two more bands speaking to social issues— Abandon Violence, which Fabien said spoke to the increased violence in the country at that time, and Abandon Us—speaking to US imperialism.

But it was a play called Zoo; Hall worked on collaboratively with Arts-in-Action founder Dani Lyndersay involving differently-abled people that touched Fabien.

“All the people in the play were people in wheelchairs. They never used to come out, they used to feel ostracised and thought people used to look at them like animals, so we did this play in a park,” said an emotional Fabien struggling to get his words out.

He said during the play at different benchmarks, abled-bodied people would come from each side of the stage and place an upright pole on the ground until by the end of the play, it looked like they were all in a cage. Members of the audience would then be asked to come to the stage and remove the poles.

“After that, we started seeing these guys in wheelchairs going to basketball games, Soca Monarch and all these things, because it was so much their truth and not our truth that they thought they were not included or not welcomed,” Fabien explained.

He shared several other great memories of Hall’s work, mentorship, and friendship, saying to just call him ‘friend’ seemed to be a mild adjective to describe what Hall was in his life.

Speaking about how many young actors, he confidently placed in Hall’s hands, Fabien said sorrowfully, “They were all safe with Tony…the world was real safe with Tony.”

Fabien who said some of Hall’s work would be aired during the next coming days on the Gayelle channel and possibly streamed on social media as well noted he was in a real conundrum when it came to showcasing Hall’s work in remembrance of him, as his work was many and all-good works.

“When I pull Tony’s archives, I could show what 48 hours of content is, but that is a little bit. That would not even be all the work with Tony in it or the work that Tony was not in, but produced or write or direct,” lamented Fabien.

Gayelle, last night aired four hours of the work of Hall in marathon-style.

Asked if the fraternity would be staging anything particular in memory of Hall, Fabien said he was in talks currently with various members and it was expected a huge online celebration would be hosted on May 4, from 6 pm, in which Hall’s work would be presented through various members.

NDATT plans memorial for Hall

President of the National Drama Association of Trinidad and Tobago (NDATT), Safa Niamat-Ali also shared the sentiments of Fabien, saying there’s no way to ascribe a label to Hall and remain true to him.

“In the same breath, knowing Tony there was no “Tony Hall” to know, label, praise, thank, honour. He touched many lives throughout the artistic community, through his willingness not only to talk about the past and history but also to encourage and inspire those around him,” Niamat-Ali articulated.

She said many have remembered and will continue to remember Hall’s teaching, his work, and his impact on their lives.

Niamat-Ali noted Hall was even better known and appreciated outside of the Caribbean, and his students and colleagues as far away as Norway were mourning his passing.

“NDATT owes its revitalisation in 2017 to Tony Hall, who as trustee spearheaded the formation of the interim caretaker committee,” recalled Niamat-Ali

She revealed, NDATT would be collaborating with Hall’s family and the local and international theatre and performance arts community to produce a virtual memorial on Friday at 5:45 am, called Tribute to Tony Hall: A Jouvay Ritual.

More of the fraternity speaks…

Speaking via Facebook messenger filmmaker Danielle Dieffenthaller, spoke of her memory of Hall.

“I met Tony in 1990 when I began working at Banyan. Prior to that I was a huge fan of the Gayelle TV show, which he hosted with Errol Sitahal and Niala Maharaj. He was quietly full of ideas and one of the main, creative forces in Banyan. Ever since I’ve known Tony he has lamented the lack of financial support for homegrown films and other creative endeavors. Case in point Jean and Dinah the movie.

Since the mid- 1990s, Tony tried everything within his power to get the right funding for this movie and always expressed frustration with corporate Trinidad for its lack of understanding of the importance of film and television productions to a society. But still, he persisted never giving up but the nonetheless frustrated by the process. I will never forget him jumping on board Westwood Park in the initial stages as an acting coach when most veterans had already condemned us to failure before we started. He took us seriously from the get-go and never failed to lend his support throughout the years. He will be sorely missed.”

Actress, thespian and acting coach Penelope Spencer who spoke via telephone said, “I just want the world to stop and realise what brilliance it has just lost. I wish that Trinidad really understand the magnitude of loss in Tony Hall dying.

I feel that he is in the same shoes as Derek Walcott and Sir VS Naipaul. Tony was just brilliant…brilliant! And this country did not understand his brilliance. There’s nobody who can go against his writing of the stories of people like Gene Miles or Jean and Dinah. Before he died, he wanted to do the story of Marcus Garvey and Amy Ashwood and he wanted to write the story of Stokely Carmichael too.

The last thing I did with Tony, myself and Michael Cherrie went to Canada about three years ago and we did speeches from the original Marcus Garvey Amy for the commemoration of a building in Canada, so he had started to work on it, but I don’t know how far he would have gotten.

Nobody’s going to write…who really cared enough about what these characters and real-life stories meant? The loss is too great, it was Raymond (Choo-Kong) the other day and now Tony, it’s like we’re getting a brain drain of talent in Trinidad right now. The way he wrote, directed…everything was an inspiration to me.”

Singer, songwriter, actor, and animator Roland “Rembunction” Yearwood via WhatsApp said, “He was a man for whom I had a great deal of respect and admiration in all his creative capacities. Actor, director, playwright, talk show host… I fondly remember his TV show “Late Night Lime” it was a cultural classroom that taught me immensely about us. Thank you, Tony Hall. Rest in eternal peace.”

Comedienne, radio host and actress Nikki Crosby wrote also via WhatsApp “A giant has fallen. There is an African saying. That when someone like him dies it’s like a library has burned down. That’s how I feel. He influenced so many of us in the theatre arts. He was my best director. He understood theatre and you were so blessed to learn from him. He is the one who brought my character ‘Granny’ to life. He gave her meat and substance. I’m so upset he can’t get the send-off he deserves. We needed to sing loudly, beat some drums, and send him off in style. For now, all we have is memories and deep grief. He will be missed!”

A release expressing its condolences and recapturing the work of Hall was also issued by UWI St Augustine, Campus where Hall was a supplement lecturer at the Department of Creative and Festival Arts (DCFA).

The release stated the university was saddened by the loss of the renowned playwright and cultural pioneer.

The release listed Hall’s many accomplishments and achievements in the field including his Lordstreet Theatre “Peoples of the Sea” Company co-founded with Errol Fabien in 1990 and his award-winning productions such as his 1994 Jean and Dinah . . . Speak Their Minds Publicly, which won five Cacique Awards for theatre and his 2011 Miss Miles The Woman of the World as well as Marcus and Amy: a ‘state visit’ —a story of activist Marcus Mosiah Garvey and former wife Jamaican Pan-Africanist Amy Ashwood, among other.

The release also highlighted Hall’s awards won for not just for his local productions and long-standing contributions to film in the Caribbean but international as well like the award-winning early 1990s made “And The Dish Ran Away With The Spoon” —a BBC/TVE documentary which gave an incandescent look at television’ in the Caribbean.

DCFA head of department Louis Mc Williams noted in the release Hall’s passing was a loss to the national, regional, and international community. He said, “We have lost a brilliant writer, actor, educator, and a nationalist who created in us a greater appreciation for local theatre, music, dance and the Arts. We at The University of the West Indies will miss him.”

About Tony Hall

Born Anthony Michael Hall on July 16, 1948, Hall writes and makes plays for street, stage, and screen functioning as an actor, director, writer, drama teacher, and workshop leader. Hall was born in Port-of-Spain and attended Naparima College, San Fernando. He gained a Bachelor’s degree in drama and education from the University of Alberta (1969-73), Edmonton, Canada, and obtained a diploma in film and advanced television production at the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (1978-80).

It is believed regionally that Hall is a pioneer in community television in the Caribbean. With the video production house Banyan Limited, in T&T, he was part of a group, of artists, which created indigenous soap operas, TV dramas, and current affairs programmes in the 1970s, 80s, and 90s.

At Banyan, Hall presented, with Errol Sitahal, Dennis “Sprangalang” Hall and Niala Maharaj, one of the most successful magazine programmes on TV in the Caribbean, Gayelle (1985-90), citation given at INPUT–International Public Television Conference.

Gayelle laid the foundation for the first community television station (24 hours of Caribbean programming) in the region, Gayelle The Channel (2004), founded by Christopher Laird and Errol Fabien.

Hall apprenticed in the Caribbean with Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott in his flagship company, Trinidad Theatre Workshop TTW), as an actor and a director (1973-1981). At the TTW, he performed in the world premiere productions of Walcott’s The Joker of Seville (1975) and O’ Babylon (1976-81). He also directed, under Walcott’s astute guidance, Jean Genet’s The Maids (1977).

In 1992, Christopher Laird and Hall directed the award-winning BBC/TVE/Banyan documentary film, And The Dish Ran Away With The Spoon, produced by Bruce Paddington, and hailed as “an astonishingly searing look at TV” by Starweek Magazine. This film won Best Video Documentary & Best Environmental Film, Images Caraibes (Martinique, 1992) at the Third Caribbean Film & Video Festival and also won first place in the Public Affairs Documentary Category at the 13th annual International Film and Video Competition, Prized Pieces (Ohio, 1993) National Black Programming Consortium, USA.

In the early 1990s, Errol Fabien and Hall launched Lordstreet Theatre Company with a prize-winning trilogy of J’Ouvert masquerade Carnival bands on the streets of Port-of-Spain: A Band On Drugs (1990), A Band On Violence (1991) and A Band On US (1992). This company promoted original work for street, stage, and screen from its very inception and since 2003 has done so primarily through a Playwrights Workshop.

Also in 1990, after years of participatory research into manifestations of popular culture in the Caribbean, Hall realized and presented, at the University of Winchester (King Alfred Campus), UK, Jouvay Process as a distinct and possibly helpful ‘post-post-New World’ perspective on drama practice or ‘action’ about living and being.

Hall established Jouvay Popular Theatre Process (JPTP), a drama workshop which involves free improvisation “the extempo impulse” and storytelling inspired by the traditional mas/mask/masquerade characters found in the Trinidad Carnival alongside ‘analogue’ folk and ancient religious characters found throughout the Caribbean and in other cultures worldwide, all as archetypes of human behaviour.

Hall’s play ‘Jean and Dinah . . . Speak Their Minds Publicly’ (1994) is a critically acclaimed work in West Indian theatre. This play has been performed throughout the Caribbean and in North America and the UK. A French version of the play was performed successfully at the UWI Inter-Campus Eighth Annual Foreign Language Theatre Festival in 2007 on the St Augustine Campus.

Hall has led drama courses and theatre workshop sessions at the University of Alberta, at the University of the West Indies, St Augustine, at the University of Winchester (King Alfred Campus), at Colgate University, New York, at Indiana State University, at the University of Bradford and at the Carnival Arts Centre, Isle of Wight.

He has functioned as an Artist-in-Residence at Trinity College, Hartford, Connecticut, between 1998 and 2007, where he directed plays and worked with students, professional actors and playwrights, and with young filmmakers at both the graduate and undergraduate levels.

Hall has also functioned as On-Site Academic Director (1999-2007) at Trinity College’s Trinity-in-Trinidad Global Learning Site. At present, functioning as a Lecturer in Global Studies (Festival and Drama), he is exploring with students, “Work & Play” and “Festival Arts as Cultural Performance” at the Trinity-in-Trinidad Global Learning Site.

SOURCE: Guardian Media Archives