“To enter a theater for a performance is to be inducted into a magical space, to be ushered into the sacred arena of the imagination.” –Simon Callow
A FRIEND recalls going to the Dundas Center for the Performing Arts for the first time decades ago to see a live performance of a play, then returning over the years for an assortment of productions ranging from dramas to musicals.
There were things he couldn’t grasp at the age of 12 when he first walked into the Center on Mackey Street, an oasis of cultural expression with Bahamian and international offerings.
But he does recall his overall impressions of the performances. They were delicious, exciting, entertaining. The roaring, stentorian voices of the main actors filled the theater and its imagination.
The costumes, sets and music transported the audience and the boy beyond the Bahamas. The vibes of the crowd laughing together at a fall or crying at a moment of loss created a shared experience.
This first taste of the theater, encouraged by his mother, led him to a lifetime of going to the theater in his country and abroad. The Dundas were the spark.
Years later, his enjoyment and appreciation of theater was enhanced by a beloved friend who had spent his life in theatre, directing, producing, designing and managing a mosaic of shows seen by thousands of people.
Theater is at the heart and core of a healthy, developing and cosmopolitan society. Every major city in ancient Greece had at least one theater, similar to a vital organ of the human body. “[Greek] the theater offered an experience that brought together elements of myth, ritual, religion, dance, music and literature.
Theater engenders empathy. It reflects the scars, warts and goodness of a society. The performing arts promote human and cultural development, inducing pleasure and enjoyment as well as discomfort and, sometimes, revolution.
Theater is a place where the language of words and emotions can merge into an elixir or alchemy that often exposes souls and consciousness to unexpected revelations and transformation beyond its vanities, delusions, prejudices, repressions .
The theater serves as a dynamic space promoting much more than the instrumentality of the arts. There is a larger aesthetic intrigued by truth, goodness and beauty, discoverable and interrogated through comedy, satire, tragedy and other genres of life and imagination.
Those who shed their blood in theater and the performing arts in the Bahamas deserve our collective gratitude and deep appreciation.
But these artists, creatives, and cultural entrepreneurs — past and present — deserve more than ritual praise. Dundas and the performing arts need a sustained flow of resources and dedicated civic and intellectual support.
The recent brouhaha over the suggestion of bringing Broadway shows to the Bahamas was something of an unintended twist and prank showing a desperate lack of understanding of the wealth of talent in the Bahamas and the aspirations and needs of the arts communities of the spectacle.
In a recent presentation, “Planet Afire: Critical Thinkers and Literary Artists, Descend from Olympus and Stop Playing the Fiddle While It Burns,” poet and author Patricia Glinton Meicholas laments the lack of increased support for the commons. creatives: “The orange economy is the new black in the Bahamas, the faux haute couture of cultural consciousness.
“The term features heavily in the soundbites of politicians these days, mostly spoken in international forums to command respect, but not from action-oriented conviction. The theater arts sponsor critical yet confident modeling of life to foster peace learning.
“Yet the National Performing Arts Center languishes in style rot and dubious usefulness and the Dundas struggle with sass and shaky funding. The National Library is still in utero waiting for skillful and honest midwives to come out into the light of day.
“Know that the arts, philosophy and rhetoric are incubators of divergent thinkers who can take mental leaps into unfamiliar areas and generate innovation. Early exposure to this is a gateway to genius and constructive citizenship.
The Dundas’ story is told in part on its website, including in an article co-authored by Dr. Nicolette Bethel and Philip A Burrows.
Their case is compelling: “All things considered, the Dundas Center for the Performing Arts is a success. However, there is still a lot to do… All these improvements require a rare commodity among the Dundas: money.
“Dundas’ productions barely generate enough revenue to keep the theater running, despite members donating time and personal resources.”
The website also recommends: “The Dundas is completely self-contained. It does not receive any regular contributions from the Bahamian government or Bahamian companies. The main source of income is the Winston V Saunders Theatre. Without that revenue, the Dundas may have to shut down for good.
The Dundas are in great need of funding for recurrent expansion, production and capital. Theater is expensive and labor intensive.
In 1992, the annual grant to the Bahamas National Trust was $25,000. This amount has increased over the years culminating in 2007 with a $1 million per year grant from the Government of the Bahamas. The driver behind this was former Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham.
The National Trust has a statutory relationship with the government but retains its independence in managing the national park system, a unique relationship that dates back to its inception.
The National Center for the Performing Arts is government-owned, while the Dundas is “a private, not-for-profit corporation established in trust for the people of the Bahamian.” How could the Dundas and various performing arts groups get more funding?
Such groups should retain their independence without state control over what they wish to produce. Governments have long provided annual grants to non-profit organizations.
The Dundas and the government may wish to enter into some sort of memorandum of understanding or agreement whereby the Center receives an annual grant to cover various basic recurrent costs and general staff, including a director.
The Bahamian government has supported the arts in a variety of ways, although more needs to be done to enlighten those responsible and engage other creators and stakeholders to become advocates on their behalf.
While it is necessary to hold governments accountable, it is essential to build wider community support for an institution and not constantly berate government officials.
The Dundas is important to our cultural life and deserves and needs the help of government to put it on a path to greater sustainability. The National Art Gallery of The Bahamas, a public institution, can serve as an example, in some ways, for the future sustainability of the Dundas and the groups that use the facility.
Similar to the BNT and NAGB, the Dundas need more corporate and foundation support to further energize the performing arts in the Bahamas. The Dundas is a “magical space” and a “sacred arena of the imagination”.
As we approach our 50th anniversary of independence, one of the substantive goals is to create a medium to long-term plan for the further development of the creative arts, including the performing and writing arts.
The Dundas and the Performing Arts require a myriad of capital, including bold and creative ideas and the thinking of the Dundas Board and members of its proposed future and what it might need to do to achieve a greater great public and other support.
The center will require several million in the coming years for its development and its recurring needs. There is more than enough capital in the Bahamas to fulfill the dreams of those who have populated the Dundas with their endless talents and drive since the Center opened.
Supporting good work in the performing arts is in our national interest. How can we now finance the work with the necessary funds and will? More in the weeks to come.