Minister criticised over possibility of bringing theatre festival to Bahamas


Tribune Chief Reporter

TOURISM Minister Chester Cooper has drawn criticism from cultural activists over a recent meeting with Broadway producers about possibly bringing a theatre festival to The Bahamas.

Tourism officials recently met with the producers to discuss ways the country’s orange economy can be expanded.

The news was met with much resistance from cultural proponents.

Among them was former Director of Culture Nicolette Bethel who pointed to Shakespeare in Paradise, The Bahamas’ own theatre festival which she co-founded.

She wrote on her website: “On September 30, 2022, ZNS reported that the Minister of Tourism and Deputy Prime Minister sat down with a pair of Broadway producers in New York City and talked about bringing a theatre festival to The Bahamas. Because the government is investing in the Bahamian orange economy. Come all the way again?

“Shakespeare in Paradise, The Bahamas’ very own international theatre festival, is now in its 14th season. What’s more, it is going on right now. It opened on September 19 and runs through October 8. And it’s pretty popular, too. Some shows have sold out already.

“This leads me to two conclusions.

“Either the Minister of Tourism does not know about Shakespeare in Paradise, or the Minister of Tourism thinks that what Shakespeare in Paradise has been doing for the last fourteen years is not good enough for his purposes.

“We Bahamians should all take deep offence.”

She said Shakespeare in Paradise, since 2009, has presented more than 70 shows to 50,000 people involving 900 performers in 20 venues.

“Ninety percent of our performers are local. In that time, we have spent more than $1.2 million, most of it going into the Bahamian economy, on food, drink, costumes, transportation, accommodation, t-shirts, set materials, programmes, customs duties, freight, VAT, chair rentals, tents, stipends, fees and other things.

“But the Minister of Tourism and the New York producers are talking about bringing in a theatre festival here. And these New York producers who the Minister of Tourism says will start building the Bahamian orange economy are talking about internships and writing shows with Bahamian content and I’m sitting here going: How is this building our economy though? What are we talking about here?

“Because, let’s face it. Broadway producers really have no interest in investing in some other country’s orange economy. Broadway producers are business people who are looking to benefit their investors.”

Shakespeare In Paradise, she said, has mounted 33 Bahamian productions, from small one-person performances to full-scale musicals, reviving Bahamian classics and presenting new shows.

“We do what we do well enough to have been invited to join the international Shakespeare Theatre Association. We care enough about our country’s tourism product to host the Shakespeare Theatre Association’s annual conference at Atlantis in 2023. We do what we do well enough that I will be taking over as president of the Shakespeare Theatre Association in January 2023.

“And we’ve done all this without any serious investment from any Bahamian government. Since 2009, Shakespeare in Paradise has put over $1.2 million into our economy; of that, the Ministry of Tourism has provided us with perhaps $50,000. Maybe a four percent investment in what we are doing is commendable — you tell me. But it isn’t building our economy.

“I do not recall ever being approached by the Ministry of Tourism to be advertised by them in their multi-million-dollar campaigns. I have never seen any photograph from any Shakespeare in Paradise show make it into Ministry of Tourism ads. I have never seen the Ministry of Tourism tell any tourist that there is such a thing as Bahamian theatre.”

For her part, Pamela Burnside, manager of Doongalik Studios Art Gallery, expressed anger over the situation.

“Year in and year out, decade after decade, we, the Bahamian people who are the world class creators and makers of the unique Bahamian orange economy, are bombarded left, right, and centre, with the very same infuriating ignorance that continues to stifle our development as a people and as a country,” she wrote in a letter to the editor.

“How will we survive when the ‘powers that be’ remain oblivious to the obvious, and cannot see what they lookin’ at - even though it is staring them right in the face? Frankly and sadly, the ‘powers that be’ do not have a clue about all the amazing cultural things that are taking place in the very country they are supposed to be leading! And to add even more insult to injury, they do not even pause to ask, and seek, and find.

“Yet they are ready, willing and able to go traipsing all around the world on our dime with huge questionable delegations to ‘dialogue face to face’ with ‘foreign,’ take photographs with ‘celebrities,’ and spout off in front of cameras about bringing ‘udder people tings’ home - at considerable expense I might add - to contaminate our own culture.

“Are they ever going to get it? ‘It’ means: be who you is not who you ain’t, drop ya bucket where you stand, put ya money where ya mout’ is, consider operating from the bottom up by taking care of we, the people, and our unique Bahamian culture, first; otherwise: say ya sorry, then shut up and listen, bring ya money, and register for ongoing classes on ‘Bahamian Culture: How to be a ‘true true’ Bahamian’ 101, so we can learn ya.”