In Tribute to the late Sir Ian Valz – Part 2
- by Petamber Persaud
(Excerpt of an interview with Ian Valz, Georgetown, Guyana, November 2007.
Valz made his mark on local theatre before migrating to St. Maarten in 1983 where he died recently. Valz is better known for his play,‘House of Pressure’.)
PP: And theatre should be easy; it is grounded in oral tradition of which we are all comfortable so it should come more easily to us but that is not the reality.
PP: Why unfortunately? Explain this, since theatre can do so much and yet theatre is sort of struggling in comparison to the other art forms.
IV: Well, the initiative in St Maarten, for example, came from a group of us who realise it had to be done and we approached it seriously and consistently and with a lot of energy. If you stay with it long enough, people will buy into it. I did it here with Margaret Lawrence, Jasper Adams, Andre Sobryan, Ron Robinson and all those guys. On one side, the lack of consistency may be the problem; the genuine love of it, the reasons why you are doing it and not just for the dollar. But you must recognise that this is part of your cultural development if you are to grow as a society. So on one hand, the artist has to have this total commitment, on the other hand they have to get the support of the community via the government and that is not always forthcoming in its totality. And that sometimes makes us feel underappreciated, especially when our commitment is larger than what we should receive.
PP: Perhaps you could work on that area to get government to do more.
IV: I think first of all, recognition of our artist is very important. Guys like Ron and Margaret should be recognised as national heroes for their contribution in Guyana. Howard Lorimer, and others like Henry Rodney, who are consistently working at their craft.
PP: Andre Sobryan.
IV: Certainly Andre…..
PP: Going back to the start of your career – to formative days at Saints, to the City Council’s cultural project, to Theatre Guild: what you had to offer to the powers that be in theatre that induced their encouragement and support?
IV: It is more likely the crowds I pull especially at the National Cultural Centre…if something is not that really good, you wouldn’t get that support. Of course the literary critic will say what they have to say. But we recognised that this was theatre for the public and not just the elite audience but for a general audience. So we were able to bring people out from every area of Georgetown and even further; we went to Berbice and everywhere we went we had good support. And I think that somewhat opened the eyes of people that these guys were doing something good and I was certainly doing something good. That’s how I was offered the job at the City Council by the then Mayor Mavis Benn. Sitting in the Council with all the elder heads was quite intimidating at times but I was able to deliver there as well because I had good support from the workers of the City Council at the time. Actors like Michael Balkaran, I don’t know if he is still acting, I hope so, he was in the first Link Show with Ron. Michael was also from the City Council and got his full support.
PP: You mentioned taking plays to New Amsterdam. That is a dimension missing in the arts where everything seems to be focused on Georgetown, centralised in Georgetown. Producers complain how difficult it is to take plays out of Georgetown without proper lighting, stage and other props. But you have and successfully.
IV: Yes, I have performed at Dartmouth on the Essequibo with Hilton Hemerding
PP: How is he, another great Guyanese performer?
IV: I haven’t seen him in a while but I’d like to hail him up and wish him the very best. When I worked with the City Council, Hilton was there; I started a folk group there and he was part of it. He was the lead in the folk group and we did many, many great productions together. And we toured everywhere. Of course, the mayor was instrumental in getting us to go places showcasing our talents.
PP: You had the machinery to help you.
IV: Yes, Mavis Benn was very instrumental.
PP: Drama, writing, directing, acting and now you’ve move to another art form….
IV: Film-making. I’ve done a number of international projects; one with CBS and a number of tours to Holland. I have always found film to be a fascinating medium because it could reach so many people at one time. It is not like theatre where you have to perform twenty/thirty performances. I am a very diverse person, I like to experiment in other areas of the art. And I was lucky to write a script that took ten years to produce. Finally I found a producer who was impressed by the script and he brought a great crew from Holland and we made this film ‘The Pan Man, the rhythm of the Caribbean. It’s about a pan player, the struggle of the pan man, sort of symbolic of the Caribbean artist – the struggle we have with family life and getting artistic work done. It premiere in St. Maarten…and I am in discussion here with local producers to work along with me and to have it shown here.
PP: ‘Pan Man’; I am thinking of John Agard’s ‘Man to Pan’
IV: I performed that several time
PP: Similar storyline?
IV: No. But certainly the inspiration must have come from there. John wrote a beautiful piece of work that talked about what the artist represents to us in the Caribbean. Of course, it cannot be overstated; pan is the only musical instrument to be invented in the 20th century. It made me appreciate more the steal pan and what it represent not just as a musical instrument but as an instrument of bringing peoples together, the Caribbean people.
PP: This is what you are doing with drama and now your film making. Congratulations on using these art forms to bring people together which can augur well for Carifesta X in Guyana in the year 2008.
Responses to this author telephone (592) 226-0065 or email: oraltradition2002@y ahoo.com