By Sharmain Grainger
“Nothing is impossible. If you set your mind on something and you decide this is going to be your goal, you work towards it. It may not happen overnight; it may not happen in a year or in two years but it will happen. The main thing you have to be determined and you have to set your mind to it.”
With numerous stage shows and other productions under her belt, Gem Madhoo Nascimento has long been recognised as perhaps the only woman in Guyana to infiltrate the local theatre industry and prove herself a worthy top contender in a male-dominated arena.
But getting to where she is, has been no easy task as she has had to fight tooth and nail. She continues to do so even today, in order to maintain her earned foothold.
Although Gem’s story is straightforward to tell, a keen listener can easily decipher that the road to success in the theatre industry is often marred by many disappointments and defeats. The only hope of survival is resilience and it is evident that Gem was blessed with an abundance of this trait.
Maybe she was born with it, or maybe she is just the soldiering type who adapts to whatever life throws her way. However, what is particularly clear is that Gem has ridden all of the necessary waves in the theatre industry, in order to be recognised as a true contributor to theatre in Guyana and she wouldn’t let anyone think any less of her.
Moreover, she has learnt to deliver to her audience quality shows that serve as a reminder to her fans and critics alike just why she remains a force to be reckoned with.
Her latest production a television sitcom called ‘Days Like Dese’, which is currently in its second season, has been giving her audience something to look forward to.
Even with limited funding, Gem hopes to keep pressing on for the sake of her audience.
She lives each day embracing the motto “Nothing is impossible. If you set your mind on something and you decide this is going to be your goal, you work towards it. It may not happen over-night, it may not happen in a year or in two years but it will happen. The main thing you have to be determined and you have to set your mind to it.”
A GEM IS BORN
Although she currently shares a home with her husband, communication specialist, Kit Nascimento, in D’Urban Backlands, Georgetown, Gem has always been a country girl at heart. On November 12, 1953, she was the fifth of 10 children born to Agnes Ramphal and Victor Madhoo [both deceased].
Gem recalled that theirs was a large family living in a comfortable enough home situated on a sprawling five acres of land in the small village of Auchlyne in Corentyne, Berbice. Fruit trees were everywhere, she remembered. “I probably climbed all of the trees except the coconut trees,” recounted Gem as she joked about being a ‘Tom Boy’ back in the day.
She has many fond memories of growing up in Berbice. “I am a country girl, by name and nature and everything else because I love a country life…I really enjoyed my life growing up in the country,” reiterated a nostalgic Gem.
She attended the then privately operated Corentyne High School [now J. C. Chandisingh] where she secured enough O’ Level subjects to qualify for a job in banking in the capital city. She recalled working at the National Cooperative Bank for about five years but confided during her interview that she would have much preferred becoming an Air Hostess.
“I really wanted to be an Air Hostess because I loved travelling. I remember telling friends I wanted to be an Air Hostess and they would say ‘you want to be a glorified waitress’,” related Gem who also recalled having a tamed desired to indulge in broadcasting.
But although she had accepted her banking fate, Gem simply could not shake her desire to travel. By the age of 23 the adventurous Gem, who had racked up about four months annual leave, was on her way to see the world. “This was back in 1977 when adults were hardly travelling out of Guyana much less a 23- year- old who didn’t even know where she was going…but I guess that is my nature,” said a smiling Gem as she reflected further into her past. Her spontaneous trip saw her travelling to a total of 28 countries including India and Japan within an eight-month period.
“I didn’t care whether I came back to a job or not because it was my dream to travel the world…I was not going to cut short my trip for a job,” Gem confessed.
Indeed when she returned, job hunting was in order. She was lucky to land a job in insurance which afforded her a great deal of free time.
INTRODUCTION TO THEATRE
With time on her hands, and a flair for theatre, Gem decided to join the Theatre Guild. But her first experience in theatre was back in 1974 while she was still employed at the bank. Although she was not a public servant, Gem was able to join the Guyana Public Service Union Drama Group which was headed by Mr. Francis Farrier, now a veteran journalist.
“I think they needed a young girl of my heritage to play a role and I ended up on stage. I didn’t even want to go on stage…I’d preferred to be involved in backstage work, maybe costuming, props or something like that. But Francis Farrier put me on stage and there I was opening the show,” Gem recalled.
As part of the Drama Group she travelled to many parts of the country to showcase her new found talent.
As her understanding of theatre evolved so did her aspirations. As such by 1981 she joined forces with the likes of Ron Robinson and Dr. Ian McDonald to establish the Theatre Company which produced the Link Show – a satirical stage production.
Although it yielded success for a number of years, the partnership came to a head in 2001. The next logical move for Gem was to start up her own Production Company – Gem’s Theatre Productions. A few years down the road her Production Company was really thriving and she was persuaded to once again collaborate with the Theatre Company to continue the production of the Link Show.
Although the collaboration ended in 2015, the Link Show is recognised as one of the longest running stage shows in Guyana. “We had achieved 33 productions, every year we did one,” recounted Gem. But she hasn’t been standing idly by. Independently she has produced more than 60 shows including musical productions, jazz shows and jazz and art combinations.
When asked from whence her producing talent came, Gem quipped, “I am a business-like person, I have my accounting background and I have always been good at organising things and that in itself is a key ingredient to producing.”
Gem would however learn first-hand that despite the role of a producer is especially important, they are often not recognised for the work they do.
“As a producer you are not recognised. You would find people would recognise an actor and they get all the publicity and everything else but people don’t realise that 90 percent of the work comes from the producer…If the producer doesn’t decide to put on a show then the actors wouldn’t get work,” she asserted.
The challenge extends even further for a female producer. “You will always find that men are given the forefront…and this is true for almost every field you can think of,” said Gem who has over the years ensured that her strong voice was heard in a revolution that has given women a place at just about any table.
Gem shared that it wasn’t until after she’d become a producer that she became truly empowered as a woman in the theatre world. “I have my husband to thank for that…I am much more brave, forceful and everything thing else. I think I have grown a lot…Before I was quiet and didn’t want to say much but I am more outspoken now,” Gem admitted.
So empowered she has become that she has even been helping to empower others through her theatre work. In so doing she has been instrumental in helping to launch the careers of several young playwrights.
But her shows have not only been about humour and laughter; she has had many productions that have taken her into schools teaching youths about social issues including Trafficking in Persons and Domestic Violence. She has even travelled overseas to showcase some of her work.
She could easily be credited with being one of the powerhouses in the industry who have helped to keep theatre alive even when audiences started to dwindle because of the increasing invasion of television.
A FULLING LIFE
Although she admits that theatre work is like the blood flowing through her vein, Gem also finds time to do a great deal of other meaningful things. For a number of years she has been balancing her producer work with managing a business – Hurakabra River Resort – which she co-owns with her husband.
This she has been doing with evident distinction too despite the magnitude of the work needed to keep a nature-filled resort going.
Essentially, Gem hasn’t only been emboldened in the theatre aspect of her life but rather it has spilled over into every sphere even in the way she manages the resort. She has the uncanny ability to ensure just about every aspect of the business thrives from boating to preparing delicacies that tantalises the taste buds.
But even as she considers her age, Gem is satisfied that she has done enough work in Guyana’s tourism industry and is prepared to give it all up at the right time. “We would like the sell the resort one day…the tourism business is good but it is very hectic because as a boss you have to take on a lot of responsibility,” she informed.
This, however, does not mean that it is the end of the road for Gem as, according to her, “There are things me and my husband still want to do together, there are places we still want to go. I want to compile a book of Guyanese theatre history… all that information of people who made numerous contributions, all will be lost if we don’t do that. All these things calls for funding but you have to take everything in strides and when you have time you do it.”
But even as she prepares to cut back on some of her business activities, Gem assures, “I am not going to give up theatre; it is part of me. I can slow down and choose to do a production a year but at this age I can choose the kind of things I want to do. It is no longer mandatory for me to produce many shows per year…so I can take my leisurely time and do the kinds I want to do at my own pace.”
Today we at Kaieteur News recognise Gem as our ‘Special Person’ not only for her continued resilience in theatre work but because of her versatility which allows her to make just about anything project she touches succeed.
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