By Paula Lindo (Originally published to the T&T Guardian 14/02/ 2016)
The fourth Monday Night Forum at the Trinidad Theatre Workshop (TTW) on February 1, featuring Ellen O’Malley Camps- better known as Helen Camps- drew a crowd of admirers, theatre practitioners and the curious, and for good reason. Camps, who is also a legendary Trinidad Theatre practitioner and Tent Theatre Founding Artistic Director followed previous featured speakers Albert Laveau, Nikki Crosby and Ralph Maraj in the new series of theatre talks.
Camps was pivotal in establishing Trinidad’s Little Carib Theatre as a theatre space with technical and administrative infrastructure; founded Teyat Toutafe in St. Lucia; co-founded Trinidad’s Brown Cotton Outreach Theatre and is most known for founding Trinidad Tent Theatre, a company which singularly revolutonised ‘live’ theatre on the home front.
Camps stories of her current work in the maximum security prisons alternately drew tears to the eyes and made the audience howl with laughter as she described where the prisoners, all of whom were lifers, had begun and where they had reached in the practice of the art of Carnival.
Camps described her way of working as a process called Carnival Theatre, developed in the 70s and 80s. It is the end product of an interaction between the techniques of Carnival, ritual and theatre. She sees J’Ouvert as an important site of self-reflection and identity-forming, and said it’s how she celebrates waking up in the morning. Camps also uses “insights into restorative justice and humanistic trans-personal psychology to facilitate functional intra- and inter-personal relationships. The process employs storytelling, stickfighting, brown cotton costume design, extemporizing, creative visualization, guided imagery, recognition and development of emotional intelligence, anger management, conflict resolution and physical/psychological wealth. The process looks at identity as personality, group affiliation and spatio-temporal continuity.”
“Performance allows us the space to see ourselves in a new way, in particular our own culturally-based Carnivals and satirical shows. Choosing and debating together means we co-author our work and imagine a more empowered future. As we enter 2016, the Carnival theatre process is uncomfortable with happy endings, resolved outcomes or anything that smacks of easy results. It recognizes that the most authentic life has ephemeral, fallible and incomplete aspects and elements. I believe the best outcome is the Carnival theatre process is to get things wrong in a fresh and illuminating fashion.”
~ Helen Camps
Her descriptions of past work and events, such as a traditional folk festival in Europe, had the audience in stitches. Her retelling of what must have been quite harrowing circumstances, such as being detained at gunpoint in Germany, focused on the humour in the situations, including having to threaten some theatre owners in Rome with cancellation of the show if the group’s airfare wasn’t paid.
She reminisced about working with Derek Walcott, Raymond Choo Kong, Horace James, Errol Jones, Albert Laveau, Hamilton Parris, Paul Keens-Douglas, Jit Samaroo, Wendell Manwarren, Mervyn de Goeas and Debra Bocaud-Mason, among many others.
Camps’ pride in her work and her fond memories of it were evident as she described working in Guadeloupe, St. Lucia, Ireland, Europe, the UK, with priests and nuns and children and adults all over the world. Attendees such as Michael Cherrie, Rhoma Spencer and others joined in with memories of working with Camps and seeing her performances.
The Monday Night Forums are put on by Playwrights Workshop Trinbago and Raymond Choo Kong Productions in association with Trinidad Theatre Workshop, The Trinidad and Tobago Performing Arts Network and Trinity College in-Trinidad Global Learning Site. The next installment will be held at TTW on February 29th, 2016, 7PM and will feature Dr. L. Efebo Wilkinson. Admission is FREE. Details HERE