On July 23, at NDATT’s annual general meeting he was elected president, along with a new executive, and intends to make the association the voice of theatre.

NDATT, which was formed in 1980, “aims to foster an interest, develop and help facilitate all aspects of the art of drama in Trinidad and Tobago; protect and ensure the freedom of expression for dramatic artists and promote all aspects of drama.” The previous executive, led by Trevor Jadunath, had been described as “dormant” in some media reports.

Etienne, however, said dormant was “a bit strong” as there was an executive in place but it was stymied by resignations and the migration of an executive member.

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He said the executive was still there and accessible.

He reported there was research taking place, including veteran actor Michael Cherrie looking into the establishment of an actors guild and the conducting of a general survey.

© Victor Gill Ramírez.

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He said they also attempted to have a Cacique Awards, an annual event honouring theatre practitioners, which had not been held since about 2010.

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Etienne was a recipient of a Cacique for his first full length play, Red House Fire back in 1998.

He described it as “unfortunate” that the awards were not being held as it represented and acknowledged excellence in theatre.

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He recalled that around the time the Cacique was being held there was an exponential growth in practitioners.

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“It left everyone in a state of limbo. We need to get back to that. Where the association and the profession reach the point where we celebrate excellence.” Etienne, who had been on the comedy circuit for some time and returned to theatre last year, recalled that he was part of the staging of the play Bitter Cassava and he saw excellence.

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Regarding NDATT, Etienne said there was a disconnect and not a collective voice and it was the immediate task of the new executive to be accessible and “repair that bridge.” He stressed he was not casting aspersions on the previous executive adding that systems break down at times and need to be rebuilt and renewed.

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He said there was a “nucleus” of young, strong actors who are largely without a platform and they need to find a way to “corral that energy.” He explained that the association must provide a space for directors, producers, actors, singers and stage crew to meet and discuss how to make their craft better.

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Etienne said that he has been blessed that he is able to live off his craft for 19 years, adding that he has also embraced corporate Trinidad.

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He said there was a need for others who have been able to live full time as theatre practitioners to share their stories.

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Asked how many full time theatre practitioners there are locally, Etienne said it was difficult to say.

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He added that a number of practitioners teach more than they practice. He said it is unfortunate NDATT has a virtual office and not a physical office space because it takes away from the “beauty in the tangible” of being able to sit across from someone to talk.

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He said along with creating spaces and education, focusing on communicating with the membership and finding out their needs was also important.

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A strategic plan He said the most immediate agenda item is to get the executive on a retreat within the next couple of weeks and to come up with a strategic plan for the next couple of years.

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He stressed there will be tangible objectives and it will be informed by what the membership requires to offer them value for their investment.

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Etienne believes they should have mandatory youth representation as he has “no intention of being president for life.” He said no one in the executive, which has a two-year term, was there for glamour and no one was being paid or will personally benefit.

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“The people who derive the benefit is the membership. That is the way it has always been and will continue.” Asked about the size of the NDATT membership, Etienne said the financial members who voted were 120.

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He said, however, there is a larger group of non-financial members which they plan to pull back into the fold.

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“I expect the number (of members) to triple in the coming months.” He said they represent theatre as a whole and default theatre graduates form universities and secondary school and people who take part in Best Village were by default their constituents.

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“We speak for theatre.” He said when they address an issue it is not just for their paid members but it was about stimulating an industry.

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On the setting up of an actors guild he said it adds structure for someone looking at theatre as a career.

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He explained that in any other profession you have clear definition of rank, remuneration and specialities, but currently people get qualified in theatre and then have to “hustle” .

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“The guild would take the hustle out of this and have professionals earning their keep.” He said there was also a shortage of legitimate performance spaces and competition from other sources such as churches, government ministries and conventions.

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He explained that each venue has its particular issues in terms of seating and availability for bookings.

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He said in the short term they have to “make do” in terms of spaces and focus on developing practitioners so they can then demand more spaces and better spaces.

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He also pointed out that every community has a community centre which are largely closed during the week and can be used as theatre spaces.

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Etienne also spoke of a need for decentralising of theatre and to have more work in Central and South.

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He said they also have to look at the needs of Tobago and added that there was a tendency to forget the “Tobago” part of NDATT.

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In terms of advocacy, he said there is a system in place where people get back 150 per cent of funding into theatre via tax break.

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He said with this people can invest in different types of work and not just what they think would be profitable.

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He said, however, people were having difficulty in even getting information on the facility and as an association they have to levy these arrangements to add value to their membership.

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On the local theatre audience, Etienne said the crime situation was a factor but it was not the only one.

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He recalled that from 2008-2012, he started to see new faces and younger faces attending shows and he was informed that they learned about the events via social media.

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He said the issue of attendance at shows was based on how it is presented. He explained there were producers who had built a clientèle over a number of years and their advertising has a certain tone which attracted patrons.

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He said NDATT has to find similar ways to assist producers with their marketing plan and strategy and the use of non-financial resources.

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He added the strongest word is word of mouth and they also need to take advantage of social media.

He said there were “all kinds of theatre” taking place but an audience will only look into what they have heard about.

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Etienne said his wish would be to open a newspaper and see a catalogue of theatre events including dance shows, musicals, plays by graduating students and consultations of working backstage.

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He also wished the standard would be high and people would participate at various levels.

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