You can easily tell just by looking at some of the popular and colorful characters portrayed in Carnival and other festivals that drama is an important part of life in the Caribbean. These annual festivities are just one of the traditional ways in which islanders express their dramatic flair.
Like the islands' other cultural forms, theater is a mixture of African and European styles, with a bit of tropical flavor thrown in. And in the 20th century, an increasing number of Caribbean playwrights began to get noticed.
Some places, such as Jamaica, encouraged theater from their colonial days. However, these growing theaters brought in acts from Europe more often than they produced their own works until the mid 1900s when Marcus Garvey spurred literary and artistic movements by blacks in the region. Négritude became the artistic movement on the French-speaking islands, and negrismo the term on the Spanish islands.
Since this rising interest in the African heritage of the Caribbean began, there has been an increasing focus on expressing the African side of the story on the islands. Where theater was at one point still predominantly white or light-skinned, black characters and island stories are now becoming the norm.
Jamaica and Puerto Rico each have flourishing theater communities, with original plays and playwrights from the islands. Remarkable talent is growing in the region, though there are still performances of more traditional European works as well.
Although popular playwrights come from throughout the islands, several of the most popular have been influenced by Jamaica. However, creative inspiration also comes from around the globe.
Born on Dominica as the son of two actors, Alwin Bully is a director and writer. He came to Jamaica as a student from the University of the West Indies. From there he's moved on to a career with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), but he has kept theater in his life, particularly in Jamaica.
Famed English playwright Sir Noel Coward also came to stay in Jamaica. His home was near James Bond writer Ian Fleming's home, and, though the two were friends, Coward did not agree to accept the title role in Dr. No. After a long career on stage and screen as both actor and writer, he died in Jamaica and was buried on Firefly Hill.
Jamaican screenwriter and playwright Trevor Rhone is credited with inspiring New York's indigenous film and theater movement. His films and plays deal directly with Jamaican life, using everything from dialect to local actors.
Of course, Jamaica isn't the only English-speaking island with popular theater, and Nobel Award winning poet Derek Walcott of St. Lucia is also known as a playwright. His plays deal as much with island life as his poems, which capture the spirit of the Caribbean.
In addition to these playwrights who write in English, the Caribbean is full of playwrights and actors ready to entertain with their styles and stories, and theater is a popular form of local expression.
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