Thu | Jun 4, 2020

Lights out on Phoenix Theatre

Published:Friday | January 10, 2020 | 12:00 AMMarcia Rowe/Gleaner Writer
Theatre entrepreneur David Tulloch at Phoenix Theatre.
The Phoenix Theatre
A scene from the play, ‘Gaza Boys’ at the former Theatre Place, Haining Road in St Andrew.

The shortage of theatre spaces for plays in Jamaica has taken a turn for the worse. On Sunday, Probemaster Entertainment staged its final production at the Phoenix Theatre. David Tulloch, manager of the over 15-year-old theatre, choked up as he informed the audience of the theatre’s closure.

“I did not want to cry,” he told the audience and continued to explain that Phoenix was the tag line for Probemaster. It means rising from the ashes. Thus, the concept Phoenix Theatre cannot die. It is more than a building.

The Haining Road property was first leased to actor and director Pablo Hoilett and was named The Theatre Place. In late 2015, Tulloch was asked by property owner Chin-Hing to take over its management. The name was subsequently changed to The Phoenix Theatre.

Under Tulloch’s stewardship, the theatre received a facelift and was subdivided into two theatres: 300-seat main house and the smaller 100-seat Blue Room.

Too pricey

But with the owners migrating, it was deemed more practical to sell the property. The price, however, was out of the reach of Probemaster Entertainment.

“They are asking for US$2 million. I don’t think we can afford that. I spoke to quite a bit of people. Some people gave me positive feedback, and I have never heard from them again. I think last night was a testimony to the major issue at hand.” Only a handful of supporters came out despite being invited to the final production, Prayer Partner, so chosen because of its message and popularity.

Actor and comedian, Owen Ellis was on hand to support Tulloch. He told The Gleaner that the closure of the space was bittersweet. It would increase the shortage of space but it also presented the opportunity for theatre practitioners to become more creative in staging their plays. Dinner theatre could be explored, he said.

Director and actor Michael Nicholson classified the theatre as an excellent and central space and said its closure was a great loss to theatre, generally. “Because we have lost another theatre space, we now have a set of actors who do not know when the next space will be available to put on a play or to even rehearse. It is a great loss to theatre, a great loss to many actors and musicians and the church that is being displaced.”

Pastor Cornelius Brown of Freedom Ministry used the theatre to stage the church’s annual Drama Fest. He described the closure as unfortunate.

“We liked to use the venue because of the size of the stage, because of the location and the love we have for theatre ministry. We will miss Phoenix. We wish it was different.

“For us, we are already searching for other places.”

He admitted that “it is a challenge as there are really not enough theatre spaces around”.

“Is it that our nation does not love theatre anymore? Or is it that we need to revalue the whole artistic life of theatre?” Brown questioned.