J’can actor and educator Akeem Mignott spearheads speech and drama programme
“Seize the moment. Do what you have to and live in the now.” With this lesson, Jamaican actor, theatre practitioner, and drama educator Akeem Mignott has shone a light at the end of the pandemic’s dark and winding tunnel, spearheading a weekly speech and drama training programme for youth.
Mignott’s hope for the first staging this summer was to mitigate the mental impact of COVID-19. And he achieved just that, exceeding his own expectations. As an actor for most of his life and teacher for almost eight years, working full time with Hillel Academy and doing part-time lecturing in the drama department at the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts, Mignott understands the importance of art in fostering the holistic development of young people. Individuals between the ages of eight and 25 were allowed to channel their creativity in a life-changing way. He says that youths’ mental, emotional, and social health are greatly affected by COVID-19 restrictions, especially with the absence of face-to-face learning. His desire going forward was to act as an agent of change in that department.
“Children are sitting behind phones and computer screens. No one thought about how it would affect them in the long term. So this initiative was to try and fill the void that is now present and try to have them engage in a safe way face to face; bring back that sense of expression and confidence that they had before,” he told The Gleaner. This outlet of expression ranged from engaging in theatre practices to drama conventions and games.
Mignott started with 30 persons. The younger groups would meet on Wednesdays and the older ones met up on Saturdays. Adhering to the COVID-19 protocols, wearing masks, face shields, and practising social distance, the Prime Minister Youth awardee made it his mission to provide a safe space for attendees to learn the art of theatre in more ways than one.
Using what he garnered while pursuing his master’s degree in applied theatre at Goldsmith University in London, the Chevening scholar returned with a plan of action to transfer his knowledge and training to inspire the future generation. The drama conventions included physical and vocal development, creating pieces, poems, miming, skits, short plays, collaborating creatively, improvisation, looking at themes in society, and using one’s imagination to come up with solutions. “I want to make young performers look professional on stage. They came from all walks of life with one common goal: to express themselves,” he added. An advocate for nation-building and youth development, his efforts saw him being a one-man show, getting support from the art teacher on the backdrop for the production and seeking assistance for the videography for the virtual experience. Recording this final showcase gave the students involved the chance to have a greater feel of the total theatre experience, performing on stage with the involvement of ‘lights, camera, action’.
“The final showcase gave the students and parents involved the chance to see what they’ve been up to, for the students to see what they’ve been working towards and for them to also see themselves in a global pandemic being bold, confident, and happy on stage,” he revealed. Parents were in awe not only by their children’s performances, but also by their overall attitude and behaviour. Grateful for the growth so far, as the programme progresses, he would like to collaborate further, incorporating children’s homes and working with more young ones who have learning disabilities and is looking forward to restarting the initiative this month. The aim is to break the stigma and marginalisation so that the participants can truly express themselves. Bringing it closer to home, Mignott is looking forward to creating quality entertainment on stage and film. And, of course, balance his teaching in the mix.
For more information on how you or your child can join this initiative, email firstname.lastname@example.org.