BY: JELANI GRANT
Presented by Real Queens Productions, Jamaican playwright Paul O. Beale debuted, The Head Girl, at the Jamaican Canadian Association. Robert Gordon, Kameka Morrison, Theresa “Pinky” Baker, Chris M. Hitchinson, and Christina “Fancy Lady” Williams had the audience roaring with laughter and cheers. The play was split in half with an intermission given for food and refreshments. Following the play, an after party was held, ending the night with a dance competition.
The comedic-drama tells the story of a family working towards financial and emotional stability after a teenage cousin is welcomed into their home. Additionally, their daughter holds a secret that could crush the entire family’s foundation. The story touches on a number of family dynamics and even the very real issue of child abuse. Beale told Toronto Caribbean his reason for mixing comedy with more difficult subject matter is because it makes it easier for the reader to absorb. “You don’t to just put down some raw food in a plate and tell people it’s good for you. You might want to put a little bit of dressing on it,” he said.
Real Queens Productions Co-producer Latoya Lloyd said she was pleased and somewhat overwhelmed by the amount of support received by the community. She said they looked over a number of scripts but after reading Head Girl, they knew which story to choose. “We felt very touched reading this story and thought that we should do something with it…it’s just sometimes you need that comic relief from the stress,” she said.
Beale said the play has been performed in Jamaica since 2003, and even then he said he would see members of the audience crying. “The story is dynamic for me, I love every single word,” said Lloyd. “My first time reading [the story], I cried.” Tears were certainly present during the debut night but whether those tears were through laughter or crying was not clear. “It’s a kind of writing that I’ve adapted over the years to ensure that we have enough comedy even handling a serious matter. That has always been my formula for the past 35 years,” Beale said.
Although child abuse at home is quite difficult to discuss, the numbers found during recent studies prove that there is not enough transparency with child abuse. According to Statistics Canada, 25% of police-reported violence against children and youth was committed by a family member. With the growing access to theatre, Beale said his intention has always been to deliver a strong message in a comedic way.
Beale has written stage plays for the past 35 years and said, like all things, the industry has changed. “When I started, it was still a kind of virgin territory for the margin of places in Jamaica. It was a situation where not many plays were seen by most of the people,” he said.
Beale said when he began writing people who wanted to watch a play had to travel to Kingston, without Highway 2000. As expected, access to stage plays has now become easier, as with a lack of venue those in the country would create temporary stages or adapt their plays to available spaces. “We started putting on plays at venues that would normally be held for music shows,” Beale said.
Beale is considered one of Jamaica’s most prolific playwrights and is recognized for roots plays such as Mr. Dweet Nice, Granny Rule, Bashment Granny, and Di Driva. He is currently working on a film called The Breast Factor, a piece bringing awareness to breast cancer. He said he is committing himself to this project because, “If somebody were to be diagnosed with [breast cancer], we want to give an indication of how that can be managed and use the film in a charitable way to earn money towards breast cancer causes”.