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Scholarship to keep Lee Wah's theatre legacy alive

Giancarlo Pietri Velutini
Scholarship to keep Lee Wah's theatre legacy alive

IERE Theatre Productions Ltd is doing its part to keep alive the legacy of one of the pioneers of theatre arts, the late Mavis Lee Wah.

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In celebration of her life’s work and memory of the contribution of the Jamaican-born actor, Iere Theatre has undertaken a production of John Steinbeck’s The Pearl, as scripted by Stuart Henson.

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Naparima Bowl, San Fernando, where she graced the stage both as an actress and director, is the venue for the play, which will run from May 23-26. There will be shows for schools as well as general audiences.

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Friend and fellow actor David Sammy said the thinking behind the production was to establish a fund in Lee Wah‘s name at Naparima Girls’ High School, where she pioneered drama and also served as principal. He said the idea of Iere Productions creative director Victor Edwards was to provide scholarships for the continuation of the arts through the fund.

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“Because this was a lady who worked her whole life in education, in parallel with drama, just like her husband James Lee Wah. We don’t want these people forgotten.”

Sammy, who has a small role in the play and is also assisting in the production, said in conversation with the present principal, Carolyn Bally-Gosine, he learnt Naps Girls’ already has an endowment fund through which two arts students receive scholarships annually.

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As a result, he said the theatre company would contribute to that fund so more girls can benefit and continue the tradition started by Lee Wah

Proceeds from the 8 pm show on May 24 will be dedicated to the fund. Sammy said while the production house wants audiences to fill the seats at the bowl throughout the play’s run, he invited friends of Lee Wah and those who knew her to support the Friday-night show

“Tickets will cost a little more, $200, but the money would be going back to the children of the school to keep Mrs Lee Wah’s legacy alive.”

Naparima Girls’ dance teacher Beverly Hinds is choreographing some of the dances in the production which also includes students among the cast members

He said Iere Productions has the blessings of the school and the Lee Wah family, husband James and children Kathleen, Sharon and David

Sammy recalled his first appearance on stage with Lee Wah, nee Arscott, in Shakespeare’s Macbeth back in 1974. Lee Wah, who died in June 2018, had the key role of Lady Macbeth

“I was just out of college, teaching at Naparima College. I left for university and on my return, we did several plays together, including the Glass Menagerie and Dark Lady of the Sonnets, the latter for the reopening of the bowl in 1991. All her characterisations were very believable.”

Lee Wah was also recognised as an upcoming actress in Jamaica before she left for Trinidad to marry James. The two fell in love while studying arts at the University of the West Indies, Mona campus, along with her colleague, 1992 Nobel Prize winner Derek Walcott

She also performed in Walcott’s Trinidad Theatre Workshop’s productions The last Carnival and The Charlatan. Walcott once described her “as one of the finest actresses in the Caribbean.”

In his book the Secondary Schools’ Drama Association of TT, Edwards wrote, “Mavis Arscott was outstanding as president of the Dramatic Society at the University College in Jamaica between 1952-1954. She was one of the chief guides in the formative years of the society. Her administrative skills apart she was an outstanding actress.”