Scrubbing Theatre Without A Playbook

In production: 'The Scrubbing Bench'. Photo courtesy Mervyn de Goeas.

“The most difficult part of the process has been the constant panic and anxiety,” shares theatre director and writer Mervyn de Goeas. Friday Oct. 9th the curtain will rise on his newest production scripted for stage, but performed for a YouTube audience.

The Scrubbing Bench‘ is the first work of theatre from T&T to negotiate the challenges of producing amidst the COVID-19 health crisis. “It’s been a journey and a half because everything’s been done in relative silence,” adds Mr. de Goeas, “I don’t think anyone gets the full picture of what it takes to stay in the business of ‘show’.”

Realizing this vision relied on a lean team of multi-tasking collaborators: Tonya Evans, Sean Edghill, Paulla De Souza, plus actors Cecilia Salazar, Natacha Jones, Michael Cherrie, Eric Barry, and rising talents Kemlon Nero, Stephen Hadeed Jr., Charlie Reid, and Andrew Hall. Complemented by a host of friends who donated their homes for filming scenes.

Two weeks before the four-day run of his show, Mr. de Goeas meditates on the new normal:

What triggered the most doubt about this production approach?

MD > “It was the moment I lay in bed – unable to sleep – telling myself, ‘Deep. Slow. Breaths. Just breathe. Try to slow down your heart rate.‘ I knew at that moment that I was facing down a panic attack. The thing is, when I first started directing for the stage, I had a playbook I could follow. I went to school at Eugene O’Neill for that. When I started writing it was the same deal. I won the National Drama Association of Trinidad & Tobago Cacique Award for Directing five times, and the T&T Film Company’s Producing and Script Writing Grant three times, plus I’ve written for Danielle Dieffenthaller’s ‘Westwood Park‘. I moved fearlessly through those first-time experiences.”

“How do you get actors to interact with each other with no one present except the director, director of photography, makeup artist and associate producer? Each actor was on his or her own. Then there’s COVID-phobia, which we’re all living with and the early onset PTSD. So, no rule book, no one ahead of me that I could copy, no safety net. The actor problem was solved quickly – I started out as an actor, every time you see an actor interacting with another, that’s me they’re talking to.”

‘The Scrubbing Bench’. Photo courtesy Mervyn de Goeas.

Are opening night jitters amplified by the history made with this production?

MD > “Opening night is going to be like when I’m up for an award – I just don’t think about it until they call out the nominees. At that stage it’s anybody’s game.”

Is this the future of theatre, and are you motivated to create in this format regardless of box office receipts?

MD > “Somehow, I feel like I’ve awoken in the future and am just trying to find my footing. As for creating in this format moving forward … I will encourage others to do the same. I am blessed to be working with people I’ve been around for years, I don’t know that I could do anything like this without that support system. As for box office? So far, the response has been very good, but I still don’t know what to expect. This time we’re not playing to a national audience – we’re stepping up to the world. That’s rather intimidating.”

What’s the upside your heart hopes will materialize from this venture?

MD > “I hope we can get an actual ‘The Scrubbing Bench’ feature made, and I am hoping that this can kickstart a more experimental (in terms of grabbing attention) film industry in T&T.”

How do you stay inspired?

MD > “When the Gods tell me to move … I move. When I started to write ‘The Scrubbing Bench‘ in 2011, all I knew was that I wanted to write a queer-themed piece, and didn’t want the protagonist to die before credits rolled. That’s it. I started back going to Church – my favourite place in the world to meditate and, like every other theatre artist, I LOVE ceremony – and slowly the whole thing started coming to me. So, like I said – when the Gods say it’s time to move …”

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