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Monthly Archives: March 2014

I am a Jamaican

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Karl O’Brian Williams – Jamaican Actor & Playwright.

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Karl O’Brian Williams
Photo by Peter Ferguson

Karl O’Brian Williams was studying English at UWI, Mona Campus when he happened upon a course  on 20th Century Theater.  It seemed like a good opportunity to take a class that was fun and did not involve exams. Little did Williams know that this introduction to the world of performing arts would change the course of his life for good.

The class was his first foray into the academics of acting and the performing arts, and it sparked a fire that would not be extinguished. Williams actually began his working life as an English teacher at Camperdown High School, but he also managed to audition for and win an acting role at the Pantomime Company, which paid him a stipend for his role in Janga Rock. He continued to win roles in JMTC productions, and appeared in Norman Rae’s production of Guys & Dolls.

By day, Williams had been working in the field of public relations. In 2001, he finally decided that he wanted to work full time in theatre, so he quit his job and went to New York to audition for the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA). While he did not get into the four year degree course, he was accepted to do a Certificate Course in Shakespeare Acting in London.

After his stint in London, Williams returned to Jamaica to complete a Diploma in Education at UWI, since teaching was the only other area outside of theatre that he had an interest in pursuing.  He then got his MA in Educational Theatre at NYU.

Williams went on to teach, act and write plays. As he explains, all these areas are related and are part of a whole. Theatre is a lifestyle that requires doing many things at once.

To date, Williams has produced three plays.  Random, Black That I Am, and Not About Eve. His play Black That I Am received the 2005 Actor Boy Award for Best New Jamaican Play.

Not About Eve, which he started writing as far back as 2001, did not come to the stage until 2006, when it won that year’s Actor Boy Award for Best New Jamaican Play. It went on to be staged in New York to great critical acclaim. It was chosen to be showcased at the National Black Theatre Festival in 2013 in North Carolina. Williams is only the third Jamaican playwright to have his play chosen for this prestigious event, joining such stalwarts of Jamaican theatre as Trevor Rhone and David Heron.

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Photo by Rami Abouemira

Williams has also recently been invited to stage ‘Voices From The Black That I Am’ in Glasgow, Scotland at ‘A Pie, A Pint and A Play’, which is a lunchtime theatre event to be held this summer. The production is a series of monologues that is a slight variation from the original play.  The event showcases emerging and established writers from Scotland and recently, from other countries.  It is housed at the Oran Mor Theater in Glasgow.  Williams’ production will be staged May 12-17, 2014.

Williams says that it is very special to know that he can write something that is so uniquely Jamaican, and that it can still be appreciated by people who are unfamiliar with the Jamaican culture.  He claims that he does not typically write about stereotypes such as the ghetto life or dancehall or the reggae culture, but instead focuses on other aspects of life that are still authentically Jamaican, but are perhaps not as prominent.

Seeing his plays on stage brings great satisfaction to Williams, knowing that those are his words, and his work that is being portrayed. He points out that although Not About Eve was written as far back as 2001, it is still relevant today. It is what he strives for, creating works that will continue to be relevant in years to come and that will still resonate with audiences long into the future.

Apart from producing plays, Williams continues to act in numerous productions. His most recent role was as King Herod in Craig Hutchinson’s adaptation of  Oscar Wilde’s Salome, called “Salome Reversed”.

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His company in Jamaica, MADKOW, is a partnership with Michael Daley, which was involved in bringing Not About Eve to production. The  company strives to promote upcoming actors and playwrights in the industry.

As the artistic director of Braata Productions, which operates out of New York, Williams also assists in promoting Caribbean Culture to the wider society.  The non-profit organization has three arms. Their choir of folk singers puts on concerts and promotes this aspect of Jamaican culture to the community. Their educational outreach involves sending teachers into schools to expose children to Jamaican and Caribbean theatre culture.  And their theatre workshop produces plays and promotes and helps to develop new writers and playwrights from the Caribbean.

Williams also teaches public speaking at the Borough of Manhattan Community College (CUNY) as well as teaching theatre in other organizations throughout NYC.

The absolute yummiest macaroni and cheese casserole

IMG_3703At least that is what my kids call it! This macaroni and cheese dish is truly delicious. It is my adaptation of a recipe passed down to my husband from my mother-in-law. My 11 yr old son would eat it every day if I let him. It has the gooeyness of pizza on top, a little crunch from the breadcrumbs, and of course, bacon bits!

1 400 oz package elbow macaroni
125g light cheddar cheese grated
250g mozzarella cheese grated
2 1/2 oz parmesan cheese grated
1 tsp salt

White sauce:
50g (about 6 tbsp) unsalted butter
1 small onion chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
1/2 tsp salt
50g (about 3 1/2 tbsp) all purpose flour
2 cups milk
black pepper to taste
paprika to taste

Topping:
1/4 cup bread crumbs
1/3 pack bacon (optional)

Directions:

Boil 6 cups water
When water is boiling, add macaroni and 1/2 tsp salt
Boil according to directions then remove from heat and drain

Put aside 1/2 of the mozzarella and parmesan for the topping
Mix the rest of the cheese together

Heat saucepan on low heat and add butter. Be careful as butter burns easily.
Add onion, garlic and then mix in flour
Add a small amount of milk and stir into flour. Add the remaining milk while mixing or whisking to prevent lumps
Add 1  1/2 tsp salt, black pepper and paprika
When the milk begins to boil, lower heat and keep mixing for 2 mins
Remove from heat

Pour macaroni into a large casserole dish
Mix in the shredded cheddar cheese along with half the parmesan and mozzarella and add the white sauce
Cover with foil and bake at 350F for 30 mins

Remove casserole from oven and sprinkle on remaining cheese and bread crumbs
Bake uncovered for 15 mins until the cheese is melted and the top is brown.

Chop bacon into small pieces and fry until crisp
Remove from oven and sprinkle bacon bits onto casserole

Enjoy.

Jamaican Dog Sledder Enters Alaskan Race

Now, if a young man from St. Ann, Jamaica, decided that he wanted to take himself as far out of his comfort zone as he possibly could, and push himself to the absolute limit of his physical and mental endurance, what would he do? Oh, I know. He would become a dog musher, and enter the Alaskan Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, otherwise known as “The Last Great Race On Earth”.

This 975-mile race in sub-zero temperatures takes you through treacherous mountains, frozen rivers, dense forests and windswept coasts in unforgiving weather and long hours of darkness.

Starting in Willow, 50 miles north of Anchorage and ending in Nome, this year’s race commenced on March 1, 2014.  The winner is expected to arrive at Nome in about nine days. It may take an additional week before the last contestant arrives at the finish. There are 69 mushers, most from Alaska, some from Norway, and others from Australia, Canada and New Zealand. And then there’s Newton Marshall, the 30 yr old former tour guide who is currently working in security in Jamaica. Well, no. Currently he’s not working. Currently, he is traversing some of the harshest conditions on earth with a handful of dogs and a sled.

Newton Marshall, Jamaican Dog Musher

Newton Marshall, Jamaican Dog Musher
Photos courtesy of his support team

The race commemorates a 1925 rescue mission that carried diptheria serum by dog sled to Nome.  The mushers will travel in stages that vary between 18 miles and 85 miles. The participants will have spent the past year preparing for this event, training and fund raising for the purchase of equipment and supplies for themselves and their team of dogs.

Marshall has been mushing since 2005.  While he was working at Chukka as a tour guide, the company started the Jamaica Dog Sled Team to run dry land dog carts for tourists. Which of course is just one small step away from doing dog sledding for real. In Alaska. Fighting frostbite in the mind-numbing cold. You can see how that would follow, right? Right.

This is actually not Marshall’s first run on the Iditarod. He’s done it three times before, finishing only once, in 47th place. This year he’s back with his sixteen dogs: Monica, Eric, Ghost, Ratchet, Palmer, Comet, Disco, Jumpy, Liesle, Chili Pepper, Relay, Trick, Daisy Mae, Willy and Ellie. His goal? Just to finish the race.

So what does it take to be run this trail really? You have to be fit, and not too tall or heavy, since every pound you carry makes it that much difficult for your team. You have to be prepared to face moose, caribou, wolves, buffalo and other wildlife that may be a threat along the trail. You don’t want the snow to be too icy, or too slushy, since both these conditions cause problems. You or your dogs run the risk of falling and breaking a limb, getting lost, suffering from snow blindness, frostbite, hypothermia or any number of other illnesses or injuries along the way.  The dogs can get tangled or even strangled, and you or your dogs could fall through ice. There is a mandatory 24 hr stop, plus two more 8 hr stops but you must be prepared to deal with the fatigue. There’s no doubt about it; this sport and this race require mental and physical toughness in spades.

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Photos courtesy of Newton Marshall’s support team

Newton Marshall is clearly up to the challenge. As he says on his website, “I want to show kids from Jamaica or anywhere in the world that if you want something you have to go get it yourself.”

You can show Marshall some love and keep up with the race from the warmth of your own home, by visiting his Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/MushinMonNewton and you can support him by purchasing t-shirts, books and other items, or even by sponsoring a dog, by visiting his website at http://www.mushinmonnewtonmarshall.com/

Wednesday, March 4th

I’d really like to encourage everyone to follow the race on Newton’s Facebook page as it is still in progress. Conditions on the trail appear to be unusually hazardous this year as several mushers have already had to drop out due broken bones, broken sleds and various injuries.  Newton Marshall has stopped at least twice to assist his fellow mushers, helping one guy with a broken leg get to safety. He is really making us proud. He is an exceptional guy. https://www.facebook.com/MushinMonNewton

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