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Melissa’s passion for theatre

Sherie Holder-Olutayo

Melissa’s passion for theatre

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ANYONE WHO KNOWS MELISSA SIMMONDS knows of her love for theatre. It would be accurate if you said it was her life’s passion.
“Theatre has always been my love,” says the British actress. “I went to RADA [Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts] at 17 and have been around theatre all of my life.”
So it seemed natural that after coming to Barbados for more than 20 years she would want to give back, which is what she had done by starting the Gale Theatre.
“We started in 2007 with Blithe Spirit but nobody knew the company, so we beg, borrowed and put all our money into it,” Melissa said. I actually re-mortgaged my home in the UK. But after that first year with Blithe Spirit, luckily someone from Virgin Atlantic was in the audience so that people started believing in what we were doing.”
Melissa is an avid fan of the local theatre, often taking in shows such as Laff it Off and building relationships with the likes of Tom and Cecily Cross.
“I’ve just always enjoyed lots of different theatre,” Melissa said. “I was always watching shows here and love it.”
But for Melissa it wasn’t enough to just watch and even perform and partake. She wanted to do more, and help shape local theatre on the island.
“It seemed to me a natural progression really wanting to contribute here, especially when you spend a lot of time in a place as I do here,” she said. “I came up with this idea for making a home-grown product and uniting the talent from the UK and local talent as well. It helps to train younger persons who you feel have talent.”
What Melissa and her organization have started is a programme that sends local artists to RADA for a chance to attend summer school.
“We’ve sent two people, Levi King and Jherad Alleyne, to the summer school,” she said. “That came from watching them in Macbeth, and they were selected from that. I’d seen Jherad in NIFCA [National Independence Festival of Creative Arts] and thought he had something special, a natural confidence on stage. When he came to work with us in Macbeth, he was dedicated and willing to take risks. ”
Melissa said that Virgin Atlantic sponsored Jherad’s airfare, and the Rotary Club South and a lady called Jackie Curbishley were responsible for getting him to RADA.
“Then you have to hand it over to Jherad because he had the initiative to audition to all the big drama schools and he got into the Guild Hall School of Music and Drama.
Melissa feels especially proud that she was able to help jump-start his career in the arts, through the programme with the Gale Theatre.
“I went to see him perform just before Christmas and it brought tears to my eyes,” she said. “I was so proud of him, because if you can change one person’s life it’s so incredible.
Along with nurturing other local young talent like Jherad, Melissa has plans for the arts which will keep her busy this year. She is planning a production call The Lover, Painter And The Piano, an evening of theatre and music. She also plans to bring in British talent Leann Carroll to do a production called the Great American Songbook.
Despite the recession, Melissa is still grateful that sponsors like Trevor Carmichael, Barbados National Bank, Roger Chubb have remained committed to them and their work.
 Melissa said: “It is a dream to be in Barbados and creating theatre.”