Fran’s life in living colour
“Good evening ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to the Frank Collymore Hall” – a distinctive voice, unmistakably Fran Wickham’s, its cadence echoing through a hushed auditorium.
Even after ten years on the job, each time the manager of Barbados’ leading concert hall approaches the microphone, it is with an enthusiasm and a commanding presence that captures audiences and sets the stage for another great evening of entertainment.
“I enjoy what I do. I get to meet a lot of different people, a lot of different personalities, and a lot of different ideas, so it is a fun job,” said Fran, sitting in her office late one evening after another hectic day of meetings with clients wishing to utilize the hall’s facilities.
“This job was meant to be,” she told EASY magazine. “All the things I have done in my life at work and at school. I opened DHL [courier services] here and was the first manager; I was business development officer for the National Cultural Foundation; I worked at the United States Embassy; I have been a performer, a producer, a manager – everything I have done basically came together with this job.”
Fran is multi-faceted with diverse interests in the arts.
One might ask what else you would expect of this Trinidadian with an artistic background.
Born of a Bajan father and Trinidadian mother, she grew up in a house where Nobel laureate Derek Walcott was simply “Uncle Derek” and distinguished Caribbean figures such as Trinidadian author Samuel Selvon and others of that ilk were regular visitors and friends of the family.
She was exposed to the arts early through a mother who performed with the Marionettes, a Trinidadian light operatic group for whom famed Trinidadian designer Peter Minshall was set designer. She enjoyed a childhood of exposure to different cultural experiences, was fortunate to have lived in England and France during the years her father, the late John Wickham, was an employee of the United Nations and insisted that she and her brother attend a village school in France instead of the school designated for children of UN employees.
“I am grateful to him for that because at the end of the almost five years of living there, my brother and I were fluent in French.”
She took art classes from a master artist in Geneva between age 11 and 15. Decades later, she has given a public demonstration of that artistic talent, recently showcasing 20 pieces of her work in an exhibition at Divi Southwinds Hotel, Hastings, Christ Church, that left many amazed to discover yet another side of Fran Wickham.
“I still can’t believe I exposed my work to the general public,” she said.
Through her art she has given expression to her love for vibrant colour and the vivacity of the Caribbean.
Weekends find her painting or cooking, two favourite pastimes. She finds an hour or so, as she mused, “to dibble-dabble. Next thing you know, I am caught up, couple hours I am still at it, then I produce, and I am happy.”
Or she may lose herself in the kitchen, “just chopping and cutting and sprinkling and seasoning,” albeit cooking “for relaxation”. She learnt the culinary skill from her mother and is not shy to boast “I am a very good cook”.
Despite her father’s initial protests, Fran became a dancer.
“My father did not want me to dance, but I went to Foundation School. We lived at Atlantic Shores and everybody got on the bus and went to town and I wanted to get on the bus. Some Friday evenings I travelled on the bus to a friend’s house and eventually got permission to go to dance classes at Diocesan House on St Michael’s Row.
“I really got involved in dance. I loved it . . . . My mother was a dancer when she met my dad and my dad said, ‘My wife will not be dancing’.”
Fran excelled as a member of the Barbados Dance Theatre Company, an experience that aided studies at Howard University when on scholarship there, pursuing the arts programme when she learnt there was no dance programme.
She considers that period in Barbados as “a fascinating time for the arts” and remarked, “We have a long way to go to catch back up there but we are working on it.”
She also considers herself lucky to have lived in the era of Frank Collymore, whose stage productions she believes are incomparable.
On the state of dance, she observed, “We are now creeping back to that level . . . . Now we have outstanding dancers. The training has been so powerful. That’s a wonderful thing that’s happening.
“I judge at NIFCA. I see the creativity of the youngsters who are coming out, who are going overseas and coming back. They have a better chance making a living as a dancer now than before.”
Foreday Morning in Barbados and Fran is leading her mud-clad “motley crew” in the band One Trini And A Bajan. She has seen her “baby become a teenager” 17 years after she and Trinidadian friends gave birth to the ole mas’ idea for the Crop Over Festival Foreday Morning jump.
She was then the National Cultural Foundation’s coordinator of the Crop Over event, and stepped down this year to focus on her band.
“I am through with that. I now want to focus on my band so I can have fun. We keep it small, we keep it simple, we keep it real; none of those fancy costumes people are coming up with – just a piece of cloth, some mud, some paint, a piece of something to represent something, and it is all satire.
“We typify what Foreday Morning is all about. It is not about the tiny shorts and the little piece of costume and the bikini. Our costume is ole mas’, what it really should be, because the pretty mas’ is on Monday where you have real costumes.”
Participation in Foreday Morning fills the void left by this “carnival baby’s” inability to participate in Trinidad’s carnival for the past few years.
“Give me a jump and I am good for the year.”
One Foreday Morning is enough to energize her for a job she enjoys, which she said “takes a lot, especially on weekends when I would like to be free like everybody else”. She resigns herself to being at work sometimes as late as 10 p.m.
To her, running an efficient operation is paramount. She aims to maximize the use of the hall and therefore extends herself to give clients the best of her experience, expertise and advice.
With fervour she directs this message to patrons of the hall: “Theatre etiquette education is desperately needed here. What I have been observing over my ten years here in the business is people here jump up and leave before the show is over. They have to learn there is always an encore . . . . It is always insulting when the performer walks back out onstage and sees half the audience is gone. It is a sad thing.”
Life for Fran continues to be a balancing act – managing the hall, taking care of an ailing mother, and still finding time for Fran.
“Time management . . . . Finding the time to put everything in its own compartment. You have to laugh a lot in life, you have to have some form of release, and you can’t keep things in.”