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Sights set

Leigh-Ann Worrell

Sights set

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AT 42 YEARS OLD, Amanda Cumberbatch believes she has “finally found her feet”.
Anyone who has watched the actress/director on stage can testify of a magnetising energy within, used to bring life to various roles – most famously the dying wife of an ambitious politician, or Amelda Best, anchor of the Barbados Landship and most recently, the wife of a coup leader with a serious sense of entitlement who was Sitting In Limbo.
The proud mother of son Ayele Matthias has also directed a number of projects, including the famed Talk Tent and the recently concluded Alleluia Pork Chops.
“So far I seem to be making a living doing theatre,” she said with a pensive smile. “It took a long time, that’s the truth. Theatre goes in cycles: sometimes there is a lot of work and sometimes there is none . . . . It is a very uncertain terrain.”
Always a fan of the stage, Amanda remembers singing on stage at seven years old. Theatre stalwarts Alfred Pragnell, Cicely Spencer-Cross and Marcia Burrowes moulded her young talent, as it continued to shine at Queen’s College.
But though an undeniable talent, she struggled with the role that theatre would play in her life. She skirted a degree in drama as an undergraduate at the University of the West Indies, Mona Campus and chose literatures in English instead.
Throughout her life, she took jobs teaching literature or history for steady income. But like a devoted follower of the craft of Thespis, the love for the stage never waned.
So what was the difference now?
“I think committing to myself and committing to doing it. If I had stayed teaching English and making theatre the other thing I do, in my heart I wouldn’t feel satisfied and I wouldn’t have put in as much as the effort needed to make something a reality and make it work.”
Amanda’s revelation came during the highly successful The Final Truth, starring alongside Andrew Pilgrim, Dawn-Lisa Callender-Smith
and Thom Cross.
“On the opening night, a young lady stood in the back . . . . I think she had on a red dress,” Amanda remembered. “She said she felt so glad that she came to the show which told this story because it was her story and . . . as she was watching it before her eyes, the audience did not judge.
“We felt that it transformed people’s minds . . . . It made a difference to all of us. Then I realised that there was so much more that I could do with theatre other than entertain. You always know in the back of your mind . . . but it was that moment that propelled me to look into aspects of theatre that can do that.”
This led to postgraduate studies at Warwick University in London, solidifying what was shaping up to be her life’s work in theatre.
Amanda also has a company, Tiger Eye Productions, offering educational theatre interventions to businesses, organisations and clubs. “This work is very fulfilling and it has been very well received,” she reported.
The actress is also making a difference as a judge and performance coach for the National Independence for Creative Arts as well as tutoring up and coming creative minds at the Errol Barrow Centre For Creative Imagination.
And as she sought to strengthen the local theatre landscape, Amanda was also hoping to change the way Barbadians see theatre with her latest project, Alleluia Pork Chops.
Explaining how she got involved with the project, she recalled with a sly smile: “They brought me a travel bag of text, poetry and some workings from an earlier workshop and I was told: ‘we want you to take this on board.’
“In a six-week period, the play was to be scripted, shaped and directed. Since we were working in a very different space, we also had to see what we could do to create something in such a space but still make it look like the bar that it was. It was a wonderful six weeks of creative immersion.”
In devising the use of space, Amanda worked with the motif of masquerade – one she believed was important to the Caribbean.
“That was my guiding vision – taking people on a masquerade journey. Audience members can’t sit in one spot, the actors move in and around them.”
She believed this method was more reflective of Caribbeanness, as opposed to the rigid structures of Eurocentric theatre.
“We wanted the audience to know that you can come to the theatre and stand up and follow the drama . . . We have inherited this perception and structure of theatre from Europe largely . . . where people pay to come, [the audience] is in the dark and you are there to entertain them.
“But we are black and African-descended and that is a side of us we have not fully explored. I have included a lot of George Lamming’s idea of the ghost among us, where we are unaware of who that ‘other’ among us is. It is that Africanness in us that we do not know about, even though we are black. But we need to understand more about ourselves.”

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