COLUMN – Man of drama –– and for change

Todays-FutureName: Simon Alleyne

Age: 33

Education: Combermere School; University of the West Indies, Cave Hill; University of Hertfordshire; Korean International Cooperation Agency; International Security Defence Systems.

Qualifications: BSc in political science with public sector management, UWI Cave Hill;
MSc in emergency management and planning with commendation, University of Hertfordshire; Diploma In Education And Social Studies, Erdiston Teachers’ Training College; Certificate In Disaster Prediction And Warning Systems, Korean International Cooperation Agency (KOICA); Certificate In Aviation Security And Emergency Response, International Security Defence Systems (ISDS); Certificate In Table Top Development Techniques, ISDS; Certificate In Planning And Execution Of Emergency Exercises, ISDS.

Occupation: Educator, actor, founder and director of Lighthouse Foundation, Registered Charity #863.

If you had to introduce yourself to the world, what would you say?

Hi, world, my name is Simon Alleyne a son of the Caribbean and a future leader in the international community.

Simon Alleyne
Simon Alleyne

What are you passionate about?

I am passionate about the dramatic arts, disaster management, good governance and youth development. I desire to be a positive force for change and to write my name on history’s page in Barbados.

Do you have a philosophy that you live by?

Yes, I do! John F. Kennedy said: Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do
for your country.
I find truth in those words, and try my best to make an impact in Barbados.

Why did you choose to pursue A Levels instead of an Associate degree at the Barbados Community College?

I have to thank Mrs Dorien Pile, a former principal of Combermere School and the only female principal in its history who saw potential leadership qualities in me. She encouraged me to complete sixth form at the school, and on reflection I believe it was my destiny to do A Levels at Waterford.

In my sixth form year, I became school captain and was exposed to a number of youth leadership activities such as the Barbados Youth Parliament. In 2000, I attended the Global Youth Leadership Conference, with the assistance of Combermere School and Mr Jeff Broomes.

When did your love for stage and acting start?

My love for the stage started way back in my final years of school at Erdiston Primary. We had a graduation production for my class of 1993, which focused on the sea and sustainable development. It was directed by Ms Jennifer Sealy, and through her encouragement I found my place on the stage.

Simon on stage.
Simon on stage.

I also loved to watch Bajan Bus Stop on television and knew all the Giggurd and Boo commercials by heart. The local actors in Barbados, as well as my watching the 1980s American TV series like Knight Rider, A-Team and MacGyver helped to peak my interest in acting. My appreciation for theatre blossomed at Combermere, where I joined the Combermere Dramatic Society under the direction of Paul Norville and Andrea King.

In 2007 you were featured in Pampalam. Would you say this was the break you were looking for to propel you onto the “big stage”?

Prior to Pampalam in 2007, I had the pleasure of being cast in the Stage One Theatre Production Talk Tent 1997, which was directed by Amanda Cumberbatch. I felt honoured to grace the stage with the best local actors of the time, namely Andrew Pilgrim, Philip Eno, Cynthia Wilson, Varia Williams, Yolanda Holder, Ian Walcott and Vilmore Johnson.

I remember many nights of intense rehearsals and feeling overwhelmed at times. However that circle of actors really encouraged me and I am eternally grateful to them. Pampalam 2007 further exposed me to a larger Barbadian audience; and working with Jeannette Layne-Clark and the cast of Angela Weithers, Myrna Squires, Yolanda Holder, Janice Perryman, Paul Puckerin and Wendell Thomas, I further developed
my acting skills.

You toured the Caribbean with Patrick Foster in 2010 doing the Derek Walcott play Pantomime. What were some of the countries you visited and what was the experience like for you?

Working with Patrick Foster still remains the highlight of my acting career. Patrick is a consummate artist, as he is a classically trained actor, visual artist, writer, director, acting coach, set designer and producer. Patrick taught me the finer things in acting and through his tutelage I have evolved into a more versatile actor.

We toured three Caribbean islands and performed in the two-hander play Pantomime, written by Derek Walcott and directed by Rob Leyshon. We performed in Antigua, Trinidad and St Lucia to appreciative audiences.

For the last three years you were part of the cast of Laff It Off. Would you say this was a dream come through for you ,and what is so special about Laff it Off that keeps you coming back?

Yes, it is a dream come through to perform in Laff It Off, the most popular and longest running theatre production in Barbados. Laff It Off is an institution, and some of Barbados’ best actors have graced its stage, such as Tony Thompson, Wendell Smith, John Walcott, Winston Farrell and Peta Alleyne.

Laff It Off has also produced outstanding artistic directors such as Thom Cross and Cecily Spencer-Cross. It has its own unique style and delivery and it clearly resonates among local audiences who stop me in the street almost daily to commend the show and my impersonations of various MPs. Laff It Off has helped to develop my improvisation skills and my writing, which are valuable tools for an actor.

You are the founder and director of Lighthouse Foundation. Share with us what it is, what it does or has done, and some of your plans moving forward.

Lighthouse Foundation is a registered charity that was founded by my wife Suzanne and I in February, 2011, with the mission of producing message-based theatre and multimedia productions to increase public awareness on major social issues. So far, we have been fortunate to stage two dramatic productions: Redemption Of Me, written by Jason Carmichael, and Girl On Fire, written by Marielle Onyeche. These productions focused on the effects of HIV stigma and discrimination on the community.

Girl On Fire was a groundbreaking piece of theatre, as research into the lives of sex workers was conducted and we were able to give an accurate portrayal of the women who are in the trade, and the challenges they face.

From the stage to film. What influenced this move, and was it an easy transition?

To me, film has been the next obvious step in my development as an actor. First of all, good acting that is convincing and emotional is never easy. As a theatre actor, I am accustomed to projecting my voice loudly and playing my emotions big. However for film I have to make my reactions smaller and use my facial expressions rather than my body to show emotion.

Simon in the local movie Payday.
Simon in the local movie Payday.

In short, film requires internal emotional expression, while theatre requires physical expression of emotion. I enjoy theatre a lot, as this is where I started; but I am learning more about film acting, and it intrigues me.

You featured in Keeping Up With The Joneses (Seasons 1 and 2 and the Movie) and Payday and Payday 2. What are your thoughts about the local film industry?

I am so glad that the film industry is burgeoning in Barbados and there are so many writers and directors who pioneered the industry that is now blooming. I appreciate the contribution of directors like Bongo Lights, Mahmood Patel, Alison Saunders-Franklyn, Russell Watson, Frances Ann Solomon, Marcia Weekes, Rommel Hall and Shakera Bourne.

They are also a number of young up-and-coming directors who have been trained at EBCCI and BCC, and I am pleased that they are also making their mark in film.

Why is film so important? The film industry has the potential to generate millions of dollars in revenue for the economy and provide employment in a number of service industries.

The Government has shown a positive step forward with the passing of the Cultural Industries Development Bill in February, 2015, as it provides a number of incentives for cultural practitioners.

Barbados has made great strides in film without major financial investment. In 2015, at least three local films will be released with very limited budgets. I look forward to seeing greater private sector investment in our local film industry to develop our cultural industry.

Which movie did you wish you were the main actor in, and why?

Locally, I would have loved to be the main actor in Payday or Hush 3, because I would have got a chance to show my versatility as an actor. Some may see me as just a comedy or drama actor based on my performances in the UWI hero plays or in Laff It Off. Internationally, I wished I had the lead role in Leonardo DiCaprio’s film Shutter Island, because of how riveting the story was and the range of emotions he played.

If you had the opportunity to perform on Broadway, would you accept, and if yes, which show would you choose?

Yes, I would accept in a heartbeat! I would love to play the lead in Phantom Of The Opera, because it would challenge me as an actor to create such a powerful and mysterious character and develop my vocal range with the number of solos and duets which are performed.

I know you love your politics, a good debate and representing people. Given that you completed a Bachelor’s degree in political science with public sector management, is it safe to assume career politics is a possibility for you in the future?

The current perception of politicians in Barbados is so negative! People have been disappointed by the attitudes, behaviour and actions of those who hold public office. Sadly, we live in a society which is driven by instant gratification, and politicians are asked to offer more than words and lofty ideas of a new vision for Barbados.

They are often asked by the electorate to pay bills, buy stoves and fridges, or even groceries, to get a vote!

I believe that one should only venture into politics if one has something to offer this nation. More importantly we need a new breed of politicians who will rise up and be resolute in their beliefs and convictions. We need politicians who serve the people and have that Barrow ideology that asks what is the mirror image of Barbados and its people.

That being said I am involved in the political party which I support, and I am interested in serving the people of Barbados in the near future. Until then I must develop a greater understanding of local and regional politics, and win the hearts of the people by building a reputation of community service and youth mobilization.

You represented Barbados at the Global Youth Leadership Conference in Washington DC and the Commonwealth Youth Forum in Queensland, Australia. What were those experiences like, and how have they contributed to your personal development?

Attending the GYLC in Washington DC and New York at the age of 18 was a life-changing event. I realized there and then that leadership is not a manufactured creation, but an innate ability. Not all managers are leaders, but all leaders understand how to manage people.

At that conference I spent most days describing Barbados to other delegates and correcting their misconception that Barbados was a city in Jamaica. I assumed the role of ambassador for Barbados referring to the Internet to show other delegates what our island looks like and our culture.

I had the distinction of being elected to chair the mock UN Assembly, and this experience peaked my interest in international affairs and politics.

Australia was also a great experience in 2001, and, as a youth leader, I made sure that my voice was heard in large group meetings, especially on the topic of globalization and development. I desire to see young people make the most of their current educational opportunities.

And, as a teacher, I see daily that our young people often miss opportunities; not because they are not intelligent enough or talented, but because they lack the focus to seize the moment. I have confidence that our youth can compete anywhere academically and stand toe to toe with students overseas.

Why were you in Bangkok, Thailand?

I was in Bangkok, Thailand, in 2004 attending a World Conference On HIV/AIDS and was a part of the youth delegation there. It truly opened my eyes to how HIV impacts youth –– especially orphans living with the virus and facing stigma and discrimination.

You completed a Master’s in emergency management and planning. Why did you choose this area and what was it like living and studying in Britain?

I chose this area of study because I truly was inspired by Ms Judy Thomas who was a panellist in the CBCTV studio leading up to passage of a tropical storm years ago. I remember her saying that there was a need for Barbadians to take disaster preparedness seriously and there was scope for trained persons to work with her organization.

I enjoyed studying and living in Britain, and I enjoyed campus life at the University of Hertfordshire.

You have received numerous Silver and Bronze awards at NIFCA in the drama and speech categories. Since you haven’t yet got that Gold, would you be back again this year?

That is a very interesting question. I must state emphatically that NIFCA contributed to my development as an actor. NIFCA provided me with a stage to showcase my talent locally and regionally, as well as to receive incentive awards from sponsors of the competition.

I would encourage any young performer, especially those doing the CXC, CSEC theatre arts certificate, to write their own original pieces and enter the competition. The NCF continues to do good work across the disciplines, but I am pleased with the direction that drama is taking.

I may enter a Lighthouse Foundation piece in NIFCA this year, once I can find a group of committed young actors whom I can direct.

Back in 2005/2006 you had a hit calypso titled You Can’t See Me that was so well received, you were invited as a guest performer at the Pic-O-De-Crop Semi-Finals. Would we be seeing De Prodigy back in the tents this year for Crop Over?

I do love music and singing very much. I admire the lyrical genius of our calysonians and their ability to write and perform some powerful social commentary songs. My song You Can’t See Me was popular among the Christian radio stations and in the Experience Tent. However, if I re-enter the calypso arena it may be with another tent and with a strong focus on social commentary or sweet soca rather than party music.

Who has contributed to your success?

I owe all my success to God who has blessed me with my creative talents, teamwork skills and intellect. I thank God for also leading my path and allowing people to come into my life who make a significant impact on me, such as my wife Suzanne, my best friend Julian Alleyne, Combermere School, Pastor Deborah Alleyne, Reverend Carlos Mason and Elder Powlett of New Life Community Fellowship Church, and all of the directors, actors and producers I have worked with in the local theatre industry.

As a father, a youth leader and a teacher in a public secondary school, what advice would you give to parents of teenagers who feel like giving up?

I would want parents of difficult teenagers to remember that there is help out there to save wayward young people. I find that there are too many parents who show a lack of interest in their children when they get to secondary school.

Parents are so involved with their children leading up to the Common Entrance Exam, but, sadly, after the child has passed for a preferred school the interest declines. Children clearly want attention from their parents, and if they cannot get it by ordinary means they may be led astray by negative peer pressure.

Every week we see a video of schoolchildren fighting or getting involved in scandalous behaviour. I want to encourage single mothers out there who have wayward sons or daughters to seek an intervention with a counsellor, reverend, youth club or juvenile reform agency. Every child is worth saving.

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