by Ryan Smith
A huge part of a production is its style, the producer’s director’s and set designer’s. combining their creativity to create the the world and enhance the meaning of the production. The relatively new production company Eight Seven Six has made style their calling card. Their newest production Mr and Mrs Blacke is no different.
Mr and Mrs. Blacke is a drama in black and white which are the only two colors employed in the play. Keiran King, writer producer and actor in Mr and Mrs. Blacke explains that the colors are an important part of translating meaning as it represent the polarized world of the couple. “You want every part of your production to tell the story that you want to tell,” King says. “Sets and costumes have their own language that provides clues to the story,” he says. “Their world has become a world of black and white,” he says.
Mr. and Mrs. Blacke stars King alongside Keisha Patterson and is directed by Paul Issa. The play surrounds a upper-middle class couple, Mr. and Mrs. Blacke, who appear to be perfect with all the requisite trappings of a townhouse on the right hill, a good car, youth and good looks. “It’s really to take the perfect upper middle-class couple and expose their fears and neuroses .” King explains that through the couple, the play explores class, race, power and the way the couple relates to the rest of the island.
Of course while working with black and white might produce a vey sexy look and feel the colour restriction comes with severe limitations. “You’d be surprised how difficult that is because the world is in beautiful technicolour,” he says. Sourcing props was therefore a great challenge and in some cases they had to request of their partners that the products being placed in the production be converted to black and white.
“When you restrict the colour palette one of the things that becomes very important is texture,” King points out. He notes that lighting is also important as light and shadow brings depth and demarcate objects. According to King, set designer Patrick Williams has therefore been critical to translating these restrictions into architectural decisions.
Along with the colour, the style and quality of the clothing is also critical in order to achieve authenticity. To realize this, Eight Seven Six has partnered with Spokes Apparel and Heather Laine to produce custom made clothing for the characters.
King argues that Mr. and Mrs. Blacke contends with issues relevant to contemporary Jamaica. “The play is very Jamaican,” he says. “It deals with where Jamaica is right now. It just doesn’t drape itself in gold green and black.”
“I think I’m the only playwright who hasn’t fallen into a bucket of patriotism this year,” he says. He notes however that the absence of overt references to Jamaica 50 does not reflect an absence of patriotism. “I love my county so much that I actually believe in her.” he says. King argues that his belief that Jamaica can achieve great things fuels his thrust toward producing theatre with first world aesthetics with no need to apologize for an absence of money or resources. “I absolutely refuse to make those apologies” he says.
Describing himself as committed to achieving impossibly high standards in aesthetics, King remarks that he began Eight Seven Six out of a desire and a belief that we could do better. “I didn’t want to have a company,” he says, “all I ever wanted to do was write plays.”
King contends however that once he realized that were he to write a play and hand it over to one of the island’s existing producers he would be dissatisfied with the result, starting his own production company was inevitable.
“Having foisted a company up on myself, it’s been a very exhilarating experience overall,” he confesses. Eight Seven Six produced its first play Last Call written and directed by King and co-produced by King and Scarlett Beharie. Last Call was highly commended for its production values. “I think the production quality that we achieved is something that the patrons were hungry for,” he says.
“Theatre is on life support in this country and the life support machine is the benefit model.” King argues that as most productions earn by selling benefits the result has been that the average theatre goer is supporting a charity or cause and merely get to see the play as a bonus. He argues that this has resulted in a malaise as the audience is therefore not influencing greater levels of dynamism on the stage.
“Our theatre space is not hungry for new ideas because it doesn’t need to be,” he says. King argues that although Eight Seven Six is using benefits as a part of its income stream the company hopes to wean itself from them in a few years. As such, the company is marketing heavily to the direct consumer and King sees movies, television and other forms of entertainment as his direct competitors not other plays. “We’re trying to get people not to go see the Avenges but to come and see us instead,” he asserts.
While that is a very tall order, King seems confident that it can be achieved with the right marketing strategy and compelling advertising material. The production has therefore using billboards and other outdoor signage as well as life-size cutouts in pharmacies and in the cinema. “We have to find the young people where they are and advertise to them,” he says.
“What we’re attempting in nothing less than a complete revision of the way Jamaican theatre is made, consumed and marketed,” he said. King argues that contemporary Jamaicans are not influenced by the theatre and therefore it has lost its role as a cultural force. “It would be nice if Jamaican theatre would worm its way back into people’s minds,” he says.
Mr. and Mrs. Blacke opens on July 13 at the Phillip Sherlock Centre for the Creative Arts.