By Stephen Weir
If you pulled back the drapes at many Toronto events, you would find 52-year Yvette Martin pulling the strings, firing up the musicians and cueing the talent. This weekend, for the first time in many years, the Jamaican Canadian actress is going to be on this side of the curtain joking about running from death.
Martin has many titles – actress, artistic director, writer, stage manager, arts educator, forum theatre specialist and well, the list goes on. She has been actively working in the arts and entertainment sector in Toronto for the past 35 years. Although she has worked with various cultural groups and mainstream entertainment projects, she always credits the Black and Caribbean theatres for laying the foundation for her successes.
This weekend she is taking to the boards, staring in a two act play that she also wrote and directs at the Al Green Theatre (Bathurst and Bloor) in downtown Toronto. When Death Come Run is a Caribbean-style comedy mystery, staring an all-Caribbean Canadian cast of John Phillips, David Smith, Kevin Sinclair, Jason Crooks Carla Boutwell and Luther Hansraj.
The Caribbean Camera attended a rehearsal of the play in the basement of the Yorkdale shopping centre in Toronto. Six of the actors stayed around after the run-through to pose for pictures for the paper.
The play is written from a Jamaican perspective but despite its “part-patois” title, it is aimed at a general English-speaking audience. “ We, Caribbean people, look at death differently than most Canadians,” said Martin. “ I wrote When Death Come Run to give people a good time at the theatre. Death is something we all face and really it is painful talk. We, Caribbean people often use humour and laughter to mask the pain.”
“I was born in Kingston and my parents were from Portland,” she told the Caribbean Camera.
“ I still have cousins in Jamaica and I still have a sense of what is was like to grow up there. A lot of those fables that I heard as a kid, are now blended stories inside my head. My grandmother was a great storyteller, and that is something I also live by. My life is a story but I don’t put an end on it.”
Set in the parish of Portland, Jamaica in the early 1970’s, the play focuses on two brothers in their late 60’s, Joshua Jenkins, the local tailor (John Phillips) and his brother Jerimiah Jenkins, the local grave digger and part time medicine man (David Smith) and their extended dysfunctional family as they all try to come to terms with their own daemons as the small village is faced with a rash of unexplained deaths. The Jenkins family is long standing and well respected in their small Jamaican village, but when their alcoholic niece comes to visit, you can expect things to change.
“With Caribbean theatre, you can take the liberty of making everything more exaggerated. This is story telling that is larger than life,” Martin said. “ Our audience is more participatory, they identify with the characters on stage and I enjoy that. When audiences can see themselves inside the story, I know we have won -big time .”
She said When Death Come Run, a “self-financed play,” has just a brief weekend run” to test how it is received.”
“This is about creating work for our actors, writing stories for our community and making a point. What I would like to do is to take this play all across the GTA and play not just for Caribbean theatres.”