Culture

Sensational Sequel

TCI Arts Foundation invigorates entertainment options in the Islands.

By Kathy Borsuk ~ Images Courtesy TCI Arts Foundation

It’s quite uncommon that I schedule an interview around the plans of a puppeteer. But Clare Jaget, executive director of the TCI Arts Foundation, was busy making sure Patrick Osteen got to schools on time. The renowned puppeteer was visiting from RhinoLeap Productions in North Carolina to conduct workshops for Providenciales schoolchildren. When Clare and I finally met up, she was bright-faced and ecstatic. “The children were so excited about making their own puppets and using their imagination in the Puppet Olympics. Some of the shyest children had their puppet ‘talking up’ a storm. Many of the kids, even the older boys, carefully carried their puppets home, treating them as if they were alive.”

Local children enjoyed making puppets during the recent puppet workshop held by RhinoLeap Productions.

Although Clare trained as an actress at the Guilford School of Acting in London, performed on stage in England and America, and practiced her craft in Las Vegas for many years, it would be hard to “fake” her enthusiasm for bringing arts back to the Turks & Caicos Islands. Passion exudes from her soul as she pours out her plans and describes the projects already accomplished over the last year.

Many island residents remember the Turks & Caicos Friends of the Art Foundation (TCFAF) led by Mark and Barbara Pankhurst. From 2002 to 2019, TCFAF produced over 60 original performances using local and international talent. In the process, they raised over half a million dollars, used to build and outfit facilities (such as Brayton Hall) and provide scholarships, instruments, and training in performance and visual arts for local children.

It seemed providential that in 2019, Clare and her family moved to Providenciales after vacationing in the Islands for years. Clare’s background made her the ideal person to lead the new TCI Arts Foundation. With the help of Michelle L’Heureux from L’Heureux & Co., Law Firm and the added enthusiasm of a group of similarly dedicated board members things started happening!

Clare explains how it all got started. “After we lived here for a while, I realized there wasn’t a lot for residents or tourists to do beyond the beach. I missed going to the cinema, concerts, theater, art fairs and the like.” After talking to the Pankhursts, she learned that there was a wealth of artistic talent in the country just waiting to be reinvigorated.

The foundation was launched in November 2022 and the first events took place around Christmastime: the annual Arts and Crafts Expo in Saltmills Plaza, a fair at the Edward Gartland Youth Centre, and a movie night.

But Clare’s true love surfaced quickly: Shakespeare and drama. As co-founder of the Shakespeare Institute in Nevada, she reached out to her contacts, and Matt and Heidi Morgan were eager to help. Thus, the inaugural “Shakespeare in Schools” week-long event launched in March 2023. With assistance from Minister of Education Hon. Rachel Taylor, Director of Education Edgar Howell, and a handful of sponsors, the team worked with local schools to bring the classic plays alive.

Musicians from the New World Symphony performed in the Islands to raise money for Ashley Learning Centre.

In the process, Clare Jaget discovered a truth. While her original intent had been to enliven entertainment options in the Islands, an unexpected side effect was the joy and enthusiasm the program brought out in the schools. She says, “Many of the children had never seen live theater before and they were entranced. Each classroom was packed, and the kids couldn’t take their eyes off the actors. They begged for them to return soon!”

Aesop’s Touring Theatre Company’s workshop based on Aesop’s Fables was a big hit with primary schoolchildren.

They didn’t have to wait long. In June 2023, Aesop’s Touring Theatre Company came to the primary schools for a workshop based on Aesop’s Fables. The youngsters were similarly drawn to such timeless tales as The Hare and the Tortoise and The North Wind and the Sun.

The TCI Arts Foundation has also turned its sights on fundraising, selecting the Ashley Learning Centre as its focus. In April 2023, musicians from the New World Symphony held a concert themed, “We’re in this Together,” that raised money for the struggling school for autistic children. In October 2023, the foundation’s main fundraiser, “Halloween Spooktacular,” took place at The Palms resort. A spooky night of fun with food, drink, music, dancing, and costumes was a first-time treat for the island and will become an annual event.

As I wrote this, puppeteer Patrick Osteen (who also happens to be a poet) was concluding his visit to TCI with an intense one-man, 90-minute performance of The Iliad at Tribe restaurant in Ports of Call. “Life changing,” “Intense,” and “Inspirational” were some of the comments received from the audience. The excitement of live theater on-island was unprecedented.

The Christmas Pantomime had for many years been a highlight of island holiday festivities but fell by the wayside with the disbandment of TCFAF and ensuing COVID-19 restrictions. Clare had plans to revive it in 2023, but the illness of a lead player and lack of a venue has it postponed to 2024. The pantomime is a cornucopia of local players, many of whom have participated for years. With the script, soundtrack, scenes, and costumes already in place, Clare says rehearsals for the 2024 event will start well ahead of time.

All of this underscores the need for a proper auditorium in which to hold future events. Many of the older venues need repair and updating, for which the foundation doesn’t have the money. Clare looks with hope to the state-of-the-art auditorium nearing completion at the Louise Garland Primary School in Long Bay as the ideal place to stage future events.

At press time, the TCI Arts Foundation was finalizing the annual Arts & Crafts festival, a showcase of items created by local artists, highlighted with music and food. They were eagerly anticipating the Murder Mystery theater event on January 20, 2024. Clare had lured professional players from Las Vegas to work with local artistes including Tess Charles, Cora Malcolm, Christine McCann, and Ancy Dorsica. The group are rehearsing together via ZOOM. The performance will include a three-course dinner and drama with active audience participation. Tickets were expected to sell out quickly, with a possible second night in the making.

Looking into 2024, Clare and her team are excited about the Valentine’s Fair on February 10, 2024. Children and teens at the Edward Gartland Youth Centre will enjoy a day of cookie decorating, crafts led by local artist (and foundation board member) Lucie Stubbs, face painting, and entertainment.

In the spring, board member David Bowen will again spearhead the beloved Island Review, a rousing compilation of local talent ranging from ripsaw bands to poetry readings and dance performances. The popular after-school Dance Workshop is expected to return in May, led by Louis Kavouras, a dance professor from the University of Las Vegas, and nine of his students. The TCI Art Foundation is currently in negotiations with them and seeking sponsors to make this happen.

Back by popular demand will be Shakespeare Week in March with performances from Macbeth and Romeo and Juliet, and the Aesop’s Touring Theatre Company with Robin Hood Rescues the Forest. Targeted at primary school students, the interactive play is about ecology and the environment, and full of comedy and music. Clare says she’d also love to attract a professional magician from Las Vegas for a show and workshops.

The beloved Island Review is a compilation of local talent that will return in the spring of 2024.

While the foundation is grateful for the many sponsors who have already stepped up to the plate—donating rooms, meals, event space, and gift certificates for fund raising—there is always the need for more consistent funding and creative donations. For instance, property owners could allow visiting performers to stay in their villas and, perhaps, provide meals. Resort concierges could make sure visitors know about upcoming events.

In this issue of Times of the Islands, writer Ben Stubenberg posits that one key to sustainable tourism is offering activities that help visitors interact with Islanders and residents. Clare notes the comments by a pair of tourists who attended the Island Review earlier this year. “We stumbled upon the event. It was so much fun and made us feel like we were a part of the island.” As well, the foundation is encouraging residents to explore and expand their performance skills with professionals in live music, dance, and drama.

So if you have a hidden Denzel Washington or Whitney Houston in your soul, would like to volunteer to help with events, or are able to donate money or assistance, visit www.tciartsfoundation.com for more information.



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