The Story of Jamaican Theatre

With the abolition of slavery a Jamaican theatrical style began to emerge, with public performances which blended music, drama and comedy. It took several years however for a true Jamaican theatre style to fully develop and it was not until 1941 that Greta Fowler founded the Little Theatre Movement (LTM) with the mission of fostering and developing drama in Jamaica. During this period Pantomime plays were staged at various locations across Kingston with no real ‘home’. It was not until 1961 that the LTM officially opened on Tom Redcam Drive, where it still stands today. The first Pantomime production by the LTM was Jack and the Beanstalk 1941- 42, since that first Pantomime play 68 years ago the pantomime has never closed its doors and has not failed to produce stellar performances thrilling audiences year after year.

Many writers and actors have graced the stage of the LTM with their creations and artistic abilities. One of the most outstanding among these is Louise Bennett-Coverly Miss Lou. In 1943 Miss Lou appeared in her first Pantomime, after that initial appearance Miss Lou not only performed in Pantomimes productions but also wrote plays and songs. She was instrumental in bringing that distinct Jamaican flavour to Pantomimes drawing on her knowledge of Jamaican folkore and expressions to create memorable pieces. Perhaps her most endearing and enduring contribution to Pantomime is the song Evening Time which has become a main staple of Jamaican folk music. The song Evening Time was originally written for the play Bluebeard and Brer Anancy 1949/50. Miss Lou has not only written plays but has also published songs, short stories and poems. Her works are comedic in nature but are also instruments for making social commentaries.

It would be remiss to mention Miss Lou and not Maas Ran for they were a celebrated duo. Randolph Samuel Williams (Maas Ran) was born in Colon Panama in 1912 and is better known in Jamaica as Ranny Williams or Maas Ran. Described by the Little Theatre Movement as a dramatist and comedian Ranny Williams began acting as a child, he has appeared in 29 Pantomimes and wrote two. Ranny Williams died on August 11, 1980. To date at least one establishment has been named for him, the Ranny Williams Entertainment Centre. Maas Ran and Miss Lou worked on several pantomimes together and co-wrote Queenie’s Daughter which was so successful that it was revived by the Little Theatre Movement twice. Maas Ranny hosted The Ranny Williams show and has worked on over six films.