All of these inner workings need to be tight for any production to come together. Watch your favourite play or show, and you will notice how each attribute lends to its cohesiveness.
Jamaican-born writer, producer, and performer Marcia Brown can say that all these elements are innate to her. It’s something she’s always had a calling to do. Once she stepped into the world of writing and performing in Jamaica, she dived even deeper when she moved to Canada and called Ontario home. Today, we’re not just celebrating Brown’s 20th anniversary (it would have been her 23rd, but she omits the COVID-19 years without performances) and achievements in the Caribbean community with the presentation of her popular play Deception showing on Father's Day weekend, but everything she’s accomplished over her career. In two decades, she's touched many lives with her storytelling and productions.
It all started in Jamaica, where the theatre bug bit Brown at an early age. “I did about seven national pantomimes, and I know my a-ha moment was the first one I did in the early 80s. Going on stage and seeing the lights, people and how receptive they were, the camaraderie with the cast and the crew—it was such an experience. I met all the names I had seen on TV, Oliver Samuels and many others, all of those people.”
“To know that I was in that space with them as a young girl from Spanish Town and to have them acknowledge my contribution was huge. When you did something right, and they commended you, you felt like, ‘Wow, this is it. I'm doing something great.’ That's when it clicked, and then I continued from there. I went to different auditions and tried other things. It blossomed in Jamaica and continued when I came to Canada,” says Brown.
That energy catapulted Brown into immersing herself in her love for theatre. She would audition and be accepted to other pantomimes. It bore fruit to the foundation of what we know today as Marcia Brown Productions (MBP).
Jamaica has a prominent place in Brown’s heart. As we’re well aware, her birthplace is rich in culture. Brown is exceptionally adamant about sharing not just Jamaican culture but Caribbean culture and its importance. Who would we have to pass it to without the young ones learning different aspects of our culture? Understanding that Canada is diverse and well-versed in certain aspects of culture, she had to position herself to stand out to the masses. Brown found that in her collaboration with the late, incomparable Denise Jones. Because Jones already had prominent standing within the community, Brown auditioned for her. Jones loved Brown’s interpretation, and her first production in Canada was with the producer.
For Brown, it was always about creating productions that resonated with the people. That was how you kept audiences returning for more. Throughout our discussion, Brown stated a few times that Caribbean culture is among the richest in the world. Therefore, incorporating Caribbean culture into her work, on the whole, brought the stakes even higher. It reflected what was taking place in the lives of Caribbean households here in Canada and beyond. Audiences were only privy to these things back home or by VHS tapes sent down in barrels for family amusement. So to have these storylines and performances here in Canada for everyone's viewing pleasure is what Brown gave us.
Brown also teamed up with Kevin Sinclair to create the company Jamaica Players. After their first performance, it’s safe to say the rest is history. “It just took off from that party we did! Everybody came up to us saying, ‘This is so fresh. It is so clean. It is so different!’ Sometimes you have a birthday party or a wedding, and people come, they eat, and after that, there's no outlet for people to laugh and have a good time.”
“We didn't really promote ourselves. Each event we performed at, whether it was a birthday party, wedding, Black History Month presentation, a church event—anything—the news spread. People talked about us. ‘This group, the Jamaica Players, they're doing all these great pieces,’ and we took off. I said, okay, all right, this is good. Now I need to do bigger things,” says Brown.
And that she did. Even when diagnosed with breast cancer, Brown didn't stop. The treatments and the entire ordeal were dealt with via her outlet. Brown didn't share the news with many because she didn't want to give the disease any power. She didn't want to contend with the energy that came with sympathetic niceties and opposing auras. But from the experience, Brown emerged triumphant with a new theatre piece called Ignorance to share. She initially didn't want to, but after being asked by a friend on a panel discussion she attended, she realized it was something special she needed to do.
"My friend said, 'Yes, you need to talk about it because people know you, and when they hear of your success because you beat it, it'll help them. So I shared my experience, which was well received by the audience. Then, one of the gentlemen from a group of men dealing with prostate cancer asked, 'Marcia can you write something for us and present it at one of our forums? You've been through it and can put a spin on it and maybe a little comedy to take away the harsh reality.' Because Jamaican, and not only Jamaican but Black men, on the whole, don't want to deal."
"I did this skit all alone, and focused on cancer and the men going through it, how they felt and the importance of why they should get tested. I talked about all the other little misconceptions about men going through that, and it was so well received. It did well," says Brown.
Marcia Brown is a name synonymous with Caribbean performances on stage. She is one of the premier female actresses in Toronto’s Caribbean community. Brown still loves the thrill of performing and being amongst the community, enjoying family time. But after 20 years on the scene, she is ready to pass the baton and prep for some fresh faces to hit the stage.
"I would love to see some younger people coming up. Next year, I may shift focus a little and probably do a young people's theatre. I want to focus on the young people and start grooming them to take the mantle because, after a while, the reality is that we have to make sure we pass it on. In Jamaica, they're okay because that's the culture. But up here, if you want this to continue, you have to start grooming some of the younger people to take over."
"So next year, I will go full-fledged with the young people, only with those serious about this. We need to let them start understanding the concepts. What goes on behind the scenes? What does it take to put on a production? What do you see on stages? There are a lot of other things that go on. I want to make them understand that if they're going to do it, they have to do it the right way. Let the people know that you're here and will contribute."
You can see Marcia Brown’s presentation of Deception on Saturday, June 17th, and Sunday, June 18th, at the Jamaican Canadian Centre.