Monday, October 12, 2009

Here's to you, Wycliffe Bennett

Bennett... master teacher who lived the parable of the talents

One day, we will all be but a memory. But as testified by the many tributes, few will be as memorable as Wycliffe Bennett. Those lucky enough to have worked with this icon may have complained of his demands but are now grateful to have been blessed by them.

In the summer of 1974, I returned from holidays to hear that Wycliffe Bennett had left several messages. He had read a piece I had done for the Daily News and declared, "You and only you can write my press releases!" I had never written a release in my life and had committed to another job, but when Bennett made up his mind, it was futile to resist. Thus, Mr B started me on an exciting life career.

As it turns out, I am just one of the scores of Jamaicans who call Wycliffe Bennett mentor. Last week we heard Beverley Anderson Manley hailing him as hers, so too Gladstone Wilson, Errol Lee, Fae Ellington, Hopeton Dunn, Paula-Ann Porter, Naomi Francis and Simone Clarke-Cooper. Bennett did not stint on sharing his gifts, inspiring aspirants with his uncompromising demand for excellence.

Mr B chuckled joyfully as he related Oliver Samuels' unique tribute: "There we were, Hazel and I, enjoying Oliver's performance at Centrestage, when all of a sudden he spotted us and came out of character! He asked that the spotlight be put on us, and proceeded to tell the audience that he owed much to me." He paused and added the Wycliffe signature: "What a thing!"

At the Actor Boy Awards earlier this year, Jamaica's theatre fraternity poured plaudits on the distinguished graduate of Yale and Columbia universities, recalling the advice that helped them to make something of themselves: "Never apologise for your presence" and "Always occupy space, Darling."

Bennett would look for the largest of spaces to occupy: like the infield of the National Stadium where he had 25,000 dancers moving like clockwork representing the ethnic groups that are the diversity of the Caribbean in the unforgettable panoply (he loved that word!) of Carifesta 76.

Master conductor Bennett had recruited such virtuosos as Eric Coverley for design, Merrick Needham for logistics, Ancile Gloudon for construction, Ouida Tomlinson for music, George Carter for theatre management, Vilma McDonald for finance, Mortimo Planno for drummers, Joyce Campbell for dance and Emma Crooks for costume. In our PR department, we had Lorna Goodison, Harold Brady, Phillip Jackson, and Brian Meeks.


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