By AVA TURNQUEST
Tribune Staff Reporter
AS producers struggle to shoulder the cost of re-staging “The Legend of Sammie Swain” earlier this month, Minister of Tourism Obie Wilchcombe yesterday pledged financial support for an encore performance.
In a bid to expand the country’s tourism product, Mr Wilchcombe revealed that the government is exploring the option of making the highly acclaimed folk opera a mainstay of Nassau’s cultural offerings.
Speaking at yesterday’s inaugural ceremony for the cruise ship Norwegian Breakaway, Mr Wilchcombe said: “We’re going to help them, we’re going to work with them. The Prime Minister has requested a command performance, and he has taken on a strong position of support; the Prime Minister believes that it’s a cultural iconic feature and we ought to do more. We’re going to work with the cruise lines and others to be able to cause Sammie Swain to be sold to the cruise lines for the visitors to come off and go to see it.”
He added: “What we want people to do is to be so excited about coming to the Bahamas that they want to spend, and they want to visit again. We don’t have any shows, we don’t have enough entertainment, we don’t have enough restaurants – Bahamian restaurants. The visitor wants to spend, they come to the Bahamas to enjoy themselves but we can’t get them to do it without activities.”
The first ever performance of the late E Clement Bethel’s stage production, a ballet at the time, was at the 1968 Cultural Olympics in Mexico City.
It tells the story of a disabled Cat Island man who falls in love with the village beauty, and is scorned.
In an interview with Tribune Arts, producer Nicolette Bethel explained that her father’s folk opera was based on an actual folktale collected in Cat Island by Sir Etienne Dupuch, former editor of the Tribune, and published in the 1950s.
In August, Dr Bethel, cultural activist and former Director of Culture, teamed up with her brother Edward Bethel, a veteran educator, to launch an online fund-raising campaign to revive the production on the bill of the annual theatre festival “Shakespeare in Paradise”.
The Legend of Sammie Swain opened on October 4.
The estimated cost of the production was $75,000, according to Dr Bethel, who added that the IndieGoGo campaign, along with sponsorship, donations, and advertisements, racked up a bill of around $30,000.
In an article posted earlier this week, discussing the outstanding cost shortfalls despite widespread public acclaim, Dr Bethel noted that “nothing concrete” had emerged from promises of support from government officials.
Between 1968 and 1985 the play was performed about eight times. It was performed as a ballet in 1968, and incorporated into the Folklore Show that took place every Thursday during the first Goombay Summer Festival of the late 1960s and early 1970s. It was also performed by the New Breed Dancers as they toured the USA during the same period.
The last time Sammie Swain was performed in its full version was in 1985, when the government underwrote the cost of reviving Sammie Swain for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting.