EDITOR, The Tribune.
Bush crack and James Catalyn gone!
Catalyn devoted his life to uplifting the Bahamian vernacular and to making us proud of “we culture” which is a fusion of African, American, European, Asian and Latino heritages which he merged into one to the exclusion of all else.
That he was a cultural giant cannot be disputed. Lesser known was his work behind the scenes to build up and promote what the Ministry of Tourism gurus casually refer to as “the product”, those uniquely Bahamian experiences that we used to share with visitors.
And while he was passionate about giving tourists a cultural glimpse of his Bahamas, he understood instinctively that his audience was not those who came here for a week, but those who called this place home and who needed to have their lives, their dialect and their culture validated.
And so, while he begged the government to clean up Fort Fincastle and to bring Fort Charlotte back to life, he undertook significant steps in his own theatrical career putting together a band of friends simply to crack some jokes and get people laughing at themselves.
It grew quickly and made his a household name. He laughed easily and often and had a trademark cut-eye that was more endearing than it was threatening.
There was no colour barrier amongst James Catalyn and Friends, his troupe, but he understood that the children in his audiences needed to see positive role models of every stripe on stage. He figured out that we have to remove social stereotypes from acting and from comedy. He minimised prejudices by poking fun at them.
To do so he shuffled his cast between roles and in so doing eliminated the perception that only a certain type of actor can play certain roles. Anyone on any given day could be given any role that Catalyn wanted showcased.
To him the message was more important than the messenger even though he was paternally protective of his troupe. And they in turn were fiercely loyal to him.
His success spawned others such as the theatre company, Shakespeare in Paradise. He used the clout of his box office draw to push for the upgrading of the Dundas Centre and to get schools to amplify and not minimise drama classes.
It will be hard to fill the shoes that he has left behind. But, understanding his role as a trailblazer, he coached others to become choreographers, writers, producers, singers and actors in order to expand their repertoire.
“Why yinna gatta overtink erryting,” Catalyn would say to those who obsessed with style and process.
It didn’t exactly mask the fact that he was a stickler for details and demanded devotion to the craft. “If you come up in here half-stepping then whole step your way out the door” he would boom and then immediately grin.
He endured the inevitable criticism that came his way because he was not thin-skinned even though he was hard-headed.
The best way to mourn Catalyn is to laugh. If they haven’t already, then a fitting tribute would be for the University of The Bahamas to consider the posthumous grant of an honorary degree for this accomplished artist who taught us to laugh at we-sef.
August 29, 2018.