FACE TO FACE: Love in life and in theatre

Nicolette Bethel and Philip Burrows - a married couple at the helm of A Year of Bahamian Theatre.

Nicolette Bethel and Philip Burrows - a married couple at the helm of A Year of Bahamian Theatre.




WHEN the curtain call is made for the superstars of Bahamian theatre - ones who have helped to shape performing arts in the country into a viable activity that has propelled Bahamian culture - Philip A Burrows and his wife, Nicolette Bethel, will be there. Individually, they have blazed their own paths in literature, theatre and performing arts. Together, they are a formidable pair leading a team of some of the most talented playwrights, directors, technical producers, artists and actors in the country.


Once On This Island, performed at the Dundas Centre for the Performing Arts.

Their work is world renowned, and because of Philip and Nicolette’s sacrifices to help to keep this artform alive in the country, it thrives this year as the official “Year of Bahamian Theatre”. Prime Minister Philip “Brave” Davis has taken it a step further when he recently announced in the House of Assembly during the Budget debate that the government has allocated funding for a School for the Creative and Performing Arts, “fulfilling the dreams of many”.

“I think it’s a great idea because the more people trained in the arts, the stronger our existing theatrical community will grow, and performers will finally be able to make a living doing what they can only do now for love,” said Philip.

“The implementation will be a key factor in how such an institution would succeed and I’m pretty sure that the people who have worked to continue to make theatre happen in this country over the years will be supportive of such a venture.”

Philip is the artistic director of Ringplay Productions and Shakespeare in Paradise. Nicolette serves as president of Shakespeare in Paradise and chair of the Dundas Centre for the Performing Arts. She is also president of the Shakespeare Theatre Association (an international association of Shakespeare-producing theatres).

In honour of the 50th Anniversary of Bahamian Independence, Philip and Nicolette are at the helm of “A Year of Bahamian Theatre” - one play per month by a different Bahamian playwright for 13 months (October 2022-October 2023) - all taking place at the Dundas Centre for the Performing Arts.

Featured playwrights are: E Clement Bethel; Philip A Burrows; Nicolette Bethel; Sam Boodle; James J Catalyn; Patrice Francis and J Ben Hepburn; Michael Pintard; Patrick Rahming; Winston V Saunders; Ian Strachan; Jeanne L Thompson; Telcine Turner-Rolle; Susan J Wallace; and P Anthony White.

Currently showing at the Dundas is “An Evening of Susan Wallace” featuring “The Last One to Let You Down” and “Single Seven”, showing June 15-17 at 8pm nightly. Expect a night of comedy featuring these two plays, which are inspired by 70s sitcoms and live studio audiences, as well as a few mini sketches by Valicia Rolle, inspired by Susan Wallace’s poetry.

With Shakespeare in Paradise, in 2018 Philip and Nicolette established the Short Tales incubator, a place for the development of new Bahamian playwrights, directors and actors, now in its fifth year. She has served as editor of collections of original Bahamian short plays: Short Tales Vol 1, 2, 3 and 4, produced by Shakespeare in Paradise. On Monday, Shakespeare in Paradise announced that ten Short Tales have been selected for 2023.


A Midsummer Night’s Dream, performed at the Dundas Centre for the Performing Arts.

Nicolette shares how A Year in Bahamian Theatre is going thus far: “Better than expected! We took a risk to do it while the Dundas main stage is closed, but thank heaven for the Black Box! The plays are sometimes better than we remembered. I am so impressed with the actors who have totally stepped up! Many people may think that we all get paid to do this, but that is not the case. The only people who get any remuneration are the authors, who we are paying royalties to, and technical and set building crews. The rest of us - producers, directors, actors - are doing it ‘gratis’. We make enough to pay our rent to the Dundas (which needs it if we are going to get the AC back up and running) and to pay the production bills. Our company is doing this all for the love of it and for our own national pride. I am so super proud of our directors. Five years ago, we were only four regular directors - Philip, Erin, Skeebo Roberts and myself. But thanks in large part to Short Tales, we have expanded our pool of directors to a total of 14! It blows my mind.”

For 26 years since Philip and Nicolette said “I do”, they have walked hand in hand, lifting each other up in their personal and professional pursuits. Their passion for each other and for theatre has helped them to work together to create performing arts excellence for The Bahamas.

“We are partners in every sense of the word,” says Philip.

“Theatre has really become our life’s work. All of the major creations like ‘Shakespeare in Paradise’, ‘Short Tales’, ‘A Year of Bahamian Theatre’ and practically whatever happens at the Dundas came out of discussions between the two of us. It’s never a situation of who thought of what or who created what because the final implementation of any of those things came from us sitting down and discussing, arguing, thinking about it and discussing it once again before we even present it to our colleagues. There is always something to create or some dream to bring into reality and when we present something like that to the public, we speak with one voice.”

Nicolette also shared candid thoughts of their marriage: “Working together in theatre is what brought us together in the first place. I don’t know what he saw in me but I totally admire and respect his ability and expertise as a director, actor, all-round theatre person. Philip Burrows set the standard for Bahamian theatre - it is world class and professional, never mind that we don’t get paid. He is one of the best directors in the world - and I say that without exaggeration. People who are sceptical are welcome to do the research, attend plays internationally as we have, and compare the quality of what he produces and has trained us to produce with anywhere in the world - Broadway, the West End, the Globe, the RSC, Stratford, Shaw, Oregon, you name it.”

“We have mutual respect. We do not always agree. We are not afraid of conflict. We argue constantly while we’re working, but we know how to listen to one another and not dismiss each other’s perspectives even if ours is different. I find that makes us better as a couple and better as a team. And then we fundamentally agree on the big things - like big questions of morality and right and wrong and what is good for the theatre and what is good for the country. We are, in the end, concerned with what is good for one another and for our mutual vision. Also, there’s the question of space. We give one another space to be individuals. We have our own working spaces and we do not do everything together. We trust one another. He encouraged me to develop my academic career and I have tried to support his creative career.”

The academic and creative careers of which she speaks are phenomenal.

Philip started in performing arts when he was about five years old. His cousin, Allan Lee, was directing a play at Central Gospel Chapel and he was a cast member. From there, he did various theatre productions in the schools that he attended, including Aquinas College, where he participated in plays under the direction of Andrew Curry.

Today, he is a director, teacher and actor, who graduated from the American Academy of Dramatic Arts and the National Theatre Institute at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre Centre.

Philip was the artistic and resident director of the Dundas Repertory Season from its beginning in 1981 straight through to 1997. In August 1991, he headed a contingent of some 30 performers who took part in the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Under his direction, the first production of “Music of The Bahamas” was staged, which was co-written for the stage by Philip and Nicolette.

He left The Bahamas in 1997 for three years to introduce and teach a theatre arts programme at Lester B Pearson College in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. He later put his musical ability to work as co-director of E Clement Bethel’s “Sammie Swain” and of the first Bahamian opera, “Our Boys”; of the latter he was also responsible, with Winston Saunders, for the libretto. He wrote the book and co-wrote the script for the original Bahamian Musical “Der Real Ting”. For the Ministry of Tourism, he has directed five Cacique Award Ceremonies and has written and directed “Bahamian Rhapsody” which was performed at The Apollo Theatre in New York. He was responsible for the co-direction of the 20th and 25th “Anniversary of Bahamian Independence” productions staged on Clifford Park and he directed the 30th, 32nd and 34th anniversary productions. He will serve as the director of the 50th Independence celebrations on July 9-10, 2023.

Philip also directed productions of “You Can Lead A Horse to Water”, in 1984 in San Francisco with the Eureka Theatre Company and co-director Richard Seyd; and again in 2005 at Grand Valley State University, in Michigan, with students from that institution. He also directed a production of this play in Trinidad for Carifesta. Philip is a noted television and film producer, as well as an accomplished theatre actor. Altogether, he is responsible for the direction of over one hundred theatrical productions.

Nicolette’s repertoire is just as amazing. She holds BA (Hons) in literature and French from the University of Toronto; and an MPhil (Masters in philosophy) and a PhD in social anthropology from the University of Cambridge. In addition to her work in theatre, she is helping to shape the futures of students at the University of The Bahamas.

Nicolette has lived, studied and worked in the United Kingdom and Canada. She was a United World College scholar at Lester B Pearson College, Victoria, British Columbia, and later returned as a teacher of English and anthropology there. She served as Director of Culture for The Bahamas for five years (2003-2008). She was the founder and editor-in-chief of tongues of the ocean, an online literary journal (2009-2014). She is a playwright, poet, fiction writer, anthropologist and theatre director.

In 2015, she was short-listed for the Hollick Arvon Prize in Poetry of the Bocas Literary Festival, and her submissions have been featured in Thicker than Water (Peekash, 2018). Other publications have appeared in Social Identities, The Oxford and Cambridge May Anthologies 1993; The Caribbean Writer; Calabash; The Caribbean Review of Books; Poui; sx: Small Axe Salon; Caribbean Quarterly; New West Indian Guide; and International Journal of Bahamian Studies, among other places. In 2010 her first poetry chapbook, “Mama Lily and the Dead” was published by Poinciana Paper Press. Her second chapbook, Lent/Elegies, was published by the A Place Without Dust Nanopress in 2011, and in 2015 a third collection of poems was published in If, a publication designed to accompany the installation of the same name in Transforming Spaces 2015.

Their national pride and mutual respect is fueled in part by their rich heritage. Philip’s grandfather was a policeman and the ADC to the Duke of Windsor when he was the Royal Governor of The Bahamas. His father was a turtle shell jeweler and manager of Lee’s Carpet craft, and his mother was born and raised in Long Island. The Burrows children excelled in their artistic talents. Nicolette grew up in a family of educators, civil servants, religious leaders and creative people. Her father is a cultural icon, the late great E Clement Bethel, a world-class concert pianist who chose service to his country over a life of performing internationally. Her mother is the late great Keva Bethel, CMG, a veteran educator and first President of the College of The Bahamas.

To learn more about A Year of Bahamian Theatre, visit https://www.shakespeareinparadise.org. To find Nicolette’s literary works, visit the gift shop at the National Art Gallery (NAGB) or search on Lulu.com, Amazon and Smashwords.


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