ALBERT LAVEAU: Stalwart of Theatre

Albert Laveau is a wise man. A wise man who has worked in Theatre for the majority of his life.

Albert Laveau started formally working as an actor as a teenager and continued to hone his craft through his adult years. In addition to acting, he has also directed and managed many plays in and outside of Trinidad and Tobago.  He has been an important member of the Trinidad Theatre Workshop (TTW) since its inception in 1959, and is an integral part of its continued existence: the name Albert Laveau is reflexively associated with TTW. Though Albert Laveau’s influence is widely felt, he is not bothered with notoriety. Through touching people and in being of service to them, he finds fulfillment. After 60 plus years of working in the field, he continues to energise the theatre and its practitioners of all ages who are carrying on the traditions of the art form.

Gentle but firm, focused yet light-hearted, a dedicated artist but also a shrewd businessman….and impossible not to love.

In speaking with us, he reflects on some of his journey; becoming an actor, what made him decide to stay and work in Trinidad, and his involvement over the years with “The Flagship of the Theatre Movement in the Caribbean”-Trinidad Theatre Workshop.

EP:          When did you get involved in acting /Theatre?

AL:          Well since I was about five years old, people used to call me “chatterbox”. I was always chosen to do something for concert day. I got into the habit of performing before large numbers of people very early. Also, my father, when I was very small-four or five- would invite us to tell stories every day after he came home from work.

When I was between 10 and 11 years old, I moved to a new school and the same thing that happened at my previous school replicated itself where I was called on frequently to perform.

So I grew up through my preteen years being aware of this capacity within myself, without knowing that I was going to be an “Actor”.

EP:          So when was the moment that you realised, “I am an actor”?

AL:          Well at no real point. It just became part of me. I’m talking about nearly 60 years ago.  I started with a drama company because I didn’t have anything else to do. The popular guys had their things, some were playing football, and some were lifting body weights. I started to lift weights but as soon as I went into my first play I decided “Nah!”, if I have all those big muscles then I wouldn’t be available for different types of roles.  I wanted to be able to do different kinds of roles. So maybe you could say I was making a decision, in a kind of way…

EP:          Even though you weren’t aware…

AL:          Yes

EP:          In every moment you were continuing the journey…

AL:          That’s right.

EP:          When you started acting seriously, did you have big ambitions?

AL:          No, no, no. Not as far as I can remember. I used to have ambitions to have girls and girlfriends (Laughs), because that’s what all the boys wanted.

EP:          You told me about the time when you were abroad acting and something Andre Tanker told you struck a chord…

AL:          Yes, well in 1972 Derek (Walcott) took a group of us up to the States to do “Ti Jean” in the square.  I got good reviews and a producer there adopted me so to speak. Andre and I were rooming together and in the morning when I was going out for auditions he would say “Albert, don’t forget, be yourself eh “. Then I used to wonder, “Who the hell am I ?…Who …am ….I?” A serious conversation here you know! “Who is this self…that I have to BE?!” And it was something that lasted with me during the four years that I was campaigning in America till it culminated with a confrontation with my agent who wanted me to go to Australia to be in a musical at Christmas time. I say “Leh me tell you something man, I have presents for my children…Christmas is for me and my children.” He said “Well you gotta make up your mind… if you wana be an actor.” I said  …” Uh huuuhhhh… but I’m going home.” I came- and I didn’t go back. I said this is me. I am the Trini. I belong here and anything that I want to do in the theatre or in the arts must be done in a Trinidadian context and me doing it, me being involved in it here and not in any remote kind of way. I thought I wanted to be like “one of the first blacks who”… but you can’t be the first anything. I learnt that humility. Anything you’re doing it’s been done already.

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Albert Laveau: One of the actor’s “headshots” during his years acting in America in the 70s

EP:          How did TTW start and develop over the years?

AL:          Derek Walcott came to Trinidad around 1958 when he was invited to write a play for the celebration of the birth of the new federation. After his engagement he stayed in Trinidad and started to do what he had done in Jamaica and St. Lucia; he collected actors from various amateur drama companies to craft them and started having workshops and rehearsals.

I joined in 1959.

So 1959 to 1966 was the first phase.

We would do Derek’s plays as well as the plays of other playwrights. We would do rehearsals and some workshops. That was the seed of what we are doing here with the School for the Arts.

Some of this phase was spent at Little Carib. Beryl Mc Burnie had this dream- more like a nightmare (Laughs) of  a “marriage of the Arts” …. Dance! Drama! Derek remarked it would be a shotgun marriage. Both she and Derek were very strong people, Titans! It was inevitable that they were going to clash. I went to workshop one friday and I saw Beryl locking up, I said “Beryl, what’s going on?” She said “Daaarrrling…allyuh eh hear the bungarunga? Uh huh! …it was one big buck up yes! Look ah put allyuh bench outside.” We had a bench and it was on the pavement. (Laughs). You think it easy. So we gone!

Then we got the basement of Bretton Hall Hotel and we made theatre there.We stayed there for a while making quite a talked about “basement theatre”.

In 1976 I went back to the States to direct a play for Derek. Then I came back and continued to direct his plays. All through 1977-1979, we didn’t have a home to do theatre.

In 1989 the 30th Anniversary came around and we made the move to get a place again to do our theatre. From 1989-1998 we were at the Old Fire Station.

In 2004 we got this building on Jerningham Avenue.

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EP:          Do you feel that the original vision for TTW has been achieved?

AL:          Yes and we are still evolving.

EP:          How do you feel about handing over the baton?

AL:          Well I feel very good that I have somebody to pass it on to. That used to terrify me that I might be struck down and everybody would fold their tents and start to steal away, go back to where they were and nothing would go on.

Because of what we have built and the goodwill that is out there towards our work, I think TTW will do well. It has to be preserved ….Theatre workshop is an institution, one of our institutions… just like any other institution… Police Service, Fire Brigade and so on. It is one of the necessities of existence.

EP:          Is there anything you would like to say in closing…

AL:          Well, I am still working on my life. I would like it to be an inspiration to people in my society. Not the whole world and all that but to those people I come into contact with, that’s all. I see that young people need inspiration and there aren’t so many role models but I would like to be able to make a contribution in that regard.

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