Producer/actress/dancer Abeo Jackson says the stage has always been in her blood, and jokes she danced in the womb, as her mother was a founding member of Les Enfants Dance Company in San Fernando.
The article below is an extended version of the printed one.
Jackson’s first appearance on stage was with the company at age three. She began doing drama monologues at age seven and came second in Aunty Hazel Ward Redman’s Twelve and Under Show, under the tutelage of family friend Wayne Daniels. She continued her training while at Naparima Girls’ High School.
“My mother is a foundation member of Les Efforts Dance Company of San Fernando under the artistic direction of Joyce Kirtz which is one of the grand dames of dance that we’re actually fortunate enough to still have with us. So Mummy actually danced with me in her belly. So when I started dancing it was just a natural progression, it was always something that was in my system in utero. My first experience with dance was at three years old with Les Efforts, I was a sheep in the Nativity, I remember it clear as day, I rolled on stage for eight counts, stayed for the whole Nativity and then rolled off stage for eight counts at the end. So that was my first foray with stage, but stage has always been in my system, I started doing drama monologues a little later on, probably at the age of seven or eight and one of Mummy’s very good friends, Mr. Wayne Daniels, who taught at San Fernando Boys’ RC, I went St. Gabriel’s, he trained me and sent me up for 12 and under, on a whim, and I ended up coming second and I guess that’s when I realized that stage was what I really wanted to do, so people would ask me what I wanted to do, and it was always a mix between media and stage, that’s always, always, always been in my system, so when I went to Naparima Girls’ I was always the girl who was organizing the house for SanFest or Pep Rally or something. Anything to do with stage that was me, I was House Captain which of course lends itself towards being chief cook and bottlewasher in terms of anytime it had some bacchanal in school going on with regards to a competition, I’m in charge, etc.”
In 2003, Jackson went to Dillard University in New Orleans to study Mass Communications and Theatre Arts. Following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, she graduated from Dickinson College in Pennsylvania with a degree in Theatre and Dance with an emphasis on Acting and Directing, with minors in Mass Communication and Dance. She came back to T&T in 2007 to be with her mother after her grandmother died.
“I went to Dillard University in New Orleans in 2003, my major was actually Mass Communications, they were telling me I couldn’t double major in Mass Communications and Theater Arts, but I was doing it anyway and then in 2005, I did a study abroad program where Dillard, which is a historically Black college, an HBCU, partners with a majority white institution which is Dickinson College in Pennsylvania and the students from both schools go to Cameroon for six weeks, studying something like “The Influence of Western Culture on Traditional African Religions,” so what you’re supposed to do is you go to Cameroon for six weeks, and when you come back, you go to Dickinson for a semester and then they come down by us for a semester, but as fate would have it, Hurricane Katrina happened. I lost all of my stuff that was still in New Orleans and Dickinson was really sweet enough to board a lot of the students, quite a few of the international students from New Orleans who were in my year group. There were 13 Trinidadians that year that went up with me. So Dickinson actually opened their doors for quite a few of the Trinis to come across and at the end of the semester, they only kept two of us, according to GPA, so I ended up graduating from Dickinson, which is where I was fully a Theatre Arts major. So my degree is in Theatre and Dance with an emphasis on Acting and Directing, with minors in Mass Communication and Dance, because that’s where my other concentrations lay from when I was at Dillard as well as what I did there. I ended up having more Dance credits than anything else.
I actually had a job lined up in West Virginia because what happened was when I was at Dickinson, I did a summer internship at a West Virginia theatre. Oddly enough, people don’t even know this about me, my work-study and things that I was really into, apart from being on stage, on the technical side, was costuming, so I actually did a costuming internship at a West Virginia theatre where I costumed a couple plays within the summer season and actually did costuming for one of the plays on my own and I had a job lined up there at the Green Briar theatre, they were organizing my visa, and something just told me to come home, because my grandmother had died two or three months before and Mummy was here by herself. I came home.”
Jackson said she got bored after less than a week and went to work with Raymond Choo Kong. She worked backstage for a few shows, before appearing in “Nasty Little Secrets” later that year. She credits Choo Kong with teaching her about production in a T&T context, “because learning it in a classroom in the States is one thing but our market and industry is so screwed up that it was like learning from scratch.”
Jackson formed her own production company, Abeo Jackson Productions, in 2012, but her first play, “Dinner with Friends,” flopped badly. “I didn’t market it as a “ring down bacchanal comedy,” which is what the Trinidad palette likes. The Trinidadian audience will tell you “we tired seeing the same people on the stage and allyuh only doing sex comedies, etc.,” but quite frankly they make it quite difficult for you to sell them anything else.” Her next endeavour, “Peepshow” in partnership with Nikki Crosby and Gregory Singh, sold out after being marketed as a “sexy, all-female comedy”. Jackson went on to do “50 Shades of Gravy”, “Act like a Lady, Think Like a Ho”, “Man Cyah Take Horn” and her first effort this year was alongside 3 Canal with “Outta De Box.”
Jackson said comedy is one of the most difficult styles of theatre and isn’t given enough credit in T&T. “Comedy has a timing and if your rhythm is off, you will fall flat. So people like Raymond, Penny, Richard and Nikki who have mastered comedy in this country, they’re geniuses, and I’ve been privileged to work with and learn and absorb from all of them.”
She said Trinidadians continue not walking the walk, as seen with 3 Canal’s show in San Fernando, “I was happy we had probably more than a quarter-house each night and people loved it, but at the same time people say they want new theatre experiences but make it extremely hard for you to market it.” She was glad the venture made enough to pay those involved. “I have no illusions about the fact that this is a job and people are taking a risk when they come on board with you with projects like this, so their time and their talent must be respected.”
Along with commercial theatre, Jackson also does musicals with JCS productions, and sings, dances and choreographs with 3 Canal. “I’ve been so fortunate to be able to move seamlessly between all these groupings, because a lot of artists in T&T don’t do that.” Currently Jackson is working on choreography for another JCS Productions Musical, “Altar Boys” which starts on April 7th.
“I branched off on my own in about 2012, 2013 with Abeo Jackson Productions and I did a play that was very near and dear to my heart that I got connected to when I was in the States, called ‘Dinner with Friends’ and it buss really stink, because I didn’t market it as a ring down bacchanal comedy, so to speak, which is what the Trinidad palette likes. The Trinidadian audience will tell you in one breath “we tired seeing the same people on the stage and we want something else and allyuh only doing sex comedies and this, that and the other’ but quite frankly they make it quite difficult for you to sell anything else to them. I have the proof of it, ‘Dinner with Friends’ is a masterpiece, it was a masterpiece of a play, but nobody really saw it. But after doing that particular production, when I joined/partnered with Hahaha Productions, which is Penny and Nikki, and Funny Farm Factory, which is Gregory Singh, stage manager extraordinare, and we did ‘Peepshow’ and the play itself is not a ring down bacchanal comedy, so to speak, there are a lot of poignant moments, but we marketed it as a sexy, all-female comedy, we did the photo shoot at my girlfriend’s place, JC Blandin and Provocative Fitness, with the poles, etc., that’s how we marketed it and it sold out! It is proof, even this weekend with 3 Canal, it’s proof, in that Trinidadians love to talk one breath, but they don’t walk the walk.”
Jackson critiqued the theatre industry for being segmented. “We pit ourselves against each other unnecessarily which makes no sense because this industry is too small for that nonsense.” She disagreed with the prevailing mentality where “you just wash your foot and jump on stage” and said there is need for further and continuing training for all practitioners. “It irritates me greatly when I see people on stage who are not ready, and are being given accolades. In Trinidad we have a real fear of telling people that they’re not good enough and need to do more work.”
Jackson has also worked in media and was co-creator and creative producer of “Cup of Joe,” but left “because I stopped enjoying it due to the general chaos and unprofessionalism of the industry.” She also worked for Star 94.7 as a radio announcer. “Working in theatre and being a performer all my life has influenced the type of honest, organic radio/TV personality that I have ended up becoming. I can’t be anybody else but myself.”
A major accident two years ago changed her perspective on life. “You never know when you’re just not going to be here and if you’re not passionate about what you’re doing, you need to be strong enough to walk away, because it doesn’t make sense making yourself miserable. You’re going to end up compromising yourself, your art and your own standards. You have to know that there’s a time for everything, you just have to wait, watch and be ready and when the opportunity comes, you grab it.”