From The West Indian Encyclopedia
Interview with Trevor Rhone By Kinisha O'Neill of Jamaica Gleaner
Best known throughout the Caribbean for Smile Orange and Old Story Time, Rhone's many creative works have received high acclaim across the globe. His most recent project, Bellas Gate Boy, an autobiography, is scheduled to appear at Harvard University within the next few months. The play recently earned the Actor Boy Award for 'Best New Play'. At the awards ceremony held last Tuesday evening, Rhone was also honoured by the local theatre industry for his outstanding contribution to Jamaican theatre.
During a lengthy interview with Flair, the playwright/screenwriter/actor candidly spoke about the love he has for his work as well as how he has dealt with his own self-confidence, financial difficulties and tremendous success.
How does it feel to be Trevor Rhone?
TR: Quite normal, it depends on how you see yourself you know. I'm a firm believer that to do the sort of work that I do one needs plenty of confidence, self-confidence, because if you don't believe in yourself, then you are going to find the task a lot harder. You need to believe that it's possible.
Did you always have that self-confidence?
TR: That's a thing that came after a while. But, the other important element that you need to remember is that you need to have a lot of humility as well. 'Cause the day you begin to play God, don't think God is ever too happy with mere mortals playing God. You need to recognise your own mortality and should recognise that whatever talents you have were given to you, and it is for you to use them carefully and not to be arrogant with them or to believe that you are some 'almighty'. I think once you arrive at that, you live your life simply and as a normal human being.
What personal characteristics do you think led you to become so successful at what you're doing?
TR: Well, you would learn much about that in my play Bellas Gate Boy. I was born poor you know, but poverty is a relative thing. Those were some of the happiest days of my life, my childhood. I had enough to eat, enough fresh air, enough land to roam and fruits to pick. Happy family happy brothers and sisters, we were not really burdened with any major cares. Once our bellies were full and we had a place to sleep, we were fine. There was no running water, but we were basically fine. I didn't know of anything else and we had a joyous time. You were introduced to Christianity by your parents as well a moral values. There were certain ways to live your life, with honesty and all those principles one got from one's parents. One grew up realising that to achieve any sort of success in life, you had to go to school and work hard and concentrate and focus. For me, right now, I cannot fathom why people might get into drugs, because for me the real joy of life is to experience thought and to turn thought into action, I mean really creative thought. To see some new, amazing thought being turned into some new, amazing moment on the screen, I mean you can't buy that. If I were asked now to take US $1 million and not write anything else, I wouldn't take it. I want to be able to write some more, whether I am making some money from it or not. It's like a passion, a drive.
I didn't see a play until I was about 14, I didn't know it existed. But even before then, I had some vision. With most passions and most loves there are occasional waverings, but I have not wavered much in the last 50 years. I get a bit lazy sometimes, we all do. But, failure to me is a catalyst to work.
Has anyone ever tried to tell you your work wasn't good, and you shouldn't bother to continue?
TR: Most times, thank the Lord, there's been some good quality to my work. There are a couple of things which I usually am the first to recognise which are not totally satisfying, and when I am not totally satisfied that is cause for great distress in my soul, and sometimes in my pocket, they sort of go hand-in-hand. But there have been times. When I did Smile Orange, the first three nights, nobody came. I had bills to meet on the weekend and I never had enough money to pay them. But, everything is relative. I was in debt, but the debt didn't bother me because I was so thrilled with the work. I was ecstatic. There was just no cause to stress myself out again; I would happily pay that debt again. Luckily, and God is good, that by the third or fourth night of the play, it went from negative to double positive, from empty to sold out. So I was able to pay my debt to the actors.
I have actually experienced a time in my life when I was faced with economic ruin, but at the same time, there was also some great creative stimulation. So economic ruin didn't seem so bad, and in fact, within a couple of days the creative satisfaction that I had gotten from the piece soon affected scores of people and it was their response to my creative joy that completely resolved my economic dilemma. Facing economic ruin when there is creative joy in your soul is usually just a temporary thing, for very soon you're going to fly and if you don't fly, that creative joy you feel will be stimulation enough to keeping pushing you on.
Would you say passion leads to success in one way or another?
TR: It depends on how you might measure success. Passion often leads to new worlds that you possibly never imagined. I had no idea or even dreamt people would call me the Honourable or the Great Trevor Rhone. That embarrasses me the most. Terribly. I'll hide my face. I found it embarrassing when this really respected playwright who I had met for the first time said, "Ha, you're The Great Trevor Rhone." I just want to be seen as Trevor Rhone.
So, has there ever been a time you had to catch your self in terms of humility?
TR: Occasionally, yes some of the time, because I am human and subject to human frailties. But, less so now-a-days, a lot less so now-a-days. There was a time when I felt forced to be overly expansive and show-off. There is a human need to be somebody that is a major drive in our lives. We all have a need to be successful and regarded, it's a human thing. Now, it still is for me in a way, but it's not part of the drive, it's never really been part of the drive. I guess I was fairly successful when I was younger.
What was you first major success?
TR: Smile Orange, the play. I was 29 turning 30. I never thought I would ever own a car. I had no ambition to ever own a car. Never knew I would own a little house. It wasn't a drive, I was quite happy to take the bus. I had no social hang-ups at all. I had chosen a life for myself which would possibly not have those rewards. I was never driven by the need to have money. I may have a little apartment that is clean and reasonable. I would take the bus, quite happily. The fact that I have now had a series of cars in my life is nothing. That's why to buy a Mercedes Benz doesn't turn me on at all. Give me a little car to take me from A to B, I don't have to keep it too clean; don't have to wash it too often. I do realise I must service my car though, so it won't leave me on the road.
I have this amazing little story of this young woman who bought herself an old Beetle Volkswagen for something like $27,000. She told me that it runs like a dream, but none of my friends will drive in it. Now that is a telling story about Jamaicans. I can't understand that. But, impression is a major force that influences our actions. The big house and fancy car, I have no interest. If you do fine, that's your way. I have some very well-off friends. I enjoy their houses, but I don't leave there thinking I wished I had a house like that. I like my little house the way it is, it looks like me, it's in harmony with my spirit. Plus, I never put myself in an economic situation where my work will be affected. I don't go in debt, because if I'm in debt it means that I can't work. I will save up for five years to go buy a second-hand car. For me, I think just a free head, a head that is capable of being available to my thoughts, and to the possibilities I can achieve. I don't want to crowd it up with wife or car or money matters.
TR: That too. For you see, I have discovered that the part of the brain for which you draw your creative juices is also the part of the brain that feeds creative needs and also triggers emotional joys and problems. If you ever fall into an emotional cesspool, I suspect pretty much you're destroying the creative possibilities. So, I try particularly of late not to get myself entangled in negative emotional situations. Like the lovebush, they are going to suck from creative possibilities.
So you've never been married?
TR: I have been, yes. My statement is possibly influenced by relationships I've had. People often say that as an artist one needs to experience lots of things to be able to write successfully, but I believe that, in fact, they could debilitate you. I've heard of so many artists that have been destabilised by bad emotional relationships and never able to really recover. I mean, if only I knew then what I know now? That's the story of life, isn't it?
Would you say you put your all into everything you did to produce?
TR: There were a couple of times when I floundered. I've given my all when my head is in the right space. There are other times when my head has not been in the right space and usually I look back on that work with some degree of dissatisfaction. I think there are times when I can hear my own voice floundering in the wilderness when I'm pushing to work against difficult times. There's work I look back on with awe and wonderment and refuse to accept, or take authorship for. It's just so amazing. I believe, and other artists say this, quite often I think you're just a conduit for some superior being. There's no other explanation, because I know when I am ordinary as well.
Has there been anything you've done that you've thought of as ordinary, but the world thought was extraordinary?
TR: Things that I've recognised to be ordinary the world has seen as ordinary too. Did I think that the work I did here in my life would have been so regarded by so many people? No. I just saw it as an honest day's work. I never envisaged myself being so regarded, being so studied by people with their PhDs. I'm not an academic. I'm often surprised by the success I've had. I don't take that and walk around with it, that would be too much of a burden. It would destroy me.
One Love, Mr. Rhone's latest project is a full-length feature film starring Kymani Marley and Sherine Anderson. The film is about a young Rastaman and a Pentecostal girl who fall in love despite their religious differences. It is scheduled to premiere at this year's Cannes Film Festival after which it will be shown throughout the Caribbean.