Christian-based plays have become a may stay recent in the Black community. This month we interview Jamaican Christian playwright Cleveland O. McLeish.
Q: What first inspired you to write Christian plays and what age did you start?
I started writing when I found that I had a whole lot of free time at my previous job. I was twenty-one then. At that time I was just beginning to accept the Role of Drama Group Director at my church and we needed new plays to produce…plays that spoke directly to our audience and also incorporate our Jamaican culture.
Q: Did you take drama in school and how did you realize that you had this talent?
This gift was developed more or less by Trial and error. I think what helped is my ability to take criticism very well. I did a few short courses at the Edna Manley and UWI, but Inspiration has always been the foundation of my gift. I guess the ability to write was always there.
Q: On your website you have quite a few plays for sale. Who have been the main buyers of these plays?
I have had buyers mostly from US and UK residents.
Q: What is the feedback you get from the churches and organizations that use your plays?
Most of my customers are still in the rehearsal stages, but the feedback has been very good.
Q: In the US Christian based plays are now very popular especially in the Black community. The recent success of Black American Christian playwrights Tyler Perry and JD Lawrence movie “Diary of a Mad Black Woman” has caught many off guard and Hollywood is now paying attention to Christian plays. How is Christian based plays doing in Jamaica?
The Market is limited in Jamaica. That’s why I had to launch out on a Global Scale. It is possible to have good quality Christian Drama here in Jamaica, but it’s kind of a solo thing where the writer recruits a director, actors, etc…funds the whole production from his pocket and hope for support from the Jamaican community. I don’t think we’re yet fully over the roots-play concept of drama in Jamaica.
Q: How many plays have out written so far?
I have written over fifteen full-length plays and dozens of skits. Three of the Full Length plays have won awards in the JCDC Literary Arts Competition. Of Course, there is much, much more to come.
Q: Which is your favorite and why?
My favorite play right now is Vanity. It’s a fairly new play, but I’ve played around with the concept in my head for a very long time. I love this play for many different reasons, but mainly because it highlights my favorite scripture (Ecclesiastes 12)
Q: What is the origin of your favorite play?
It was born out of my own attempts to find the true meaning and purpose of life. I learnt that outside of God, all else is vanity.
Q: What is your approach to writing plays?
Most times, I wait to be inspired by the Holy Spirit. It comes in various different ways. Sometimes it’s a testimony, a word, a thought, an object (The Rose). Once the inspiration hits, I write. I’ve tried to structure my plays scene by scene, but I’ve found that my best plays just flow out like water from a fountain, so to speak.
Q: What was the hardest thing for you in writing this play?
The Truth…finding the time.
Q: Do you have any advise for those who want to be a playwright?
My famous three-word phase in life is ‘Never Give Up.’ When the criticisms start to come in you will want to, just don’t. The more you write, the better you get! It’s a fact that thousands of writers have proven time and time again and eventually, however long it takes, you will be rewarded for your efforts. If all else fails, call me!
For more information you can visit Cleveland O. McLeish’s website at: http://www.christianplaywright.org