The Scrubbing Bench, a production by playwright and director Mervyn De Goeas could have sold out to live audiences of avid theatre-goers at any given time, but this is not a typical time. As Covid-19 continues to restrict large gatherings, thespians have been working to bring shows to their audiences via virtual platforms.

De Goeas has been able to gather a group of some of the best in the industry for the LGBT inspired production, which comes in the wake of LGBT Month, an important month for the LGBT community, as it marks the observance of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender history, as well as the history of the gay rights and related civil rights movements. Its significance is tied to National Coming Out Day, observed globally on October 11.

The Scrubbing Bench was written on a grant from Trinidad and Tobago Film Company in 2011.

De Goeas recently spoke to the Kitcharee about how he has been able to adapt to the “new normal” and about the production, which features actors Stephen Hadeed, Jr and Kemlon Nero, Michael Cherrie, Natacha Jones, Cecilia Salazar, Eric Barry, Sean Edghill (director of photography), Tonya Evans (production manager) and Paulla De Souza (hair and make-up).

“All I know is that I wanted to write an LGBT themed piece and that I didn’t want any of the characters to die – like it always seemed to happen in the majority of alternative lifestyle themed stories, from Brokeback Mountain to And The Band Played On to Bent and so on, and so on, and so on. I didn’t have a storyline; I didn’t have a single character—nothing.

“This is the script I’d written in 2011 when I had been awarded my third writing grant from the Trinidad and Tobago Film Company, now FilmTT. Back then, there really weren’t that many people who were writing about the topics that interested me. My first film script was a Bollywood-styled musical about spousal abuse and this was going to be about LGBT issues. I guess they just felt, ‘Well, okay. Let’s see where he goes with this one.’ Nine years later and here we are.

“People who know my work and who’ve followed my career know that there is no one type of storytelling to be expected. I’ve worked on plays that deal with topics as diverse as apartheid in South Africa to Nazism and the Holocaust to rape and a ton of stuff in between. During my career, I’ve been awarded the National Drama Association of Trinidad and Tobago’s (NDATT) Cacique Award for Best Director a record five times. More than anybody else. And the plays that I won for dealt with themes as varying as what moves and motivates Caribbean men (MANtalk) to suspected sexual abuse of a minor (Doubt) to stories of women dealing with the consequences of their life choices (3 Women).

“Every year for LGBT Pride Month, PrideTT would ask me to do something. Two years ago, I did the history of LGBT theatre in Trinidad and Tobago. Last year we did an LGBT themed play written by Christopher Rodriguez. It’s a lot of work, but I did it.

“Then the pandemic hit and they asked me if I would do a reading of a play but I couldn’t use anybody else’s play because of copyright. I didn’t know anybody who had anything so I didn’t know what to do. I knew I didn’t want to go on Zoom or on Facebook.

I wanted to do it in a way that we did each of the actors individually and edit it all together and that way we wouldn’t put anybody in danger of catching Covid-19.

“My intended audience is anyone who’s interested in theatre and work that isn’t afraid to step out of the norm.

“I was motivated to see how far we could stretch the boundaries of what is considered “theatre” and how that form could exist in a digital world. Film and theatre could only exist if we all work together. Now with the pandemic, we must work together, but far apart, which wouldn’t have even made sense a year ago.

Covid-19, De Goeas said, has forced him to think outside the box for this production. “It has forced us all to reinvent everything, from how to teach school to how we communicate with each other. Now we have performers working with actors they have never even met. Imagine trying to wrap your head around that in 2018. One good thing, though, is that we got to work with actors who live outside of Trinidad, Canada, Spain, the United States, and even Tobago which, while it’s still home, we can’t get there.

“We have all had to make sacrifices. It is incredible the amount of encouragement and support I got to work with people who I have been working with for years. We shot for 13 days and slowly we began to see the whole thing coming together.

“What Covid-19 has done for us forced us to be creative so we had to find ways to do the things we couldn’t possibly do. Right now, we are in the editing process, and just looking at all the stuff... it’s been a journey.

De Goeas is appreciative of the support he’s received thus far. “I have to say that we are incredibly grateful for the generosity of some members of the arts community. From people who purchased more than one ticket to those who just gave us financial assistance without looking for anything in return. People opened their homes to us, fed us, really took care of us. It’s been an amazing journey. An exhausting one, but amazing, nonetheless. And we could not have done it without our friends in the arts.

“Tickets are available for viewing online for $200. That entitles you to multiple viewings the weekend of its release, and you could watch it with whomever you share your living space. We only ask that people don’t give out our URL and/or password),” De Goeas said.

Tickets are available online at www.suntixx.com

or you can e-mail

thescrubbingbench@gmail.com

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