Braata Productions gives Caribbean-American artistes platform to showcase talents

A. Valerie (Marsha-Ann Haye) and Deacon Russel (Jerry Benzwick) in Braata Productions play “God’s Way.”
Joel Edwards

The New York-based Braata Productions, Inc. says it is dedicated to giving Caribbean and Caribbean-American artistes a platform through which to showcase their work and talents.

Braata is a Jamaican colloquial term meaning “’more’, which is what this company aspires to do – give its supporters and audiences something more at all times,” said the cultural group in a statement.

“Braata seeks to define its position as one of the leading performing arts organizations in New York City,” it said. “We maintain strong ties to the community and have a reputation for artistic excellence, educational innovation and fiscal responsibility.”

Started by Jamaican actor/singer Andrew Clarke in May 2009, Braata Productions said its goal “has always been to provide entertainment and education to our patrons and give voice to diverse experiences, performers, writers and directors.

“We aim to authentically represent the culture of the Caribbean islands and to prioritize cultivating and re-telling Caribbean stories and legends for generations to come,” it said.

“Allowing immigrants’voices a chance for creative expression, our principle activities include theatre, music, and folk arts, in addition to education and community outreach,” it said.

Braata Production said these activities take the group on engagements outside of the five boroughs of New York City to Connecticut, Rochester and Boston, among others.

“Braata’s goal is to rekindle an appreciation for Caribbean culture and heritage amongst Caribbeans and non-Caribbeans alike by engaging community members in New York and surrounding areas,” it said. “Our mission is to bring Caribbean folk culture, artists, music, stories, movement and theatre into prominent spaces while achieving greater recognition for our various art forms.”

In its relatively brief history, Braata Productions’ projects and programs have served over 350 artists, directors, designers, technicians and young entrepreneurial artists, and has enjoyed many successes including the creation of The Braata Folk Singers; Braata Education and Outreach, titled Project BE; Braata Theatre Workshop; and The “Braata” Award.

Braata Productions boasts of being a full-service professional production company, offering the highest quality theatrical and educational productions and programs to the tri-state area.

In collaboration with Banana Boat Productions and Nanadowa Productions, Braata Productions said it has staged plays in keeping with its aim of “unearthing and showcasing new artistic talent, as well as honoring the work of established playwrights within the Diaspora.”

These include staged readings of Trevor Rhone’s Positive, new playwright Pierre Thompson’s Hortensia’s Recession, Karl O’Brian Williams’ Not About Eve all at the New Perspective Theatre and the mainstage production of Trevor Rhone’s Positive at The Spoon Theatre in December 2010.

In 2011, Braata Productions had a staged reading in collaboration with Banana Boat Productions of Karl Williams’ Black That I Am.

Braata Productions also produce a bi-annual concert season for the Braata Folk Singers.

Since its inception, Braata Theatre Workshop has presented 20 productions, including staged readings, fully mounted shows, regional tours, a showing at the National Black Theatre Festival in 2013 and a tour to the island of Trinidad and Tobago in 2015 and, most recently, to the island of Nevis in 2019.

The Braata Folk Singers has had four concert seasons and numerous command performances including Toronto, NYC tri-state area and awards at the prestigious World Choir Games in Cincinnati in 2012.

Braata Education and Outreach has done music and drama workshops at Queens Center Library, and stagings of a popular Jamaican traditional Christmas event in December, titled Ole Time Grand Market.

“The inaugural staging in 2013 was a huge success and has since become a staple in the company’s calendar,” the group said. “Our most popular event is undoubtedly the Bankra Caribbean Folk Festival, a day-long celebration of Caribbean folk culture, music, art and food.”

Executive Director Clarke is a singer, actor, aspiring playwright/director, and serves as founder/artistic director for both Braata Folk Singers and Braata Productions.

A graduate of the Edna Manley College (Faculty of Drama) in Jamaica, Clarke is a 2008 recipient of the Prime Minister’s Youth Award for Excellence in Arts and Culture.

In that same year he also represented Jamaica at the World Championships for the Performing Arts in Hollywood, Ca, where he was crowned Grand Champion Performer of the World.

His stage credits include David Heron’s “Ecstasy” (UK tour) and a Jamaican adaptation of James Baldwin’s “Amen Corner” for which he was nominated for Best Actor in a Lead Role by the International Theatre Institute – Jamaica Chapter (ITI) Actor Boy Awards (Jamaica’s Tony Awards).

Clarke is an accomplished vocalist with 30 gold medals and numerous national awards from the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission’s (JCDC) National Festival of the Performing Arts Competition in speech, music and drama.

Other awards include 15 overall National Awards including Best Actor and Male Vocalist.

In an effort to pursue his passion in theatre and music, Clarke said he moved to New York City and, within a year, he started the “Braata Folk Singers,” with the aim of “helping to keep the Jamaican culture alive and ensure it is not lost with the pioneers who have passed on.”

Also, in a short time, Clarke managed to start the not-for-profit theatre group, Braata Productions, which, he hopes will afford Caribbean talents a platform to launch their careers in the creative industries.

While doing all this, he has managed to put in some time for his solo career and, in December 2010, headlined the “Andrew Clarke Benefit Concert” in Trinidad and Tobago, where he, in partnership with Rotary International and the “Gift of Life Program”, sought to address, by raising funds for, the medical needs of children who suffer from congenital heart defects and other similar conditions.

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