The History

The Ward Theatre was built in 1912 by Charles James Ward, Custos of Kingston, who presented it to the Mayor and Council of the City of Kingston on December 16 of the same year. Charles James Ward is the “nephew” in the company J.Wray and Nephew which provided the enabling funds. It is the third Theatre to stand on the same site since 1775. The first was the Kingston Theatre which was destroyed by fire and the second was the Theatre Royal which was destroyed in the 1907 earthquake.

In 1982 the owners, the Kingston and St. Andrew Corporation, closed the Theatre for structural repairs. In 1986 the Ward Theatre Foundation was formed and a lease agreement signed with the Corporation to operate and manage the Theatre for twenty-five years. Since that time the Foundation has raised funds, primarily from private sector companies, to carry out an ongoing refurbishing programme.

The Theatre

The Auditorium is on three levels, (Parquette, Dress Circle and Gallery) with many entrances and exits. The Parquette (ground) floor slopes down to an orchestra pit at the base of a wooden stage 1.52m high, 10.36m wide and 10.07m deep. The Proscenium Arch stands at a height of 7.32m (24ft) and the fly tower is 14.63m (48ft) high.

The right wing is 6.10m wide, 10.36m deep (20ft by 34ft); left wing 3.58m wide, 9.75m deep (11ft by 9" by 32ft) and stage door 2.16m high by 2.44m wide (7ft by 8ft).

Four tab and drop curtains, cyclorama, risers, stage weights and braces, matching flats and legs are among the facilities. Backstage are 12 dressing rooms with appropriate facilities for up to 60 artistes.

The Theatre is centrally airconditioned. The stage is lit by an 80-channel Rand Strand dimmer console, the lighting of which is now only 40% operational. The power supply is 220v and 110v. In additional there is a 120v Japanese lighting system.

Front-of-house facilities include restrooms, cafeteria, box office and public parking lot.

The facilities are used for all aspects of the performing arts and civic events.

The Theatre has 830 seats. Over 100,000 persons attend the Ward Theatre annually, that is to say, one out of every twenty-six persons in Jamaica.

Local theatre production began in earnest in the 1990's and the Ward has been the major centre for the development of all Jamaican theatrical activity since 1912. From 1941 the National Pantomime opened there every Boxing Day, December 26, except in 1950 when the theatre was closed for repairs. The Pantomime has stopped playing at the Ward since 2002 because of the poor state of the facility and the surroundings. The Theatre has provided a setting for civic events such as state visits and national celebrations and both major political parties were launched on its stage - the PNP in 1938 and the JLP in 1943.

Throughout the years touring companies from Europe and the Americas have performed at the Ward.

Many international stars have performed there: among them Marian Anderson, Paul Robeson, Alicia Markova, Anton Dolin, Charles Laughton, Arthur Rubinstein and Jamaica's own Willard White.

Famous groups have included the Australian National Ballet, the European Community Chamber Orchestra, the Ballet Nacional de Cuba, the Dance Theatre of Harlem, Garth Fagan Dance Company and the National Dance Theatre Company of Jamaica (NDTC).

The Ward Theatre stands as a Jamaican landmark and a showcase for the nation's culture.

The Ward Today

Now run by the Ward Theatre Foundation without an endowment, the Theatre generates some income from rentals to other performing groups - the Pantomine Company, Roots Theatre, dance troupes, the JCDC for the schools' finals… It receives no regular government funding. It is not hard to understand why the Theatre has deteriorated in lustre. Where murals depicting historical scenes of Columbus once stood there are now empty walls. The Theatre needs a new roof, new parking, new blacony chairs, a new curtain, a new air conditioning system, and a new stage to name a few current challenges.

Interwined with the syndrome of urban decay affecting much of downtown Kingston, the outside environs of the Ward have also undergone a tremendous change for the worse. Audience numbers have routinely fallen as people who live outside of downtown no longer want to travel downtown in the evening and the people in the community do not embrace it as their own.

Productions At The Ward Theatre

  • The first production, mounted from December 19 -21, 1912, was of Gilbert and Sullivan's Pirates of Penzance. It was staged by the Amateur Dramatic Club of Kingston. The Gleaner advertisement noted that costumes were identical to those used at London's Savoy and tickets were sold at Times Store - 4 shillings for dress circle and 2 shillings for the gallery.

  • During the 1920s Broadway plays used to travel to Jamaica and when they returned to Broadway they would be billed as "fresh from a triumphant run in Kingston, Jamaica." Broadway Players proudly referred to themselves as "late of the Jamaican Theatre" because it was a feather in their cap. Theatre has a long history in Jamaica – the island's first theatre was built in the 1750s. The Ward is the third theatre to stand on its present site. The majority of these earliest productions tended to be Shakespearan performed by traveling British Troupes as well as local drama groups comprised mainly of colonials. The two world wars resulted in a lull in the number of foreign acts and a rise in local productions. Jamaican theatre really began to come into its own post-World War II and audiences and actors gradually became more diverse.

  • Speaking to the integrity of the Ward Theatre space, Wycliffe Bennett, noted dramatist, leader of the National Festival Movement and past Chairman of the Ward Theatre Foundation who is currently working on a book on theatre in 20th century Jamaica, stated "until you can say you have acted in the Ward and filled the space with your presence, you won't have gotten very far." In addition to the wealth of local talent that has passed this test – E. M. Cupedon, Stanley Morand, Charles Hyatt, Ranny Williams, Miss Lou, Leonie Forbes, Oliver Samuels, to name a few – other entertainers to grace the Ward Theatre stage include Marion Anderson, Paul Robeson, Charles Laughton (who played Capt. Bligh in Mutiny on the Bounty) and Ella Bell Davis.

  • Pantomime has been associated with the Ward for over 60 years. Since 1941 pantomimes have debuted at the Ward beginning at 6 p.m. sharp on Boxing Day, with the exception of one year in the 1950s when the KSAC leased the space to some other company sparking much outrage. One could say the Pantomime has now become synonymous with the Ward. Pantomime can be defined as an English theatre convention that takes tales of childhood and dramatize through song. According to one of its longest participants, Barbara Gloudon, "we made it our own – adding our music, speech and stories that often reflect social commentary." Today Jamaican Pantomime is achieving recognition in books on theatre around the world – living testimony to the creative spirit of the Jamaican people.

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