Emerging young playwrights seek Guyana Prize glory

Playwright in drama category for Guyana Prize for Literature, Shaphan Hestick

One has crafted a story about the world’s oldest tale of betrayal; the other tells a more contemporary narrative about political upheaval and family estrangement in Guyana. They are voracious readers who contradict the assertion that young men in particular are shunning all things literary.
Shaphan Hestick is 27; Jamal G. La Rose is 35. They are both finalists for the Guyana Prize for Literature (2022) in the Drama category.

“With A Kiss”
Shaphan Hestick says that his play, “With A Kiss”, is a modern take on the story of Jesus’s betrayal by Judas Iscariot. “It blends modern themes of family, trauma, and loyalty to tell the story of Jesus’s Crucifixion from another point of view. A lot of the story was developed from the biblical account, supplemented by historical findings.”
The former New Guyana School and Queen’s College student said that “With A Kiss” humanizes the world’s most infamous traitor, “exploring what experiences and trauma pushed him to become the person he was.”
Shaphan revealed that he had written pieces for his youth group at the Vreed-en-Hoop Wesleyan Church, which he regularly attends.
The idea for “With A Kiss” came to him during a staging in church of the Nativity Story. “We told the Christmas story from the perspective of people who did not know Mary and Joseph, and had no reason to believe she was a virgin,” he explained.

Playwright in drama category for Guyana Prize for Literature, Jamal G. La Rose

But crafting ‘With A Kiss’ proved to be challenging.
“Fleshing it out took me awhile. I continuously sent my drafts to friends to receive feedback, and refined the narrative until I was contented,” he explained.
After eight months of intense work, he was able to stage his play at the Theatre Guild. “I then took another four or five months to prepare the script for publication and public consumption. I found it important to incorporate Caribbean dialogue and family dynamics into the narrative.
I marketed my event to a wide variety of churches. The event sold out. My family and church have been my biggest supporters. My brother Vaon-Marc and I built the set for the play ourselves. My sister coordinated finances, marketing, and other logistics while I was organizing rehearsals. My cast worked assiduously to absorb the character of the piece, and portrayed my characters with even more human emotion than I could have written them,” the young writer said.
Shaphan credits “the excellence of the curriculum of the New Guyana School” for his acumen for writing. He has three undergraduate degrees from Houghton University in New York in Environmental Biology, International Development, and Political Science. He’s pursuing his Masters in International Science and Technology Policy at the George Washington University.
When he submitted his play for the Guyana Prize, he never expected to have been shortlisted. “I was surprised, as someone who has never been through this process before. That being said, I am confident in my work, and I am happy to see that confidence is not misplaced.
“As a recipient of a National Prize in Literature, I’d be happy to have some credibility lent to my future endeavours in performing arts. I say future endeavours because I plan to keep writing and executing dramatic productions,” he explained.

“Fingers And Toes Crossed” by Playwright Jamal La Rose
Jamal G. La Rose is no stranger to the Guyana Prize for Literature. His first book of poetry, ‘Snapshots from a Broken Lens’, was shortlisted for the Guyana Prize for Literature (2022), and received an honourable mention from the jury. His short story ‘PG-13’ was longlisted for the BCLF Elizabeth Nunez Award for Writers in the Caribbean (2023).
He hopes his play, “Requiem For The Living,” wins the nod from the Guyana Prize jury this time around. He describes Requiem For The Living as a poetic tragedy set in Guyana on the brink of political turmoil following the no-confidence motion of December 2018.

Its main character, Liz Hunter, returns home with her family from a funeral, to discover home has been invaded by Liz’s estranged sister, Beverly, and her lover. As long-buried secrets are exhumed, Liz and Beverly must face the reasons for their estrangement or risk losing each other forever.
It explores themes of sexual abuse, mental health, the burden of the past, family dynamics and estrangement, identity and self-discovery, and the power of resilience. It also contains social and political commentary.
“I completed the first draft in approximately 21 days, from 21 February to 12 March 2023. After that, I invited a few of my peers to attend a virtual table read to get their feedback. Then I took a break from it, before returning to work on the second draft. I submitted the second draft to another friend, and kept editing until I was satisfied with the final draft. It took me around a month to complete the play. However, the entire process took place at various intervals over a few months,” he explained.
“Initially, I had broken my Acts down into scenes; but it wasn’t working structurally, plus it disrupted the pacing of the story. In remedying that, one of my greatest challenges was writing continuous Acts (i.e., Acts without breaks). Also, the original goal/idea was to craft a political allegory beneath the family drama. If readers unearth it, kudos to them; I would have succeeded.
“This is my first full-length play. I attempted writing one-act plays before my understanding of storytelling blossomed into what it is today.
“I was confident that I had a reasonably solid play, but given the subjective nature of art, I was surprised to have been shortlisted. Moreover, I was shortlisted alongside our creative genius and literary icon Harold Bascom. When I saw his name, I had to let it sink in. That said, it was the clearest indication that my stories resonate in another medium beyond poetry, songs and short stories.
“I try not to think about the award ceremony, because every time I do, I get butterflies (yes, cliche but true). Also, I’d be lying if I said I am not already resigned to a Harold Bascom win. However, anything is possible, and with that, there is still hope for Shaphan and me, fingers and toes crossed!” he explained.
The Melanie Damishana, ECD resident is a former St. Joseph High and Queen’s College (Sixth Form) student. He also attended the University of Guyana, where he gained his LL.B. (Distinction). Nevertheless, he’s currently unemployed.
“The monetary reward would come in handy for an unemployed creative like me. Beyond that, a win realises my dream of contributing to Guyanese literature. I have always admired and interacted with many Guyanese writers, including former Guyana Prize-winning writers. So, it’s an honour and humbling to be referred to in the same sentence as these writers, and to have my play included in the literary annals,” he explained.
He said he has enjoyed the works of George Orwell, Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller, George Bernard Shaw, William Shakespeare, Henrik Isben, Derek Walcott, Martin Carter, Louise Bennett, Harold Bascom, Paloma Mohamed, and Ian McDonald.