NEW YORK – Jamaican Actor and playwright David Heron has been nominated for the 2023 Broadway World Rhode Island Award as Best Supporting Performer for his portrayal of Caliban in Shakespeare’s The Tempest.
The critically acclaimed production was presented by The Colonial Theatre of Rhode Island as part of their annual Shakespeare in The Park Festival and ran from July through August at Wilcox Park in Westerly, Rhode Island.
The winners of the 2023 awards will be selected by an online public vote which has now begun and will run through December 31 on Broadway World’s website. Announcement of the winners will follow in early January.
In addition to Heron’s nod, eight other actors from the production are also nominated including Lee Fitzpatrick, Dylan Bowden, Charles Meier, Jason Guy, Matt Arnold, Peter Tedeschi, Lindsey Rodriguez and Nicholas Byers. In all, The Tempest is nominated for seventeen awards including Best Play, Best Director (Marion Markham), Best Acting Ensemble and Best Choreography (by director Markham), as well as nominations for Lighting, Sound, Scenic and Costume Design. The Colonial Theatre is also in the running for the Best Theatre for Young Audiences and Favorite Theatre of Rhode Island awards.
For the Jamaican born Heron, an award winning playwright for plays including Against His Will, Ecstasy and Intermission, news of the nomination was met with “Surprise, deep gratitude, a sense of accomplishment as well as a bit of irony,” because, in his own words, “This was a role I very nearly declined to play.”
Character of Caliban
In Shakespeare’s The Tempest, the character of Caliban is essentially a colonized slave, whose mystical island home has been taken over by the former Duke of Milan, Prospero- a sorcerer with magical powers which he frequently employs to keep Caliban enslaved. When a travelling group of aristocrats known to Prospero are shipwrecked on the island due to a storm Prospero himself orchestrates, Caliban seizes the opportunity to befriend two of them (Trinculo and Stephano) to try and take revenge against his master and thereby reclaim his island and his freedom.
According to Heron, many of the play’s themes as well as its depiction of Caliban were deeply concerning to him.
“I’ve always had two major issues with the play and the role itself,” he says. “Firstly, as written by Shakespeare, the character is presented as almost subhuman- not only a slave but almost an animal. The things said by and about him in the text are, quite frankly, really offensive. But secondly- and even more problematic for me- is that in so many productions of the play that I’ve seen, Prospero- Caliban’s “master”- and most of the other characters are frequently played by caucasian actors, while Caliban is often the only character played by an actor of color. That has always made me very wary of the role, even though I had auditioned for it once years ago- and I was quite relieved when I didn’t get it.”
Black Lives Matter Movement
That audition was prior to the murder of George Floyd and the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement. So when approached by Tempest director Marion Markham earlier this year regarding the Colonial Theatre production, and offered the chance to audition for the roles of both Prospero and Caliban, for Heron it was a simple choice.
“I looked at the sides (scenes) for both characters and up until the day before the audition I had decided that I wouldn’t even audition for Caliban- just Prospero. I just could not see myself as an actor of color playing that role in 2023. But at the last minute, I decided that, just as an artist taking on an acting exercise, I would roll the dice and do both characters. And I must say, I thought the Caliban audition was much stronger. I think something about his colonization and enslavement spoke to and moved me deeply- especially as a Jamaican from a country that was itself colonized for so many years. And of course, that’s the role I was offered.”
Initially intending to decline the job, it was only after director Markham sent him her edit of the script and offered to discuss changing or removing any lines or references that he found particularly disturbing -and then actually going through that process- that he felt comfortable enough to accept the role.
“Marion is a respectful and truly collaborative artist,” he says, “And it is greatly to her credit that as a caucasian theatre practitioner in 2023, she immediately understood what a man of color playing that role at this moment might mean. Ultimately, the phenomenally talented actress Lee Fitzpatrick (also a Broadway World Award nominee), was cast in the Prospero role and therefore became Prospera. So an even more intriguing dynamic emerged, with her as a caucasian woman of power being the master/mistress of this black male slave, Caliban. In the end, I can honestly say it was a terrific artistic experience. I’m very glad I said yes.”
For this reason, Heron is gratified that his work has now been recognized. His performance, he believes, showcased a different Caliban, whom he describes as “A fallen prince, colonized but unconquered, uneducated but highly intelligent, and who uses his wits, charm and his own trickery to try and achieve his objectives once the Europeans arrive. As I played him, he’s very much an Anansi character, ‘playing fool to catch wise,’ as we say in Jamaica. In the end, he gets his island back. And he’s earned it.”
Acclaim for Heron’s portrayal resulted in critics reviews stating that “Caliban is played with magnificence by Jamaican actor David Heron,” with another declaring that “Heron’s Caliban is a fiery, complex character, deeply human and individually damaged… A standout performance.” That is not a guarantee of a win in his category, but Heron says he is content with the nomination.
“The awards are now gender neutral, so men, women, transgender and non binary performers are all in the same category and consequently, it’s a pretty crowded field of very deserving nominees. I’m just happy to be in the conversation. It’s a public vote now, so anything can happen. Either way, I’m happy with the work I did.”
In addition to this year’s The Tempest, Heron is also one of the stars of the new television series From Yard which had its world premiere in Jamaica in September. He and actor-producer Malik Yoba also recently remounted their staged reading presentation of Heron’s play Against His Will at City Center Stage II in Manhattan, as they work towards a full New York production of the award winning courtroom drama.
The Broadway World Awards are regional theatrical awards announced annually throughout the USA by Broadwayworld.com, one of the entertainment industry’s most respected websites covering theatre around the world.
For more information and to vote on the awards go to: https://www.broadwayworld.com/rhode-island/voteregion.cfm