‘Is it better to have loved and lost …?’: Tema International School stages ‘Once on This Island’

The musical, “Once on This Island” by Lynn Ahrens, tells the story of a never-ending strife between the haves and have-nots.

On an island where two worlds are never meant to meet, a young girl defies all odds to embark on a soul-searching journey to prove the resilience and tenacity of love. But can love withstand any stormy weather, and even conquer death?

The original Tony-winning musical revival centered on a fearless orphan girl who saved the life of a wealthy boy from the other side of the island and fell in love with him.

The mighty island gods, however, were to make her a pawn in their cosmic bet as to whether love was greater than death.

Set in the French Antilles, “Once on This Island” explores the concepts of life, pain, grief, faith, hope and the power of love to bring people of different social classes together.

The plot evolved around the two main characters: Ti Maune, a peasant girl, and Daniel, with whom she falls in love.

In the end, the peasant girl defied the gods when they admonished her to prove that death was stronger than love so she could have her life back.


Matters of love

The live wires coiled around matters of love are hardly set smooth and straight; each amorous journey is knotted in an orbit of uncertainties. In the TIS flyer, the staff director, Ebenezer Kwame Asime, was to ask: “What will you give for love? How far will you journey to find love? Do you have the heart to love?”

Those questions reminded me of the lyrics of the song by the African-American blues singer Nat “King” Cole. He sang, “Is it better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all … I wonder as my lonely tear drops fall …”

Before the casting of the play, the principal, Ken Darvall noted: “What always impresses me is that students come out of the woodwork to try and snag a role within the school production, either onstage or backstage. I congratulate everyone listed in this play on their effort, commitment and time to bring back a live performance after the COVID-years.”


Sound quality through technology

Through the whole hour and half of the musical play, I sat enthralled in the front row mesmerised by the magnificent stage effects, the set, the props, the costumes, the make-up, the choreography, etc. And to think all those qualities spawned from the effort of the teenagers themselves.

The performance of the two live student bands – each situated at the flanks of the stage – was quite impressive.

What really struck me were the lighting, sounds and the overall acoustic effects through technology. I could not help but reminisce about my teenage years in secondary school where I played the role of King Alonso in William Shakespeare’s tragic-comic play, The Tempest, for Mfantsipim School’s 1965 Speech Day celebrations.

The play was staged in the Assembly Hall packed thickly with the student population then of 600 students plus faculty, parents and so on. How on earth could our small whiny voices carry across the hall! And here I was on the stage speaking my lines: “You cram these words into mine ears against / The stomach of my sense. Would I had never / Married my daughter thence, / My son is lost …/”

To speak Shakespearean language was one thing; to be heard and understood across the jam-packed hall was another sombre matter.


Creativity, Activity, Service

The production of the play involved students from the International Baccalaureate (IB) programme levels 7 to 10, and levels 11 to 12. In speaking with Surama King, the CAS (Creativity, Activity, Service) coordinator, she said, the students’ participation fulfilled the extracurricular requirements for levels 7 to 10 students.

The CAS engagement satisfied the diploma requirement for the directors in levels 11 and 12. Another key aspect was the raising of money to fund school and student-based projects.

The CAS idea reflects on “the ever-expanding world of service learning [and how] actively exploring service learning improves education for students and identifying the factors that are most compelling for successful projects and experiences.”

Over the years, Tema International School (TIS) has staged a collection of brilliant plays including Ama Ata Aidoo’s Dilemma of a Ghost; Tim Rice’s musical, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamboat; Mrs Acheampong’s comedy, Dormitory C – The Inspection; the Broadway musical, The Lion King; James Ene Henshaw’s This is our Chance”; Miriam Makeba’s musical, Sarafina; Evolution – A Tale of Fragmented Sounds; and Ben Abdulah’s The Slaves.

Also in the repertoire were the Hollywood musical, Beauty and the Beast (staged at the National Theater, Accra, November 23, 2018), and Efua Sutherland’s The Marriage of Anansewa. In 2021, The Legend of Akushika by Prof. Martin Owusu was played in-house only for students and staff because of COVID-19 restrictions.

This time around, TIS put the pandemic to rest by the public staging of the school’s adaptation of Once on This Island, played Saturday / Sunday, November 12 / 13, 2022.

The writer is a trainer of teachers, leadership coach, motivational speaker and quality education advocate. E

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