Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : May 25th 2014 Contents B30
Sunday Guardian www.guardian.co.tt May 25, 2014
Zeno Obi Constance officially retired last
September from Fyzabad Composite School,
where he taught drama and theatre arts for 36
It is the night before the Best Village prelim-
inaries and Constance s fifth directorial production
of his best-known play, The Ritual. Constance
explains he s never actually stopped working. He
now teaches for free to have more time flexibility,
but continues to do the work he knows is needed
and he has always felt inspired to do.
"I have never written anything for writing s
sake," says Constance. He says his work---which
spans a 35-year writing career and includes among
others, 15 one-act plays, a series of calypso musi-
cals, six avant-garde plays and a biography of
calypsonian Valentino---has been about teaching
social things, about allowing readers and audiences
"to see and enjoy the changing country through
the lens of a story."
He always wanted to teach and he wrote while
he was a schoolteacher. His play The Ritual, which
he describes as the most popular school play, has
been performed 16 times at the T&T schools
drama festival and has been part of the CSEC
syllabus "a while now."
It has brought him not only to the attention
of schoolchildren across the region but, says Con-
stance, a Google search revealed that it is also
being performed in schools in the UK. In 2008,
it was performed in New York by the New Per-
spectives Theatre Company.
"I don t get no money," he says; he receives
scant royalties from book sales, and often only
finds out about productions of his work via social
"Sometimes," he says, "the effort is worth more
than the prize."
About his writing, Constance says, "I suspect
[I did it] because I believed nobody would." Saying
that for a playwright he has "seen few plays,"
Constance s creativity blossomed out of a pride
in his country and dedication to a group of ideals
he feels are important to instil in future gener-
"A school is a place to become, not get pass-
es---and it is the act of becoming that makes you
who you want to be."
The art of discipline
To him, the teaching of drama was about con-
veying the art of discipline and the importance
of developing character.
"The only important thing a teacher needs to
get a child to say is I believe, I could do it. Two
lines. And that s the end of your teaching... if
they believe they can never fail later on, they will
find a way.
"We are obsolete in our method," he continues.
"You can Google the information we teach...
after the knowledge, not to give you the knowl-
edge... You have to get them to understand that
the character is the most important thing.... If
you have character, you can open any door because
you have become somebody. Education is a way
Citing his father as his strongest influence,
Constance explains that he was inspired when
his father left "his good work" at the oil company
Texaco "because it was interfering with his ability
to walk and exercise."
Although, according to Constance, it meant
that "we grow up poor," in founding the Brooklyn
Sports Club, Zeno Constance Senior "created
something at a certain level of discipline."
He became renowned as a hard taskmaster.
"Even if you were the best runner," Constance
says, "if you reach late, you don t run."
His father also required all club members save
25 cents on each visit. You couldn t bring a dollar
at the end of the week, explains Constance,
because it was about encouraging daily discipline.
Following in his father s footsteps, Constance also
became a sought-after basketball coach and ref-
eree, but when he was offered a position at twice
his teaching salary, a position that came with a
private office and a car, he turned it down.
"I go leave this to go work in an office?" asks
Constance, sweeping his hand to show that he
is talking about the school. He is able to point
out the spot where headmaster Ken Ford suggested
in 1978 he write a play about what was going on
in the school. That play became The Ritual, an
exploration of unwanted teenage pregnancy, some-
thing that was a marked feature of the school,
especially among those attending remedial classes.
'What we have has value'
He loves the loud sound of children in the cor-
ridors, his multiple roles of disciplinarian, supporter
"I always wanted to teach. This is why I sit
down here. I retire since September and I can t
Constance is talking about the discipline of
being dedicated and although he is unsure some-
times about how to quantify the success of his
life s work, especially when young women continue
to get pregnant and so many negative things are
said about youth in T&T, he also remains dedicated
to his country.
"If your mother sick, yuh like her still, ent?"
says Constance, who says he also believes that
conditions are not as grim as portrayed. "For
every three bad schoolchildren," he says, "there
are 97 normal ones."
"I am always proud of my country," he con-
tinues. "I learnt from NJAC on [UWI] campus
what we have could work; what we have has
value. I have also never thought anything was
better than me."
He has accepted, though, that he may never
be discovered as "the best-kept secret in theatre,"
or celebrated as one of the country s "most original
For him, though, the work continues because
it must be done. He has written a book on the
history of drama in Fyzabad, Even the Dragon
Can Dream, and is working on his computer skills
to offer both it and The Ritual as free downloads
on his Facebook page.
Third Valentino tribute
In July, Constance will host his third Valentino
tribute in a bid to ensure that the music of the
"strange giant" Valentino, who he says is "highly
underrated," gets the attention it deserves.
Including others he believes are irreplaceable---
Rodney Wilkes, Brian Lara---Constance says, "We
cannot duplicate the joy of a Lara. They should
not have to suffer because we cannot replace
what they have done as representations of an
ideal, of organic brilliance."
Used to talking with no guarantee he is being
heard or his lessons are being internalised, he
brings the focus back to his own efforts.
At the moment, that effort is to ensure the
play is stage-ready for the following night. The
play has been turned into a musical (something
done already by a drama group from Mausica)
and 25 minutes have been added to its original
50-minute running time to meet Best Village
Constance rises from his seat on a bench in
front of the school auditorium and begins to call
together the mixed crew of students and senior
His best hopes for the production?
"It would be nice," he says, "to get 100 people
in the audience."
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