Travis Cartwright-Carroll is used to writing about death. He should be – he’s a reporter at The Nassau Guardian, and, unfortunately, there have been plenty of murders to report. But in his spare time, he’s been writing about loss in a different way and for another kind of audience. “The Melancholy of Suzanna Turnquest” is Cartwright-Carroll’s first play, and it will be performed at The Dundas Centre for Performing Arts next month.
Cartwright-Carroll is a stranger to neither theatre nor fiction. He was an English major at the College of The Bahamas before joining the Nassau Guardian team in 2011. It was during those years that he met Dr. Nicolette Bethel, who had started up the Shakespeare in Paradise Theatre Festival in 2009.
Cartwright-Carroll helped with the production of the festival’s first Shakespeare play, “The Tempest”. Working with Bethel, he modernized the script, adding the recognized Bahamian flavor that has become a staple of the festival.
“The next year we did a ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’, and that time I had a speaking part and played Thisbe. At that point, I was still at COB and was falling more and more in love with theatre,” he said.
It was then he drafted the script that would later take shape and become “The Melancholy of Suzanna Turnquest”.
“All of my courses were writing intensive. When I started at The Guardian, the first thing I learned was your writing has to be concise, to the point,” recalled Cartwright-Carroll.
He added: “Writing scripts is another level because you’re tapping into your creative side and you’re trying to be original and thoughtful, and it’s harder because there’s no template for that, really.”
The play is a single-act drama about the death of a family patriarch. After her father dies, the protagonist, Suzanna Turnquest, returns to New Providence after spending 16 years abroad and struggles as she becomes reacquainted with family members. The production will be performed March 17-20 in the black box theatre at The Dundas and is being directed by Bethel. It will be followed by another one-act play written by Stephen Hanna.
It was Bethel’s idea to perform the play this year. In the summer of 2015 she invited Cartwright-Carroll and Hanna to read their works at a playwriting workshop. It was the fact that someone else would be interested in seeing his script performed that encouraged Cartwright-Carroll.
“When you’re writing, you’re in a bubble and you’re the person you’re writing for. When you’re in this context, where I have somebody who is interested [in my work], I find myself thinking about how other people would perceive it. I was not just writing for them, but I questioned whether it made sense and would be something I could be proud of,” said the playwright.
A former theatre critic, Cartwright-Carroll had made it a point to view local productions and publish his reviews online via a blog. In so doing he learned much about the challenges faced in the performance industry here.
“It was a good way to learn about our local theatre and the pitfalls that people face here,” he explained. “All of that helped me with my writing, because I saw some really bad plays. When you’re writing for yourself and you’re in that bubble, it can sometimes be hard to take a step back.”
Fascinated by actors’ interpretations of his script, he has become involved in each part of the production process. This, he believes, is most fulfilling and what sets playwriting apart from other kinds of scriptwriting.
“It’s very hard for writers to get their credit, and I’ve always been a writer,” he said. “I just want to write. All the other stuff is fine, but for me, that’s the best part. And what I love about theatre is the involvement you can have as a writer. There’s a certain fulfillment in that.”