Indeed the roles and stance of women in Jamaican theatre, both in production and performance is admirable. Undoubtedly, this is partly due to the work of stalwarts such as Leonie Forbes. Forbes is an actress and former radio and television broadcaster who has made her name in Jamaica and abroad.
Leonie’s first job after leaving school was with Sir Philip Sherlock. She worked as a typist at the then University College of the West Indies (UCWI). Subsequently, she went to work with playwright Barry Reckord, one of Jamaica’s earliest playwrights to make a contribution to theatre in Britain. Here, she would type Mr. Reckord's plays and intermittently accompany him to the studios of the Jamaica Information Service(JIS) to watch the recording sessions. It was here that she got her first exposure to radio as she started to take up parts in the programmes produced for Government broadcast.
When the Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation (JBC) started in 1955, Ms. Forbes became an announcer. She was one of the first voices on the radio along with known journalists such as Dennis Hall, Desmond Chambers, Erica Allen and Beverly Anderson.
Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts
After hearing Leonie’s voice, Englishman Robin Michelin, who came to Jamaica to help establish the JBC, was quite impressed and offered to sign her up to attend the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts (RADA). Leonie was accepted, having also won a tuition scholarship.
She spent six years of study and practice at the RADA where she pursued a Diploma Course in Radio Television and Stage. Leonie also worked on scripts for the British Broadcasting Corporation's (BBC) Caribbean service where she did works on Jamaican lifestyle.
Her first appearance in professional theatre was in " Busha Blue Beard", a Lloyd Reckord production, in April 1962. A London critic, Kenneth Tynan reported that Leonie put on "a bewitchingly ingenious performance ".
Now Mrs. Forbes-Amiel , Leonie appeared in several RADA productions including the pantomime "Cinderella". She also played in "Unknown Woman of Arras", "Days of the Lion", and "Antony and Cleopatra". She also featured in television drama series on the BBC and Independent Television networks such as "Z Cars", "Odd Man", "Public Eye", "Hugh and I", and "Desperate People."
Leonie Forbes returned to the Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation in 1966 after the completion of her training at the Royal Academy. She left again for Australia in 1968 with her husband Dr. Keith Amiel. While there, she appeared in the production of the Shakespearean play "Merchant of Venice". She also took part in ABC radio plays.
When Leonie returned to Jamaica in 1970 she went back to JBC where she worked as a producer/presenter for television. In 1972, she spearheaded the development of Radio Two JBC FM Stereo Service and started and ran the JBC TV Drama Work Shop, which produced among other programmes; "Stronger", "A Scent of Jasmine", and "Let’s Say Grace" – a screenplay which she wrote and produced herself. In May 1976 Leonie was appointed to the post of Director of Radio Broadcasting for the JBC.
As an actress, Ms. Forbes has played leading roles in twelve pantomimes and has acted in plays such as "Sea Mama", "Miss Unusual", "The Rope and the Cross", "Old Story Time" and "Champagne and Sky Juice". She has also appeared in films such as "Children of Babylon", "Club Paradise", "The Orchid House", "Milk and Honey", "What My Mother Told Me" and "Soul Survivor".
She also authored a book called "The Re-Entry Into Sound", along with Alma Mock Yen, formerly of the UWI's Radio Education Unit. This is a standard text used to train broadcasters all over the Caribbean. Through her long and illustrious career, she has done much to shape the landscape of theatre not only in Jamaica, but in the Caribbean region as a whole.
Leonie now lives a peaceful life in Jamaica with her family. “I love Jamaican things," she notes. Leonie Forbes enjoys crocheting, collecting art, attending productions of the Carifolk Singers and the University Singers, and doing readings at church.
Every day delivers its own pleasures. An avid gardener, Leonie adores the morning sound of the birds which swarm her bougainvillaea. She says, "God decided that I should be born in the sun. I never wanted to live in Hollywood. I will go anywhere while working but, after, I am coming back home." Nativo (TCC)