Tributes to Raymond Choo Kong

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From left: Triston Wallace, Raymond Choo Kong, Wendell Manwarren, Tony Hall.

Renee King

Raymond Choo Kong, a mentor and a friend. Never sugar coated a thing. He always challenged us in rehearsal, he wanted us to “be dynamic”. I don’t think he just meant on stage. I hope because of his impact on my life that one day I will be. For all the work he continued to instill in us, I hope we all get to a state of dynamism. I miss him and love him dearly, may his soul rest in peace.

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From left: Kala Neehall, Raymond Choo Kong & Renee King. Photo courtesy Renee King


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Paula Lindo

I’m torn between grief and anger at the loss of Raymond Choo Kong. Though I never got the chance to work with him directly, I respected his contributions to theatre in T&T. My condolences to his family, friends and all who knew him.


 

Marvin Ishmael – NDATT President

I admired his sense of timing, his skill at being able to be still,his support of all theatre artists , the way he changed the theatrical landscape of T&T. Always showing up at the show and giving new voices the opportunity to be heard. I wanted more conversations. You will be missed.


Wendell Etienne – Former NDATT President

Raymond was a friend. A friend of theatre and my friend. Very early in my career Raymond welcomed me into the fold at Raymond Choo Kong Productions and he was the consummate teacher. I fondly remember his staging of “Dat Is Man!” which was a box officer hit. We shared many a laugh, advice and he always supported my career. We have lost a friend.


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From left: Louis McWilliams, Tony Hall, Dr Lester Efebo Wilkinson, Raymond Choo Kong, Rhoma Spencer. Photo courtesy Rhoma Spencer

Rhoma Spencer

To say that Raymond ChooKong changed the face of Trinidad Theatre is an understatement. He debunked this myth around poor starving artists. He made theatre a business and us actors paid professionals for our work. Prior to that we basically performed for a cast party at the end.

I recall when he opened Space Theatre. Here was an alternative theatre space in the city that wasn’t guaranteed to put you out after the show as was the habit of Ms Roebuck at the Little Carib Theatre. Theatre people are the ultimate limers, so when the play is done for the night, ample doses of lime is imminent. Back in the day the lime would begin outside the Carib when management hustled you out. We would then convene at the Cricket Wicket opposite the Oval, and the liming there was to the extent of one’s liver capacity I suppose.

Therein comes Raymond’s Space Theatre inside Breton Hall and we were now legit in the after performance limes. No putting out there for sure.  From the theatre space to The Space Bar, two steps away. Now in these times of Pride and the GLBTQ community gaining  momentum after the Jones vs Trinidad and Tobago judgement, Raymond’s Space Theatre gave space for the weekly Lamda meetings headed by that other theatre and queer pioneer, Godfrey Sealey.

Raymond gave actors and wannabe actors a forum to perform outside the theatre season with his DIVA competition during the carnival season. This drag performance competition was the creme de la creme in drag shows. I was the first actor brave enough to perform at this competition as a drag king and what a stir that was. In those days we respected each other’s desires of not wanting to be photographed or videotaped, so alas there is no electronic record of my DIVA sojourn.

Raymond Choo Kong was certainly a Trinidad theatre and performing arts pioneer whose contribution should be documented and awarded nationally albeit too late now.


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Raymond Choo Kong in The Baggasse Company’s 1989 production of David Henry Hwang’s “M. BUTTERFLY”. Photo courtesy Mervyn DeGoeas


Michael Cherrie

RIP…the top theatre producer, director…and the best actor Trinidad & Tobago has ever seen…completely transformed the theatre space, community and industry here for the better…I’m speechless…I have absolutely no words…this is place is Hell – no question….make new and wonderful vibrations in that realm of Light with the Creator…Godspeed, my Friend….my deepest condolences to his family and all our theatre family…..


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From left: Eric Barry, Raymond Choo Kong, Christine Johnston

Christine Johnston

I met Raymond in 1981.  I’d auditioned for a musical being run at the Normandie Dinner Theatre and (amazingly) got the female romantic lead… Raymond played my father.  During the production, Raymond encouraged me to come down to a brand new experimental theatre group called Trinidad Tent Theatre, being run by Helen Camps.  Before 1981, I’d never even considered Theatre… it was nowhere on my radar.  After meeting Raymond, I can say that I owe him a debt of gratitude for introducing me to this art that I love.  And even though we may have had our differences over the years and some healthy ‘competition’, I will always admire his talent, dedication and determination.  He was “a Chinee that got into Theatre in his 30’s”, and he became a legend in T&T theatre.  Goodbye Raymond.  Godspeed!


Yvonne Mc Lean-Roberts

I met him for the first time at the last NDATT AGM. We spoke briefly of some possible interaction within our unearthed Talent in our CHALLENGED Communities. I do Community Work in both East POS and now also West POS.
Of course, he supported with a ” Give me a call when you are ready”.
The circumstances of his passing are heart-rending. My condolences to his personal Family and his NDATT Family.

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From the left: Ronald John, Raymond Choo Kong, Tony Hall, Toni Lima, Aryanna Mohammed

Toni Lima

It was back in 1993, I was new to the theatre then, a member of Shane Bickram productions and Choo Kong was in north, and known south as the most popular name…it was one of the few local theatrical brand names that survived past that time and before that time to this time. Several years ago, I came to study acting in a degree program at Utt Napa. So, I found myself in the north.
One day I went to see a movie on an odd day of the week at movietown, and there was the great Mr. Choo Kong dressed in simple three quarters pants and t shirt, alone in the audience. Granted the movie was heavy, about a politician who had a secret life of being gay…Mr. Choo Kong came out in tears unmasked. It got to me, the observing stranger, that…that wasn’t just a great actor/ producer but a human being with compassion… Something that is lacking nowadays. A couple times by chance, I went out to tea shops and saw him alone either in a corner having breakfast or even on some occasion where a youngster was interviewing him on theatre. I watched at a distance in love with the humility he carried himself about with. He probably didn’t know me but still smiled and was always courteous. In 2017 I had the honour of him and other great masters of our local theatre attending the viewing of my play script “Bedbugs'” at Black box, another year I saw him at UTT APA for one man show performances done by the students…he acknowledged me while I was chatting with Tony Hall on an idea for a new script…I felt in my mind… wow this is Mr. Choo Kong actually acknowledging me. It was only last month we had a reading at playwright’s workshop Trinbago, and he came. I had two new pieces I am currently working on for children. He sat and listened asking me ” so what is your next step, what do you want to do with this? …junior carifesta” I didn’t quite know how to answer but just say I needed advice from him on how to do this kind of thing after all, he is who he is, he has earned that spot, and this is a theatre mentor of historic proportions.
Like the late Shane Bickram who I grieve upon for years this loss is quite a knock. The last things I said to him was that these days I felt like giving up on acting, I felt I no longer felt encouraged, but Im trying not to…he answered that it was indeed sad to hear this. Yet, his answer gave me a bit of hope that I should wait a bit and not let bitter situations or people change what I greatly loved. I felt honoured that night that he came. You see, he could barely walk, and he came up that flight of steps at NDATT, and listened, and advised me and this meant much to me. That night my boyfriend would say to him, that I would have many doubts about my work in theatre and what I’m doing there and my esteem. He told my boyfriend I should call him whenever… I was working up to doing so…and then I got news of his untimely tragic death…it wrenched my guts…why??? I still feel fortunate to have heard his encouraging thoughts and words a month ago, see angels don’t quite know how God uses them to inspire and give others hope.
I just never imagined a tragic ending and that really hurts…Rest In Peace Raymond Choo Kong, I wish I called you sooner, but the last words you said to me meant a great deal. Thank you for believing in many of us in the arts and in a world of love…you are always well loved…

The Strolling Players Group

The Strolling Players Theater Company (SPTC), founded by the Late Freddie Kissoon, will like to express their deepest sympathies at the loss of Raymond Choo Kong. Our hearts weep for the loss of this great influencer of drama. May his family and friends find comfort that he is in a peaceful place.

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