Tributes for theatre stalwart Brian Heap (2024)

Tributes are pouring in even as the theatre world reels from the shock death of retired educator Brian Heap. The former head of the Philip Sherlock Centre for the Creative Arts at The University of the West Indies (UWI) Mona campus, Heap, 73, had been quietly ailing since September last year. He passed away while in hospice care on Sunday.

Heap, a graduate teacher of the University of Newcastle on Tyne/University of Leeds, is described as “English-born but Jamaican by assimilation” and worked in drama and education in Jamaica for more than 40 years.

In a message to The Gleaner, Heap’s brother David, who lives in Tasmania, spoke about his brother’s deep love for their parents, the arts and for his adopted home, Jamaica, and noted that his background was from “a very working class town in Lancashire” and his opportunity to move to Jamaica transformed his life.

“As a younger brother living in a tiny terraced house with Brian I was exposed to Brian’s love of music, reading and going to plays and shows at a very young age. And in between he would sketch and paint. His love of the arts was obvious. After going to Leeds University he saw a job advertised in the Times Educational Supplement in Kingston. This was back in 1973 and then he was gone. The next thing his father, Bert and I knew was when a crate of Jamaican grapefruit arrived in Burnley as a Christmas gift!!! That was typical Brian,” David wrote.

He added, “Brian had a deep love and respect for his parents back in the UK. After his mother, Mary, died he made sure his father would then spend many Christmases with Brian and his extended Jamaican family. Bert from Burnley became well known to Brian’s friends. He got a T-shirt made which said ‘Winter - The Season when the Bert’s fly south.’ He wore it with pride. That was Brian’s sense of humour. We always tried to catch up when the chance arose and would have fish, chips and mushy peas together. “

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He recalled Brian visiting him in Tasmania for two weeks during which they enjoyed “a very humorous road trip around the island”.

“His North of England humour and quick wit also identified him. As I mentioned earlier his visits back to Burnley were a scream. A white fella talking with a Jamaican accent with a strong hint of Lancashire!! An absolute hoot. He loved his life in Jamaica. I am sure Brian’s legacy in Jamaica will last forever,” David stated.

Distinguished film-maker Natalie Thompson has known Heap for half a century, even before he was bitten by the theatre bug during his stay in Jamaica.

“I’ve known Brian for 50 years. He came to Jamaica to teach economics at Campion. And he fell in love with theatre while in Jamaica .... he didn’t come here as a theatre practitioner. He went back to England and did his master’s in process drama and came back to Jamaica and practised it. He dis his doctorate at UWI and became an international expert on the subject of processed drama, lectured internationally on it,” shared Thompson, who was one of Heap’s inner circle of friends.

She shared that Heap wrote books on the subject with his co-author, Pamela Bowell. Two such texts were Planning Process Drama: Enriching Teaching and Learning (2001, 2013) and Putting Process Drama into Action (2017).


Another lifelong friend, travel writer, and publicist Dave Rodney, recalled Heap’s keen interest in Jamaican folk culture.

“Brian Heap was my neighbour in Mona in the 1970s shortly after he moved to Jamaica from Burnley to teach economics at Campion College, so I’ve known him since forever. He was an extraordinarily bright man who immediately embraced the Jamaican culture. His intellectual curiosity enabled him to navigate many different lanes, from a cultural expert, teaching at the prison, acting, writing plays to directing to teacher training to co-authoring a book on drama,” Rodney recalled.

“His last full-time job was teaching at the University of the West Indies. The New York Times once described Brian as “a storyteller from Jamaica”. He was a vast fountain of knowledge on things relating to Jamaican culture. He was kind, caring, and respectful to all. My last conversations with him were about his grave concerns for the Indian communities in Clarendon and the disappearance of the traditional Hussay festival in some Indian communities. He wanted to ensure that the tradition was preserved. Jamaica was greatly enriched by Heap’s residency in Jamaica,” Rodney continued.

In 2020, an elated Heap won the Commonwealth Short Story Prize for the Caribbean and admitted that he was “shocked and honoured”. His winning story, Mafootoo, was selected from more than 5,000 entries.

Heap taught at St Joseph’s Teachers’ College and was director of studies at the Jamaica School of Drama (Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts) and served as artistic director for the University Players.

Heap’s theatre credits include Raisin in the Sun, School’s Out, Bedward, Remembrance, Pirate Princess, and Bruckins. He directed 15 pantomimes and the acclaimed Augus Mawnin. He served as conference director and convener of the Fifth International Drama in Education Research Institute (2006) in Kingston, Jamaica.

In 2002, the Institute of Jamaica honoured Brian Heap with the Silver Musgrave Medal.

Tributes for theatre stalwart Brian Heap (2024)
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