In the Gleaner today there was this piece below hinted to Chu Chu’s on stage cross dressing character over the years, the word pioneer is not appropriate I feel as there have been others who publicly performed in full drag garb over the years but who have not gotten the recognition. I was not comfortable either with the section where he said in the interview that popular stage actor “Shebada” was performing while he is “acting” as if to suggest Shebada’s sexuality and his should not be questioned, how insecure? even at this lever one is so invested in maintaining the ever so precious Jamaican masculinity.
A reader contributed elsewhere that”
“There is definitely something to be said for how his long string of performances and being established in the roots play world helped to pave the way for folks like Shebada to take the role to a whole other level i.e. not just confining the role to the stage, but expanding, exaggerating and even taking it on as an identity. Notice that we now use the term Shebada in everyday language and not the actor’s real name because he has *become* Shebada (in much the same way that RuPaul has done in the U.S.); it’s now a brand. Conversely, Chu Chu is only such on stage, and that seems to be important for Warren. Perhaps if he had been more open to gay subculture at the time, he might have done a similar thing to Shebada, who knows? The person who comes after Shebada is going to have some things easier, and will be able to take the stage presence to a whole other level, even if the Warrens will always be there, being tentative and slightly doubtful.
It would be really interesting – and potentially very insightful – for a group of gay men to have a conversation with Warren about his awareness of men who were sporting, and how people have responded to him and his role over the years.”
have a read below and decide for yourselves:
Carl Gilchrist, Gleaner Writer
Cleve ‘Chu Chu’ Warren, has played the role of a woman in several hit Jamaican plays in his 21 years onstage but has still managed to maintain his masculinity.
It has been Warren, more than any other Jamaican actor, who has brought the Jamaican public to the point of accepting, at least to some degree, cross-dressing actors on local stage.
His role as the likeable but feisty woman called Chu Chu, in a host of Jamaican plays, has typified him as a talented actor, capable of playing almost any role.
“The role Chu Chu is a rather more challenging role than others I’ve done because, you know, fi a man dress-up like a female, an’ mek it look good, a whole heap a work,” explained Warren in a Gleaner interview.
But the role has its downsides as well.
“The positive thing about that role is that the person who is playing it will remain a man, he is just acting and knows how to execute the role. The negative about it is, you know how we Jamaicans stay, but mi change the whole outlook of that now. From Passa Passa buss, the whole outlook ah that change. People even start to accept people who really ‘funny’ (homosexuals) on stage right now. A me change the whole thing.”
Offstage, though, Warren is a far cry from the Chu Chu image he portrays.
Warren is also one of the main actors who can be credited with helping to establish what has been labelled the ‘roots’ play in Jamaica, starring in more than 30 hit plays produced by two of Jamaica’s leading names in drama production, Ralph Holness and Everton Dawkins.
still fit and ready
And with 21 years stage acting under his belt, Warren says he is fit and ready to go for another 21.
“Just continue watch mi ’cause mi nah stop, not until the breath lef’ mi body. All when mi old, mi still waa do play,” said Warren.
Warren’s first taste of the theatre came in 1990, playing the role of ‘Bwoy-Bwoy’, the owner of the house, in Holness’ Dead Lef’ Legacy.
“The first time mi go audition, get the role, open di play, neva look back,” Warren said.
“But the first time mi go pon stage, a hol’ heap a butterfly but, yuh know, when yuh hungry fi supp’m, yu get that opportunity so yu a try do everything yu can do.”
His most successful play to date has been Dawkin’s Passa Passa, which he credits as being Jamaica’s most successful play to date.
His all-time favourite play is Man Fi Get Bun, in which he was cast in the role of the ‘Yaad Bwoy’, a role which he said fits his character.
“Di Yaad Bwoy role is a role dat jus remind mi so much ah mi self when mi deh a St Thomas,” he explained. “Mi may not get the opportunity fi do nutten to a pastor man wife, but it’s the same kinda thing,” he added.
He also has on his list of favourites Dead Lef’ Legacy, Maama Man Pt2and Passa Passa Pts 1, 2 and 3.
Theatregoers have been comparing the relatively new kid on the block, Keith ‘Shebada’ Ramsey, with Warren, as both have played controversial roles in several plays.
But according to the veteran, there is no comparison.
“I don’t think there is a comparison. Him have him own style, mi have my own. Him a do three years, mi do over 20. Him come see things when things sweet, me haffi batter an’ work fi wha me want,” said Warren.
“The difference between me an’ him is, me act – him perform. The difference maybe is, one a live supp’m while one ah act. But more strength and more power to him still, ’cause him a do wha him fi do. A fi him time, tek it!”
Jamaican theatre has been good to Warren, he admitted, and said he is grateful. He has performed in maybe 25 or 30 states in the United States, along with Canada, England and the Caribbean.
He has also appeared in commercials and music videos.
He is not limiting himself and is taking a serious look at directing and producing as he seeks to broaden his horizon.
In his latest role, Warren plays a grandmother in Everton Dawkins’Ungrateful Sinting.
Warren explained: “I play a grandmother, so you see I always take on some challenging roles. A grandmother, she is miserable, she is disgusting, but I like the challenge. I like a unique role, you mustn’t (be able to) predict my role, yuh must wonder, a wha him a come wid now?”