It appeared from early that everyone but Mark Jason Welch could see his love and future were in the arts.
This young man began his travels in the art form like many other children of the 1980s –– through the readings of Enid Blyton. He told Bajan Vibes that as a child he would continually read these books, and after a while he just gravitated to writing.
At that stage it was literally just responding to what he was reading . . . and regurgitating it.
“It was garbage, but I remember really enjoying the process of writing,” Welch said as a reminisced with a chuckle.
But then puberty hit and he discovered music: Bob Marley, The Doors . . . a lot of Doors, and Jim Morrison. That was when the poetry began coming, in addition to his fancy for painting, drawing, singing, and any other method by which he could express himself.
Welch said that although his talent began to take shape somewhat and his family, along with many of his friends, saw this and suggested he pursue the discipline, the stubborn he still kept shrugging off the thought. But through the convincing of a girlfriend he decided to take the first step.
“I was heavily entrenched and fairly successful within the hospitality industry –– really into partying, being crazy. And then a girl I was seeing at the time encouraged me to enter NIFCA [the National Independence Festival Of Creative Arts] with a few of my poems. It must have been about 12 years ago,” he recalled. “I had no idea what I was doing. I won a few major awards and the inaugural Prime Minister’s Scholarship.
“I was way better than I expected. I had never really considered study seriously. I wanted to be a comic book artist and had studied for about a year at an art school in New York City, but a Bachelor’s hadn’t even rscrossed my mind.
“Katy Gash, a former literary arts officer at the [National Cultural Foundation] NCF, was instrumental in pushing me forward and helping me make the right choices and embrace the opportunity for what it was.
“From there, circumstances just allowed me to be surrounded by people who believed in my artistic talent and wanted to see me move forward to realize my full potential. So from there, within just a few years I was working as the literary arts officer at the NCF, which made it clear to me that there was a larger purpose and a hidden guidance in my life,” Welch added.
So fast-forward to a near decade after the fact. What is Mark Jason Welch up to? The Barbadian film-maker/writer/photographer/artist is doing a plethora of things, and mainly but simply “trying to recognize my full potential in the short time I’m here –– that’s all”, he told Bajan Vibes from his New York apartment.
After some serious searching as to what his purpose was on this planet, Welch realized that he wanted to tell stories through the medium of film. So with directors such as Scorsese and Steve McQueen in mind, this young artist took the jump, so to speak, and relocated to the United States in this pursuit, and has just graduated with an MFA in film production from Howard University.
He said: “I was always fascinated by movies. It was the only medium where all of the art forms collided, and I liked that. Still, with all my fascination with film, I was driven by creating characters who were indicative of me and my experiences. I got tired of yelling at the screen or shaking my fists at stereotypes so I took it upon myself to go about creating the kind of movies I wanted to see in the theatre.
“I am conscious of the fact that what people see in the media has a huge impact on their level of self-love and comfort with who they are. It’s like being brainwashed. Movies to me always seemed to be about white stories or black stories or Asian stories.
“I just want to tell people stories that are relevant to my experience and that everyone can relate to, whoever they may be, wherever they are from. So I’m focusing on doing that. I’m pretty much creating the path as I go along. I guess we are all doing that –– the end goal is writer/director with pull as to what I produce and how I produce it.”
The “first” major production in which the poet achieved his goal was Love!; Is The Province Of The Brave. This full–length play was written for the Barbados Community College’s theatre arts programme. It dealt with several issues, some taboo like homosexuality and prostitution, that is a part of the Barbadian landscape.
Welch told Bajan Vibes that this relationship with BCC actually begun several years ago when he acted in one of its plays –– Amen Corner. His acting was terrible, he admitted, though stating he believed some improvement in this area was made.
But when approached by good friend, head of the theatre arts programme, and director Yvonne Weekes to work on another project together he sprung at the opportunity. “I was happy for the opportunity. I actually had the idea knocking around for a film I would like to produce one day. [Weekes and I] were casually talking and she made me the offer; so I started writing immediately before she changed her mind,” he said as he laughed.
“Acting and art in general are about examining yourself and the world around you and overcoming fear; and I think I have dealt with that personally, which is evident in the boldness of Love!: Is The Province of The Brave. I had some very traumatic experiences over the last few months, including the tragic loss of my best friend and brother; so I kind of threw caution out of the window. I wanted to do something rich, unique and wholly Bajan, but from a different perspective.
I know the work was challenging, but I think the stories needed to be told. It was nerve-wracking and awesome [to see it produced]. I was a sweaty mess squirming in my seat but I loved what the actors, director and her team did with the work.
“It was humbling. I have so much respect for their talent. I am pleased with the response and I applaud all involved for taking the journey with me. I am ready to write and produce more. I will continue to take risks. Doesn’t make much sense otherwise,” Welch, a former student of The St Michael School said.
Welch is currently working on forming and solidifying a production company. He has done some music video work so far, and one film.
“I’ll keep making film and just get ideas and my style out there, and take it one step at a time. Continuing to write goes without saying. I have a lot of ideas and, now that I am done with school, a little more time and less pressure. You don’t really realize how wound up you are until you get done –– especially after a three-and-a-half year Master’s.
“I want to spend some time this summer getting back into poetry, which is where it all began; and then there’s music. Getting into songwriting, begin work on another play later in the year, acting . . . it’s all open. I just want to keep creating,” Welch added.