She has been involved in the cultural industry for 52 years. And at age 67, she is still contributing to the development of the sector.
Merle Niles is no stranger to the arts having been the recipient of the Duke of Edinburgh Award (silver) at age 15 and joining the Barbados Theatre Workshop. Since then, her successful career has seen her transition from being on the stage to working behind the scenes. Merle, who was once very active in the areas of writer, director, producer, actress and songstress, is now more hands on as she performs the roles of tent manager, administrator, coordinator, events judge and talent manager.
But the director of her own company, Emerald Entertainment 246, does not see her current work with Crop Over and the Richard Stoute Teen Talent Show as a transition from acting to singing; her belief is “It’s one of the same really… kaiso performance is vocal theatre.”
The woman who has been with De Digicel Big Show Tent since its inception says the satisfaction she gets from working in the industry comes because she is doing something she simply loves with every fibre in her body.
“This Crop Over has been excellent. Team De Big Show did extremely well in both competitions. Mikey and Mr Blood are both defending monarchs. And we have one of the youngest finalists in JSlo. [There are] newcomers to ‘singing calypso’ [like] Skung Yung… and it was awesome to have Stiffy who has started on his social commentary journey. We also had young Joaquin. It was an excellent year,” the tent manager told Bajan Vibes. The tent has eight artistes which equates to the most finalists in next Friday’s Pic-O-De-Crop competition.
But her involvement in Crop Over goes further than her contribution to the tent. She is also the manager of legendary artiste Grynner, a job she has been doing for the past five years. “Our relationship is fine. Sometimes, I have to plant my feet firmly but we work very well together…” she said.
The multi-talented individual said she was elated when Government renamed the Spring Garden Highway after the soca icon.
“I believe he deserved whatever is bestowed as he is one of the most humble entertainers we have produced, and one who has flown the Barbados flag locally, regionally and internationally over his entertainment career. I am very happy for him. He is truly deserving of it,” she said.
Other noted artistes who have benefitted from her tutelage and management are Lemuel Waithe, Aziza and Rabiah Clarke. She is also the manager and booking agent for six local performers and two overseas singers.
Apart from being active during the Crop Over season, she performs the duties of stage manager and administrative assistant for the Richard Stoute Teen Talent Contest (RSTTC). Merle first joined that team in 1994. She then took a short break before resuming stage management in 2007, a role she is still performing.
Merle is most happy when the job comes together. She prides herself in the execution of her duties and she feels contented when her clients are pleased with a job well done.
Her most memorable moment was when she directed a play which will forever be special in her heart. “It is the first play I directed titled Run For Your Wife. It ran for 35 nights at full houses in the then Queen’s Park Theatre which assisted financially with the [creation] of the Eden Lodge Soroptimist Village.”
Merle’s long list of accolades include an award from Dame Olga Lopes-Seale for directing Run For Your Wife for the Soroptimist Club; an award from the Barbados Music Awards in 2009; the 2010 Clement Payne Movement’s Hero Award for her contribution to culture and the youth; a five-year service award from Laff It Off in 1989 and a service award for 22 years of service to the RSTTC.
Throughout the years her memorable moments include acting in an episode of the CBS daytime drama The Bold and the Beautiful which was filmed in St James and a role in the documentary National Geographic’s Locked up Abroad (Barbados).
Her career has positioned her to work with some of the local icons in theatre including Jeanette Layne Clarke, Cynthia Wilson, Wendell Smith, Alfred Pragnell, Timothy Callendar and Tom Cross.
The list of companies and organisations she has worked for is extensive. The major ones include The National Cultural Foundation (NCF), Caribbean Broadcasting Union (CBU), Green Room Players, Impact Productions Pampalam, WWB Productions, Stage Craft Production Inc, At Your Service, The Gale Theatre of London and Barbados, Barbados Association of Tent Managers (BATMAN), Barbados Music Awards (BMAs), Lion’s Den Tent, Super Gladiators Tent, Earl Warner Trust, United Artistes of Barbados and Smiles Productions.
Merle has judged a number of major competitions as well. To list a few: Miss Holetown; Spirit of the Nation Show – serving as Chief Judge (four years); Miss Caribbean Talented Teen; Richard Stoute Teen Talent; Miss Dominica Carnival, UWI – Cave Hill Campus; Mr Teen Barbados; Fire Service and BDF shows; mother/daughter pageants; Miss Tropical Paradise; Miss Oistins; Mr and Miss SJPP; Barbados Talented Teen, Single and Progressive; Mystical Touch Modelling Agency Fashion Extravaganza; Timeless Entertainment shows; school pageants; game shows; in-house hotel shows and the Barbados National Bank 2005, 2006 and 2009 talent shows.
In recent times, she has continued to contribute on a regional level. In 2017, Merle was selected to be the Stage Manager of the Country Night productions which were staged during the Caribbean Festival of Arts (CARIFESTA XIII) held in Barbados.
With all of this going, does the energetic 67-year-old plan to retire anytime soon?
“I will be a part of the arts and the festival until I close my eyes. Theatre is my absolute passion…” she said. (IMC)