Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Career variety proves the spice of life for Guyanese immigrant Maurice Braithwaite

Maurice Braithwaite doesn’t like to talk about himself, but boy, does he tell great stories, many of which tell a lot about the storyteller.

Like this one, about growing up in a Georgetown, Guyana, tenement yard — a low end housing project — with an aunt who had 24 children — yep, 24 — yet took the then 13-year-old Braithwaite and his four siblings in after their father died.

“This house didn’t have any furniture,” the 71-year-old recalled. “Our bed was the floor. But for us young kids, it was very exciting.

“They used to call that particular tenement yard a stable yard, because the undertaker in those days had horse drawn carriages, and he used to keep his vehicle right under the house where we lived, because in Guyana all the houses were on stilts. When it rained the place would flood.”

Braithwaite’s twinkling eyes match his laugh as he’s telling this story, and it’s unclear if the engineer, the actor, the orator or the community activist in him gets the bigger tickle out of telling it.

“When people ask me how my acting career got started I said growing up in the stable yard,” he said. “It was a conglomerate of people who lived there; Chinese, Portuguese, African, East Indian, Amerindians, everyone. On the weekend, it was chaos. Once you come out of that place, if you aspired to be an actor, you got it all.”

It was from that muddy beginning that Braithwaite would go on to earn a electrical technology certificate from Guyana Technical Institute in 1966, then teach mechanical drawing, math and electrical lab there for two years

After immigrating to New York in 1971 Braithwaite earned a diploma in electrical circuits and systems from RCA Institute of Technology and a bachelors degree in electromechanical engineering from the City College of New York — he went to school at night, six days a week, for four years while working a full-time job at a Brooklyn electronic plant.

From 1977 until his 2005 retirement Braithwaite worked for Xerox, rising to customer service field manager for a staff of 30.

Inspired at 10 years old by an uncle who worked the Georgetown ‘vaudeville’ circuit, Braithwaite dabbled and then jumped into the Guyanese theatre, at first using his electrical training to light and design sets.
Eventually he moved to the stage — Braithwaite was the voice of Mentor in a hit radio serial about the fictional town of Susanberg, and worked on productions with the Guyana Theater Guild and another group, the Forum of Dramatic Aces.

Braithwaite and longtime friend and writer Francis Farrier started the theater group, Dramatic Core. The company toured the country, even visiting hard to reach gold and diamond mining camps in the unsettled interior.

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