Theatre Pioneer – Mavis Lee Wah has died | Celebrating Her Life

Mavis Lee Wah

Jamaican/Trinidadian actress, director, and school teacher, Mavis Lee Wah has died. The news came to the Trinidad and Tobago Performing Arts Network that Mrs. Lee Wah (nee Arscott) passed away around 9AM today (Sunday 24th June 2018).

According to a 1994 publication of The Cambridge Guide to African and Caribbean Theatre, as Arscott, Mavis had acted in several plays before entering the University of the West Indies, where during 1951 – 1955 she established herself as the leading undergraduate actress. Among her roles at that time were ‘Knowledge’ in Everyman. ‘Juno’ in Juno and the paycock; ‘Mrs. X’ in Strindberg’s The Stronger, ‘Jocasta’ in Oefipus Rex, and Amanda in The Glass Menangerie. In 1952 – 1954 she was president of the University Dramatic Society.

In Trinidad as Mavis Lee Wah, she appeared for the Drama Guild as Pegeen in Playboy of the Western World (1957); in Belle, Book and Candle (1958); in Derek Walcott’s The Charlatan (1962), and in Trinidad Theatre Workshop’s production of this play when it was taken to Jamaica in 1973. For the Secondary Schools’ Drama Association she played the Nurse in Romeo and Juliet (1969) and Lady Macbeth (1974) and she appeared in A Day in the Death of Joe Egg (for the alternative National Theatre, 1981); in Fanlights by Rene Marques (1988); again as Amanda in the Glass Menagerie (1989) and as the Queen in Shaw’s Dark Lady of the Sonnets (1990).

In Portrait of a True Caribbean Lady, author Lynette Da Silva wrote that Derek Walcott once called her “one of the finest actresses in the Caribbean today,” even when she was a relative newcomer to the local stage. She was also a principal of Naparima Girls (1984 – 1986),  is an honorary member of the Naparima Alumni Association of Canada, was married to James Lee Wah, and is named on The San Fernando Theatre Workshop lists of accomplished actors.

Tammitha Shaw (left) and Mavis Lee Wah (right) in The Importance of Being Earnest with the San Fernando Theatre Workshop
Tammitha Shaw (left) and Mavis Lee Wah (right) in The Importance of Being Earnest with the San Fernando Theatre Workshop

The Theatre Community Reacts to Mrs. Lee Wah’s Passing

The Trinidad and Tobago Performing Arts Network extends our deepest condolences to the family and friends of Mr. & Mrs. Lee Wah. We are honored to have had the opportunity to chat with her a few days before her passing and are ever grateful for the contributions she has made to our performing arts landscape.

Mavis Lee Wah |nee Arscott|  (1926 – 2018). We Speak Your Name!

Other theatre practitioners and organizations have also offered their condolences and tributes.

“I knew Mavis quite well. She did a show with us in Jamaica and when [Trinidad] Theatre Workshop used to tour in the 70’s. She was a lovely person.”~ Nigel Scott

“A true pioneer.. and a giant in the field of theatre… Actress. Director. Administrator” ~ Zeno Constance

“Ohhh a theatre icon gone on to glory. May she rest in perfect sleep. I could see her now [in] The Importance if being Ernest. Quite a beautiful actor. Sad.” ~ Rhoma Spencer

“Mavis was a very high profile person in south. She was a celebrated actress and has always been an evergreen and lovely kind of person. I am really sorry to hear about her Mrs. Lee Wah, that is an era that has come to an end.” ~ Willard Gopaul

Mavis was a beautiful person, a gentle soul, a passionate thespian and a well-organized administrator. Our personal interactions revealed so much of her beauty. She will rest in peace having fulfilled her mission here on this earth. The Trinidad theatre is already poorer with her passing! Her relationship with her husband James is a theatrical event on its own! I am so happy to have documented some of it. ~ Victor Edwards

“The NDATT is grateful for Mavis Lee Wah’s contribution to theatre in Trinidad and Tobago and the region. We hope her legacy will continue and inspire others to follow in her footsteps.” ~ The National Drama Association of Trinidad and Tobago

Her Life Celebrated

The Life of Mrs. Mavis Lee Wah will be celebrated on Saturday 30th June 2018, 2PM at Susamachar Presbyterian Church, Coffee Street, San Fernando [View Map]. All who wish to pay their respects are invited.

Following the funeral, her body will be transported to  J.E. Guide Funeral Home for a 5PM cremation. [View Map].

Yesterday (June 26th), The Trinidad and Tobago Performing Arts Network with the Lee Wah family at their Tortuga home. In response to statements that are being made since Mrs. Lee Wah’s passing, her daughters said,

“We are grateful for the outpouring of love and support of friends, acquaintances and the thousands of lives that she touched as a teacher, dramatist, and as an actor. All the love and support shows how appreciated and well-liked she was. People all say she was such a gentle and kind woman; we are all blessed to be her children and daddy is blessed to have had such a wife.”

Naparima Girls High School will also be holding a tribute service to life and work of Mrs.Lee Wah on Wednesday 27th June, 6PM at the School’s Auditorium.

Mrs. Lee Wah would have been 92 years old on August 17th. She is survived by her husband James Lee Wah, and two daughters – Sharon Lee Wah and Kathleen Merrique (nee Lee Wah).

James and Family
James Lee Wah and his two daughters Kathleen (left) and Sharon (right)| Photo Credit: Triston Wallace
This story was last updated on 27th June 2018


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