Laff It Off is part of Peta Alleyne’s DNA, and after 30 years of playing Willhelmina Herassofat in the popular local comedy, Alleyne is now stepping away from the stage.
“It took a while to make up my mind to no longer do Laff It Off and to hand it over to the younger ones. I was just so blown away by the cast this year that I thought Laff It Off was in good hands,” she said.
Alleyne, a producer at Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), said the schedule got a bit too hectic for her to continue being on stage.
“I feel conflicted. It has become more and more difficult because of my responsibilities. My mum is not well; my work takes up a lot of my time, so I had to make that decision to step off the stage. This year especially it got a little tough with my mum being sick. Rehearsals were a push; my job at CBC is full time. There were times when Laff It Off had to make way for my job. You can’t sustain that, it wouldn’t be fair on them to do that,” she said.
But Alleyne is quick to point out that her leaving the stage does not mean she is leaving the group all together.
She told EASY magazine she would still very much be around.
“I’m not by any stretch of the imagination leaving Laff It Off completely. People meet me up in the supermarket and asking me why. I’m still going to write, I still will be present in some of the videos and I guess to also lend my voice in recorded background vocals. But it’s the actual on stage that I’ve stepped away from,” Alleyne explained, adding that she would still be doing some things on other stages from time to time.
“I will be acting as long as God gives me breath. It is too much a part of my DNA for me to leave it out. There are things I want to write, there’re things I still want to do. I have been asked many times about doing a one-woman show . . . it would frighten me, but it’s not something I would say no to. With the right director and the right writers, it’s something I look forward with much excitement to do,” she added.
In an intimate interview with EASY magazine, Alleyne reflected on her journey with Laff It Off and marvelled at how far she had come.
“Tom Cross and Ian Estwick asked me if I would come in. Laff It Off is by invitation. You don’t just go into Laff It Off. I entered Laff It Off having already known the actors and actresses who were there. It was literally like a family,” she said.
Alleyne, who was quite soft-spoken throughout the interview, said she grew up with the Laff It Off group and made memories she would not trade for the world.
“When I went into Laff It Off I was 23. Therefore my worldview was something completely different from how it is now. What I was passionate about then, I’m not passionate about now. I have matured; I have grown up with Laff It Off.
“I performed pregnant with Laff If Off. I have memories of being onstage and then giving the others the look which meant, I have to go throw up. They were good enough to improvise and people would not realise that it was not a part of the scene. I also grew as a writer and I always wanted to write. It went from me writing a bit to writing entire scenes,” she recalled.
Coming to the realisation that her life as she knows it now was about to change, and she would no longer be front and centre of something she has loved for 30 years, Alleyne speaking very softly at this point, said she was going to miss the audience the most.
“When you think that it was in 1988 when I joined, it seems like a century ago. I will miss the audience the most. I always said, I never had to do drugs. The high that you get from performing in front of an audience, especially the laughter and the dynamic that you pick up from in the room, it’s like none other. I find it very cathartic; you could have the worst day, you could be feeling ill because the body ageing, but once you hit the stage and you get that first blast of laughter from the audience . . . that’s it . . . . All that is negative just goes away. At least, for me it does,” she added.
Alleyne said though she leaves with some sadness, she is comfortable that the current cast will continue to fly the flag high.
“I’m hoping that whichever female they bring in, I hope she syncs with the group seamlessly. I know that this group that we have right now is a talented group, and I will be there helping wherever I can in the background. I wouldn’t like Laff If Off to remain as is. I would like it to continue to evolve,” she added.
In an emotional moment, Alleyne offered many thanks to all who would have contributed to her journey over the years with Laff It Off and made it the success it was.
“I have been so lucky to work with these comic geniuses. To my Laff It Off colleagues, both past and present, I say thanks for the journey. It has been a journey, as with families, with ups and downs, but through it all we have remained steadfast, we have remained a strong unit, and whether you perform for just two or three years with us, you always consider yourself a part of Laff It Off.”
“To Ian Estwick, Tom Cross, Cicely Spenser-Cross, thank you for trusting me and giving me the opportunity. To the audiences, thank you so much. Your being there and words of kindness and encouragement have sustained me over the last 30 years,” she added.