So why tell this story in 2017, Trinidad. Who cares?
Well for starters, the traditional Trinidad masquerade characters are slowly becoming a dying performance art form. While there are competitions put on by the National Carnival Commission (NCC) to encourage players to compete in this category, the masters of such characters are in their twilight years now and some have passed. As such, we are not seeing the full potential of the ‘playing’ of these characters in neither narrative, dance nor costuming.
This year, I had the rare opportunity to attend traditional mas competitions at the St James Amphitheatre and at the Adam Smith Square in Trinidad. I saw all qualities of traditional mas misrepresented. I saw Midnite Robbers whose speeches lacked any bravodo and fear but a mumble jumble of prosethalizing to the Trinidad public. I saw Babydolls whose story strayed from its purpose which is to embarass any male bystander, accusing them of being the father of the child in hand. I witnessed a solo minstrel singing vintage calypso, her only instrument, a clapper. What the arse is that!
The Ministry of Community Development, Culture and the Arts was right on the button with its initiative called ‘The Mentors Programme,’ where masters of the art form were engaged to pass on their skills to those interested. This brilliant move no doubt was a testament to my observation. It is therefore left to the theatre practitioners and play makers to understand the significance of the legacy of these characters, and to tease this meaning from under the surface of its existence of the people and bring the Trinbagonian’s true living dynamic to the stage.
Carnival Medea allows the audience to see how such characters operate both physically and psychologically. From the Baby doll, Batonye and Dame Lorraine to Pierrot Grenade, Military mas player and Chantwelle. Both myself and Holmes have taken the Greek characters and pair them with traditional mas characters based on their characteristic idiosyncrasies in the carnival and in the play where they give full evidence that they are archetypes of human behaviour.
The play also wants to offer our public another world view of theatre and entertainment choice by using a classic Greek tragedy and breathing a distinctly Trinidadian and the Caribbean archipelago’s history, mythology and Geography to its treatment. On another level, Carnival Medea is making a pitch to the contribution of our mas and stock characters to the canon of world theatre.
Just like the Italians’ Commedia de’ll arte, we too in Trinidad and Tobago have our own canon of stock characters and archetypes of human behaviour which surfaced on stage in Trinidad theatre during the 1980s through the works of Felix Edinborough. His plays such as J’ouvert, Mas in yuh Mas and To Hell with Dat produced by Tent Theatre and directed by Helen Camps were huge hits and very popular with the public. These are the plays that started the careers of our present day theatre luminaries as Raymond Choo Kong, Christine Johnston, Debra Boucaud Mason, Wendell Manwarren, Richard RagoobarSingh and the late Godfrey Sealy just to name a few.
Carnival Medea is just continuing that tradition from the point where Tent Theatre left off. In February 2017, we will present the Caribbean Premiere of this play at the Little Carib Theatre in Woodbrook.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Rhoma Spencer – Co-Playwright/ Director
Rhoma Spencer is an award winning actor and director, play creator and comedienne. Her works have been critically acclaimed in the Globe and Mail, Now Magazine and the Toronto Star. In summer 2014 she was the recipient of a US Proclamation from the House of Congress and a Citation from the Brooklyn Borough President for her contribution to Caribbean Theatre with the play Jean and Dinah. She is also named in the Who is Who in Black Canada and in the Trinidad and Tobago 50th Anniversary Publication of Distinguished Nationals in Canada in the field of Arts and Culture.