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Sunday, 23 March 2014

Miss Miles makes mas on stage again

Austin Fido
“The other day, a friend said to me, ‘You know, I never miss mass,’” says the character Gene Miles from the stage of the Little Carib Theatre, adopting the slightly haughty tone of well-intended piety. “Well, neither do I,” she concludes, with the semblance of a wink to her audience. It’s a funny line in the context of the play, Miss Miles—The Woman of the World, and in the context of Carnival 2014, which was a busy season for Gene Miles, perhaps her busiest since her death in 1972. “I dyed my hair blonde so everyone would understand: I am not Miss Miles,” says Cecilia Salazar, whose ability to inhabit a character is saluted by nine Cacique Awards.
Miss Miles—Mas Corruption, in Port-of-Spain on Carnival Monday. Photo: Maria Nunes

Miss Miles, however, is no ordinary character for the actor. She likens the role to a masters degree. Salazar and playwright Tony Hall first got together in 2006 to discuss a production based on the life of the T&T civil servant, TV personality, socialite and anti-corruption crusader. The play premiered in 2011 and has been regularly revived, in full and in part, ever since—most recently on March 8-9. This is no masters. If Gene Miles is part of Cecilia Salazar’s education as an actor, she is her PhD. This year Salazar brought Miss Miles to Queen’s Hall, St Ann’s, for a week-long pre-Carnival stint in the 3Canal Show, Grimee. When the curtain went down for the last time in St Ann’s, Miss Miles took to the road for Carnival Monday, leading a band through Port-of-Spain.
The band, designed by Peter Minshall, put every member in the same costume: Gene Miles, reimagined as an “avenging angel” (Minshall’s phrase), elegant and furious. For the mas, Miss Miles is a woman dressed in black, made iconic by a simple polka-dotted belt and matching headband, a dystopian halo of feathers, and a mask. It became the face of Carnival 2014. That face—sheet white, with a strong jaw, high cheekbones, a burst of black lashes under sharp, slashing eyebrows; stark, red lips, caught in a pout between seduction and censure—is hard to forget.
On the road, the black-and-white procession brought banners, placards, and Gene Miles’ tenacious condemnation of corruption to a new audience.

“When we went to Piccadilly [Piccadilly Greens, a judging point in the parade of the bands], children came and asked me what costume we were playing, who it was,” recalls Salazar. “I talked to them about Gene Miles and they held the placards. We spent a good time talking to them—children and children, children all around us.” The band drew spontaneous applause from onlookers, even when simply moving through tight streets to the next judging point. “Outside Renegades’ panyard,” says Hall, “it was so exciting, people in the band were saying ‘Let’s do a drama and perform!’” “It moved people who saw it,” says Salazar, while taking off her makeup backstage at the Little Carib on March 8, International Women’s Day. The story of Gene Miles is a tragedy: a woman who strayed close enough to the nexus of power in pre-and post-Independence Trinidad to see the disfiguring impact of political control, shed light on that ugliness, and was destroyed by it. She spoke out, in the 1960s, against a seemingly clear-cut, almost banal, instance of corruption, the Gas Station Racket.

The simple observation that a senior figure in the government’s licencing of gas stations appeared to be lacking impartiality in his decision-making was spun into a show trial, more focused, at times, on Miles’s integrity than that of the government. She weathered irrelevant lines of questioning about whether she had ever been a topless model, stuck to her guns, and lived to see a scant measure of justice afforded her efforts. The senior factory inspector, her boss whose apparent blindness to certain gas-station licence applications sparked the whole affair, was removed from his position at the Ministry of Petroleum and Mines in June 1968. Miss Miles—The Woman of the World tells this story from Gene Miles’s perspective, following her from birth to death. It is a one-woman play: we see one actor playing one character. Everyone else is played by Gene Miles: parents, the scolding nun who tells her she is inappropriately dressed for a teacher at a convent school; the men who question her in court, try to shut her up, watch her shut up in the “madhouse in St Ann’s,” rape her and see her unravel, drunk and incoherent in the street.

It is a play at times unsettling to its audience. We watch Gene Miles grow up, watch her change her clothes, from schoolgirl’s uniform to work suit to evening wear to straitjacket. We listen to her voice mature, her values form under influence of the church and the example set by her father, himself a whistleblower of another era. Mr Miles exposed the Caura Dam Racket. There is no record of his ever being questioned about appearing bare-chested in front of a camera. Most actors will tell you they draw heavily on “emotional memory” on stage: think about something that makes you sad so you can shed real tears on stage, for example. For Salazar, Miss Miles is inextricably tangled up with real memories. Part of this is the collaborative, improvisational stagecraft Tony Hall christened the “Jouvay Process.” There is a moment in the play when schoolgirl Gene recounts leading her house to victory in the march-past at sports day: “Our house adds flags to the event and changes it forever. “That was me,” says Salazar, “Except it wasn’t flags, it was fishnets.”

Salazar feels a closeness to Gene Miles based on more than playing her on stage. “She was born in August, I was born in August. We are both Leos. She went to St Joseph’s Convent, I went to St Joseph’s Convent. She’s a white Trinidadian with Portuguese parents, my mother is Portuguese. I lived in Glencoe, right next to where Gene Miles lived, till I was about three years old.”
Whatever its provenance, the authenticity of the performance is endorsed by a photo album which Salazar brings into her dressing room every time she prepares to go on stage as Gene Miles.
 It is a gift from the Miles family, who did not participate in the development of the script, preferring to leave painful memories undisturbed. The album, filled with original photographs of Gene as child and adult, was entrusted to Hall and Salazar after her surviving family had seen the play for themselves.

Miss Miles—The Woman of the World will next be staged in Hartford, Connecticut, April 24- 26, at Garmany Hall, Austin Arts Center, Trinity College.

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Gabriel: NCBA trying to exclude tradition in mas

The rules governing the Parade of the Bands competition held by the National Carnival Bands Association (NCBA) have existed for a long time. Confirming this yesterday, NCBA chairman David Lopez remained resolute that the results of the competition were “above board, transparent and fair.” Lopez said: “Every competition has rules and they must be adhered to. The only thing that might be different is that this year they were executed to the letter. I fail to see why there are issues with the results.”

Bandleaders Ronnie Mc Intosh and Rosalind Gabriel have dispatched legal letters to the NCBA challenging this year’s results. Yesterday Gabriel said, “My lawyers wrote to the NCBA last Friday, but we have gotten no reply to date, March 11. If we get no response, then it’s up to the lawyers to take the next step. “As far as I am aware, the under-18 rule was always there, but was never enforced. The NCBA decided to enforce it this year. I think that particular rule was put in there to victimise Stephen Derek and my band.”

Ronnie Mc Intosh
Both Gabriel and Derek include under-18 masqueraders in their senior bands. “The NCBA is trying to exclude tradition in mas,” Gabriel argued. “This is a terrible thing for the culture of traditional mas, which is passed from grandparents and parents to grands and children. It has always been so. This needs to be looked at. How could you encourage continuity in mas if you try to exclude children from participating?” Lopez was adamant that children had no place in adult mas.

“Come on, let’s be serious, a junior parade is a junior parade, a senior parade is a senior parade. Some years ago, Roland St George of D’Krewe took the NCBA to court against Rosalind Gabriel and Stephen Derek for having junior members in a senior competition.” St George contradicted Lopez’s claim, saying, “I took NCBA to court for the number of masqueraders in these bands, not for anything about underage masqueraders. That year, Rosalind was registered in one category and competed in another. I challenged that.

“I don’t know about any rule that says you have to be over 18 to play senior mas. A lot of families have had their children playing traditional mas since Carnival began. That is how you have continuity in mas and tradition survives.” St George admitted that he did not read all of the rules of the competition. “It’s too many pages of rules for me to read. The rules are draconian and who doesn’t play by them cannot win.”

Monday, 10 March 2014

Skandalus is Tobago Band of the Year

THE band Skandalus out of Roxborough in East Tobago, led by Nelsia Ashby and Lindy Davidson, with its presentation The King’s Court, took the Tobago Carnival Band of the Year title with a score of 1,058 points as well as the Large Band category following Tuesday’s parade of the the bands in Scarborough.
Second place went to Lue-Ann and Associates presentation, The United Kingdom of Great Britain which earned 1,034 points, followed in third spot by Gloria Stoute Next Generation with 989 points. 

Among the Medium Bands, pride of place went to the Lindsay and Associates’ production Butterfly Utopia with a score of 953 points, followed by Frolic Central (893 points) and Gems City (887 points) in third. 

Minstrels of Tobago, led by Tobago East Member of Parliament Vernella Alleyne-Toppin and her husband Lenn Toppin, with a score of 999 points, won the Small Band title, as well as the Traditional Mas category with 736 points. Second and third among Small Bands were Mas Masters (903 points) and Francis and Associates (843 points). 

In the Traditional Mas category, placing second was SRC LM and Associates (721 points), followed by the Mason Hall Village Council Folk Performing Group (693 points). 

Meanwhile, Tobago police officials reported Carnival celebrations on the sister island as being by and large incident free. “The Carnival period was really incident free. Nothing to report on for Carnival Monday and except for a minor scuffle on Tuesday night in Scarborough, that day was incident free as well,” states Snr Supt Jules in an interview with Newsday. He reported that Carnival festivities in Roxborough went ahead “beautifully.


All Stars: Sailor Mas a true winner

TRINIDAD All Stars manager Beresford Hunte yesterday said the band does what it has to do and performs year after year, as he responded to statements from some bandleaders that they would challenge the award of the Band of the Year title to his steel-pan band.
“I don’t know on what grounds they are seeking to challenge this, I cannot speak for them but I can say this: we came out this year and performed and we perform year in and year out,” Hunte told Newsday. 

“We have never had a problem. That’s all I will say for now. They are free to go whichever way they want to go. We will simply await the outcome.” 

All Stars’ sailor mas portrayal of Sailors on Shore Leave at a Tropical Fiesta won the judges nod over such pretty mas bands as Legacy and Trini Revellers, both former winners. 

Meanwhile, former President George Maxwell Richards, an avid Carnival-goer, yesterday welcomed the news that a steel-pan band had won Band of the Year. 

“I think it is time a band like a pan band should win,” he said. “I think there is an important place for steel-pan in the festivities. However, I wonder to what extent this victory has been achieved due to penalties being applied to other bands.” 

Commenting on the general standard of Carnival this year, Richards criticised what he described as vulgar behaviour. 

“There is no question that the mas has become extremely vulgar,” he said. “We don’t have the same spirit of camaraderie of former years. For instance, this year, I went down on Carnival Tuesday to St Mary’s College grounds where one of the bands — Yuma, in which I played — was assembled. I found it disturbing the unruliness of the people, the wanton and reckless behaviour and I think we should accept results of competitions with good grace.” 

Of the much criticised “Socadrome” which saw some bands divert their route to the Jean Pierre Complex, Richards said, “I thought it was a useful initiative but it did not receive the support of the spectators and I can’t see how it can be a success in the future. Even people who were committed to place had misgivings.”


Saturday, 8 March 2014

Now Ronnie and Caro challenge NCBA results

Ronnie and Caroline McIntosh have joined the list of discontented bandleaders who have sent letters through their lawyers to the National Carnival Bands Association (NCBA) demanding their score sheets. Bandleaders Rosalind Gabriel and David Cameron, of Trini Revellers, have also sought advice from their lawyers and asked for their score sheets.

At a press conference at their Woodbrook mas camp yesterday, McIntosh also expressed frustration at not getting answers from NCBA chairman David Lopez on the judging criteria which led to over 25 bands being deducted points for not following the prescribed parade route. He said the issue was not that their presentation De River Come Down did not win, but that they were seeking answers from Lopez. “Our focus is making our masqueraders happy. We want answers from the NCBA,” Mcintosh said.

“We want to know where did we place, because we only saw one to six. We also want to know why were we disqualified, because they said that to us. What is the penalty for disqualification? “We want our points from the NCBA. The rules we signed with the NCBA didn’t state anything about off-route, so that is something which we are now hearing. We need to get some answers on that because it is tied in to why we were disqualified.”

Several calls to the cellphone of chairman of the National Carnival Commission (NCC) Allison Demas went unanswered yesterday. Messages were also not returned. Lopez also could not be reached for comment yesterday as repeated calls to his cellphone went unanswered up to late yesterday. McIntosh said Lopez told him that according to the NCBA’s GPS system, the band went off-route.

McIntosh insisted his band met the NCBA stipulations and crossed all the judging points, including the Queen’s Park Savannah, Adam Smith Square and downtown Port-of-Spain.

Friday, 7 March 2014

Ackin: Positive feedback in Socadrome

TRIBE and Bliss bandleader Dean Ackin said there was mostly positive feedback from masqueraders regarding the Socadrome and new route which allowed them to achieve the goal of a continuous flow of mas.
CARNIVAL BLISS: Two masqueraders from the band Bliss have
 fun on Carnival Tuesday at the Socadrome in Jean Pierre Complex.
 Band leader Dean Akin yesterday gave the thumbs up
regarding the smooth running of the bands at the Socadrome. 

“For the most part it has been positive, there are the few who are nostalgic for the (Queen’s Park) Savannah but even they have admitted to enjoying the tangible benefits of this new arrangement,” Akin told the Newsday.

“Overall I think the change was largely accepted by our masqueraders simply because they had a great time at the venue,” he added. Tribe and Bliss were two of six bands that were scheduled to utilise the new Socadrome stage, an initiative of the participating bands, at the Jean Pierre Complex, National Stadium on Carnival Tuesday.

The other bands were Yuma, Harts and Rosalind Gabriel’s adult band but Yuma was the only other band that participated. The non-competing bands were given a specific route to follow as agreed to with the police, though not all of them complied.

Ackin reported that the new route, “ran very smoothly” and they were able to get to the Socadrome venue ahead of schedule and the flow of the participating bands was “very efficient”.

“ The route allowed us to achieve our goal of continuous mas on the move which is preferred by all of our masqueraders,” he added. 

He described the Socadrome as a great, secure venue and recalled that the stadium staff were extremely professional and courteous. He also noted that it allowed their masqueraders continued access to the drinks and music trucks, which is compromised en route to the Savannah when their drinks trucks must leave the band for a couple of hours and their music trucks are unable to play music in front of the hospital for up to three hours in some cases. “The flow in and out of the venue was smooth and our masqueraders seemed to enjoy the new stage with the same joy and abandon of the Savannah stage,” he said. On the lack of spectators at the Socadrome Ackin noted that this has been occurring at the Savannah for the last few years and it appeared that spectators preferred to line the roads to get closer to the mas itself. He also dismissed statements that the Socadrome was linked to a lack of spectators and bands in Downtown Port-of-Spain. 



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