BitDepth#927 - March 11

What a day at the Socadrome taught me about the future of Carnival.
Lessons from the Socadrome
Yuma was the first band to cross the Socadrome stage on Carnival Tuesday.
Digital image by Mark Lyndersay. This panoramic photo is a composite of four separate exposures merged using software.

If there had been tumbleweeds in the Jean Pierre Complex, they would have made a quite cinematic sight as they rolled across the vast gray stage built for the Socadrome.
That’s just one of the idle thoughts I had while waiting last Tuesday morning and I had a lot of time to think about Carnival 2014 while idling away the hours between 7:45am and the start of festivities there at 10:00am.

Workers with heavy gloves pulled cables through routing troughs, a particularly keen young man paced the stage diligently with a blower, blasting unseeable specks off its surface. Ace videographer Selwyn Henry hefted and swung the mighty boom he would manage for the duration of the show.

What happened after all that preparation is now public record. Only three of the bands scheduled to appear at the new venue appeared, though they managed to account for an almost continuous stream of masqueraders for four and a half hours of stage time.

It was a first time for me too, at least in this century. The first time since 1994 when I was between relationships with a newspaper and suffering a mighty newsprint tabanca that I did not wear an NCC issued press badge or visit a single official venue.

Yet there was no sense of loss this year. My first visit to the Grand Stand for 2014 was on the Thursday after Carnival for a pointless press event, and I barely looked at the stage, once so central to my idea of the festival.
Part of the reason for that is my loss of interest in photographing popular Carnival. I have enough thoughts on that to constitute a blog post,
which you’ll find here.

So many questions. Like this one.
Why are we building the North Stand?
Once the North Stand served a real purpose, along with the open bleachers that bracketed the parade route onto the big stage. There were thousands of people who wanted to see pan and mas and there was a real need to accommodate them.

For most of Carnival 2014, though, the North Stand was effectively, when it wasn’t completely, empty of an audience. Or even the odd straggler. Even when there were people there, the Grandstand could have handily held them.

So let’s stop wasting time and money building it and just put up solid temporary bleachers in the Greens at Pan Semi-finals to hold the few among that lot who actually want to see what a steelband performance looks like.
Those we can tear down by the following Monday and get on with the rest of the season.

Why doesn’t Carnival Tuesday in Port of Spain have a stage manager?
Part of the reason that people don’t turn out to look at Carnival anymore is that they have no idea what they will end up seeing.
The crowds that occasioned the building of the North Stand and the bleachers on the track, the huge temporary structure in Downtown Port of Spain and bleachers at both Victoria and Adam Smith Square were a response to need.

People were coming in droves to see Carnival and many needed a comfortable place to view it from.
Back then, Carnival was smaller and managed itself. It doesn’t anymore. Bands larger than brigades follow their own imperatives, not the needs of an audience, so audiences dwindle.

There are event stage managers, but it’s time that we begin to treat the entire route as a stage and manage it accordingly.
Generals have been doing this successfully for centuries with a complete knowledge of the consequences of poor planning when managing thousands of people on the move.

Will the twain ever meet?
Carnival now offers its audience two very different masqueraders. Those who seek a link to the legacy of the festival, performing an art for an audience and those who wear a costume as part of a street party. One is an externalisation of performance, and the other aggressively internalises it.

It’s the push and pull between art and commerce, a tug of war that commerce has been winning for the last two decades. If the NCC is to do one important thing for Carnival, it must create an infrastructure that facilitates commerce while funding art, using transparent processes for that support.

Was the Socadrome a success?
While it was happening, it was a spectacular event for the masqueraders. Which is only fair, because that’s who it was built for.
In the course of documenting the construction of the Socadrome, I listened in on a meeting of the planners and their management teams.

Without disclosing details, I can state with absolute certainty that the leadership of large Carnival bands are fanatically concerned about the safety, comfort, and enjoyment of their masqueraders. Everything else is just vapor.

So the Socadrome was the perfect fulfilment of that goal. Photographers and videographers roamed the stage freely, exciting their masqueraders. Video was streamed and broadcast of the event. A small audience showed up.
Your opinion, as heartfelt as it may be, doesn’t actually matter.

There was something Disneylike about the whole thing. A carefully manicured lead-in to the event, an explosion of excitement, music and colour and then it was over, the lights came up –or rather the two o’clock sun came blasting in –and it was over, with little feathers rolling across the stage like the coda of a loud and vivid cowboy gun battle.

Tiny tumbleweeds, glistening in the afternoon sun.

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Guardian Editorial for March 02: The Geography of Carnival
BitDepth#925: How I would fix Carnival
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BitDepth#924: Carnival Copyright Redux
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