There are weeks that are dull and there are weeks that fill me with trepidation. My life is such that the two convenient slots would pretty well cover most of my life thus far. This past week fell into the latter category but, as is often the case, turned out to be interesting. I have no idea why I consider new experiences to be traumatic but I generally enjoy them once I get going and have yet to meet a challenge that I did not enjoy accomplishing or, in retrospect, consider a “learning experience.”
Our newest landmark in Port of Spain is the National Academy for the Performing Arts which has spawned not inconsiderable controversy. Had it not cost about $100 million US to the taxpayers it might have been lauded as a noble experiment but since it did it is regarded by many as somewhere between a gross waste of resources and the greatest travesty since Celine Dion. Personally, I am an arts kind of guy, but when I know for a fact that hospitals here are awful and many people do not get a regular supply of water, I tend to be rather circumspect about the necessity for new venues for performers. In any case, the PM needed the thing finished in time to show off to his new friends for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting 2009 and we got hire purchase terms from China so it is now a fact of life in Port of Spain.
There can be no doubt that it is impressive both inside and outside. There are varying opinions on its architectural merit that range from gleaming icon to hideous and inappropriate . My opinion lies somewhere in the middle. I certainly don’t think it is reflective of anything Caribbean or Trinidadian but that is what happens when you make an arrangement with the Chinese that includes them designing and building the thing. Apparently shiny and metal is de rigueur in Shanghai these days. The Government says the design is meant to represent the national flower – sure it is and my behind represents an interesting rococo end table. When will governments learn to quit when they are ahead when it comes to testing our gullibility?
Anyhow, to cut to the chase, I got a call not too many days ago asking if I would be the announcer for a mainly classical cultural show being held at NAPA. At first I thought it was a clever plan to lure me into the building so that I could be buried under concrete. I have not been shy in stating my views on the necessity for the structure and the way this country is going that could easily mean interment. Given that the caller was Mervyn de Goeas who I met many years ago and whose work I respect I suspended my disquieting thoughts and agreed. Actually, had it not been someone I know I would have probably said no as I truly hate speaking in public. Broadcasting is usually done in a studio and there is little chance of anyone jeering at me or pelting past-peak produce. Since I was told I would be in the wings I figured the curtains would shield me.
Now that I have done the two shows I am happy that I agreed as it gave me a chance to wander from my comfort zone and to get reacquainted with Mervyn who I had fallen out of touch with for an ungodly number of years. When I think about it – it is amazing that such a thing can happen in such a small island…but I digress. Mervyn was brilliant and I thoroughly enjoyed my time backstage and the chance to share our contrasting views on the world. I am a cynical and jaded bastard and he is preternaturally happy to be alive and experiencing things. This mental state might be understandable in a young person but in someone my age it is nothing short of a miracle. Apparently life on the stage can give a different perspective. I tend to think, though, that since he deals with fantasy and mind manipulation for a living ( 7 Cacique awards which are the local version of a Tony) the goings-on in this country would not seem unusual to him.
I was also pleased to be able to wander about a stage and mingle with the crew and performers. I have a great love for theatre and never had a chance to pursue it myself so any opportunity to mingle with show folk in their milieu is a thrill. That being said the main stage at NAPA is a thing to behold. When the government picked it they must have been given a catalogue by the Chinese and picked the model labelled “Big Mother F$%ker”. It is colossal by any standard and I am sure it would be easily able to accommodate any opera or Broadway/West End production. Heck…it could even be used to play a regulation game of football. It is also a slip stage which is unheard of in this country…at least I never heard of one. I suspect that I am correct on this one because the audiences for both performances applauded wildly when they saw the instruments on stage moving towards them when the curtain rose. This is very much a space designed for opera and classical performances which are the only ones that could attract 1,200 people able to afford the ticket prices to support the cost of paying to rent such a venue. The only problem is that we have no opera or classical music culture in this country but that is another story. Were I able to adopt the methods in A Clockwork Orange I would love to “adjust” the taste of the population but, sadly, I will never be given such leeway.
It seems I may be announcing for a repeat production in the future and I am looking forward to the chance to hang out with Mervyn again and watching his unorthodox but effective ways.
And speaking of old friends and the theatre ( and I was) I had a rather surreal experience the other night. In my usual insomniac way I was lying in bed watching CNN trying to fall asleep when the Joy Behar show came on. Nothing unusual there but then I realized one of the main guests looked very familiar. When they put his name up on the screen I knew it was someone I was very friendly with for a while in the early 80s in Toronto. I had met Duncan when I used to hang out at the Poor Alex theatre in Toronto and he and Neil Bartlett had come over from England with in a play called PORNOGRAPHY ( all caps…I swear.) Most odd. I should mention that the topic for Behar’s show was sex addiction but that is a subject for another day.