Thinking beyond expectations

There’s no question that the National Carnival Commission and its stakeholders tried quite dramatically to rethink the major competitions of the final week of Carnival.

That willingness to think beyond expectations is not something to be discouraged. Carnival in 2013 continues to run on the fumes of past triumphs, its official competitions relying on excess as a replacement for innovation.

On their own, the Calypso Monarch, King and Queen of Carnival competitions and Panorama are powerful potential cultural assets, but ego and desperation have led the stakeholders of Carnival to design extended competitive experiences that exceed reasonable expectations of patience by even the most culturally committed audience.

The continuing outlier success of the National Soca Monarch competition has more to do with its design as an extended Carnival party than its lure as a competitive environment. It’s form follows its function, entertaining a vast crowd gathered to hear the best soca music of the year. It’s Brassorama reinvented for the 21st century.

It’s also a lesson in successful presentation that other show planners would do well to emulate.

Panorama remains a defiantly exhausting experience, its eight-hour finals somehow appropriate to the physicality of the process and the hands-on engagement its fans enjoy, but the calypso and costume competitions, which managed to amplify a long Carnival Sunday night experience of six hours into two events of equal duration constitutes something of a debacle.

Hollywood films run for 90 minutes for a very good reason. It takes a very special experience to hold the attention of a seated audience experiencing a modern entertainment for much longer than that.

This year, any notion of restraint or commonsense in planning these competitions was dropped in favour of an arrogant disinterest in even the most fundamental principles of audience engagement.

That failure reached its nadir with this year’s Dimanche Gras, stripped of its competitive spirit and diminished to a variety show with a logo and a slogan, quite a remove from the “beautiful, new-age, multimedia production” that show producer Derrick Lewis promised.

So vigorous was the public rejection of the event that NCC Chairman Allison Demas confessed in a Facebook status update: “To be honest, I am disappointed with Dimanche Gras.

“I had envisioned a crisp three-hour production of the highest creative and technical quality, not the usual five to six-hour marathon.”

Despite game performances by several notable artistes, the show proceeded with no apparent interest in its sparse audience and represented the start of nothing valuable or new. The punishing shame of Dimanche Gras should send a clear signal to Carnival’s organisers that their competitions begin with respect for their responsibility to the audience.

When that basic relationship is absent, all of our devotion to culture won’t save a show from the snubbing it so richly deserves. Carnival planning must acknowledge the modern realities of its audience if it is to grow and develop.

If we can’t hold the attention of our own, what are we going to offer to our visitors?

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