Sunday, February 18, 2018

Stage management

Martin Daly logo52

Mark Fraser

 With general elections a year away, we are of course entering into the high season of stage management in the pejorative sense of the word, meaning the presentation of things in a manner to put up a front, for example, the Volney confession and the weed rolling. 

This week however, I am writing about two manifestations of stage management in its show business context.  I was stimulated in part by the National Carnival Commission (NCC) publishing its report on its Carnival 2014 expenditure.  I will return to this report later.

Still affected by the current widespread depression about the state of the country, I did not take a bush bath. I went instead to the Laventille Steelband Festival Foundation (LSFF), Eight of Hearts concert.

I went in an apprehensive mood because I knew this to be one of the finest steel orchestra concerts in the land, but the venue had changed. At the previous open-air venue, it was the practice of the promoters to erect two separate stages, so that as one band played the other would set up.  This arrangement was very effective in reducing the lulls in the programme to a minimum.  

Having moved the concert to NAPA, I was concerned about lulls in having one band leave the stage and another one set up, particularly because I had heard that the NAPA stages were no longer mobile.  

Unlike staged managed political assurances, Michael Cooper’s statement in the lobby that I would have a pleasant surprised turned out to be a gilt edged assurance.  We kept a careful written note of the times of the various performances.  There was no delay of more than seven to nine minutes, between one band ending its repertoire of four selections and another band beginning.

In addition there was no intermission. Patrons were invited to leave their seats between performances, if they wished, and we could gain re-admission at any time music was not actually being played.  The end result of LSFF stage management was that eight of the top bands in the land each performed for 25 minutes with no significant delays.

For many of their selections, the bands continued to demonstrate their orchestral qualities of our musical indigenous by accompanying for one of their selections, a singer, a saxophonist, a trumpeter or a keyboard artiste.  Space only permits two examples, chosen because they are long standing crowd favourites—Eddy Cumberbatch singing “Nessum Dorma” with Skiffle and X doing Schubert’s “Ave Maria” with Silver Stars.

Given the frequent and slavish adherence to “all protocols observed”, it seemed like a monumental step that someone would be brave enough to abolish intermission or change anything at all about the way of doing business. I suggested to LSFF that perhaps we should give them the country to run.

It is that very paralysis and adherence to form to protect special interests that is reflected in the NCC’s published Carnival expenditure of a few units short of $172 million.  None of what I am about to write is intended as a criticism of those who ran the NCC in 2014.  On the contrary, where it had some measure of control, the NCC in 2014 had success in reducing expenditure, for example, by bringing down the cost of Dimanche Gras by $1 million and decreasing overall expenditure by almost $66 million. 

The expense figure that leaps off the page is $63.8 million doled out to the special interest groups namely, Pan Trinbago, TUCO and NCBA. This was an increase of $13 million over the 2013 figure.  

The expenditure report should generate a serious discussion about the NCC continuing to do business through the medium of special interest groups, particularly because there is no netting off of some of the fabulous sums that are made by promoters within those groups.

Yes I know that every Carnival bandleader is broken to “tief” and is making a sacrifice for the culture, but that is simply not so at $4,000 and more for a costume.  

It needs to be emphasised again that grafting special interest groups unto the operations of the NCC is the result of a Cabinet decision that conflicts with the Act of Parliament that established the NCC.  

Ordinary financial prudence and respect for the use of taxpayers’ money requires a discussion about the current way the NCC does business.  Moreover, the parade of bands on Carnival Tuesday, as everybody knows can be torture, one from which spectators have fled in droves. It does not represent value for money.

I have advocated accountability for the money spent on the performing arts, the making of distinctions between seed money and subventions made on track record and a mandatory requirement for timely annual management accounts that faithfully reflect the earnings as well as the expenditure of persons in receipt of taxpayer funding. I have just seen 172 million reasons why it cannot be business as usual.