UNFINISHED: There are still some finishing touches needed to complete this beautiful costume.

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The Herculean task of creating Carnival Babies

By VERDEL BISHOP

It is Friday night and the pace at Carnival Babies Woodbrook mas camp is dizzying. Full production is underway and workers make haste to get the job done. Colourful cloths are everywhere. Beautiful half-finished costumes, pretty headpieces and shimmery and shiny things virtually flood the work area. A sewing machine hums in time with the pumping soca playing in the background—Carnival is in the air.

Producer and founder of the junior mas band, Lisa Mollineau is visibly tired but very accommodating. Over 400 costumes from 12 sections of her 2013 presentation Shape it UP must be ready for the road—first, for Red Cross Children's Carnival on February 2—next for the National Carnival Bands Association (NCBA) Junior King and Queen competition on February 8; parade of the Bands on February 9. 

Getting 400 plus tiny tots costumed is a Herculean task—the round-the-clock work starts early in the year and climaxes as the season peaks. Mollineau chats with the Express about what goes on behind the scenes to produce a successful children's mas band.

"You never sleep. I get probably three hours sleep every night.  I go to sleep about 4 a.m. and I'm up again by 8 a.m. I have six permanent employees but friends and family also help out. This is peak time so everybody helps out in whatever way they could," Mollineau says.

Carnival Babies was Junior Band of the Year last year with Jammin to De Beat—In Memory of Wayne Berkeley. The band caters to children 11 months to late teens.

Mollineau says producing children's mas is a costly exercise. All her costumes are custom-made since she does not believe in importing ready-made costumes. When she comes up with a production, winning is the last thing on her mind. Instead she is more concerned with the happiness of the children, their welfare—and whether they have a good time and are safe.

"To bring out a band is a tidy sum.  People just look at the pretty costumes and of nothing else. But it's sometimes hard getting the money to produce the costumes up front. It costs over $600,000 for a production. We have a lot of sponsors, including Nestle who have been supportive. Ma Pau Members Club has also been a great help. From as early as January you are sourcing materials—as soon as Carnival is over you are sourcing for the following year. I get some raw fabrics and trimmings locally and some things I import," she says."

She went on, "Although it's costly to produce, I still try to keep the price of the costumes down. I have a problem charging a lot for costumes. I tend to be reasonable because there are some parents who have four and five children they want to register; how possible is it for a parent pay $1,500 by four or five and they still want to play mas and run their homes," Mollineau says. Their costumes range between $695 and $1,595.

The intricate details on their costumes is Mollineau's specialty. Also, she always aims for an educative slant in her presentation. "There are very intricate details that are involved with production. I like the intricate part. I like to work with fine details of the costumes. I like to make sure everything is perfect," she says. While many mas men and women are disenchanted with the NCBA and are calling on the organisation to address their concerns which include monetary incentives to compete, Mollineau intends to remain neutral. She says she only has one concern though—NCBA's changing of the route. The wind factor, Mollineau says, will be a challenge. "I have one issue. My band in particular has a lot of big pieces especially with the junior king and queens. Entering the stage from west to east is going to be a pull because you have to consider the direction of the wind. I have experienced that breeze at nights. It's a hard pull so imagine in the daytime when the breeze is much stronger," she says.

Besides fine-tuning production there are security issues which must also be ironed out. This year Mollineau intends to boost the band's security. "Last year we had 450 kids on the road. We have always had security but this year we want to step up security control; it is a necessary step we have to take. We are also looking at implementing the rope barriers," the designer says.

When it comes to getting a mas band on the road your music truck must also get with the programme. According to Mollineau, "First things first; you do not want your music sounding like a transistor radio. I am lucky to have Element One Sound System. I've used them from day one. The type of soca that is played is also very important. So you have to control that because there are certain songs that you should not play for the kids.

When it comes to launching a successful production, Mollineau said it's all thanks to her staff. "I have a great production team. A hard working crew with a lot of supportive parents. My illustrator, Stephan Derek, is also my consultant so that helps. He helps a lot where production is concerned," she said.

Carnival Babies 2013 presentation Shape It Up features 12 sections including Square It Up; Bubble It Up; Try Angling It Up; Fan It Up; Abstract it Up; Star It Up; Spike It Up; Love It Up; Swirl It Up; Curl It Up and Cupid it Up.  For further information visit http://www.carnivalbabiestt.com

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