The Old Yard
  Vedesh Nath
February 2016

At a time when countries around the world are facing a recession, many cultural events were forced to be minimalized and even cancelled. Trinidad and Tobago’s cultural pride – Carnival, suffered many financial challenges this year.

Competition lies in the heart of Trinbago Carnival. (This can be traced back to the then-taboo calinda or stick fighting tradition in a European-ruled Trinidad and Tobago). Given our current vulnerability because of this global calamitous recession, the million-dollar monetary prizes in key competitions had to be cut down.

Those that share a genuine love and passion for the art-form that is Carnival, chose to look past the recession and managed to present some outstanding work. Peter Minshall wowed the audience with his mas The Dying Swan- Ras Nijinsky in drag as Pavlova and landed a solid spot at fourth place in the National Carnival Competition’s semi-finals King of Carnival mas-competition. Many singers however, chose to pull out of Soca events, causing the competitions and the quality of music to suffer. Despite this, we Trinidadians love to fete and showed up at music competitions in numbers, simply to drink something and have a wine. Main stream competitions were packed.

For those who wanted to get some original entertainment – The Old Yard was the place to be. A taste of our culture can be deliciously savored at the University of the West Indies’ annual event - an event that costs nothing but a physical investment in our culture by students and teachers at the University of the West Indies.

Carefully structured to reflect our national and artistic history, The Old Yard garnered a crowd of both young and old – bringing together those who have no interest in the beads-and-bikini hype of Carnival, but rather concerned with the preservation and celebration in what Carnival in Trinidad and Tobago really should be, along with scholars and culturists who simply love celebrating our local heritage, foreigners trying to find the element of theatre in traditional Carnival celebrations and those just simply looking to have a good time.

The Old Yard, formally Viey La Cou, lies in the heart of our culture. It is ours. We made it, fought for it and it deserves to be celebrated and recognized.

The Old Yard took place at UWI’s Department of Creative and Festival Arts campus located on Agostini Street, St Augustine. As you enter, you are greeted immediately with the nostalgia of the Old Yard. You leave behind Machel Montano’s Waiting on the Stage pounding across at the Campus Carnival, happening at the Main Campus – a stone’s throw away from DCFA, and you are now flooded with the resonant voice of The Mighty Sparrow singing Jean and Dinah, playing on speakers from the rhythm section near the entrance. Patrons chip to their seats as they sing along to Sparrow’s classic rendition – the lyrics which are innately memorized by generations after generations.

The gayelle cleverly resembles that of a backyard. There are backdrops nailed onto DCFA’s buildings, affording them a post-colonial rural finish. There’s a clothes line purposely hung with garments to dry. A few rusted barrels stands. There’s a few mangoes embedded in the floor because of its fall off from its high tree which shades most of the audience. The space resembles that of our own backyard or if not, that of a neighbor or a relative or a friend. One instantly feels at home and at ease thanks to these familiar surroundings. We are not here to see a performance – we are here to lime and have a good time! Perhaps, apart from convenience, this is why Errol Hill and Douglas Archibald cleverly set their renowned plays in a yard - makes it easy for the theatre-loyalist to suspend disbelief.

Louis McWilliams (lecturer at UWI) plays the role of the ringleader in this cirque. He commands the “people living in this yard” over a mic while warning the patrons that these “people” like bacchanal. As he calls out to them to start some bacchanal, they crawl out of their hiding places, soon covering the gayelle.

Jammettes, Baby Dolls and Dame Lorraines rush onto the space immediately claiming it. They remind us that this is their space and we are visitors. They welcome us, try to woo us and try to get us involved in the bacchanal. The Baby Doll tries convincing one man that he’s her child father. A jammette grabs hold of a man and pulls him in the gayelle for a wine. Dame Lorraine threatens a few that she’ll rest her hefty buttocks on their laps if she doesn’t get her way. It is a sight to behold! Though charged with sexuality – the children are amused and all giggle. We are witness to interactive theatre at its very best, seen nowhere else in the World with this level of dignified glory!


As the ole mas continues, Gorillas, Blue Devils, Jabs Jabs, Midnight Robbers - all come out to greet us - the visitors. There is chaos and merriment. There is no better representation of the pre-Lent festival than the freedom of this group. They interact with us bearing wicked and deceitful intentions in constant attempts to lure us.

The old-time Kaiso and tamboo-bamboo rhythm section resonates through the air, juxtaposed nicely with the modern-day soca heard across at the UWI main campus Carnival celebrations. The two contrasting sounds complement each other while having a battle to determine which is better than which – the authentic or the modified?

The events in the gayelle is not the only part of the tradition. There is food available, purchased with special tickets bought from the treasurer at the information booth. From our local corn soup and snow cones to hot dogs - everyone finds something in the canteen located under the pommerac trees to fill his/her belly. After all, Trinis do love their bellies! In the corner of the canteen is Grandma’s house - a space occupied by a friendly and aged Dame Lorraine. She lives in a bright pink house reminding us all of our own grandmothers, or maybe an elder aunt. She invites the children in to her home but isn’t afraid to scold them when they misbehave. In front of her house is a see-saw, where the children take turns lifting off the ground!

While the children see-saw, the parents venture into “Twilight at Agostini Street” - a museum (maybe named after Tony Hall’s play Twilight Café) where DCFA’s achievements glitter on the walls. Their body of work and awards is admirable – making us feel proud of our culture and of ourselves.

Seeing The Old Yard is a self-defining experience that should be visited every year. It gives us a sense of community and a definite reminder of what Carnival really is. The Old Yard is ours. It represents the culture we fought for and cannot forget, for culture is important. When the oil runs out and the money is finished, all we’ll have is our culture, monumentally treasured in this instance by UWI, DCFA and The Old Yard.

By: Vedesh Nath | FEATURES | February 2016