Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : February 23rd 2014 Contents B3
"The phone is a devilish instrument. You
catch me at a time when my head is hot with
other matters," says Peter Minshall, the mas-
man to whom the words "legendary," famed"
and "pioneering" are irrevocably bonded. He
is all those things, but right now, on the second
Monday before Carnival, he is working.
So too is Tony Hall, the playwright, director
"I m just running out. There are so many
issues," Hall says.
"I d love to talk... but not now," says Cecilia
Salazar, the actress, caught readying herself for
a rehearsal with 3Canal.
Fashion designer Meiling also politely declines
an interview request.
It is not unusual for some of the most cel-
ebrated names in the creative arts to be busy
creating. With the Carnival season closing in
on its epic finale, it is time to do, not say. What
is less usual is these particular names are work-
ing on the same thing.
On February 18, registration opened for Miss
Miles, a band that will take to the road on the
afternoon of Carnival Monday. The mas is an
extension of Hall s acclaimed play Miss Miles---
The Woman of the World, which premiered at
the Little Carib Theatre in 2011. Alongside Hall
is Salazar, co-producer and queen of the band,
reprising her role as Gene Miles, a woman to
whom history has also welded words: "out-
spoken," "whistle-blower," "tragic."
As the day winds down, the principals behind
Miss Miles share their vision of the band, its
purpose, and the woman who is its inspiration.
Our Joan of Arc
"She is our Joan of Arc," says Minshall. "She
stood up to the powers that be and was pun-
ished for it. She died for her courage."
For Minshall, recalling his schooldays "in
the era of Gene Miles," she was "an extraor-
dinary, legendary, mythical character."
For Hall, she was a defining figure of her
day: "In the 50s, growing up in Trinidad, there
were three personalities I thought were very
prominent. One was Eric Williams, one was
Sparrow and one was Gene Miles." He remem-
bers an ever-present figure, appearing on tel-
evision, in fashion shows, and "in the ghetto
areas...the shanty towns."
In 1965, she exposed corruption within the
government---the distribution of lucrative gas
station licences for personal and political gain
rather than commercial and social benefit. In
so doing, she challenged a newly independent
nation to look critically at itself. It chose to
look away. She died marginalised, diminished
and harassed, less than a decade after forcing
the Gas Station Racket inquiry.
Newspaper clippings in the national archive
reveal a persistent ambivalence toward her.
Front-page articles of the day are confused as
to whether the event in question is a major
challenge to the government s integrity or a
parade of 60s chic:
"Miss Miles, dressed in an eye-catching black
and white op-art outfit with bullseye motif,
told the Commissioner that it was her father
who exposed the Caura Dam racket and that
"no kind of money can buy me." (Trinidad
Guardian, July 22, 1966.)
Such breathless attention to her wardrobe
apparently prevented any consensus on more
fundamental aspects of journalism, such as the
spelling of her name: she is "Gene" in one
journal, "Jean" in the next.
Salazar remembers first reading about Miles
as an adult. "Why didn t I know this? Why
wasn t I taught this in history? If she was
American, she would have movies made about
her ten times over."
Mas on corruption
Miss Miles was Trinidadian. There is no
movie about her. Instead, she is getting some-
thing better: a mas, one in which everyone will
play her, as she herself did.
"The mas that she played, she called The
Woman of the World," says Hall. "She had cre-
ated a persona for herself that was big, and as
important and impactful on the collective imag-
ination to be a masquerade." She attracted sev-
eral imitators, playing her mas, using her name
as a public challenge to corruption.
Hall and Salazar s vision for 2014 is for a
legion of Miss Mileses on the road, every mem-
ber, woman or man, in the same costume, issu-
ing a fresh challenge. Not just a finger-pointing
at others, but a catharsis for the self. "Find the
Gene Miles in you, and you will be able to deal
with your corrupted self," says Hall.
They have already elevated her legacy with
their work on the stage. The band, be it com-
prised of one or 1,000, raises it further onto
the shoulders of an elite group of masmakers:
3Canal will provide and curate the soundtrack;
Meiling is supervising production; and Minshall
the designer is back.
"It is clear that I am putting my hand into
the pot of paint and stirring it," Minshall, 72,
says, before paraphrasing the headlines that
greeted the news of his latest project, "Minshall
has returned to the mas."
He is not ready to give up all his plans: "If
I could tell you what it would be like, I wouldn t
go to the trouble of doing it." But he knows
what he wants. The band will be small, in effect
a section, but "in its simplicity and tailored
exactness, by its economy, it will say something
very big,while the big bands of feathers and
beads say very little."
And he knows what Miss Miles wants. In
the same way an actor channels a character,
so too must a designer.
" Mr Minshall, if I am coming back into
Carnival, I do not want to wear any old black
dress. Make me sexy, " he says, describing his
initial creative exchanges with the "essence of
Her imperative must be combined with the
practical dictates of purpose: an icon for a new
aesthetic of protest, one Minshall intends to
"touch a nerve of conscience."
On which note, he returns to work.
the pot again
For info and registration, visit 33 Murray Street,
Woodbrook, daily from 5--10 pm, call 681-7475, or
visit the band's Facebook page.
From now until Carnival, Barbadian-born, New Jersey-resident writer AUSTIN FIDO
will write a series of articles attempting to get behind the mas---from concept to design
to production and performance.
The Woman of
Playwright and director Tony
Hall and actress and co-
producer of the band Miss
Miles---The Woman of the
World, Cecilia Salazar, at the
mas camp. PHOTO: ANU LAKHAN
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