Penelope Spencer on Trinidad’s arts, entertainment, and festivals

Renowned actress, writer, producer, and educator Penelope Spencer chatted with Discover T&T about her favourite aspects of Trinidad’s arts, culture, and entertainment

CAROLINE TAYLOR: For those wanting to support local artists, designers, musicians, and writers (visual art, fashion, jewellery, literature, film, music), what are some of the names — or titles — you recommend they look out for?

PENELOPE SPENCER: Musicians I appreciate include 3canal for their cutting edge rapso style, thought-provoking and catchy music; Vaugnette Bigford and Bri Celestine — their mellow voices are Jazz styles are can hook you in. Then there’s the intoxicating Mavis John, of course Machel Montano, Bunji Garlin and Olatunji. Their work speaks to me — Olatunji’s mix of traditional soca and African beats are to die for. I love Che Lovelace and Ashraph Ramsaran’s artwork — I love the vivid colours and textures and the boldness of their pieces.

CT: For those not familiar with Trinidad’s theatre scene, tell them a little about what they can expect… (eg the types of productions, high/low seasons, venues, etc)

PS: The theatre season in Trinidad and Tobago starts after Carnival. Our theatre boasts a mixture of genres — from farces to drama, from historical to comedy. The main season venues are Central Bank Auditorium, Queen’s Hall in Port of Spain; Naparima Bowl in San Fernando; CLR James auditorium in the east; and National Academy for the Performing Arts (NAPA) north and south. You will get lots of Carnival-oriented productions during the Carnival festival.

The National Academy for the Performing Arts (NAPA). Photo: Edison Boodoosingh

The National Academy for the Performing Arts (NAPA). Photo: Edison Boodoosingh

CT: Do you have any favourite plays or playwrights that you’d recommend a local or visitor read or see if they could?

PS: RS/RR Productions is one of the most consistent theatre production houses in Trinidad & Tobago. They specialise in comedies and Farces usually to sold out houses, they’ve won many awards for their productions such as Mary can dance, Why do men cheat. There’s Raymond Choo Kong Productions — some of their hit shows are Norman is that you?; Boeing, Boeing; Everybody loves Raymond. The Creative Arts Centre up at UWI stages local, highly acclaimed productions such as  Shango and Ten to one is murder, and they’ve produced a number of plays on our local calypsonians. Trinidad Theatre Workshop, which was headed by Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott, continues with small dinner theatre productions mostly in the classical style. I love Tony Hall, Derek Walcott, Earl Lovelace, Richard Ragoobarsingh as playwrights.

CT: What is the local film scene like? Are there any film titles you recommend, or filmmakers you think locals and visitors should look out for?

PS: I would recommend films such as Play the devil; The Cutlass; Hero (inspired by the life and times of Ulric Cross); Bazodee; and Green days by the river.

A scene from the locally shot movie, Bazodee. Photo by Jermaine Cruickshank, courtesy Machel Montano

A scene from the locally shot movie, Bazodee. Photo by Jermaine Cruickshank, courtesy Machel Montano

For locals or visitors looking for great nightlife and live entertainment across the island, what are your picks for the best spots?

PS: My favourite spots are Drink Lounge & Bistro; Fiesta Plaza at MovieTowne; Frankie’s to name a few, along with any beach in Trinidad or Tobago! The Big Black Box usually has some form of entertainment during the whole year — parties, readings, workshops, shows on most weekend right there in the heart of Woodbrook.

CT: There are so many traditions to explore within the Carnival season, from pan to traditional mas to stick fighting. How would you recommend someone compose their Carnival itinerary?

PS: It should look something like this: visits to pan yards and mas tents (Phase II pan yard is a must); the Old Yard (an event held at UWI where you get to experience and interact with Trinbago ole time mas characters); a 3canal show; Panorama semis; Ladies Night Out; at least one all-inclusive party; J’Ouvert with 3canal; and Tuesday mas with Exodus steelband and Peter Minshall, or with K2K (a medium band), or lost Tribe or Fantasy (large bands).

3 Canal J'Ouvert. Photo by Elliot Francois

3 Canal J’Ouvert. Photo by Elliot Francois

CT: For “J’ouvert virgins”, or those looking to try something different from what they normally do, how would you describe their J’ouvert options? Which are the bands they should definitely take a second look at?

PS: Definitely 3canal J’Ouvert is the best — safe and very creative. The band takes off from their location in Woodbrook with live music, along with a rhythm section and DJ music. This band doesn’t venture into the city, which I love… if you’re into pan music, Phase II steelband has a wonderful J’Ouvert experience with a mature crowd and mellow vibes while chipping to pan.

CT: What are the must-do fetes on the Carnival calendar, and the best fete opportunities during the rest of the year?

PS: The season starts off with Soka in Moka — a must for all real party people…it’s an all-inclusive fete hosted by Trinity College, and all the proceeds go to fund the school. Veni Mangé is a mini inclusive fete, which is hosted by the Woodbrook restaurant of the same name. Nice crowd, great venue. Any fete hosted by KAIRI People is excellent — highly recommended, safe, creative entertainment, best soca artistes, proper food and drinks… You get your money’s worth with their fetes. They also have fetes during the year.

CT: What other festivals in Trinidad would you recommend people experience at least once in their lifetimes?

PS: Phagwa is a Hindu festival — our most colourful, fun ritual that takes place in different areas of Trinidad…recommended for the whole family! In Blanchisseuse, we have a new jazz festival (North Coast Jazz) that is gaining steam — lots of local acts in a country setting with plenty local food and craft. Tobago Heritage Festival is very entertaining with lots of colour and culture, storytelling, shows, historical lessons, workshops, and a street parade.

The University of the West Indies (UWI) Hindu Society's Phagwa celebrations. Photo by Avinath Ramadhin

The University of the West Indies (UWI) Hindu Society’s Phagwa celebrations. Photo by Avinath Ramadhin

About Penelope Spencer

Photo courtesy Penelope Spencer

Photo courtesy Penelope Spencer

Originally a San Fernando girl, Penelope Spencer — or Pennie as she’s fondly called — has been involved in the theatre industry for the last thirty-something years. She is the co-producer of HaHaHa Productions with her friend and fellow actress Nikki Crosby. Pennie is a writer, director, teacher, producer, and casting agent in Trinidad & Tobago. She has cast international movies and television productions  such as: Bazodee, Girlfriends getaway, God loves the fighter, Locked up abroad, Home again, Play the devil, The Cutlass, plus a number of local radio and television commercials. She has appeared as an actress in plays such as Jean & Dinah, The Owl and the pussy cat, Mary can dance, Man better man, Run for your wife, Best little whore-house in Guapo, Desperate housewives of Port of Spain, Pizza man, Carnival Medea, The calypso girls, What my best friend did to me, The naughty minister… She has also appeared in local movies such as Bazodee, The Cutlass, and Play the Devil. Penelope is also a host on the Facebook live programme OMG every Wednesday night along with Cecilia Salazar, and The Sisterhood, a new talk show on TV6. She has written and directed shows such as Think like a lady act like a man; Hott mouth granny; Mid-life Crosby; 50 shades of gravy; and The ridiculous six and a half. She also written and directed many children’s productions such as Circus, Circus; Magical kingdom of Oz; Pinotitto and Zico, to name a few. Penelope has been a drama teacher at the International School of Port of Spain; St Andrew’s; St Francois Girls College; St Monica’s Prep; and at present she teaches drama, storytelling and creative writing at Newtown Girls, where she’s been for the last 23 years. She’s also the artistic director of  Necessary Arts School/Productions, where she runs a three-month basic acting theatre course for adults. She has just completed her first children’s story book along with Lylah Persad, Tales from the forest. They are working on their second book. She’s about to start her children’s production company with classes on Saturdays at Necessary Arts.

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