London is a fantastic city, made more exciting by its willingness to embrace and promote a variety of cultural arts. Distance-wise, London sits more than 4,000 miles away from the sunny, double island nation of Trinidad and Tobago; but the city will soon get to experience Sonny Blacks’ stage production of Carnival, titled Caribbean Carnival Extravaganza. In this interview, Londoner Mr. Blacks discusses how he turned the vibrant street celebrations of Carnival into a stage show.
Sonny Blacks Interview
Hello Sonny, we are excited to watch your Caribbean Carnival Extravaganza at the newly re-opened Fairfield Halls this week. It seems your troupe performed there before the venue’s recent renovations, back in the early 2000s.
Could you tell us where you get the idea to turn the Carnival experience into a stage show?
[The Caribbean Carnival Extravaganza] began with an offer… to present a steel band and costumed dancers [and] I saw that there was a need to develop this into a full scale stage production.
We had an opportunity to present the show at the Barbican Centre in London, [and I visited Trinidad to hold] a round table meeting with the top people in the Carnival World, including Wayne Berkeley (the best designer in the Carnival scene), Roy Cape (musician of the Roy Cape Orchestra), Pan Vibes Steel Orchestra and Trinidad Dance Company.
I had already selected the music and the costumes (over 200), specially designed by Wayne Berkeley, [who] came up to London to direct the premiere show… [The first show ran at the Barbican for 10 days, with sold out audiences at each performance.]
… Sadly, Wayne has passed away, but his costumes are his legacy.
That’s a wonderful way to look at Mr. Berkeley’s contributions to the show and the community. It sounds like you fantastic success for a world premiere.
How long did it take you to prepare the show for stage?
We had two choreographers on the show at the start, and it took us two weeks of rehearsals to get things right.
That’s quite a tight turn around – well done to you!
How did you decide which dancers and performers to cast for your Caribbean extravaganza production?
[We wanted] to bring the form of Trinidad street theater in a stage setting, [and] Wayne Berkeley … had great experience in theater production and Carnival street management. [His experience includes] bringing out successful carnival bands with over 6000 people on the road, [which] was a great asset …
I have been a promoter for over fifty years, producing and promoting the best artists from the Caribbean, including the Mighty Sparrow, Calypso Rose, Black Stalin, Several Calypso Orchestras and Steel bands; so I had a ready list of people to call upon. [However, sometimes we also] advertised … for additional dancers.
It sounds like you are a part of a very supportive community.
Carnival is celebrated in many countries – from Brazil to many Caribbean countries and Mauritius. Which cultures are specifically represented in your show?
[Although Carnival celebrations take place around the world,] the music, dance and costumes are predominantly Trinidadian.
The Caribbean Carnival Extravaganza has performed in many different locations around the world, including Africa. Can you tell us if it has been received mostly the same or differently by different populations?
Well, [when we toured Holland for one month, it] was better received [there than anywhere else.] We were pleasantly surprised, as all the shows were sold out… It is well known the Dutch are world travelers and are open-minded to new music and cultures. It was really a great experience [with about] 22 dancers and musicians – including two young singers, who won the Calypso King and Queen Crowns upon their return to Trinidad .
That’s a really interesting perspective. We are glad that you felt so welcome in the Netherlands.
Thanks very much for taking the time to share some background about your Caribbean Carnival Extravaganza, and we look forward to experiencing the show for ourselves very shortly.
If You Go to Sonny Black’s Caribbean Carnival Extravaganza:
Show Date: 20 Sep 2019
Show Time: 7:30 PM
Price: £15.00 – £28.25
Theatre: Phoenix Concert Hall at Fairfield Halls in Croydon
Address: Fairfield Halls, Park Lane, Croydon, London CR9 1DG
Nearest train / tram station: East Croydon
Ticket office phone number: +44 2078 638222
You can book your tickets from the Fairfield Hall website: www.fairfield.co.uk/whats-on