by Tevin Gall (Originally published to the T&T Newsday 16/10/2016)
When you think of a businesswoman, the idea of an elegant lady in pantsuit probably comes to mind. But what about a businesswoman in evening wear, or even a stage costume? San Fernando born Tiana Chandler is shattering the stereotype with her crystalline soprano and business-savvy.
The Management and Marketing graduate from the University of the West Indies has merged her passion for and experience in both the realms of the performing arts and that of business to realise her dreams and to help in her own way to develop the local arts industry.
Last year, the 24-year old soprano founded Chandelier Productions. As the days draw nearer to the company’s second production, A Breath of Fresh Air, Tiana had a chat with WMN about the impetus behind the founding of the company and her hopes for the local performing arts scene.
Honing her Talents “I’ve been performing as a singer my whole life,” she related, explaining that her involvement with music began at the age of three when she started singing in her church choir. After singing with St Gabriel’s Primary School Choir, she moved onto St Joseph’s Convent, San Fernando where her participation in the music scene increased.
“That was where the whole performance aspect really blossomed for me,” Tiana related. “[As] part of the Convent choir,” she continued, “[I took part in] Music Festival, Sanfest and an event for the Summit of the Americas.” These were just a few among a wide variety of other performance opportunities with the Convent choir. “I began to develop as a soloist there,” Tiana explained, crediting the music teacher at the school, vocalist Michelle Dowrich for her development during this time. Tiana continues to collaborate with Michelle, as she is heavily involved in expanding the year-old SJC Alumni Choir, Voix Riches (meaning “rich voices”), of which Tiana herself is also a member.
Soon after, Tiana became a member of the Presentation College Mixed Choir, where, under Peter Lockhart, Cynthia Lee Mack and her husband, the late Anthony Lee Mack, she made further strides, exploring additional performance opportunities and taking part in her very first full-length musical production, Children of Eden in 2009.
“That was where my interest in musical theatre started, so it became about more than just my singing ability as I developed an interest in other aspects of performance,” the vocalist explained.
Since then, Tiana has provided background vocals in local stagings of The Wizard of Oz, Crazy for You and The Wind in the Willows, as well as taking the part of Madame Giry in The Phantom of the Opera and — up to just a few weeks ago — the role of Pilate’s wife in Jesus Christ Superstar.
The Lighting of the Chandelier Tiana told WMN that studying Management and Marketing was always “part of the plan” but having spent most of her young life thus far immersed in the arts, she realised that she needed to find a way to incorporate what she knew from both worlds.
“When I was finished studying and was looking for a job, I thought that it would be nice to start a business.”
Although she wasn’t too certain what field she should enter, it wasn’t long before it dawned on her that delving more deeply into what she already knew was where she would find her answer.
This year Tiana also graduated with a Certificate in Technical Theatre from the UWI. “I wanted to expand the knowledge base that I have [to acquire skills in] the technical aspect of production and performance,” she told WMN.
Tiana shared that one main focus of the company to foster the creation of new performance opportunities for young people, which she laments there is a lack of.
“I see a lot of young people performing alongside me or in shows where I work backstage and I really wanted to do something that gives more young people like myself more opportunities to be seen and heard.”
A Breath of Fresh Air This year, for A Breath of Fresh Air, Tiana chose to showcase the composition and arrangement talents of 18-year old Michael Hudlin, a friend and musical colleague with whom she’s already built a performance rapport. Tiana and Hudlin copped the championship trophy for Mixed Vocal Duet as well as the title of Overall Best Vocal Duet at this year’s Music Festival.
Tiana hopes every year to expand the level of the productions to give even more persons the space and chance to perform, with the intention of focusing at least one young performer every year.
Working closely yet again with the company is UWI Creative and Festival Arts Lecturer and Musical Director of the UWI Arts Chorale, Jessel Murray, who collaborated with Tiana on the company’s first production, Theatre Night Out, as musical director and accompanist and who will be returning to offer support and expertise for this year’s production.
Looking Ahead Setting her sights on staging a full-length musical production in the coming years, Tiana’s aspirations for the company also speak to increased sustainability within the performing arts industry. “Performing arts in Trinidad is heavily reliant on corporate sponsorship which, in these economic times, is hard to obtain,” she explained. She expressed gratitude to Petrotrin and NLCB for lending their support to both last year and this year’s production.
“I am thankful for the corporate sponsors that make a commitment to helping young talent in Trinidad and Tobago,” Tiana expressed. “But,” she continued, “I do hope that one day, Chandelier Productions can function as a standalone company.” She aims to do this through exploring a host of “different avenues.” “I’d like to see that, not only with Chandelier, but with other production companies.” She explained that this expansion and movement towards self-sufficiency would allow performers to see their craft as “a sustainable business option” at home, thus curbing the mentality that performers must leave the country to have lucrative opportunities.
“It’s difficult,” she admitted, “but I believe that if everyone works towards [this goal] I think we will see the fruits of our labour.”
A Breath of Fresh Air is carded for Saturday, October 22 at the Southern Academy of the Performing Arts and features the talents of the UWI Arts Chorale, Michael Hudlin, C’Rel Harper, Kory Mendez, Anikha Ballah and among others. CLICK HERE to book your tickets or call (868) 710-9436