Review: The Old Yard – An Immersive Traditional Carnival Experience

Imagine walking through De Gayelle and see police running down thief. Or a Babydoll soliciting child support for a newborn she didn’t abort. Cantankerous laughter with every jook on the Washerwoman’s board, gossip, bachannal and discord! This is where revered traditions and larger than life characters from yesteryear come alive; this is The Old Yard.

In existence for more than a decade, The Old Yard is an annual festival of traditional Carnival, folklore, and culture facilitated by UWI Open Campus’ Department of Creative and Festival Arts (DCFA). This post-pandemic iteration held on Sunday 12th February, 2023 comes after a two year gap and joins the “Mother of all Carnivals” social calendar. Patrons were transported through time, as the DCFA grounds was transformed into a 19th century Trin-bago, immersed in a full sensory experience.

Theory in Action
While the event is enjoyable, it is the students and staff that toil to ensure its success. The Old Yard is a rite of passage for budding performers, artists and stage/festival managers that grace the DCFA.

Here the history of Carnival, traditional characters, the rituals, chants, costumes, mannerisms and nuances are taught and proudly displayed. Students shed their persona, embody a historic alter-ego and floods the grounds with characters that are larger than life. The razor sharp tongue of a flamboyant Pierrot Grenade rhythmically recites rhetoric by rote. Voluptuously exaggerated feminine silhouettes at the Dame Lorraine’s ball sway to and fro in their theatrical mockery of plantation owners’ wives. Jab Molassies launch at unsuspecting bystanders, encrusted and caked, relenting only to exhale flames – holding true to their Devil Mas origins. These characters feel indulgent, provocative, lighthearted and even looming. This is active learning – learning by doing, and doing in excess.

The Old Yard also serves as a platform for expression of self and an avenue for students to display their technical, artistic and creative proficiency. While some performances were stronger than others, each student’s potential and commitment to their craft was evident. The event fosters a sense of community, responsibility and grants many of those involved with their first real world experience in production and performance. The result is a generation of emerging creatives that act as torch bearers, remaining committed to culture and the Arts as the flames of passion and fulfillment are flamed.

Some Participation Required
While The Old Yard is open to members of the public, it is also marketed to secondary school and it’s students. But how does one successfully and effortlessly engage with this demographic? By breaking the 4th wall.

Here patrons become participants as these characters do not exist in a vacuum. By stepping into their world, one becomes a part of it and the past meets the present. The event is truly immersive, interactive and educational by exposing the public to elements and concepts that are both familiar and new. Characters directly converse with patrons, while in character. Where else will you find a thief hiding from police in the bleachers? Or Gorillas fully fitted their furry frock monkeying around with children around the trees?

It is this level of engagement that merges education and enjoyment. This was indicative by the laughter and participation of students from schools such as Holy Faith Convent and Swaha Hindu College, to name a few. The Old Yard is successfully able to pique the interest of the youth and evoke a sense of nostalgia among the older generations. This experience goes beyond the traditional mas performers as elements such as ‘de canteen’, ‘de craft market’ and the rhythm section, complete with makeshift musical instruments, work in conjunction to create a cohesive theme and mood. This results in an audience that is left with a profound appreciation and reverence for these characters and traditions.

Reflection of the Past and Hope for the Future
World building is no easy feat. Granted, many elements have persevered through time but I think the greatest challenge is re-contextualizing history in a way that is both historically accurate, yet relevant to the present day audience. At The Old Yard this is done by way of merging traditional mas with modern Soca music, establishing the feel of old time parlors with present-day local foods and conventional music and dance performances alternating with the DCFA’s current dance group. The event in and of itself is geared toward keeping elements of tradition and culture alive. At a time where we see the rapid commercialization of Carnival, it is comforting knowledge that The Old Yard preserves an element of our history.

Moreover, the interactive, enjoyable nature of this celebration adds to its sustainability as it almost markets itself, ensuring return customers. With a plethora of events leading up to Carnival Monday and Tuesday, this is a hot, hot guava season. At the affordable cost of $100 TTD for the general public and $60 TTD for students, it is fair to say that there was value for money. Value that hundreds of locals and foreign visitors capitalized on.

Entertainment aside, The Old Yard serves to remind us of the cultural and historical significance of the events leading up to the birth of Carnival and the resulting traditions and rituals that emerged. We are reminded that it is a defiant, joyful celebration of us, of our traumatic past and resulting innovativeness and creativity. That Carnival is exceedingly more than simply bikinis, beads and fetes. Carnival is sacred. It is a ritual. It is at the core of Trinbagonian identity.


Hi! I’m Anil and I wear many hats: entrepreneur, digital story-teller, content creator and Casting Executive with the T&T Performing Arts Network to name a few. My fascination with written text and it’s evocative nature began as a teen, and eventually led me to pursue a B.A in Literature and Linguistics with a minor in Education at The University of the West Indies.

While I am a full time Cake Artist, the Arts will always be my first passion. I’ve been fortunate enough recently to delve into the magical realm of theatre and share my experiences with others. When I’m not grinding I’m often found on some adventure near or far, or tucked away in a cozy coffeeshop buried in a book, updating my blog – Knock About Trini, or trying to become a self taught badass polyglot.

More from Anil Singh


  1. Beautifully recounted. Thank you for taking the time to record the efforts of the Students and Staff of the Department of Creative and Festival Arts. After a two-hiatus, this production was carried by the self-belief that we could simultaneously resurrect and update this Festival.


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