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Paul Keens keeping the talk alive
Paul Keens-Douglas believes sponsorship is killing culture. And that’s one of the reasons why in 30 years of hosting the alternative comedy show Talk Tent, he’s never had corporate sponsorship or used extravagant television ads. On February 15, Talk Tent will celebrate its 30th anniversary at Queen’s Hall.
Keens-Douglas, one of this country’s leading raconteurs will be joined on stage this year by singer Raymond Edwards, midnight robber Rashid Hosein, the singing MC Lord Superior, calypsonian Short Pants and comedian Miguel Browne. These performers are Talk Tent regulars who include a long list of stalwarts and legends who made up the Talk Tent cast, including Horace James, Bill Trotman, Glenn Davis, Pearl Eintou Springer, Relator and David Bereaux.
A focus of Talk Tent has also been giving space to up-and-coming artists and many established entertainers got very early gigs at Talk Tent when the calypso arena had no room or patience for them. These entertainers include Errol Fabien, Brother Resistance, Karega Mandela and Ataklan. In more recent years, Talk Tent has also included young artists of the new storytelling generation, like spoken-word artist Muhammad Muwakil and singer Neval Chatelal.
During an interview at his Diego Martin home, Keens-Douglas shared photos of the show’s early days, when it was held in an actual tent on Victoria Avenue in Port-of-Spain. The show is touted as the only show “where talk is art.” He added that many mistake him for a comedian although he is a storyteller who uses comedy to paint a picture. Keens-Douglas says a storyteller may be funny and tell jokes but they are focused primarily on narrative. He said all the performers in his show, from the MC to the Midnight Robber, use narrative in their work.
Unfortunately, he believes storytelling is dying. “Storytelling is dying in the sense that people are doing music now. They are still telling stories, just on a different forum. “People should be telling their children stories in their homes still, but we have so many DVDs and video games now that they’re not interested in it any more. What should be happening is that all these games should be local and have local content,” he said. Keens-Douglas also believes that even though schools participate in programmes like Best Village and SanFest, where there are storytelling categories, there is no feeder programme for after children leave school.
“Schools have a lot of programmes but the problem is they stop at school. Even with the Best Village competition there’s so much talent there, but you can’t make it out of that and make a living off these crafts. We need more shows,” he said. It was the need for more shows that inspired Keens-Douglas to create Talk Tent in the first place. “The idea for having a Talk Tent was born out of the perception that there was no forum I knew of for the talk artists in T&T.
“One heard the words ‘oral traditions’ being bandied about but you had to look hard and far for our Midnight Robbers or Pierrot Grenades, not to mention a Tobago speech band, during the Carnival season” he said. The first Talk Tent was held in 1983 and was the only Carnival talk show at the time. Now, many Carnival comedy shows have emerged. However, Douglas moved his show to immediately after Carnival, to avoid conflict with calypso tents who hired some of the same entertainers. The tent has moved through a series of homes including Arthur’s Pub in Maraval and the Roxy Theatre. The show is nearly the same age as Keens-Douglas’ career, which began in the late 1970s when the recording of his story Tim Tim was picked up by radio stations both locally and regionally.
Following his Tim Tim successs, Keens-Douglas went on to self-publish numerous books and record live DVDs and CDs of his performances. Currently, Keens-Douglas also uses story-telling in work as a motivational speaker and presenter. However, whether storytelling is dying or not, Talk Tent has remained popular by presenting a good quality show and “clean” humour, according to Keens-Douglas. Part of the clean humour Talk Tent provides is the now famous door-prize: in his living room, Keens-Douglas had an actual five-foot door wrapped and ready to give away. “We have a certain vision and we have certain values that we want to preserve.
“We’re not doing this to make money and we’re not telling dirty jokes just to pull a crowd. We try to get people to think differently about life,” he said.
Talk Tent runs from February 15-17 at Queen’s Hall. Tickets are $150. For more information call 632-1647 or 624-1284.
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