Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Mas maker unleashes the Beast

Monster beast maker Bevil Phillip creates Nimrah the Mighty Hunter of the Galaxy Planet Urea.

Photos: O Merrique Jr


ON AN average Carnival Monday and Tuesday, as is the case with most days in these tropics, temperatures soar to a scorching 30 something degrees celsius of brow wiping, pore-gushing heat.

Now imagine walking (with some chipping, jumping and dancing!) with a ten-pound headpiece of mud and clay, and an even heavier full body suit weighed down with bag, contact cement, various bits of palm, torshaw and other forest materials and then painted over with a heavy coat of spray paint. For Bevil Phillip, or should I say “Nimrah the Mighty Hunter of the Galaxy Planet Urea,” the joy of this annual portrayal makes it an experience that lifts him up as opposed to weighing him down.

For the last 17 years, Bevil has spent many long nights carefully putting together his Beast costume hoping to catch the eyes of the spectators and the judges, while sending a chill down the spine of a child or two, or a few faint hearted adults.

Asked if his beast costume still has the ability to scare when so many have become numbed and desensitised due to the real beast of crime and violence that plays mas with us everyday of the year, he admits that children are much more fearless now. “But is still about the way you play it that creates the reaction,” he says.

Making of a monster beast

“I try to make it visually imposing as well as physically working the parts to add to the presentation.”

In a process that is more akin to the construction of a machine than a garment, skills and knowledge meet innovation and even a bit of recycling. Nimrah, like the monster in the Frankenstein tales, is created, constructed, assembled and then magically (scientifically?) brought to life.

Sponge is used to wash dirty wares or to sleep on. Correct? Well not for Bevil/Nimrah. Sponge is carefully molded to form enormous feet complete with claws and other accents made of torshaw which also covers most of the monster suit, providing dimension and texture.

Torshaw grows wildly and is usually used as an exfoliating bath scrub. What would be referred to as a “loofah” in your beauty magazine or at Pennywise.

Used bleach bottles are converted into a mouthful of pearly white incisors, tennis balls are suspended on wires and made to bounce and roll outside the sockets in a grisly dance in time with rise and fall of the oversized lips.

“I put a ball bearing on the bottom lip that bounces of a piece of rubber on the top lip so that when I do the beast dance it moves on its own,” he explains. “The dance is what brings it to life.”

The dance

The beast dance is an art form in itself. A kind of step and shuffle that is as graceful as the movements of the fancy sailor but with much more dread and intimidation.

Arms loose at your side halfway between your hip and shoulder, slightly crouched and hunched over with an erratic bouncing movement accentuated with lunging and threatening gestures followed by swift serpent like recoils.

The beast dance has its own rhythm and timing whatever pace the road music may be dictating.

Like a dragon who walks instead of crawls, this mas is more fluid than frenzy and those who continue to make and play this mas, (small roving bands of less than 20 jostling with the rampaging hordes moving past them at 160 bpm) would have it no other way.

Nimrah is the bounty hunter, charged by the tribunal of the galaxy planet of Urea with chasing down and returning escaped convicts and other fugitives to face judgment and justice within the walls of the main city compound.

However Nimrah is not alone. With names like “Kozak The Great,” “King Gasuma The Defender” and a female Urean called “Nuparoo The Guardian of The Deep Foggy Parts,” the beasts that make up the band Something’s Out There, seem out of a Sci-Fi channel B-movie instead of Mon Repos, San Fernando.

Led by Errol Scott, this unit has been living the legacy of the craft, creativity, portrayal and the resultant feelings of pride and accomplishment.

Just like those felt by Aldrick in Earl Lovelace’s classic The Dragon Can’t Dance. But even this Living Dragon/Man felt the betrayal of the evolutionary gods and like the last few prehistoric creatures...glanced around and realised that the dwindling head count meant one thing...Extinction.

What does Nimrah see for his future? “I don’t worry. Cause when I see the fascination on my son’s face I know that the old is new to those who experience for the first time,” ended Scott.

©2005-2006 Trinidad Publishing Company Limited
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