Sunday, March 08, 2009

Creative powerhouse

Husband-and-wife team takes art from street to stage
Published: March 7th, 2009

Left: Michael Guy-James, left, and wife Paulette.
Centre: Costumes from the section Water, which Michael and Paulette Guy-James designed for the medium Carnival band D’Krewe this year.
Right: A costume from the section People

Photos: Jennifer Watson

With a mischievous grin, designer Michael Guy-James, 39, said he loves his wife because she reminds him of himself. “She is also talented and cute,” he added. His wife of a year-and-a-half, Paulette, 37, looked on in disbelief. On a serious note, though, Paulette described her husband as “committed and talented.” “He’s a hard worker,” she said.

The two artists constitute a creative powerhouse whose skills extend from the streets to the stage. They’ve designed for Carnival kings, individuals and masqueraders, and for theatre, both in T&T and abroad. This year, Michael and Paulette designed five sections for D’Krewe’s Iere—Virgin Paradise, which placed third in the Band of the Year (medium) competition. They also produced two of the sections and designed the band’s king costume portrayed by veteran mas man Roland St George, who is also D’Krewe’s bandleader. “It’s a ‘grinning’ situation most of the time,” Paulette said with a laugh, “but we disagree a lot, probably because we are so similar.” Indeed, it’s easy to think the two are replicas of each other as a love for art and design runs deep in their veins.

Michael worked with T&T’s most prominent artist and bandleader, Peter Minshall, for more than a decade. From there, he took his talents to the World Expo in Germany and to Ohio, USA, where he has designs and constructs sets and props for the Cleveland Public Theatre. One production in particular, Blue Skies Transmission, based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead, eventually had a run off Broadway in New York City.

“I am a freelancer and I will design for anyone who asks,” he said. Paulette, meanwhile, does costume and theatre design for the UWI Festival Arts Chorale (The Sound of Music, Oliver!). She also cultivates a desire to continue the design tradition in young people by teaching part-time at the UWI Department of Creative and Festival Arts in St Augustine. They both agree there are many designers in T&T, but believe few can actually produce what they design.

“You have to be very lucky to be successful in this profession,” Michael said. “The ‘small’ people hardly get recognition. You have to stick with it, but a lot of artists don’t do the best they can. Instead, they choose the easy way out.” Paulette believes one has to be aware of the opportunities available in the arts industry, saying one must market oneself—and think outside of the box. “There are opportunities for acting and theatre other than on a stage,” she said.


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