March 2019

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You wake up sweating and realise there’s a painful blue bruise on your arm.

Leeanna Boyce wants you to know, if you’re in T&T, you weren’t bitten by a vampire. That was a soucouyant!

Boyce, a dancer, UWI student and Theatre Arts teacher at Moruga Secondary School, has a passion for preserving the folklore of Trinidad and Tobago.

“We have our own unique characters people should know about,” she says.

She was taken aback when she discovered her students “didn’t have the slightest idea” about phantoms and lagahoos, and were more familiar with “American” ghosts and goblins. So she embarked on a cultural mission that’s taking her all the way to the Carifesta stage this August, with jumbies in tow.

Working with her students (whom she calls her “minions”) Boyce put together a scary “haunted house”, so members of the public could be spooked and educated at the same time.

The idea was first incarnated as the final presentation for her Festival Arts course at the Department of Creative and Festival Arts (DCFA).The presentation, staged last November, was a hit. It was held at the National Cocoa and Chocolate Museum of Trinidad and Tobago in Moruga, a perfect setting with its old structures and ghostly artifacts from the early 1900s.

The mood was set with lights and a fog machine. Students in full costume and makeup hid in the bush and under the plantation house, depicting characters like the cloven-hoofed La Diablesse, forest protector Papa Bois, haggish Gang Gang Sarah and of course the unbaptised spirit children, douens. Her minions got fully into character and enjoyed bringing a scary thrill to patrons, while reminding them of local lore. The presentation received glowing reviews on social media.

Artist on a mission

Leeanna has made her life in culture over the last two decades. Growing up in Ste Madeleine, she attended Best Village classes in drumming, singing, drama and dance at the nearby community centre with the Ste Madeleine Folk Performers.

“Is fassness that get me in the centre,” she recalls with a laugh.

Her curiosity, coupled with a natural flair, has led her to explore all aspects of performance. She learned mas’ design and wire bending at the feet of late master mas’ man from San Fernando Roland St George; making mas’ for his band D’Krewe. From the late fashion designer Dexter Jennings she learned costume construction and special effects makeup.

She earned her Certificate in Dance at The University of the West Indies in 2010 and is poised to graduate from the University with a BA in the discipline next year. With this wealth of training she inspires her students to find their own wellspring of creativity.

“I give them dolls and tell them to create their own (versions and interpretations). They come up with some nice ideas,” she says. “It makes them more expressive.”

In the dance classroom, which students call “the happy room”, she often supplies craft materials herself and enjoys helping her students find self-discipline and self-expression through the arts.

Leeanna feels the legacy of T&T’s culture must be cherished and should be more fully explored: “There is so much that people don’t know about, and so much we can market…. We should appreciate what is ours – not somebody else’s thing.”

And she is creating a legacy of her own. Leeanna founded the Artistic Dance Theatre in Princes Town and the Moruga School for the Performing Arts. For San Fernando Carnival 2019 she is presenting a Jouvert band of sexy jab molassies named “Rouge Masquerade”. Their presentation is called “Jab Nation”. It is her ultimate ambition to become this country’s Culture Minister, and she sees many untapped opportunities for culture to bloom.

The present Minister of Community Development, Culture and the Arts, Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly, invited Leeanna to mount her haunted house at Carifesta XIV, from August 16 - 25. She will construct a maze at the Village at Queen’s Park Savannah, so her “willing victims” can be surprised around any turn.

“I wasn’t expecting this project to reach so far,” she says.

“My goal is to frighten someone real bad!” she declares with a wicked smirk. Come Carifesta, she will have her chance.