TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO’S CARNIVAL GOES LIVE, THANKS TO VIRTUAL REALITY

Interview by Alexandra Mengue

“Our platform is designed as yourvirtual Caribbean island paradise
where the Greater Antilles and the Lesser Antilles meet together as one…“


Like all major cultural events, the Caribbean Carnival suffered from the restrictions imposed by the global pandemic. Trinidad and Tobago’s carnival, considered one of the most grandiose, did not differ from the rule. Carnival on this island is more than just a party, it is the celebration of a way of life! Renata Sankar, Event Manager for the famous Caesar’s Army explains their strategy despite the current situation.

🔵 Renata Sankar, who are you and how do you define your imprint on the Trinbagonian cultural scene ?

I am the Event Production Manager at Caesar’s Army. Caesar’s Army was formed in 2006 under the umbrella of the Julius Caesar Entertainment Company as a Caribbean-based event production and management company.

Since its creation, the “Army“ has expanded on an international scale, as a movement mobilizing globally to participate in events, activities and substantial initiatives that contribute to their overall growth and
well-being. Through these events and initiatives, individuals become soldiers of positive change who inspire others to act.

Caesar’s Army promotes the importance of community and enjoyment. These events have been established as mainstays on Carnival calendars regionally and internationally. With over a decade of creating memorable experiences, Caesar’s Army was able to perfect what we already know and build upon by creating Caesar Creativ, as we call it, a global agency that creates innovative experiences from concept to execution.

🔵 Can you explain the approach you chose during the lockdown ? Did you put your projects on hold or did you continue to be engaged in the cultural scene of the island ?

Our traditional projects – Carnival events scheduled for Jamaica, St. Lucia and Barbados as well as our other events in New York, Miami and our new location Toronto, were all put on hold. The cultural scene
shut down completely.

With the whole element of a pandemic in the midst, the team sat down to strategize a way forward. This led to dividing the staff in 2 groups and placing them in a “shark tank“ scenario, where they were tasked
with 3 viable options to pursue.

Unanimously the winning project idea was the creation of a virtual reality world: Antillea. For us, it attained the 3 pillars that guide Caesar’s Army:

1 – Create an innovative experience – attention to details is important;
2 – Innovate and Disrupt – Take calculated risks that will reap benefits in the long term instead of playing it safe or following what everyone else is doing;
3 – Build a community – Building a community of loyal and devoted followers is an ongoing process that cannot be overthrown or upended by the “new normal“. There are no more borders. We want our community to become a growing global community.

🔵 What is this virtual reality world like and how is it culturally innovative ?

Antillea (developed in collaboration with Dingole Ltd) is currently marketed as a virtual space where users can attend live events globally and interact with each other through an avatar, created on the Microsoft Altspace VR platform. It employs technology using either a virtual reality headset or the 2D mode on a desktop computer or laptop. It is designed as your virtual Caribbean island paradise where the Greater Antilles and the Lesser Antilles meet together as one. First, you enter our welcome hub and then you are transported to Antillea from East to West – the 2 sides of the island which represent day and night.

🔵 What initiatives have you, and the people you work with, undertaken to make this project interesting and accessible for the public among the ongoing digital competition ?

First of all, to make this project interesting, we spent a lot of time on making the features as realistic as possible. You can see the coconut trees swaying in the welcome hub, and, when you are on the island,
you can hear the wind, the birds and the waves washing ashore. The typography of the beach also matches our Maracas Beach in Trinidad. We have also started the “Soca Series – 4 Fridays“. Each event is free and runs for 3 to 4 hours with featured DJ’s playing the latest soca music. This event is accessible to anyone regardless of geographical location.

🔵 What was the feedback of your community to this project ?

The feedback has been very encouraging and positive from those who have attended the Soca Series and from sponsors and media who have had personal tours. We are very proud of what we are able to offer
so far to keep our community engaged and to bring exposure to our culture and export it globally

🔵 Your collective created a digital experience that allows the public to enjoy carnival from the safety of their homes, do you think that such an innovation will be accepted by the Trinbagonian public and do you see this initiative being developed for an international market ?

Over time, such innovation will be accepted by the Trinbagonian public. We do expect however, that the first adopters will be our diaspora worldwide. The platform is already on the international market and
thus we are poised for a natural trajectory into this new market.

🔵 How do you preserve the real Carnival experience in a context of hyper-digitalization of all cultural practices ?

It’s important to understand what Carnival means to people. What exactly is that Carnival experience ? Carnival is an expression of our life, our culture and our freedom. Those are the emotions that must be
preserved and replicated across digital platforms.

🔵 What economic levers are envisaged to maintain this VR project alive ?

Support from and partnerships with the main entities – the Government and the corporate sector will make future cultural projects sustainable and improve our livelihood.

🔵 A word about what the crisis has taught you so far ?

The crisis has taught me that the future is indeed uncertain, but not doing anything and waiting for something to happen is not the way out. We have to be proactive and always think a step or two ahead of
the game.

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