Stephen Tiffenson

Trinidadian Carnival arts and traditions

Trindad’s Carnival was born out of resistance; with the abolition of slavery in 1833, former slaves of French settlers and plantation owners celebrated with costumes that mocked their former masters.  Characters rooted in these satirical beginnings can still be found at Carnival celebrations today.  Dame Lorraine, for example, portrays an extravagantly dressed female French aristocrat, mimicking the tradition of early French settlers dressing up in elegant costumres and parading at private parties on Carnival’s Sunday night.  Carnival costumes have evolved over time, and now include Kings and Queens, large-scale flamboyant costumes that celebrate that year’s Carnival theme.

Hailing from Sangre Grande, Trinidad, Stephen Tiffenson grew up immersed in all aspects of Carnival arts, including the construction of larger-than-life King and Queen puppets and the skillful dancing required to animate them.  His music and dance skills became more refined as a touring member of North Eastern College Folk Performing Ensemble under the direction of acclaimed Winston Williams and John Cupid.  After moving to the San Francisco Bay Area, Stephen founded Mas Makers Massive, a masquerade—or mas—troupe in 1983.

As a master artist in ACTA’s Apprenticeship Program in 2011, Stephen worked with his son and apprentice Christopher Tiffenson.  The apprenticeship will focus on the construction of a traditional mas character, The Dame Lorraine.  Their Dame Lorraine is a 20-foot-tall puppet that was used in 2011’s Carnival celebrations.


Trinidadian Carnival characters created by master craftsman Stephen Tiffenson, and animated by Stephen Tiffenson (right) and Virginia Donato.  Photo courtesy of Stephen Tiffenson

Master artist Christopher Tiffenson (right) and his son and apprentice Stephen.

Stephen (right) and Christopher Tiffenson dress the Dame Lorraine.

The body of the Dame Lorraine layed out on a workbench of Tiffenson's workshop.

Stephen (left) places the head upon the puppet body.

Stephen Tiffenson adjusts the body of the puppet Dame Lorraine.

Stephen Tiffenson helps Christopher position himself to maneuver the Dame Lorraine puppet.

The Dame Lorraine and its creators Stephen (right) and Christopher Tiffenson.

The Dame Lorraine dancing in the night.

The Dame Lorraine shaking her derrière.

As the Dame Lorraine's derrière moves to the side, the harness strapped to Christopher is exposed.

The Dame Lorraine taking a bow.

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