This is our theatre, the Resource Centre for the Arts. Or the LSPU (Longshoremen’s Protective Union) Hall. Or just the Hall. Many would say it’s the home of Newfoundland theatre.
Now there are other theatres, fine theatres, like the Elizabethan wooden ‘O’ at Perchance Theatre in Cupids, or the charming Warehouse Theatre in Cow Head or Rising Tide’s impressive Arts Centre in Trinity. And all of those theatres are special to me, but it’s the Hall where I find myself most often. The Hall is our home. And it’s got a fine crowd working there too: Suzanne, Mike, Pat, Robert, Danielle, Emily, Sharon, Kat, Ian, Allie, Russell, Laura and Nicole. They’re best kind.
The Hall is where I first saw Andy Jones and Greg Malone, two living legends of Newfoundland theatre on stage. It’s where I watched Jonny Harris, Allan Hawco, and Susan Kent give performances that years later I still remember. It’s where I encountered Meghan Greeley’s play Hunger, heard a first draft of Andrea Cooper’s Room for a Pony, where I was welcomed as an actor and collaborator, and more often than not it’s the home of Artistic Fraud.
The Hall is happiest when communities take ownership of it.
My friend Charlie Tomlinson once told me that the Hall is happiest when communities take ownership of it. Take it over. I witnessed this happening when audiences drove more than four hours from the Burin peninsula to see Oil and Water, a story set in beautiful St. Lawrence. They came from Lawn, Fortune, Grand Bank, and of course St. Lawrence to see characters from their home town realized on stage as John and Violet Pike. It was incredible to be in a full theatre, in a small town, and not recognize anyone there as our regular patrons. The Burin peninsula took over the Hall and it was magical.
That kind of thing happened to Oil and Water on tour as well. I will never forget what happened on opening night at the Neptune in Halifax. Oil and Water’s score, composed and arranged by Andrew Craig, blends gospel hymns with Newfoundland folk songs. Back home in St. John’s audiences knew the folk songs, but that night in Halifax the largely Black audience knew the hymns. And they sang the hymns. In our business we like to talk about the communal experience of witnessing theatre but that night I felt the audience taking ownership of the story and of the space. It was magic.
My job is to help communities find their way into the theatre.
Increasingly I feel my job is to help communities find their way into the theatre. In the last year we’ve welcomed the Association for New Canadians to Tetsuro Shigematsu’s touching, hilarious and technically stunning Empire of the Son. We’ve partnered with For the Love Of Learning to create transVersing helping 6 young trans artists to tell their own stories. We’ve also helped establish St. John’s Short Play Festival that in just two years has premiered 14 original works by emerging writers. I don’t know how it works in your town but here, in St. John’s, these communities needed to be invited to the theatre. And our theatre, the Hall, is all the happier for it.
Now don’t worry, the Hall is still a place for the type of larger than life stories you’ve come to expect from Artistic Fraud. Did you ever hear the one about the guy who saved the lives of over 500 whales? Come back in July.
Happy World Theatre Day!
– Patrick Foran, Artistic Fraud of Newfoundland