Theatre Newfoundland Labrador
By Jeff Pitcher, Artistic Director
They want to understand something about the place and the people they’re visiting.
Cow Head is a small rural community that went from a population of 900 down to just over 300 during the demise of the fishery in the early 1990s. In my mind, I focus our storytelling on maybe 25 or 30 local Cow Head people. What will engage this very local audience? Often stories about themselves, their lives, or their community. Controversy works. So does love. Politics is good. Comedy is lovely. Music is in demand – especially music rooted in Newfoundland.
But 90% of our audience is from outside Cow Head, from around Newfoundland and Labrador, across Canada, the U.S. and Europe. The Gros Morne National Park is a World Heritage Site, so tourists make up our audience. What I’ve discovered is that they don’t simply want to be entertained. They want to understand something about the place and the people they’re visiting. I’ve also learned that trying to educate or ‘tell’ them about this place simply doesn’t work. What does work is when they are aware of and understand that they are in our theatre as observers, watching professional Newfoundland artists telling Newfoundland stories to a local audience. It’s amazing how many recognize themselves and their own communities in what we produce locally.
The ideas often come from the community itself.
I always try to have one local or regional script in development, which will take anywhere from 18 months to two years from concept to stage. As an Artistic Director I like to work closely with the playwright. But not too close! Before the playwright writes, I like to make sure we’re on the same page in terms of concept and what we expect. I’m usually quite specific about what we want our story to be about. Fishery, politics, or a simple story that we’ve heard… the ideas often come from the community itself. “You should write a play about Nurse Myra Bennett. Did you ever hear of Pelly’s ghost?” Thus Tempting Providence by Robert Chafe and Double Axe Murder by Berni Stapleton – a couple of the most popular plays we’ve commissioned and produced.