Academic journal article Theatre Research in Canada

The Development of Professional Theatre in St. John's 1967-1982: A Personal Perspective

Academic journal article Theatre Research in Canada

The Development of Professional Theatre in St. John's 1967-1982: A Personal Perspective

Article excerpt

Dans une communication intitulee << Some Observations on the Evolution of Professional Theatre in St. John's: 1967-1992 >>, le comedien, metteur en scene et dramaturge terre-neuvien David Ferry offrait aux participants de la conference << Shifting Tides >> un point de vue original, engageant et personnel sur le developpement du theatre professionnel dans sa ville natale de St. John's. Provocatrice et animee, sa presentation a su froisser quelques personnes tout en soulignant des differences culturelles et commerciales fondamentales qui existent entre sa province natale et le reste du Canada. S'inspirant de ses propres experiences, bases sur des donnees recueillies dans les archives et dans des ouvrages et surtout, sur des temoignages de gens associes de pres au developpement theatral et social a Terre-Neuve, les propos de Ferry refletent a la fois l'importance capitale de l'histoire orale et ses turbulences souvent contradictoires. Cette edition du Forum est consacree a plusieurs extraits de la contribution par Ferry a la conference de 2004, extraits qui sont legerement marques par la retrospection (et l'influence editoriale). Ferry continue de retravailler son texte afin d'en faire une etude savante a plus grande portee.

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Revised Extracts from a presentation delivered at the Shifting Tides: Atlantic Canadian Theatre Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow conference at the University of Toronto, 26 March 2004.

As is widely recognized, to many of my generation the terms of Newfoundland joining Confederation amounted to a sellout. Certainly the traumatic effects of Joey Smallwood's resettlement programs combined with his insistence on investing in job creation schemes "from rubber boots to chocolate factories, from paper mills to the great give away of Churchill Falls" (Clarke) and Come-by-Chance served to fuel a genuine Newfoundland cultural revolution.

During the late 1960s and early 1970s the Extension Service at Memorial University of Newfoundland (MUN) had a huge influence on this "revolution" with projects such as the Fogo Process, an innovative film initiative of the Extension Media Unit (and model for initiatives such as the United Kingdom's Open Door TV project). A creative way of animating the history and social reality of a community, the Fogo Process featured the work of early St. John's filmmakers such as Nelson Squires (Sullivan). The Extension Service had opened in 1959, and in the late 1960s the Media Unit, collaborating with the National Film Board and "inspired by Prime Minister Trudeau's war on poverty, began exploring issues of rural poverty" (Sullivan).

The Extension Service employed an extraordinary crowd in the 1960s--many of them, interestingly enough, "Come From Aways" (CFAs). (1) The research being done there, in various disciplines, investigating and celebrating the history, culture, and sociological realities of rural Newfoundland and her lost traditions, was hugely influential on the work of the evolving St. John's professional theatre artists of the early 1970s. The theatre parties in St. John's in the 1960s were filled with folklore and media scholars such as Herbert Halpert and George Story, Tony Williamson and Don Snowden (Spence), and the intellectual debate surrounding Confederation, re-settlement programs, and indigenous Newfoundland culture flowed like Dominion Ale on Regatta Day.

Actor and CODCO founding member Andy Jones remembers, "I wasn't going to MUN, nor was Noel Dinn, Nels Boland, Neil Murray and a lot of others, but we would hang around there--what was happening with George Story in Folklore and others was fascinating and exciting, we wanted to be near it" (Jones). Actor Mary Walsh also gives credit to the Extension Service, "[to] Mina Hickey, to Jake Harris, to Patty Tremblay, to Edythe Goodrich, to Susan Jameson and, of course, to Ray Cox and to ail the other Memorial Extension workers" for giving "a home where we worked and fought and wrote and fought and laughed and fought" (Walsh). …

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