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The ladies of Herstory

The ladies of Herstory

Originally commissioned by Rising Tide in 2005, Sara Tilly wrote the first draft of The (In)complete Herstory of Women in Newfoundland (and Labrador!).  She then developed it with Berni Stapleton through the RCA’s Write On! Program before a series of staged readings in 2006 and 2007.  Now on its sixth draft, the show will have its premier as a co-production between RCA and She Said Yes!  Tilly is co-directing with Lois Brown and the show promises saucy humour that will make you think.  It’s presented as a blend of traditional theatre with clown improvisation.  “This silly and strange show is grounded in familiar and universal human emotions,” says Tilly.  Both Sara and Lois spent some time to tell Current a little more:

Clown development can be difficult, can you speak to that?
ST – There’s a lot of different types of clown training and approaches to what ‘is’ a clown. I’m trained in Pochinko Clown Through Mask and the process begins with mask work using your own mask, then transference to a clown nose and potentially into a non-nose, Joey clown. We’re not in red noses for this show. These are sophisticated, adult clowns, not as innocent or as bumbling as the red nose variety, with a much larger vocabulary than your standard circus clown. You wear the mask and let it move you, then take that energy and keep it going when the mask comes off. This way, you allow your character to take the lead organically. We follow impulse in rehearsal and let it dictate how to create the show.

How do you turn your clown on?
ST – It comes from the mask. We spent a two weeks in January working with masks and taking that physical exploration; now we’re comfortable experimenting within these clowns and can find their full range of emotions and tics. There’s no need to have the nose if you are intent – we’re using headgear like swim caps as a character anchor.

Who is in the cast and how did they come together?
ST – The cast is my dream team and I’m glad they were all able to do it! Susan Kent is playing the director (Herr) and Ruth Lawrence is the star actress (Prima). Lois Brown is the old-school feminist theatremaker and visual artist and writer Craig Francis Power, in his first onstage role, as the lighting operator (Noseworthy). I play Squirrel, the stage manager, who is thrust into the show after Janice has an accident with her curling iron.

How have they all done getting into the world of clowning?
ST – This has been an amazing group to work with and I thank my lucky stars that I have such open, talented artists. They’re all naturals and it’s been a belly laugh and a half leading them through the clown work and watching these characters come into their own.

Who else is involved behind the scenes?
ST – I’m designing the set, costumes and props; Sean Panting is designing sound, Jamie Skidmore is designing lights and Craig Francis Power is doing the projection design.

How much of a history lesson will the show be?
LB – I think there is a fair bit of history there – but because Sara is showing us how we bend history for political reasons.

ST – Well, most of the ‘facts’ are true. The truth was, in most cases, funnier or more bizarre than anything I could think of. It’s how we mess with the facts that make it a questionable lesson. More like a weird and hilarious dream involving a lot of historical detail. I think more than anything you might be tempted to look a few things up later to see if we made them up.

What’s the overall concept and storyline of the show?
LB – Legendary feminist theatre artist Janice pokes herself in the eye with a red-hot curling iron minutes before showtime on opening night and dies. Marco is debilitated after being trapped under the Death on the Ice set. Noseworthy is stoned. And Squirrel the stage manager turned actress is so scared that she pisses herself several times during the opening number. That leaves the director, Herr who is in love with her star, Prima. They say show must go on.  How will the Estro-collective do it? It’s a show that not only satirizes Newfoundland history and feminism – it satirizes itself. It takes the notions of patriarchy, feminism, Newfoundland history and the way we tell it and mocks it all. It’s irreverent. Takes the piss out of everything, really.

The show runs March 24 – 26th at the Majestic Theatre in St. John’s, check out www.shesaidyestheatre.ca for more information.

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originally published January 2008

With more then 200 productions around the world, Salt Water Moon is one of the hallmark theatrical contributions from Newfoundland and Labrador.  Our Gone with the Wind of sorts, the Globe and Mail described it as “an old-fashioned love song that is as affecting, funny and as evocative as a dream.”  It tells the story of Mary who is a teenager with “steel in her heart,” but when her ex Jacob returns from Toronto he decides to try and win her back, except she’s engaged to a school teacher.  The story unfolds in Coley’s Point back in 1926 during the month of August and the production will feature a fully custom built set.  With the production running right through Valentine’s Day, this story of rediscovering love might be best offered up and shared with that special someone.  Current caught up with the production’s producer from Theatre St. John’s, Keith Pike for more details on what you can expect!

Can you tell me about Theatre St. John’s?
The idea for Theatre St. John’s was born at a fundraising gala in October of 2007. The gala showcased some of the finest actors and singers in the province. This diverse talent within Newfoundland inspired the creation of TSJ.

We are committed to growth and development, following our mandate.  Our goals are to produce professional-calibre theatre; to produce and workshop new pieces from within the province and Canada; and to nurture the talents of up-and-coming actors and directors from across the province and across the nation.

With the young people of Newfoundland and Labrador in mind, we will also enact an educational initiative. Our casts and personnel will work one-on-one with high school students in and around St. John’s to foster the development of their talent.

Why this ‘classic’ script?
Salt Water Moon is play known internationally, one of Newfoundland’s greatest hits. I thought it was a good time for it to be produced in St. John’s.

Is there anything in the script that attracted you to produce it, personally?
When I studied theatre at Sheridan College I did a scene study of the play and immediately fell in love with the characters and their story. Jacob and Mary are funny, smart, bashful and endearing. Who wouldn’t fall in love with them!?

How did you and Petrina come together for this production?
Petrina and I worked on a show this time last year with the company. It was then that I approached her about directing the show. A year went by and many chat’s later, here we are! I’m thrilled to have her on board!

What can people expect from the show?
People can expect a beautiful play – Colin (Jacob) and Willow (Mary) are perfect for their roles. They bring so much to the table and to their characters – they are truly 2 of Newfoundland’s finest.

Who created the lighting design?
Brian Bishop is our lighting designer, it’s my first time working with him. I’ve seen his work with c2c – I’m a big fan.

What was the casting process like?
We held auditions last June, however Willow and Colin were out of town for them. Petrina had worked with Colin and Willow prior to Salt Water Moon and thought they would be perfect for the roles and Petrina was right!

How can people check out the production?
Salt Water Moon will run from February 11th – 15th with a curtain time of 8pm at the Majestic Theatre. Tickets are $20 and are available at the Holy Heart Box office or by calling 579-4424.

originally published November 2008

Curtis Andrews

Curtis Andrews sharing the instruments of Africa at MUN

Curtis Andrews, local musician from the Idlers put off a fundraising event last Thursday at the Majestic featuring a pile of performers with silent auction. It was all in aid of his space which unlike others previously profiled won’t be his own. Curtis’ space – is in Africa! He’s been working to build a school and 4 months ago needed $6,000.00 to get the job done.

What brought you to Dzogadze, Ghana?

I went to Ghana in 1999 to study music in a village called Dagbamete.  My teacher took me to Dzogadze, his mother’s village, to see performances by local cultural groups. When I returned to Dzogadze in 2002, I became the first outsider to learn a difficult old dance along with drumming and singing. I’ve spent a total of 12 months in Ghana, but spread over 9 years!  When I’m away it doesn’t leave me.  I always think about it, the people and experiences; I’m in communication with people in different towns and villages who keep me updated.

How do you just ‘initiate a school building project’?

I knew I wanted to help the village; after asking what was needed most during my last trip in 2007, they said a school.  My best friend/teacher and 2 chiefs were appointed as trustees to the Dzogadze Education Development Fund which will help with school fees for bright economically depressed students and buy school supplies in the future, once the school’s built.

What makes this place different?

One of the most striking things about Dzogadze is the way people treat me.  I have some real genuine connections with people there.  Part of it’s because no one had ever come and stuck around to learn about their culture.  It means a great deal to people.  I take time to learn their language, eat the food, drink the water, I have no fear or qualms about life there and people respect that.

How will the school be used?

This building will house 2 classes that are currently held outside or in borrowed space. While we think of classes outside as being romantic, when a torrential downpour or dust storm blows through it can be disruptive.  The government of Ghana told the village, if they were to construct a building, the government would pay the teachers. For now, the village is paying a couple of teachers.


What elementary school is partnered with you?

All Hallows in North River is associated because I teach there sometimes.  The principle, Kevin Giles, is supportive and wanted to help. The school has done some fundraising, but also has charitable status and able to issue tax receipts, so through the school is the best way to donate.


Will your efforts for
Africa end at this village?

My goal is not to be some crusader for downtrodden and help to develop the villages of Africa.  I am a musician.  But if I can help then I will.  This is an example of that.  I find it better to stay focused on one thing at a time if possible.  So for now, I’ll focus on this village and project.  My compassionate efforts will never cease, just take different forms.

Has involvement grown and how can people help?

Involvement has not grown that much since the beginning because few people know about it! After the initial push we raised $2000.  The timing was right now, so I decided to do a fundraiser.  Plus, there’s no money left and this needs to get done. Anyone can get involved; just contact me at curtisandrews@gmail.com or 579-1273.

originally published November 2008

“A boat that floats on air has no heart,” Jack (John Dartt) says aboard the Miss Tilley, the rumrunners boat on which the entire play takes place, in the round, for Berni Stapleton’s latest comedic but historically relevant and poignant masterpiece, A Rum for the Money. The show had a long ‘rum’ itself, featured from June to September at the Gros Morne Theatre Festival before a final run in the capitol city.

Dartt, White & Furlong — Photo by Denyse Karn

L-R: Dartt, White & Furlong — Photo by Denyse Karn

The show is about Jack and two other men, Jim (Evan White) and his Uncle Frank (Colin Furlong). Jack and Frank were the seasoned experts of rum running but took Jim, a boat builder who’s afraid of the water, along for his young strength. Their conversations made references to life and culture of Newfoundland – the ‘divide’ of people smoking rollies versus tailor-mades, Hard Buns, “that’s a raisin bun without the raisins,” Tibbo’s store and Foote’s Taxi – not only helping to familiarize an audience with the setting but also the men themselves. The references weren’t overkill; interestingly, women so often wonder what men would say in the place of chick-chat and this seemed to be it.

They shared their stories as a way of allowing one another to get to know them. Though Dartt is from Halifax he can certainly talk like a Newfoundlander. Though the stories it was evident that while they are all quite different and rum running for their own reasons, they were all struggling against something. Uncle Frank is plagued with forcing doubt in his own polished abilities with no cause immediately given. He references his hateful wife but is on the run to afford her “one of them new fangled rotary phones.”

Jim’s reason is a baby on the way with his wife Lizzie whom he’s madly fallen for. Although his excitable and sometimes overactive personality is charming, Lizzie’s patience with him is clear by how he speaks of her. Teaching him to read and write, he shared, she said that “a man can’t be expected to learn all at once ‘cos his head’d get stogged!” Jack’s mission for the money is to move to the big city (St. John’s, not New York) and go out on Saturday, church on Sunday and Bingo on Monday, but the real prize will be his new dentures – “the good kind – the kind that fits your mouth.”

On the voyage back with the rum the three face perils of nature, being ill-prepared and themselves. The set was designed with half a dory cut to be creatively used for the entire show. The old boat’s wood creaked when the actors moved around on it which kicked up the ‘real’ factor. There was an engine aboard for which there was sound when it was being started but once it was ‘running’ the sound cue ended there was a calm silence again. Having a low hum might’ve been monotonous on an audience for as long as it would be needed but a faint sound of water rippling along the boat now and then might have held on to the realism. Vocal tracks leading in and out of the acts were good and a story told in act two by Frank with Jim singing underneath was surprising and beautiful.

Overall the show was very entertaining. The only beat missed was when a cobbled together wooden cross made in the darkest hour tumbled off the boat but it was handled with grace. The full package of ambient blue lighting, punchy and thoughtful script, the set and performances did an excellent job of dramatically telling the stories of three rumrunnin’ men and taking it’s audience back in time for an evening.

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makin’ sense of it all

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