As I mentioned in last week’s column, arts and culture is a very broad subject. With that said, I will stay on that topic for a while I think, while the subject is still fresh in my mind. Besides, the arts, culture and heritage sectors deserve some attention, given that our provincial government has invested more than $56 million into it since the launch of its cultural strategy in 2006.
According to the Department of Tourism, Culture and Recreation, arts and heritage continues to play a defining role in shaping the cultural identity of our province, instilling pride among residents and making Newfoundland and Labrador a destination of choice for people around the world. I know from experience and spending time with tourists, that theatre is important to them. They often ask if there is a dinner theatre nearby and others arrive sharing their stories about how great the theatre was in Twillingate or Cow Head. Seeing a play about the area a tourist is visiting really adds to their experience.
Many of our major centres and tourist hot spots offer professional stage productions whether it is dinner theatre or a musical event. Many of our smaller communities put on evening variety shows with witty dialogue, funny skits and demonstrations on how to play the ugly stick. Twillingate has its popular “All Around The Circle” dinner theatre, which is just one of several stage productions available there every summer for locals and tourists alike. Gros Morne has its Gros Morne Theatre Festival which has become extremely popular with several new stage productions every year.
Theatre Newfoundland Labrador (TNL) is a leading cultural voice and works hard to develop and maintain a growing arts community and audience. The TNL is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to creating and producing professional theatre. One of the organizations main objectives is to help the audiences to see themselves but also to bring the world to Newfoundland and Labrador. To achieve this they ensure that their programming reflects an awareness of Canadian and world theatre as well as our own. The group is located on the west coast and reaches out to its communities by providing programmes in theatre instruction, youth theatre productions, Gros Morne Theatre Festival, and by touring mainstage productions. It’s the touring productions that have gained us world recognition.
I’m sure you’ve all probably heard about the play called “Tempting Providence”. It is a production by TNL, written by Newfoundland playwright Robert Chafe and directed by award winning director Jillian Keiley. Tempting Providence is a story of courage and strength, about a woman known as Nurse Myra Bennett. Nurse Bennett was considered a true Newfoundland hero who was dedicated to serving the health needs along Newfoundland’s rugged northern peninsula for over 50 years beginning in 1921. She was known as the “Florence Nightingale of the North”. During her time as nurse she delivered more than 700 babies, pulled teeth and even reattached a logger’s foot that had been severed in an accident. She did all of this in all kinds of weather while travelling by foot, horse, dogsled or boat along the 320 kilometer rugged northern peninsula.
Since its world premiere in 2002 the play has toured extensively receiving international acclaim. It has been hailed by critics around the world as “spectacular”, “extraordinary”, and “a beautifully crafted artwork that speaks to an entire nation built by people such as Bennett.” Since its first show in 2002, Tempting Providence has played three seasons at the Gros Morne Theatre Festival, toured the Canadian provinces, the UK and Australia just to name a few. Last year marked its 10th year of performances around the world. To celebrate its anniversary, our provincial government partnered with TNL and brought the play to 71 communities in Newfoundland. It became the largest theatre tour ever to take place in Newfoundland and Labrador.
The play has received standing ovations and raving reviews during its travels. A review of the performance at the Grand Theatre, London, by Christopher Hoile for ‘Stage Door’ was titled “A Vibrant Celebration of Quiet Heroism”. The title alone was a great testament to the performance. However, they went on to say “It tells the story of an extraordinary woman, Nurse Myra Bennett, the Florence Nightingale of Newfoundland, in an extraordinarily inventive theatrical style that captures all the strength and humour of how a proper British woman learns to fit into the superstitious, close-knit community of an isolated fishing out port.” The review ended by saying “This is theatre at its finest that will restore your faith in humanity. See it now.”
I couldn’t have closed any better than that so I will leave it at that.