The stage at the end of the world

Karen Wells
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Theatre

Brimstone Head's unique distinction of being recognized by the Flat Earth Society as one of the four corners of a flat Earth have influenced the naming of a new venture on Fogo Island.

The World's End Theatre Company was formed last year with their inaugural performance on Jan. 5.

Funded by the Shorefast Foundation (formerly the Frangipani Foundation), there are creative and innovative plans in the works for this theatre company. The Shorefast Foundation was integral to the creation and launch of the wooden-boat building revival for the islands last year. They were also front and centre in the first annual punt race from Fogo Island to Change Islands and back again.

Fogo - Brimstone Head's unique distinction of being recognized by the Flat Earth Society as one of the four corners of a flat Earth have influenced the naming of a new venture on Fogo Island.

The World's End Theatre Company was formed last year with their inaugural performance on Jan. 5.

Funded by the Shorefast Foundation (formerly the Frangipani Foundation), there are creative and innovative plans in the works for this theatre company. The Shorefast Foundation was integral to the creation and launch of the wooden-boat building revival for the islands last year. They were also front and centre in the first annual punt race from Fogo Island to Change Islands and back again.

Gordon Slade works with the Shorefast Foundation. He explained that Zita Cobb, a principal of the foundation, is from Joe Batt's Arm. She is interested in doing things on Fogo Island that would help the economy and the whole area of Fogo Island and Change Islands.

"If you look around Newfoundland and Labrador and you look at some of the things that have made a difference in rural economies, look at Stephenville (Theatre Festival) and Trinity with the Rising Tide Theatre," he said. "These are examples of what you can do at the rural level.

"I think it will add a whole new dimension to the Fogo Island and Change Islands economy over time."

Slade noted additional benefits of a theatre company in rural Newfoundland and Labrador, including tourism, getting people interested (especially younger people), and linkages to places like the theatre programs at Corner Brook's Grenfell College.

Whirlwind

Sharon King-Campbell is the company's artistic director. A recent graduate of Grenfell College, she is also a working actor, writer, producer and director living in St. John's. The opportunity to take on this initiative on Fogo Island was presented to her after meeting with Cobb.

King-Campbell was asked to become the artistic director in August. She began doing research and came across a Mummer's play performed on Change Islands in the early 1900s.

"I kind of dusted it off and brought it up to date in terms of the political sensitivities and I sent it in to Zita to take a look and she said, 'Well, let's do it.' And all of a sudden I'm swept into this whirlwind of local brilliance in terms of musical talent and some very brave souls who agreed to act for me. ... It was kind of a surprise how fast it happened."

What wasn't a surprise to King-Campbell (who hails from Ontario) was the vast array of talent amongst the residents of Fogo Island.

"The first time I had been to Fogo Island was in August," she said. "The people there are amazing.

"Fogo Island is an amazing place with an amazing variety of culture and a lot of inherent talent."

Her experiences living in this province and working at a number of rural festivals in Newfoundland had already exposed King-Campbell to the talents of a variety of people.

"I guess I've known Newfoundland communities well enough to not ever be surprised by how much talent is there, but I was very impressed by how brave people are because I came in saying, 'We're going to do a production and you're going to act and you're going to memorize lines and there won't be a curtain and we're not necessarily going to mike you,' and they were all up for it all the way," she said.

"There was remarkably little fear, which was amazing because I just introduced a whole new form of performance to them and they accepted it no problem. They really enjoyed it and took the opportunity to learn from it."

Setting the stage

The services of Fogo Island resident Carol Penton were enlisted as director of the Jan. 5 production "Here Comes We - A Celebration of the New Year."

"(Penton) is kind of a major force on Fogo Island and she is quite well-known for getting the gang together and organizing concerts," said King-Campbell. "She made it a point to get people from different communities on Fogo Island together and do the show as a whole island experience.

The production featured an array of performances from islanders, in addition to the Mummer's play, which was about nine minutes long. The audience was treated to a song written by Penton and performed by her 19-year-old daughter, Katie (who is also the youngest member of the theatre company), an a cappella performance of "Along In His Workshop" by Walter Bryan, a recitation by David Shea of "The Young Undertakers" written by his grandfather, Frank Dwyer, the dancing of Tommy Butt and several other selections.

"This show is an introductory show, particularly for me to get to know the people of Fogo Island and for them to get to know what I do," said King-Campbell, who also made the costumes for the production and was a stagehand on opening night.

The response to the venture was positive.

"People are really excited about this and about becoming involved," she said. "We are optimistic (about the future)."

Future aspirations

The Jan. 5 production was just the beginning.

"Our semi- long-term goals are that we hope to have a 12-month season where we will do a summer festival as most rural Newfoundland theatres do, because that is when the tourism is there and it is easiest to fill theatres," said King-Campbell. "But for the benefit of people who live on Fogo Island and Change Islands, we are hoping to also have a season for the rest of the year which will be like any theatre in a major centre with presentations as well as individual productions."

She also hopes to form relationships with other theatre companies in the province and have them present their work at a theatre on Fogo Island.

While the first performance was in the cafeteria of Fogo Island Central Academy, there are plans for a new home.

"We are looking at building a home for the company," said King-Campbell. "It's in the very, very, very early stages right now."

Slade said there is nothing on either Fogo Island or Change Islands right now that can compare to the theatre company or its aspirations.

"It adds new interest and vitality to the community," he said. "You get people coming together and it has many benefits of bringing these communities together and presenting new interests for people."

One of the short-term goals is to have the theatre company ready to stage its second performance this summer.

A production is in the works for August in conjunction with the second annual punt race. While the play doesn't have a name yet, it will relate to The Fogo Process.

"Fogo Island was one island that the people said they did not want to resettle," said Slade.

"The Fogo Island Co-op was established. The Fogo Island Process was a process of people coming together and talking about their future and what they wanted to do and they certainly weren't interested in resettling."

King-Campbell said the production will be something about the process of communities coming together and uniting against the threat of resettlement and rebuilding their economy together.

The next immediate project of the theatre company will be a 14-week adult acting class initiative to be taught on Fogo Island (open to residents of Change Islands as well).

The classes will be taught by Samantha Abbott, a new teacher on Fogo Island with a bachelor of fine arts in theatre (acting).

While the hope is that the classes will help people looking to join the theatre company hone their acting skills, it is open to people who may not be interested in joining the theatre company, but have an interest in acting.

Organizations: Grenfell College, Shorefast Foundation, Flat Earth Society End Theatre Company Frangipani Foundation Rising Tide Theatre Fogo Island Central Academy Fogo Island Co-op

Geographic location: Fogo Island, Change Islands, Newfoundland and Labrador Corner Brook St. John's Ontario

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