Taking a look back with Donna Butt

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Rising Tide Theatre artistic director Donna Butt kicked off "Revue 2009 - The 25th Anniversary Edition" along with the rest of this year's cast at the Arts and Culture Centre in St. John's Friday.

Butt, Rick Boland, Glenn Downey, Rory Lambert, Amelia Manual, Jim Payne, Tina Randell, John Sheehan and Berni Stapleton are scheduled to tour the show through to Feb. 14, taking it provincewide.

Revue returns.  Submitted photo

Clarification- REVUE 2009

Please note, the story "25 Revue: Taking a look back with Donna Butt" seen in the Saturday, Jan. 9 edition of The Telegram incorrectly stated the cast members of "Revue '84."
The correct cast list is: Glenn Downey, Mack Furlong, Sheilagh Guy, Boyd Norman, Jeff Pitcher and Maisie Rillie. The show was directed by Donna Butt.
However, added a representative for Rising Tide Theatre, "Revue" was considered a collective creation of Butt, Downey, Furlong, Guy, Norman, Pitcher, Rillie and Denis Parker.
The Telegram apologizes for any inconvenience the original listing may have caused.
The 25th Anniversary edition of "Revue" is now on tour and will continue through mid-February.


Rising Tide Theatre artistic director Donna Butt kicked off "Revue 2009 - The 25th Anniversary Edition" along with the rest of this year's cast at the Arts and Culture Centre in St. John's Friday.

Butt, Rick Boland, Glenn Downey, Rory Lambert, Amelia Manual, Jim Payne, Tina Randell, John Sheehan and Berni Stapleton are scheduled to tour the show through to Feb. 14, taking it provincewide.

Before the show's kickoff, Butt spoke with The Telegram, taking time to reflect on the last 25 years of Rising Tide Theatre's annual sketch comedy "Revue."

The first year to receive the treatment of a review of major events and political life in this province was 1984.

"Revue '84" featured the founding members of Rising Tide Theatre: Butt, Rick Boland, Jeff Pitcher, Terry Reilly, David Ross and Glen Tilley.

Since that year, said Butt, "there's very few major political events that we did not cover."

Asked for moments that might stand out, the memories flow easily.

"The moratorium year, definitely," said Butt, pointing to a moment of historical significance for the province.

More recently, she said, there was the year of the Atlantic Accord dispute between premier Danny Williams and then-prime minister Paul Martin.

That year, Williams had given until Dec. 23 for the removal of Canadian flags from provincial buildings. The move was to protest Ottawa's refusal to meet a Christmas deadline to reach a deal on the Atlantic Accord. Specifically sought was an agreement that would see Newfoundland and Labrador retain 100 per cent of its share of oil revenues from its offshore developments.

"We were actually here in this very building, clewng up before Christmas, when the guard came in and said, 'We're taking all the flags down,'" Butt said.

The late development required quick response by the "Revue" cast. As Canadian flags were flown again in January, the crew was ready. Their sketch drew welcome laughs.

Butt said some of the themes adopted over the years also stand out. "Like when Clyde Wells was in, one year we took the sort of Roman emperor kind of approach," she said.

Wells was a favourite subject of Butt's, who said Brian Peckford and Mack Furlong as John Crosbie are two more she found memorable.

"John Efford. We really missed John when he left," said Butt. "He was a good sport about things."

Of course, lampooning politicians and members of the public alike has its hazards, said Butt.

"I don't think it's possible to do this sort of show without there occasionally being some negative feedback," she said, referring to a "thin line" that separates hilarious and offensive.

"There have been times when something has gotten through that perhaps we should have thought through a little more carefully," she said.

Butt said she remembers two occasions in particular that caused controversy among the Rising Tide collective.

One year, "there was a terrible accident on the South Side," said Butt. It was a "small explosion" near the oil tanks on the hill. A male youth was injured in the accident, she said.

"Someone did a quick thing about it. The mother of that (injured) person called me and I was absolutely horrified. Obviously, she was very upset and I immediately took it out."

Butt wrote a letter to The Telegram about it at the time. She said she regretted the inclusion of the piece.

A second controversial item stands out for Butt.

"I think the largest, most public, confrontation was with the Catholic church," said Butt, who said the item was in the 1980s and performed by Mark Critch. The scene dealt with allegations of child abuse by Catholic priests.

"It was a scene about essentially whether the archbishop at the time was turning a blind eye to what was going on," added Butt, who said "someone within the Catholic church" took offence to the item and "Revue" received "a letter from a lawyer."

"I still have the letter," said Butt. "That was a big thing, but in the end it wasn't pursued."

Butt said she stands by the controversial material today.

"During the course of the next year, before the next "Revue," the Mount Cashell scandal broke," said Butt. "We covered that. Not from the point of view of being anti-church or anti-Catholic, but from the point of view of how did people in power deal with this."

Despite these examples, the artistic director of Rising Tide said the majority of the hundreds of Revue sketches over the last 25 years have successfully navigated the humour/horror line.

"The thing is to be really careful about people who didn't choose to be in the public eye," Butt said. "All we can say is the intent is not to offend and we do try to be careful with not stepping over the line."

Whether the premise of a sketch goes over well, or is rejected by the audience, is the responsibility of the entire cast year-to-year. The cast has always written collectively.

Among the multiple writers, there is plenty to fuel the artistic fire, she said. What people and events are ultimately referenced - as well as how they are referenced - is where the debate comes in.

Yet, "there's always certain material, certain events of the year that stand out," she said.

25th anniversary show

For the 25th anniversary show, Butt said audiences can expect references to the byelection on the Northern Peninsula, the H1N1 flu vaccination program, the resignation of minister of health Paul Oram, the post-election battle in the town of Paradise and, of course, "Danny's quest for the Lower Churchill."

"The first time I heard Danny talking about what New Brunswick was doing, I knew it was a story that was going to gain momentum," Butt said.

"The premier has really sort of taken this on. I think it's his crusade, so we've got a fairly large scene on that, as you can imagine."

Butt said she is not worried about any portrayal of the premier. In being presented with the Order of Newfoundland in 2009, Butt came face to face with Williams.

"He said, 'I hope that all these nice things I'm saying about you won't mean you'll have to be nice to me in Revue.' So it's OK, I think," she said.

"Revue 2009" runs from Jan. 8-10 and Jan. 13-16 at the St. John's Arts and Culture Centre.




Revue 2009 tour schedule

St. John's: Jan. 8-10 and Jan. 13-16
Stephenville: Jan. 20
Corner Brook: Jan. 21-25
Grand Falls-Windsor: Jan. 27-28
Gander: Jan. 29-31
Carbonear: Feb. 3-7
Labrador West: Feb. 9-10
Goose Bay : Feb. 11
Clarenville: Feb. 13
Trinity: Feb. 14
For further information including venues, ticket prices and show times, contact the Rising Tide Theatre office at: 709-747-1501.

Organizations: Rising Tide Theatre, Catholic church

Geographic location: St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador, Ottawa Paradise New Brunswick Corner Brook Labrador West Goose Bay

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