Of the media coverage her one-woman show has gotten so far, it’s a quote from Halifax’s Chronicle Herald that’s Wanda Carroll’s favourite.
“Wanda Carroll follows in the line of great storytellers like Mary Walsh and Rick Mercer, who can wring humour from the simplest of anecdotes,” the newspaper said in a review of “The Road Less Gravelled” in 2007.
Carroll can actually wring humour from anything — particularly her own childhood on the province’s Northern Peninsula.
A native of Conche, Carroll left Newfoundland in 1984, at the age of 18, and earned a degree in sociology from Dalhousie University. It took her some time after that, however, to find her true calling.
“I thought first I was going to be a writer, but to be a writer, you’ve got to find your voice,” she said. “I kept pursuing different interests, taking clown classes and voice and acting and belly dancing, just trying everything I could to touch base with the creative soul within me, and eventually I got to a point where people were like, ‘You’ve got to do your own one-woman show.’ Earlier in my creative search, I had taken creative writing classes, and had written these stories. — I started going through them, and I was like, Oh my God, I’ve already got a show.”
Carroll based her show on memories of growing up in Conche at a time when the community was one of the last to get amenities. In one of the show’s most popular tales, “The Bat’room Story,” for example, Carroll tells of her excitement upon seeing her very first bathroom.
“I was five or six before we got a bathroom, and I remember it,” she explained. “The story starts off with my cousin showing up and she wants to know where the bat’room is. I don’t know what she’s talking about, because we don’t have a bat’room. Later on that summer, we actually go into Corner Brook and I experience my very first toilet.”
In another story, “The Protestant Pineapple,” Carroll tells of being eight or nine years old and going to a local store and seeing a pineapple for the first time.
“The Road Less Gravelled” is a series of humourous monologues, performed by her with only a table and a chair for props, about the first 18 years of Carroll’s life — pre-birth to the moment she’s waiting for the bus to take her to the airport in Deer Lake so she can fly to Halifax — seen through the eyes of someone who’s since lived in the big city and developed broader perspectives. All the stories are true, she said; it’s her view of them now that makes them funny.
“I always thought it was a normal childhood, and it wasn’t until I left Conche and I was telling people we didn’t have a bathroom and they’d be like, ‘What do you mean?’ that I realized my childhood was actually really unique,” she said.
"I thought first I was going to be a writer, but to be a writer, you’ve got to find your voice. " - Wanda Carroll
“The best quotes I get, and I’ve gotten them numerous times over the years, is when people who’ve never been to Newfoundland come see the show and come up to me after and say, ‘Wow, I feel like I just took a tour of Conche.’”
Since “The Road Less Gravelled” was workshopped in Toronto in 2004, Carroll has performed to sold-out venues across the country. It was one of the top-selling shows at Halifax’s 2007 Atlantic Fringe Festival, and won a “Best in Fest” award at the 2008 Winnipeg Fringe Festival. It was also a sellout at last year’s first annual WTF — Wanda’s Theatre Festival; a three-day event Carroll produced to give women a voice on stage. Four other female writers/comedians performed during WTF.
“I just wanted to create an environment where women can come and strut their stuff on stage,” Carroll said.
Carroll brought “The Road Less Gravelled” to this province with a small tour in 2006, including a venue back home in Conche. Most people there who saw it loved it, she said.
“Some people wouldn’t come see the show, and some people were like, ‘What’s she going to tell me that I don’t already know — I was raised here’ or ‘I watched her grow up,’” Carroll explained. “What they were missing was yes, I grew up here and yes, you saw me with the pineapple, but most of this is a perception they would not have thought of.
“I’m sure there are some people (who don’t like it) because it’s a small town and people are people, but I’ve never heard it. I’ve had nothing but support from the people who’ve seen it. I call them my biggest fans.”
Carroll had so much support from the people back home, many of whom had been emailing her asking her to bring “The Road Less Gravelled” back again, she’s performing the show at the LSPU Hall in St. John’s for one night only, this Saturday. She’s looking forward to playing for a local crowd again, she said, since she enjoys being able to tap into what she says in an innate storytelling energy.
“That energy comes through in all of us. You’ll find great storytelling in all cultures, but we’re just so funny and charming. I think it was definitely the isolation: what are are you going to do to entertain yourself,” she said.
Tickets for “The Road Less Gravelled” are $20 regular admission, $15 for students and seniors, and are available at the LSPU Hall, by calling
753-4531, or online at www.rca.nf.ca.