From Freud to Beethoven, boxing, suicide and sex — when this year’s Provincial Drama Festival is held in St. John’s this spring, there’ll undoubtedly be variety. The only thing missing will be a troupe from St. John’s.
The drama festival will take place at the St. John’s Arts and Culture Centre April 9-14 with performances by Corner Brook’s Off-Broadway Players, Avion Players from Gander, Mokami Players from Goose Bay, and Carol Players and Northern Lights Theatre Company, both from Labrador West.
Traditionally, the festival is held in the town of a participating theatre troupe. This year, for the first time, there isn’t a member of the Newfoundland and Labrador Drama Society from St. John’s. The society has decided to hold the festival here anyway, the first time it will happen in the capital city in 10 years.
“What I’m hoping is that by bringing the festival here this year, it might spur some interest,” said John Perlin, co-chairman of the event. “I’ve already had some stirrings, somebody talking about maybe reviving the St. John’s Players. That’s one of the reasons why I wanted to bring it here, the re-establishment of community theatre on a competitive basis as members of the drama society.”
As a teenager, Perlin attended the first provincial drama festival, held in St. John’s in 1950.
“I was home from school that Easter, and it was held at the old USO Building on the corner of Bonaventure Avenue and Merrymeeting Road,” he said. “They were holding a trial to see if we, as a province, would apply to the Dominion Drama Festival for membership. Even though the adjudication ran for two hours, it was a highly successful event.”
That first provincial festival, Perlin said, was adjudicated by an English professor from Dalhousie University, and his adjudication took a couple of hours — longer than the show itself.
This year’s adjudicator is Gemini-nominated actress Lynda Boyd, who will do a public adjudication of about 10 to 15 minutes after each performance, followed the next day by a “coffee critique,” where she will discuss the play in great detail with the cast and director.
“I always say it’s a bit like the old days when the Christians were thrown to the lions,” Perlin said with a laugh.
Boyd, most recently known for playing Rose on CBC-TV’s “Republic of Doyle,” started her career in amateur theatres in Vancouver at age 14, appearing in the chorus of “How Now Dow Jones.” She went on to turn pro at age 21 with Vancouver’s Arts Club Theatre.
“By then, I had a dozen or so shows under my belt from my days in amateur community theatre, and with that, a confidence,” Boyd said.
“Community theatre is a great starting-off point for any performer, whether an actor, singer, dancer or musician. Any time you can perform in front of an audience is important. Like any muscle, the more you work it, the stronger it gets.”
Community theatre in this province is full of talent, Perlin said.
“Greg Malone, Tommy Sexton, Amy House, Bob Joy — these are all people who got their start in community theatre,” he said. “It’s a breeding ground for people who want to make a career. Quite often they end up being professionals.”
The drama festival will open April 9 with the Off-Broadway Players’ production of “Hysteria” by Terry Johnson, directed by Jordan Stringer.
A comedy, “Hysteria” sees one of Freud’s earliest patients returning to haunt him, but finding Salvador Dali hiding in the cupboard. Things go off the rails when the two eccentric minds collide and an attractive, naked female student of Freud’s appears in the closet.
The Avion Players, under the direction of Annette Crummey, will present Moises Kaufman’s “33 Variations.” In 1819, music publisher Anton Diabelli sent an original waltz to 50 composers, asking them to each contribute a variation. Beethoven dismissed the idea at first, but later became obsessed with it, writing 33 variations of the waltz, which became his “Opus 120.” Moving between the past and the present, “33 variations” explores why.
The Carol Players will present “‘Night, Mother” by Marsha Norman, directed by Marty Byrne, in which a daughter announces to her mother she will kill herself that night with a gun she is cleaning. The mother becomes so desperate to save her daughter’s life, she ends up telling her secret truths that have affected her life.
Northern Lights Theatre Company will present “Fighting Words” by Sunil Kuruvilla, directed by Peter McCormack. Set in 1980, the piece sees young boxer Johnny “Matchstick” Owen leaving Wales for Los Angeles to fight for the world bantam-weight title. The men of the village travel with him in the hope of witnessing boxing history, while the women who stay behind are left to examine their freedom and life flaws.
Mokami Players, directed by Valance Olivier, will close the festival April 14 with Norm Foster’s “Bedtime Stories.” The adult-rated play connects six comedic stories set in six different bedrooms, featuring a washed-up radio announcer, a shy middle-aged couple, an aging rock star, a pair of thieves, old high school friends and a stripper.
The only criteria for the productions, Perlin said, is that they are full-length. Participating theatre groups must have produced at least one other full-length piece throughout the year.
Awards will be presented after the productions, in various categories encompassing acting, direction, costuming, set design and management, culminating in the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador Drama Festival Award for best presentation.
Tickets for the provincial drama festival are on sale for $25 ($22 for students and seniors) per night, or a festival pass is available for $75. Tickets can be purchased at the St. John’s Arts and Culture Centre, online at www.artsandculturecentre.com or by calling 729-3900.