True-life tale hits Indeavor Stage

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Patrons file their way into the Indeavour Stage for a recent show. — Submitted photo

By Tara Bradbury The Telegram The true-life tale of Isle aux Morts’ teenage heroine Ann Harvey has been told, time and again. Fishing with her father one morning in July 1828, 17-year-old Ann saw a straw bed floating in the water. Realizing they were seeing the remnants of a shipwreck, Ann and her dad went home to get her brother, Tom, and their Newfoundland dog, Hairy Man, and set out to find survivors, in their dory. Over the next three days, Ann and her family rescued 163 shipwrecked survivors from the Despatch, which had run aground en route from Ireland to Quebec carrying Irish emigrants aboard. In 2003, acclaimed local writer Kevin Major released “Ann and Seamus,” a narrative poem and work of historical fiction, telling the tale of the shipwreck and Ann’s love story with a young Irishman. Major’s book was later turned into an opera for young singers by the Shallaway youth choir, directed and produced by Jillian Keiley with words and music by Stephen Hatfield. About two years ago, when Jamie Skidmore was asked by tourism officers in Isle aux Morts to write a play based on the story of Ann Harvey, he took an entirely different approach. “I kind of avoided reading or re-reading any of the existing stories. I felt that Kevin Major had really done the ultimate version, and I didn’t feel like I could repeat that,” Skidmore, a MUN professor, said. “What I’ve done with the story is I’ve taken it from the perspective of the people on the ship.” In Skidmore’s play, “Song of the Mermaid,” Despatch first mate Harry Lancaster has arrived in England, and is telling his family the story of the shipwreck. He talks of a love triangle between his brother, the brig’s captain, an Irishman, and a female passenger, and how his brother had died in the ordeal not by drowning, but of a broken heart. “He was actually killed because they were hit by a wave that shot the jolly boat (they were in) all the way over the ship and smashed in the other side, which is one of the most unbelieveable parts of the whole story,” Skidmore said, telling of his fusion of fact and fiction in the play. Skidmore researched the events by reading material from the time, include a latter written by the captain of the Tyne, which brought survivors from Isle aux Morts to Halifax. Last summer, Skidmore travelled to Isle aux Morts and got some of the oral history of the shipwreck, and visited Wreck Rock, from where a number of the survivors had been found and rescued by the Harveys. “A pretty small percentage (of the play) is really historical: that they rescued 163 people, that they did it in a small dory, that the members of the family and their Newfoundland dog participated,” he said. “We know a little bit more about it, but we don’t really go into much more detail about that aspect. The rest is a reimagining of what happened.” “Song of the Mermaid,” which ran in Isle aux Morts for most of July, is touring the province, and will stop in Grand Bank Aug. 6-7, and Clarenville Aug. 9. It will also be produced in Cupids Aug. 11 as part of New World Theatre Project’s 2013 season, which opened July 20. Featuring an incredible open-air Elizabethan-style stage, the theatre project, now in its fourth year, produces classical theatre, often with a twist. This year, said artistic director Jeannette Lambermont-Morey, the project has taken a step back in order to step forward. “We had been pushing big productions in short time periods, and we always said, imagine what we could do if we had more time,” she said, noting, in the past, the group has put together major Shakespearean works in as little as two weeks. “This year, we’re focusing more energy on development.” New World Theatre is presenting two of Shakespeare’s tragedies this season. “Today and Sunday,” a staged reading of “Richard III,” directed by Lambermont-Morey and starring Greg Malone, will take place at 6 p.m. Malone has been participating with the theatre project since the beginning and helps guide the group, Lambermont-Morey said, when it comes to Shakespeare and dialects. “We are tickled or tantalized by the idea that here in Newfoundland, the English language has developed differently, and we think, perhaps, that it might be closer to Elizabethan English; that Newfoundland dialect might be a more medieval sound,” she explained. “Boy, is it ever working — it’s exciting to see how easily Shakespeare slides into Newfoundland language.” Having been presented in sneak previews last month, Courtney Brown and Alan Dilworth’s version of “Othello” opened Friday, and will run on select days until Aug. 18. A project that’s still in development, it’s a one-woman show, starring Brown, set in a woman’s prison. “It’s an insane challenge, trying to retell ‘Othello’ through the voice of one woman,” Lambermont-Morey acknowledges. Andy Jones’ all-ages puppet show, “The Queen of Paradise’s Garden,” has also been a part of this year’s season, and will be presented for a final time Aug. 18 in the afternoon. There will be a variety show, the second and final one of the summer, Aug. 10 at 6 p.m. “I have an endless list of plays I want to do,” Lambermont-Morey said. “It all comes down to who is ready to participate and wants to grab the opportunity, and what is financially worth of production. “We also have a focus on community involvement, both as performers and audiences.” Community involvement is a big part of the “Richard III” reading, and Lambermont-Morey is conducting a masterclass today and Sunday, offering participants the opportunity to join the cast to investigate text, character and the Elizabethan stage. New World Theatre’s Indeavour Stage, named after the first vessel built by John Guy and his crew after their arrival in 1610, is a true Elizabethan-style stage, built from local wood and enclosed with sail canvas. The theatre is located on Burnt Head Loop in Cupids. Tickets are available by calling 722-6987, and a detailed schedule is available online at Twitter: @tara_bradbury

Organizations: New World Theatre, MUN, Grand Bank

Geographic location: Isle aux Morts, Newfoundland, Ireland Quebec England Halifax

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