West coast scene lures writers, musicians

Published on May 10, 2007

For an authors festival in Toronto, you go on stage and you read and you go home. This is more informal. There is a real sense of community. There are evenings of performance and the days are free for hiking or swimming. On top of that youre always running into the writers.

Alison Gzowski is the artistic director of Writers at Woody Point (as well as a Globe and Mail editor, and producer of CBC Radios Talking Books). Shes played a role with the festival since it started in 2004.

Stephen Brunt, whos a Globe sports writer, has a house in Woody Point and he called to ask about ideas of helping the (Woody Point Heritage Theatre) get more business, Gzowski said on the phone from Toronto.

He asked what I thought about a writers festival. And I said I always thought that you could do a writers festival in Newfoundland.

They started fundraising right away, first with an evening at the Brass Taps in Toronto, and later adding an event at the Masonic Temple in St. Johns.

We plan year by year. It changes every year, but it always brings people to Newfoundland whove never been there and who otherwise might not come, said Gzowski.

Some, like editor Diane Martin, end up buying a house.

The program also quickly grew to include music, and this years lineup includes more than 20 writers and singers, like Bernice Morgan, the Mahers Bahers, George Bowering, Joel Hynes and Linden MacIntyre.

I keep my eyes open in the fall and winter, (scouting for) books that will be coming out in the spring, said Gzowski.

Although summers can be a busy time for writers to read and tour, the Woody Point Festival is an easy sell.

Charlotte Grey said if she was only doing one festival this year, it would be Woody Point. Everyone wants to go to Newfoundland, right? Every thinking person wants to go to Newfoundland.

And Newfoundlanders like to get to the west coast of the province, too.

Woody Point is nestled right down in this inlet. Its absolutely stunning, said singer Holly Hogan, who will perform with Mary Barry this year.

You look one way and see the Tablelands, you look another way and see the Long Range Mountains. And the audiences are fantastic theres always this really warm feeling.

Hogan has been at the festival before, when her husband, author Michael Crummey, read.

I was always his sidekick. Now, hell be my sidekick, so Im chuffed about that.

Poet and screenwriter Des Walsh has appeared at the festival each year.

They keep asking me back, said Walsh, who scripted The Boys of St. Vincent and is currently developing a script with Tarragon Theatre as well as the screenplay Love and Savagery, among other projects.

He doesnt give a lot of readings.

Except I do the March Hare, religiously, if Im asked. But Woody Point is a great festival as well. Theres the pure physicality (of the location). My history, and whole family history, is the east coast, Placentia Bay and Trinity Bay, and the saying is we dont trust a tree we cant see over the top of. And out there Im hiking to the top of a mountain, he said.

The geological landscape is so different, its a treat.

Walsh likes the venue the old Orangemens Lodge that Charlie Payne restored and credits the festivals organizers with keeping things running smoothly and treating the participants well.

And its the summer, so you have the weather. With the March Hare, sometimes youre battling the elements, even to get there, although thats part of why they started it.

Walsh isnt sure what hell read he may play music instead.

Writers and audience fly to Deer Lake, or drive out from St. Johns, and set themselves up in the B&Bs and cabins around Woody Point.

The audience is a range of people from the area, or Corner Brook or St. Johns, and some who just happen to be there, like American or European tourists at Gros Morne.

We have one venue the theatre which has about 150 seats, said Gzowski.

We can squish a few more in, and those of us associated with the festival will stand and give our seats to someone.

The theatres second floor gets turned into an artists co-op and bar.

I always love it, Gzowski said. Im looking forward to Cathy Jones. And to someone whos never been there before, like Gail Anderson-Dargatz. I always look forward to it because its always surprising. Its always better than you think it will be.

Theres a very festive atmosphere. Theres a very, very warm audience. The first reader at the first festival was Michael Crummey, and mid-way through his reading he stopped and said, Wow, what an audience.

Writers at Woody Point runs Aug. 15-19. Tickets go on sale Saturday.

To purchase by credit card, call (709) 453-2900.

For more information, visit website www.writersatwoodypoint.com.