Newfoundland serves up drama in the most unlikely places

Rural Newfoundland has a vibrant performing arts scene.

IN COW HEAD

TRINITY, Newfoundland & Labrador — It’s the name of the play that draws me in: Big as Dogs and Twice as Saucy sounds like a good bet for an evening’s entertainment in the tiny community of Trinity, 260 kilometres northwest of St. John’s.

Lord knows there’s little else to do here once the sun goes down.

I’ve come to Newfoundland & Labrador to hike and kayak and get a sense of the place.

In St. John’s, it’s easy to find a good scoff and scuff (dinner and dance) and a theatrical performance. But when I venture west, to the province’s small outports, I don’t expect much in the way of professional entertainment.

And that’s what makes discovering rural Newfoundland’s vibrant performing arts scene that much sweeter.

Big as Dogs and Twice as Saucy proves to be a hoot, particularly for locals in the audience. They laugh and slap their knees and shake their heads as a madcap story of bumbling law enforcement, homosexuality and the northern cod moratorium unfolds.

Those of us from away have to work a bit harder. The accents are thick and the Newfoundland vocabulary baffling. (What the heck is a “streel”?)

Despite the linguistic challenges, I enjoy myself — in a, “Wow, I’m discovering the culture of a foreign country!” kind of way.

The play is one of 16 that make up Rising Tide Theatre’s summer festival, called Seasons in the Bight.

The festival’s anchor event is the New Founde Lande Trinity Pageant, where audience members follow the cast of 40 through historical scenes played out in the roads and buildings in Trinity.

Rising Tide’s performances feel at once professional and homegrown, entertaining and educational. They’re light-hearted, yet with a depth of emotion that goes to the core of the place.

As the company’s executive producer Donna Butt says of the festival, “It’s not slick. It’s not Stratford. But it’s ours.”

In Cow Head, another blink-and-you’ll-miss-it town, the Gros Morne Theatre Festival draws in the crowds.

This isolated west-coast village seems an unlikely spot to stage a 16-week summer extravaganza of 150-plus performances. That is until you learn that Gros Morne National Park, one of Canada’s most celebrated parks, is next door.

I attend a lively adaptation of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream performed in a natural outdoor amphitheatre. The stage is bordered by cliffs and woodland and comes with killer ocean views.

The actors give it their all, and I attempt to laugh in all the right places despite struggling with Shakespearean dialogue delivered in a Newfoundland accent.

I meet the festival’s artistic director, Jeff Pitcher, who tells me about a new play that’s based on the true story of a grisly murder in Cow Head in 1809. The main character is a trapper named John Pelly, whose name was legend in these parts.

“Growing up, your parents would threaten, ‘Better be good or Pelly’s ghost’ll get ya,’ ” Pitcher explains.

He suggests I visit the Cow Head museum where the murder weapon, a double axe, is proudly displayed.

Yes, indeed, Newfoundland serves up drama in the most unlikely places.

Access

For more information on Newfoundland & Labrador visit the Newfoundland & Labrador Tourism website at www.newfoundlandandlabrador.com.

 

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