Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Newfoundland berries and theatre

From St. John’s we headed to the tiny community of Daniel’s cove (six houses, one seventy-nine year-old resident) where fellow Banff Science Communications alumna Rhonda Normore had offered us the use of her cottage. The whales that pass by the remote northern point of the Baccalieu Trail of Newfoundland’s Avalon Peninsula did not show themselves (it was a bit late in the season), but we did see two crows dive-bomb and generally harass an osprey over the bay. Later the osprey (presumably the same one) was rewarded when we saw it swoop and grab a fish from the waves.

We walked over the hills, picked berries and sat and watched the ocean as the tide rose and fell. The best of the berries were the abundant blueberries, delicious on our morning cereal, but the partridgeberries, which we had never met before, were not quite ripe. In this picture you can see both, and a third one, the bunchberry, which is not edible.

Then it was on to Trinity, where we had hoped to take in some of the local music scene. No dice, the place was almost morgue-like, as it tends to close down after Labour Day. We did get to a moving and fascinating one-man play put on by the Rising Tide Theatre Company. It was called It’s Like A Dream To Me and was set as a storytelling to old black and white photos about the life of a now one-hundred-and-five-year-old ex fisherman. Author Bertha Thorne had written the story as a book about her father, and Frank Holden, who played the part of the old fisherman with great conviction, had then turned it into this play. Good theatre that gave us a real feel for the times and struggles of Outport life.

From Trinity we moved on to Gros Morne National Park where we stayed with storyteller and balladeer Anita Best (more about her here) in the fishing village of Woody Point. This too was a magical time. Anita is a fluently bilingual balladeer, and a storyteller who specializes in fairy tales. She had stayed with us in Saskatoon during the annual Storytellers of Canada conference (you can find out more about this group here) and it was great to see her again. Sticking to the theatrical theme of this blog we were fortunate enough to be in Woody Point when Newfoundland singer-songwriter Ron Hynes performed a solo concert in the Woody Point Heritage Theatre. Not quite solo. When he saw Anita in the front row he at once invited her to come up and sing with him. He chose I Never Met A Liar (I Didn't Like), which he had co-written with Connie Hynes. You can see the delightful lyrics here, but there is some sort of legal wrangle over the actual recording, which is called 11:11 - Eleven By Eleven Newfoundland Women Sing, (1999) so you cannot hear Anita’s lively and funny rendition. No wonder her web page describes her as
a true renaissance artist in the Newfoundland folk / traditional scene

Our final session of theatre-related fun was at the Gros Morne Theatre Festival, in Cow Head on the northern peninsula. We saw two shows. The first was A Rum for the Money by Berni Stapleton, directed by Jeff Pitcher and told the story of three men engaged in rum smuggling form the French islands of St. Pierre and Miquelon to Newfoundland in the not-too-distant past. The author had done extensive interviews with real people who had played a part in the action, and the entire stage was the inside of a dory packed with casks. Clever stuff. This was followed by a cabaret and music evening called Neddy Norris Night that had been arranged and directed by Petrina Bromley.

It’s great to see the encouragement and support of the arts in Newfoundland, and better yet to hear that premier Danny Williams has at once reacted to the national government’s massive cuts to arts funding by replacing all of them out of provincial coffers.

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