RCA Theatre Company
The Resource Centre for the Arts Theatre Company (RCA Theatre Company) has not had a history lacking in drama and dissension. Bound up in the purchase and renovation of the L.S.P.U. Hall in the 1970s, and the controversies of that project, the RCA Theatre Company has survived economic problems, heated debates over its governing structure, and periodic resignations of artistic personnel. Despite all of this, the company and its theatrical base at "the Hall" remain a key stone of St. John's theatre.
RCA began as the Resource Foundation for the Arts (RFA). The RFA was set upto cultivate the arts in Newfoundland, but it was also the parent company for the Mummers Troupe Ltd. (established in 1972). With financial support from the Department of the Secretary of State, the Bronfman Family Foundation, and cash and in-kind donations from the St. John's community, the Mummers bought the Hall in 1976 and renovated it. Their intention was to build a small, flexible space available for rehearsals, performances, and meetings of the arts community.
By 1979, after three years as home to the Mummers and the RFA, the Hall became the subject of major discussions and disagreements among St. John's artists. As Fran Locke notes, "there were complaints of over-charging for rentals and numerous other allegations. These eventually produced a feeling ... that to work for the Hall or the Mummers was somehow a 'sell-out.'"(Locke 4).
Eventually, in September 1979, an elected board of directors took over the operation of the Hall, and changed the name of the RFA to the Resource Centre for the Arts (RCA). The name change not only marked a shift in policy about how the Hall would be managed, but it marked the start of the RCA Theatre Company. The Resource Centre for the Arts is an umbrella organization with four main divisions, all of which are administered through the board and all of which are housed in the L.S.P.U. Hall. The four areas facilitated are: the RCA Visual Art Gallery (the only non-commercial gallery in the province where emerging artists can have solo exhibits), the RCA Neighbourhood Dance Works (a resident contemporary dance company, operating in a festival format each year), RCA Operations (which manages the day-to-day operation of the Hall and coordinates the use of the space as a multi-purpose, multi-disciplined facility), and the RCA Theatre Company.
The RCA Theatre Company has produced and presented more than 50 original mainstage plays. Its talented community of professional theatre artists have produced work of local and national significance and has included artists such as Mary Walsh, Andy Jones, Rick Mercer, Bob Joy, Jillian Keiley and Danielle Irvine. Each season RCA Theatre undertakes a full programme of mainstage plays, focusing on local Newfoundland playwrights with demonstrated skill in staging full-length drama or comedy. Unlike the majority of Canadian theatre companies, RCA Theatre does not have an Artistic Director; rather, it has an "Artistic Animateur." The idea is that the Board of Directors operates like an artistic director and the Animateur then works to shape their directives. The Animateur is a theatre facilitator; she or he solicits scripts and coordinates open auditions, but does not necessarily direct the mainstage plays. This arrangement omits the controlling presence of an artistic director. Originally called a "Program Animator" (Mary Walsh served in this role in 1983), the title changed to "Artistic Animateur" (AA) in 1988.
The Artistic Animateur
From 1988 to 1991, Charlie Tomlinson was the AA. His main goal was to promote and create new works, as well as provide an alternative space for the development of new scripts. To this end, Tomlinson started the "second space" at the Hall and combined that with the Theatre Arts Workshop. The Second Space program focuses on script development and produces local play, on simpler sets and with smaller budgets (a mainstage production can cost up to $35,000.00 and the second space plays are produced for about $6,000.00). The Theatre Arts Workshop provides writers and directors with a team of actors from the RCA Theatre Company to help workshop ideas, and very often these projects are then produced in the Second Space. Some of the plays produced by RCA Theatre during Tomlinson's tenure, both as mainstage and as second space, were Chickens and Cat Lover by Janis Spence, Hanlon House by Greg Thomey and Bryan Hennessey and a collective comedy called We Have No Pity for the Pseudo-Downtrodden that involved the talents of Lois Brown and Rick Mercer.
In 1991 Bryan Hennessey took over, but resigned after a single season. There were funding problems, administrative changes, and scheduling difficulties. The RCA board then advertised nationally for an Artistic Animateur, and in 1993 Newfoundland artist Lois Brown was hired, remaining until 1997. Her tenure with RCA Theatre saw a greater number of productions of plays by women. In the 1993/1994 season, for example, RCA Theatre produced Joan Sullivan's Wolf in the Fold, Connie Hynes' Later That Same Night, and Liz Pickard's multi-media The Alienation of Lizzie Dyke. That same season also saw the production of Ed Riche's Possible Maps. During her work with RCA Theatre, Brown also changed the name of the second space project to the Significant Other Series (SOS), and that name remains for the smaller productions of new works.
After Lois Brown left, Michael Chiasson took over as Artistic Animateur and continues in that role today. Some of the mainstage productions he has promoted are Funicular by Fran Locke and Empty Girl by Robert Chafe (both in the 1998/1999 season), and Power of the Unemployed by Kathryn Welbourn and Chris Brookes in 1999/2000. In 1998 Chiasson also brought in children's theatre as a regular addition to the RCA Theatre season. Bugs! Bugs! Bugs! by Frank Barry and Amanda Greenleaf by Ed Kavanagh are two examples.
Under Michael Chiasson, the RCA Theatre Company continues its original dedication to promoting and encouraging local playwrights as well as actors and directors. Within the structure of the Resource Centre for the Arts and its other avenues of artistic support, the RCA Theatre Company is a vital part of the L.S.P.U. Hall's symbolic and real role as an important St. John's space for Newfoundland theatrical productions.