Theatre Newfoundland Labrador (TNL)
Theatre Newfoundland Labrador (TNL) was founded in 1981 by Maxim Mazumdar, the actor/director who had previously started the Stephenville Theatre Festival and the Stephenville Drama Academy. Based mainly in Corner Brook, TNL produces a theatre season from September to May. They present at least four professional, main stage productions, one youth theatre production, and a community musical. The company also mounts three to four second stage productions, which are usually cabaret-style, original shows and which are major fund-raisers. In 1996, TNL brought the Gros Morne Theatre Festival (produced in the national park on the west coast of Newfoundland) into its programme. This festival features an assortment of theatrical entertainment from dinner theatre to historical plays to musical evenings.
TNL's main objective is to promote and present professional and community theatre in Corner Brook and the Bay of Islands area. More specifically, the company's goals are to develop audience appreciation for theatre and to maintain a permanent theatrical organization on the west coast. The youth theatre component of TNL has grown over the company's 20-year history. Providing classes to children ranging in ages from seven to 17, the youth theatre is designed to teach theatre arts techniques such as acting, mask design, make-up, improvisation, and the history of theatre. This has always been part of TNL's role.
School Tours and the Stephenville Festival
Edmund MacLean, a student and fellow performer with Stephenville founder Mazumdar, wanted to take theatre into the schools, and in order to do so, started what would become TNL in 1979. Among these first performers were Teri Snelgrove, Madeline Williams, Boyd Norman, and Jeff Pitcher. They toured schools across the province in the fall and winter of 1979-80 performing Shakespearean and other plays from the school curriculum, and worked with a provincial Department of Education initiative to increase awareness of, and interest in, English Literature instruction. The success of the school tour, combined with the government backing, convinced MacLean to officially register the company, and in 1981 TNL joined the Stephenville Festival as a West Coast professional theatrical organization.
The basic difference between the Festival and TNL is that the former offers audiences a short, compact, summer theatre season, and TNL performs year-round. There has always been an exchange of artists between the two companies. Other directors and performers who have been associated with both groups are Jeff Pitcher, Jerry Etienne, and Jim Petrie. However, the closeness of the two theatre groups has had an economic downside, in that they inevitably compete with each other for government grants and arts funding. By 1986 TNL was not only struggling for money, but was finding it difficult to co-ordinate school tours with a regular company season. Something had to give. TNL stopped the school tours, focussed on the regular playing season, and put more energy into the youth theatre component in Corner Brook.
Edmund MacLean was Artistic Director of TNL for ten years (1981 to 1991). He went to Corner Brook from Stephenville to direct a production of Hedda Gabler, and ended up staying to do the school tour. He has a love of Greek theatre, and whenever possible he would include a Greek play in TNL's already varied repertoire. He also brought in Canadian and American dramas to balance the seasonal mainstay of the Broadway musical. An indicative example of TNL's repertoire would be their 1988 season. That year MacLean directed Sophocles' Greek tragedy Oedipus Rex, Sam Shepard's American drama A Lie of the Mind, David French's Canadian backstage comedy Jitters, and Gilbert and Sullivan's British musical satire The Mikado. Even though MacLean in 1988 moved away from big-name Broadway shows like the previously-performed Fiddler on the Roof (1982) or The Sound of Music (1985), the 1988 season was the most successful of the 1980s and helped pull the company out of financial difficulties.
In the early 1990s Jerry Etienne took over as Artistic Director. He kept the basic programming plan, and his seasons combined Broadway musicals with Canadian, American and British drama. Etienne actively supported the idea of bringing in actors from Stratford and other national festivals to work with local performers (something MacLean did periodically). In 1992, for example, he brought Wenna Shaw from Stratford to perform in Shirley Valentine, and she remained in Corner Brook to offer workshops to actors and the youth theatre classes.
Gros Morne Theatre Festival
In 1996, TNL branched out, starting the Gros Morne Theatre Festival, which grew out of successful dinner theatre performances in 1995 at the Shallow Bay Motel in Cow Head (TNL always performed in different places: the Arts and Culture Centre in Corner Brook, the Columbus Club, or the Glynmill Inn). The Festival uses local history as the basis for the summertime theatrical offerings, and productions take place in various settings in the national park. The Festival includes the now-popular "Neddy Norris Nights" which are informal, improvisational performances. The name comes from the man for whom both Norris Point and Neddy's Harbour are named. The Gros Morne Theatre Festival has now become established, and in 1999 it received a new, permanent playing space: the Warehouse Theatre, behind the Shallow Bay Motel at Cow Head.
A Growing Newfoundland Repertoire
TNL has now incorporated more Newfoundland plays and productions into the otherwise standard (Broadway, London West End) repertoire of the regular playing season. In 1996/97 TNL did a stage production of Joan Clark's Eiriksdottir, in 1997/98 Torquil Colbo's half-hour, absurdist play Beyond Zebra, and the 1998/99 season combined the Broadway favourite Man of La Mancha with Tom Cahill's The Only Living Father.
TNL and the Stephenville Festival both survived the economically difficult 1980s, and TNL's expansion with the Gros Morne Theatre Festival now provides a wide variety of theatre experiences on the west coast.