Performance of original dramatic material in Newfoundland and Labrador has a long history.
Community, church and school concerts have been produced across the province for decades.
These entertainments often contained music, recitation and original drama. Another mainstay
of performance used the review format which combined original dramatic material with music.
Productions such as "Screech" by the Amateur Players and "Home Brew"
by the Playmakers, both under the leadership of Tom Cahill, are examples
of the review style which later would be adopted by Rising Tide Theatre for its annual review.
While Cahill was creating review material, Grace Butt, who founded the St. John's Players in
1937, was writing plays. Her first, The Road Through Melton, was produced by the St. John's
Players in 1945.
St. John's Players, ca. 1940.
Grace Butt (second row, seated fifth from left), was an important early Newfoundland playwright and founder of the St.John's Players
Courtesy of the Centre for Newfoundland Studies archives (Coll-032, 12.04.009), Memorial University of Newfoundland.
1967 marked the opening of the St. John's Arts and Culture Centre and the first all-Canadian
Dominion Drama Festival. Playwrights across Canada began writing, and this explosion was also
felt in Newfoundland and Labrador. Subregional festivals saw Newfoundland plays compete -
Wreakers by Cassie Brown, Tomorrow Will Be Sunday by Tom Cahill, and Holdin' Ground by Ted
Russell. Cahill's play went on to receive top honours and a performance at Expo '67 in Montreal.
And Newfoundland playwrights began to emerge. Joining Butt, Brown and Cahill in the seventies
were Michael Cook and Al Pittman, both prolific writers.
Cassie Brown, 1965.
Cassie Brown's play, Wreakers, opened at the new Arts and Culture Centre in St.John's in 1967.
Courtesy of the Centre for Newfoundland Studies archives (Coll-115), Memorial University of Newfoundland.
The seventies also saw a new form of theatre emerge. Collective Creation became a dominant form
and most productions during the late seventies and eighties followed this format. By the end of
the eighties, a shift occurred once again. For a variety of reasons, collective creation
activity almost ceased and playwrights once again began to emerge. Several writers who had
direct and varied experience in the creation of collections, began to write their own plays,
among these Greg Thomey and Brian Hennessey,(Hanlon House), and Janis Spence, (Catlover),
who had researched and improvised on more than one occasion. Others like Berni Stapleton,
(Woman in a Cage), had established careers as actors. Some, like Pete Soucy (Flux) had
extensive experience working for other media. The theatre drew them all in, and it soon became
the mandate of the Resource Centre For the Arts to produce original Newfoundland material.
Writer and director Janis Spence is still active in the art of
Digital photo reproduced by permission of Justin Hall. © 2000.
A host of new playwrights have emerged over the last decade. Frequently workshopped at the
Resource Centre For The Arts and elsewhere, local plays dominated several seasons. Rising Tide
Theatre's Summer in the Bight festival is devoted to Newfoundland drama, and the Resource
Centre for the Arts' season highlights Newfoundland plays. Playwrights like Robert Chafe and
Amy Curran are representative of a new generation of writers whose work now shares the stage
with the playwrights of earlier decades.
©2000, Denyse Lynde