Stephenville Theatre Festival
Maxim Mazumdar (originally from Bombay, India), was in Stephenville for the
1976 Provincial Drama Festival where he was adjudicator. Impressed with the caliber
of performers from around the province and encouraged by local volunteers, Mazumdar
decided that Stephenville was a good place for a yearly theatre festival. Mazumdar
returned to Newfoundland in 1978 and, over the course of two years, he established
the Provincial Drama Academy (a summer theatre school for high school students)
and the Stephenville Festival. He hoped that the Academy and the Festival would
provide performers with a place to learn about the theatre, to work with
professionals, and practice their craft.
||Maxim Mazumdar, 1985.
Maxim Mazumdar founded the Stephenville Theatre Festival in 1979.
Courtesy of the Centre for Newfoundland Studies Archives
(Coll-136), Memorial University of Newfoundland, St. John's, Newfoundland.
In 1979 the Stephenville Theatre Festival opened. Starting with only 5-6 people on
payroll and a shoe-string budget, the Festival produced Macbeth and The Man Who
Came to Dinner at the Arts and Culture Centre in Stephenville. He was able to seduce some
internationally known performers into the town such as British ballet stars,
playwright/critic Eric Bentley and high-profile actors from across the
The Stephenville Theatre Festival's content in its first decade was popular, and it
still is for the most part. Mazumdar and company picked successful American
Broadway musicals, classical theater (again, often American but also European),
and even some of Mazumdar's own works. For example, in 1980, they produced
Mazumdar's own piece Invitation to the Dance starring renowned dancer John Gilpin,
and Tennessee Williams's The Glass Menagerie. That same year the Festival company
went to the Edinburgh Theatre Festival. In 1984, Cyrano de Bergerac was produced,
starring Gordon Pinsent. The Festival ran for two weeks and the repertory schedule
saw large audience attendance. Artists employed by the Festival also provided
workshops to Academy students in acting, voice and movement.
By 1985 the Festival employed a professional company augmented by students
from the Newfoundland Drama Academy, the Festival's summer school. Eight different
productions ran every summer and attendance had grown to average 7,000. Working
with Mazumdar was festival manager Cheryl Stagg, whose aggressive fund-raising drew
both praise and criticism. Her courting of corporate sponsors was not entirely
popular at a time when the performing arts in Canada often maintained a firm
distance from big business. But Stagg's financial successes in the 1980s allowed
Mazumdar to bring in nationally-known performers and to
produce the kinds of plays he wanted.
|Stephenville Theatre Festival Logo.
Reproduced by permission of Marilee Joy.
Between 1984 and 1987, Mazumdar and his company took the
Festival plays to Halifax and St. John's. By the late 1980s, however, attendance
dropped and then in 1987 the Town of Stephenville cut a vital subsidy.
Just months before the 10th Anniversary Festival season, founder Mazumdar
died of AIDS-related complications.
In 1989, the new Artistic Director, Irish-born actor Sean Mulcahy, tried
dropping the repertory approach and, unfortunately, the Festival went further
into debt. Then, from 1990 to 1993, Cliff Le Jeune took on the task of Artistic
Director. In his four years as Director, Le Jeune managed to expand the Festival
and to address the budget deficit. Le Jeune would combine popular musical theatre,
like Patsy Cline Idyll Gossip, with Newfoundland plays such as Janis Spence's
Catlover, and Michael Cook's Therese's Creed. Le Jeune kept musical theatre as
the core of the Festival, and he had a big hit with the popular musical Nunsense
From 1994 to 1999 a former actor with Mazumdar's company, Edmund MacLean, took
over as Artistic Director and has consistently produced 10-12 plays each season,
keeping the musicals, and classical theatre but expanding the Canadian and
Newfoundland content. MacLean did not have an easy start. In 1994 the Festival
announced that it was going to cancel the season, and then reversed the decision.
MacLean produced a smaller, shorter program in 1994, and the Festival hung on.
Under MacLean's leadership, the Stephenville Theatre Festival started to produce more
Canadian drama and fewer Broadway-style musicals. In 1995, the Festival included Linda Griffith
and Paul Thompson's Maggie and Pierre and MacLean started the "Brave New Works"
portion of the Festival. This second space activity produced eight 20-minute
scripts from local playwrights. MacLean's mandate is to produce light comedy and
musicals as well as Canadian plays from both Newfoundland and the rest of the
In 1998 Friendly Invasion, based on the book of the same title by John
Cardoulis was the main attraction. Based on Stephenville's history as the
site of the Ernest Harmon Air Force Base, the play considers the complex
relationship between Newfoundland and the American military. More recent
productions have been Dracula, Plaza Suite and Roy Orbison - A Legend in His Time.
The 1999 season included Tom Cahill's As Loved Our Fathers, David French's Salt
Water Moon, and Cindy O'Neill's Woman of Labrador.
The Festival has been recognized for its continuing work in the theatre, receiving
awards from the provincial and federal governments. The 2001 season, under
Artistic Director Jerry Doyle, includes Munsch based on the popular children's
writer Robert Munsch's stories, The Outlaws by Jerry Doyle, Clar Doyle's Out
From Here, as well as musicals and fringe theatre events.
©2001, Danine Farquharson