Stephenville Theatre Festival

This page is from a heritage partnered project. It was written in 1998 by students from Stephenville Integrated High School and edited by their teachers. It has not been vetted by the heritage website's academic editor.

"Theatre belongs to the people and is for the people."

In the mid-1970s a provincial drama festival was held in Stephenville. The adjudicator was Maxim Mazumdar who was impressed with the caliber of performers from around the province. Yet the performers wanted more - more training, more experience, and more interaction with other artists. A group of volunteers predicted that tourism could enhance summers in Stephenville and urged Maxim to come back. He did come back to establish the Provincial Drama Academy in 1978/79, as a place to learn about the theatre, to work with professionals, and practice one's craft. From this emerged the Stephenville Theatre Festival, which developed into one of Atlantic Canada's most promising, exciting, and eclectic producers of theatre. Since 1979, the Stephenville Theatre Festival has produced professional plays of the highest quality in Newfoundland and Labrador.

The ability to make magic happen on stage with little money became what the Stephenville Festival was known for. The experience of Shakespeare, Broadway, twentieth century classics, new Canadian works, all kinds of music, and unique Newfoundland creations were all found there. New anti-war plays, country musicals, and huge extravaganzas were there for everybody. They may have been attracted to the festival by something familiar - but they came back time and again to try something new.

The year 1998 was the first year for the "Friendly Invasion", based on the book of the same title by John Cardoulis. This play was based on Stephenville's intriguing history as the site of the Ernest Harmon Air Force Base. It was a tribute to the unique relationship between Newfoundland and Labrador and the American military. It was hoped that "Friendly Invasion" would become an annual addition to the range of productions for which the Festival became famous.

Practical Benefits of the Festival

Of course, there are practical benefits of the Stephenville Theatre Festival, which were always evident and impressive. The Festival creates anywhere from forty-five summer jobs in a small year to as many as eighty in other years. Sometimes, almost twenty to forty percent of the audience is from outside Stephenville. The festival attracts people that wouldn't normally stop here. Many individual local businesses sponsor specific performances or make donations.

The festival has played one of the main parts in developing a thriving summer economy based on tourism. The Stephenville Festival has been integral in the development and growth of such things as bus tours, hotels, bed and breakfasts, restaurants, campgrounds, and airlines. Touring businesses are developing around this area today thanks to the Festival's uncanny ability to attract people.

Arts and Culture Centre
Arts and Culture Centre
Stephenville's Arts & Culture Centre, home of Stephenville Theatre Festival

C. Pelley Photo

Festival Preparation and Recognition

Stephenville Festival makes its home at the Arts & Culture Centre. There has yet to be any other group or individual able to give such life and enthusiasm to the building. In 1997, a new 'second stage' was opened; a beautiful yet simple two hundred seat black box. The Festival has made the Centre a viable, productive place.

Many artists began their training with the Festival and have gone on to well-paying jobs locally and abroad. The Festival has also been instrumental in creating a number of new works. The careers of many of Newfoundland and Labrador's finest performers was nurtured through the Festival.

The Stephenville Festival has developed a very extensive list of travel agencies, tour operators, businesses, foundations, individuals, theatre companies, and government and related agencies. They have developed a very impressive corporate and private sponsorship program, supporting a considerable number of its activities. From all over the country, major corporations continually give financial support to the Festival, which imports new money for Newfoundland and Labrador, and develops visibility and new markets for their products due to promotion and advertising by the Festival.

The Festival has been recognized for its outstanding work. The province presented the festival with the Doug Wheeler award; it received a major award from Saga Communications; a special award was given as a Great Canadian Event from the Federal Canada 125 program for its work; and the Festival was named one of the top attractions by the North American Bus Association.

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