Newfoundland and Labrador Arts Council
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Writers at Woody Point

Location: Woody Point, NL
ArtsNL Program Funded Under: Annual Operating Program for Professional Arts Organizations
Amount Funded: $7,000

Margaret AtwoodMargaret Atwood reads during Writers at Woody Point 2015.

 

Dates: August 15, 2016 to August 14, 2017
Festival Dates:
August 16 to 21, 2016
Festival Website:
http://www.writersatwoodypoint.com
Project Contact:
Gary Noel
Festival E-mail:
noel.gary@gmail.com

The Writers at Woody Point Literary Festival was established in 2004 and it has taken place in the Bonne Bay community on the island of Newfoundland ever since. Organized by the Friends of Writers at Woody Point, the festival annually lines up authors, musicians, hosts, and special guests that entrance and dazzle audience members and other participants.

The same organization owns and operates the Woody Point Heritage Theatre, which has been a fixture of the community since 1908. It is to this venue that writers from around the world, across Canada, as well as those from throughout the province have converged to perform exclusive readings, discuss current and upcoming work, and engage in Q&A sessions with festival patrons.

Woody Point Theatre building

The Woody Point Heritage Theatre, home of Writers at Woody Point.


The authors can also connect with other writers over meals or on a hike into the pristine hills. They can soak up the area's own creative talent at exhibits of art and crafts, musical performances and impromptu after-hours celebrations that combine jam sessions, dancing and lots of laughter.

CBC Radio’s Shelagh Rogers has hosted a number of the past festivals, and returns to the role again for the upcoming one which will take place from August 16 to 21. Rogers will be joined by author Michael Crummey, and fellow CBC colleagues Rick Mercer and Angela Antle for hosting duties.

The aforementioned musical performances, this year, will feature the talents of Ron Sexsmith, Sherman Downey, Amelia Curran, and Brianna Gosse to name a few. They will join the ranks of past performers who include Bruce Cockburn, Gord Downie, Sarah Harmer, and Ron Hynes.

Of course a festival centred on writers is sure to feature a number of fantastic authors. The 2016 lineup does not disappoint with past BMO Winterset Award winner Megan Coles, Book of Negroes author Lawrence Hill – who’s latest title, The Illegal, was included in Canada Reads 2016, Heather O’Neill who enjoyed great success with her recent release The Girl Who Was Saturday Night, as well as local authors Patrick Warner, Ed Riche, and Des Walsh among others.

The 2016 featured authors join a veritable who’s who of literati who’ve appeared in previous years like Margaret Atwood, Michael Ondaatje, Emma Donaghue, Wayne Johnston, and Lisa Moore. The festival ahead will not disappoint the anticipated sold out audiences for each day and evening, which has seemingly always been the case. In our latest feature, we chat with the festival’s executive director.

Q and A with Gary Noel...

ArtsNL: How does the line up of authors and musical performers get sorted out, and what is the process once you decide who you would like to have?

music outside at the festivalGord Downie plays for the crowd on the Lomond River Trail during the Writers in the Wild hike.

Gary: We come up with a list and send invitations, and almost without exception they say yes; who wouldn’t love to come to Woody Point in August? That list is made up of suggestions from some great people that we have called upon over the years for advice and ideas – writers, editors, broadcasters and booksellers among them. Typically, from those suggestions we book four or five authors who have been recognized or acclaimed, with new books, which have come to the attention of the Giller, Governor General, and Rogers Trust award committees balanced with Newfoundland and Labrador writers specifically who are nationally acclaimed or recognized as emerging talents. Occasionally we manage to get a high profile international author, such as Alexander McCall Smith and Richard Ford because someone on our advisory team has a connection and knows that they would love to come to the province! As for the music, we do what we can within our budget to bring a headliner of exceptional calibre for our opening concerts, and a variety of local and national acts to add to the reading events.

ArtsNL: What does the scheduling planning process entail, and how many people are involved in planning the festival?

Gary: Our format hasn’t changed much since the beginning but the number of events has expanded greatly. Steve Brunt, our founding director, is great at putting the right mix of authors and musicians together for each main stage event. As executive director, I work with a team of volunteers, including an exceptional board of 14 directors, to get the details - from accommodations to travel to hospitality and much more - all sorted. Many folks in the community pitch in as well in ways too numerous to list.

reading on the warf

Elizabeth de Mariafi reading on the wharf at Galliott Studios during Writers at Woody Point.


ArtsNL: What are some of the 2016 schedule’s highlights?

Gary: We are thrilled to have Guy Vanderhaeghe who has won three Governor General awards for adult fiction – the most of any Canadian writer. We have three Up Close and Personal events: Guy Vanderhaeghe with Lawrence Hill, Ed Riche with Rick Mercer, and Donna Morrissey with Angela Antle. Even in a crowd of 200 or so, in our beautifully restored, historic venues – the Heritage Theatre and St. Pat’s - audiences love the intimate atmosphere.

ArtsNL: What are some of the biggest challenges you face in organizing the festival, and how are they overcome?

Gary: Our biggest challenge has been a problem that most festivals would love to have – how to satisfy the demand for tickets. I think to some extent we have solved that by adding more events – as many as we can squeeze in over a six-day period. So a ticket buyer may not get into their first choices of events, but they are usually able to find plenty – including quite a number of free ones – that still have space. We are also somewhat limited by the availability of accommodations in such a popular tourist spot. That has been alleviated somewhat by the addition of a late night water taxi run that goes to Norris Point, allowing folks staying on the north side of the bay to attend evening events – and have a beautiful, moonlit commute back to their lodgings!

ArtsNL: How have festival audiences evolved over the years? What types of things do you hear from them in anticipation of the event and after?

Gary: The proportion of ticket buyers from outside the province has increased steadily over the years, as we have become better known nationally. The continued positive feedback we receive from visitors and locals alike encourages us to continue doing what we’re doing. Many of them are repeat attendees – we have folks who come from as far as Vancouver every single year – so we know they trust us, even when we program lesser-known names or innovative presentations.

ArtsNL: What are some of the most memorable moments that the festival has created over the last dozen or so years?

Gary: That’s a tough one – there have been so many! I could mention Paul Quarrington’s moving story with music, or Sarah Harmer’s candlelight finish to her set when the power went out. But I think many will agree that the great moments are when national icons like Bruce Cockburn, Margaret Atwood, Gord Downie, and Michael Ondaatje, mingle late in the evening with audience members and locals; cultural barriers seem to disappear when they all stand on the dock outside the Legion or Galliott Studios to marvel at the northern lights or the moonlight on the hills. And the Writers in the Wild event, added a few years ago, seems to recreate a kind of magic every year on the gorgeous Lomond River Trail.

ArtsNL: Tell us more about the venue itself, how did the organization acquire it, and why/how is it important to the organization? And, the community?

Gary: Our main venue has been, and continues to be the Woody Point Heritage Theatre. The festival started when a group of locals wanted to support Charlie Payne, who, with his wife Joan, had beautifully restored the old Loyal Orange Lodge and renamed it the Woody Point Heritage Theatre. They organized a literary event that now, 14 years later, has become a significant economic and cultural force within the community. When the building was offered for sale in 2012, the Friends of Writers at Woody Point, with the help of ACOA, Gros Morne Cooperating Association, and other stakeholders, were able to purchase it. This ensured that this building, so much a part of the history of the town, would continue to be the home of our festival, and a location for community events, well into the future.

ArtsNL: How would you like to see the festival grow further in future years? Any program additions, partnerships you’d like to form, etc...

Cajun Country Revival show

Cajun Country Revival performing at St. Pats in Woody Point during Writers at Woody Point.


Gary: We are located in the heart of Gros Morne National Park, and Parks Canada has been a strong partner in planning and promoting our event and encouraging the use of so many park facilities and locations. Creative Gros Morne works with us and other local cultural organizations to raise the profile of Gros Morne as a cultural destination, so that our festivals and others in the area continue to attract crowds. This year we organized our very first spin-off event Comedy at Woody Point in mid-July with great success. This new annual event adds to the great cultural mix that is Gros Morne in summer.

ArtsNL: What is the secret to the festival’s continued success? What activities happen throughout the year besides the main festival itself?

Gary: Steve Brunt, our founding director, Shelagh Rogers, our main stage host, and Charlie Payne, now a board member, are among the driving forces that have been with the festival since day one and continue to shape its direction with their foresight and vision. But we have tried never to stray from a fairly simple formula: bring good writers and musicians together in a gorgeous small town, have them demonstrate their talents in beautiful old heritage buildings and gorgeous landscapes, and then provide opportunities for everyone to mingle late into the evening and get to know each other. The formula works beautifully.

ArtsNL: How does the ArtsNL funding from the Annual Operating Program for Professional Arts Organizations help?

Gary: ArtsNL has supported us from start, and continues to allow us to bring a diversity of programming that would otherwise never be seen in this somewhat remote location. This adds to the quality of life for us locals, and attracts visitors who help keep these communities sustainable.

ArtsNL: Is there anything you would like to add?

Gary: Just that it’s a great source of pride to us that the little event we organized 12 years ago has been met with such support, from the arts community in Newfoundland and Labrador, to our funders and sponsors, to thousands of ticket buyers over the years who keep coming back. It’s great fun to do something like this in such as wonderful place!