Newfoundland and Labrador Arts Council
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38th Stephenville Theatre Festival

Location: Stephenville, NL
ArtsNL Program Funded Under: Sustaining Program for Professional Arts Organizations
Amount Funded: $22,500

stephenville theatre fest 1The cast of 'Blue Champagne' -- from left: Matthew Payne, Michele Shuster, Nathan Sartore, Amelia Hironaka and Michelle Nash

 

Dates: February 2014 to February 2017
Festival Dates:
July 15 to August 14, 2016
Festival E-mail:
stfmanager@outlook.com

The Stephenville Theatre Festival found its beginnings in 1979, in part thanks to well-known Canadian actor and director Maxim Mazumdar. Mazumdar had adjudicated the 1976 to 1978 installments of the Provincial Drama Festival and returned to do so again in 1979 when it took place in Stephenville. He found the calibre of performers involved impressive, and Mazumdar saw further potential in a committee established to arrange a summer youth acting school.

That became the Provincial Drama Academy, also established in 1979, and its first class presented The Man Who Came to Dinner and Macbeth. Those shows are considered to mark the first season of the Stephenville Theatre Festival – Newfoundland and Labrador’s first professional theatre festival.

Now in its 38th season, Thom Currie is at the helm and there are five stage productions as well as the return of the always popular A Night With... musical performances, plus the annual gala. In the stage line up this year there is Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Blue Champagne, Perfect Wedding, A Closer Walk with Patsy Cline, and Rock ‘n Fables. Those shows will feature a 22-member company, many of whom are making a return to the festival to perform (you can check out the company of players here - http://www.stephenvilletheatrefestival.com/meet-our-company/).  In fact, the festival has an alumni of hundreds, all of whom are honoured on the website as well. (Link: http://www.stephenvilletheatrefestival.com/alumni/)

Over the decades the Stephenville Theatre Festival has stayed true to its original commitment to producing diverse, innovative, and courageous professional theatre that entertains, engages, and delights audiences while stretching creative and artistic boundaries.

The dedication to that vision is what has led the festival to be one of Canada’s most eclectic and exciting repertory theatre companies. It’s also a driving force for the regional economy as a job creator and major tourism draw for the Bay St. George area, enriching the arts and cultural sector for locals and tourists alike.

For our latest feature, we caught up with Thom Currie for more insight into the 2016 season.

Q and A with Thom Currie...

ArtsNL: How was the line up of stage performances chosen this year and why were the chosen titles selected?

Rock n FablesMichelle Nash and Thomas James Finn performing in 'Rock 'n Fables'

Thom: The West Coast of Newfoundland and specifically the Stephenville and Bay St George regions represent a distinct culture within our already distinct culture.  The presence of the American Air Force Base in Stephenville for a major portion of the 20th century deeply coloured the cultural consciousness of an area already heavily influenced by the French, Scottish and Aboriginal heritage.  Programming for the festival therefore reflects this cultural heritage, as it has for the festival’s 38 year history.

The festival is primarily a musical theatre festival.  In keeping with the founding Artistic Director’s vision of a big Broadway musical anchoring the festival, we chose Dirty Rotten Scoundrels for the 2016 Season.  The mix of broad comedy and name recognition speaks to an audience which does not enjoy the cultural tourism of other parts of the province and will bring patrons in who have likely not previously attended the festival. 

The rest of the festival reflects the tastes and culture of the region, with a commitment to Canadian created works that depict world sensitivity.  Blue Champagne and A Closer Walk With Patsy Cline, both classic Canadian musicals were chosen to complement the region’s 2016 Come Home Year celebrations, which includes a region-wide 1940s-‘50s themed celebration of the Harmon Air Force Base.  A hilarious Canadian-British farce Perfect Wedding was chosen to see a return of non-musical plays to Stephenville Arts and Culture Centre’s mainstage.  The festival is making a concerted effort to increase family experiences, and so the classic Canadian musical Rock ‘n Fables was chosen as our family show, geared to families with young children.

ArtsNL: Once the plays are picked, how does the casting process unfold? How long does it take, and are all shows cast at once?

Thom: The festival strives to be a national festival, so auditions are held across Canada.  For 2016, there were auditions in Stephenville, Corner Brook, St. John’s, and Toronto, with extensive video and Skype auditions from Calgary, Winnipeg, Montreal, Vancouver, and Edmonton.  For this season, casting took over three months.  As we are a repertory theatre, all casting is done with an eye toward each performer playing roles in at least two productions.

ArtsNL: Can you tell us a little bit about each of the shows that are being produced in a sentence each?

Thom: Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is a Broadway musical-comedy based on the film of the same name. Blue Champagne is a Classic Canadian musical celebrating the music of the 1940s, telling the story of an accidental national broadcast from the west coast of Newfoundland. Perfect Wedding is a hilarious farce about a bridegroom, his best man and everything that can go wrong on a wedding day. A Closer Walk With Patsy Cline is a Canadian play focussing on the life and career of a singer who changed the course of 20th century Country music. Rock N Fables retells classic fables with a hilarious Canadian twist.

ArtsNL: Can you talk a little about the creative process? What happens once a script has been chosen?

Thom: Once a script has been chosen, we take a hard look at putting together a complete creative team for each show, with an eye on how each member of the team understands the history and mandate of the theatre, the culture, and history of the Bay St. George region and of Newfoundland and Labrador, and how they can help the art produced by the Stephenville Theatre Festival touch our patrons.  We then move into casting, design, and physical creation of the shows.

ArtsNL: While cast members are obvious employed actors to audiences, there are many more theatre professionals involved in making the festival tick – how many jobs are created with each season and year round, and how important are these opportunities?

Thom: Each season the festival employs around 40 people.  In addition to artists from across Canada, the festival creates jobs for Newfoundland-based actors, designers, musicians, directors, carpenters, media experts, stage managers, artisans, choreographers, and writers.  We also provide summer employment for around 10 students each season.  Every summer theatre festival in Newfoundland and Labrador contributes enormously to local trade and are an incredibly important part of the overall economy.

ArtsNL: How have recent audiences at the festival been and what are the anticipated audiences for the upcoming season?

Thom: In the past decade, the festival has seen declining numbers.  However, with a deep reaching study on the local culture and the history of the festival, attendance in 2015 was the highest in several seasons.  The 2016 season has been greatly anticipated in the region and advance sales are already greater than they were in 2015 by this point.

ArtsNL: Aside from the plays, what else can your audiences take in?

Thom: Aside from our main season of plays, patrons can attend staged readings of new musicals, various educational opportunities such as our popular Theatre Talk Back series, and presentations of Newfoundland-based artists, featuring music, comedy, and theatre.

ArtsNL: We mentioned festival alumni often returns for subsequent seasons above, can you talk about that a little? Any recurring company members that stand out to you? Great alumni success stories?

patsy cline show

Amy Sellors performing in 'A Closer Walk with Patsy Cline'


Thom: The festival has had artists returning every year since 1979.  Many festival alumni have gone on to careers across Canada and beyond, featured at The Stratford and Shaw Festivals, and on Broadway.  In fact, it’s difficult to find an artist working in musical theatre in Canada who does not have a connection to the festival.  This season, our significant welcome-backs are actor Clint Butler, who was last with us in 2006 and director Jillian Rees-Brown, who directed in the festival’s second season.  In addition, we have several members of the 2015 Season returning for 2016.

ArtsNL: How and why is the festival so important to the region? And, considering its longevity what has been the secret to success?

Thom: The festival is one of a kind.  We are the only festival of musical theatre in the region, and we take great pains to ensure that the playbill speaks directly to the people of the region, who make up the majority of our audience and supporters.  This has always been the secret to the festivals’ success, and is what differentiates the Stephenville Theatre Festival from others.  The secret to the festival’s success has always been that it is different.

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

Thom: ArtsNL funding from the Sustaining Program for Professional Arts Organizations is crucial to the ongoing success of the festival.  The funding allows the festival to explore and produce work that speaks to the distinct flavour and culture of our region.  We’re able to concentrate on development, outreach and education, while creating art for a region whose culture is decidedly different from the rest of the province.

ArtsNL: Is there anything you would like to add?

Thom: Join us at the festival and explore our region.  See you at the theatre!