Newfoundland and Labrador Arts Council
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The 41st Labrador Creative Arts Festival

Location: Happy Valley-Goose Bay, NL
ArtsNL Program Funded Under: Annual Operating Program for Professional Arts Organizations
Amount Funded: $10,000

Robert Chafe in a workshop

Robert Chafe leads a workshop

Project Dates: April 15, 2016 to April 14, 2017
Festival Dates: November 16 to 22, 2016
Artist E-mail: regina.wells@gmail.com

The Labrador Creative Arts Festival, which just last year celebrated its 40th anniversary, returns again this November with a theme of resilience.  The longest-running children’s festival in Canada, throughout its history, it has published a collection of over 450 original scripts. Those scripts are made available to schools throughout Labrador, and occasionally to other groups and organizations by request.

Those original scripts and their creation rests at the heart of what the Labrador Creative Arts Festival initially set out to do – give an opportunity to Labrador children to come together to perform their own plays. The scripts are written by students themselves as they learn about the techniques of theatre production with some assistance by professional artists.

The festival invites a set of visiting artists to the northern region each year which comes with shared benefits. Professional artists are afforded an unfettered opportunity to see the north, travelling to a number of remote communities, while participating in a multidisciplinary event. The students in turn are able to gain new skills that can be applied in a number of ways, for the rest of their lives, while also building a deeper understanding and interest in the professional arts.

flutist at festival

Flutist plays at the festival


The visiting artists, who may be writers, dancers, musicians, actors, or visual artists, also lead workshops outside of the time they spend with students working on their plays. The workshops are submitted to schools and are designed for Kindergarten to grade three students, grade four to seven students, or grade eight to 12 students. Often times, the visiting artists will ultimately get so engaged that they will lead up to five workshops every day of the festival. They also attend the actual performances to support the students as they step on stage, and one visiting artist each night makes a brief cameo in a show.

The Labrador Creative Arts Festival has long been accepted and celebrated as vital enrichment in the learning experience for schoolchildren in Labrador. The students, who are often geographically far from one another, enjoy the chance to collaborate and learn together, many leaving with lasting friendships as well as new skills. Sometimes those interactions have sparked creative opportunities for projects beyond the festival itself.

This year’s theme of resilience will encourage students to explore the theme through Labrador’s eyes, like the life of Inuk sniper John Shiwak from Rigolet, and the soldiers who returned only to walk hundreds of miles after their ship left them on the southern coast of Labrador after World War I.

The festival will also celebrate Canada’s resilience in its journey to nationhood to mark the county’s 150th birthday. It will also celebrate the fact that Labradorians voted overwhelmingly to become Canadian citizens, marking the first time that citizens in the region had ever voted on something.

And, not to be ignored, the idea of resilience factors into the Labrador Creative Arts Festival’s own history. In spite of challenges due to the geography and escalating costs, the festival continues to thrive.

Q and A with Regina Wells...

ArtsNL: Can you share some details on what’s involved in the creative development process that students undertake with the visiting professional artists?

Regina: Finding inspiration and brainstorming is generally the first step; figuring out a theme for their piece of art. Then they start to create their work with the artist by adding a song chorus, improvising a skit, building a story - depending on whatever the artist’s discipline happens to be.  Once it has progressed far enough it will be reviewed by students and changes get made. Song lines are swapped out, colors are added, actor placements changed, and so on. Before it’s presented they have a chance to do one more final review prior to their piece being shared with their classmates.

ArtsNL: Let’s talk about the subject matter of plays that have been and will be created – where do students find their inspiration and, is it important that they are regionally based?

Regina: Inspiration comes from a variety of places. Students often use their own personal experiences of living in remote areas, legends handed down from generations, other ideas from their imaginations, or group brainstorming sessions. We have had such an eclectic mix of theatre presented on stage; a lot of incredible work over the past 40 years.

Not all of the plays are regionally based. Many are based in far off lands and have taken audiences on journeys through space and time, though regional based plays make up a large component of the festival productions. They are an outlet for students to share the history of their community, express their feelings about recent events, or bring the audience to daily Labrador life.

Three felt butterflies

Felt butterflies made with Rozalind Ford


ArtsNL: Aside from connecting students with one another, and with professional artists to enrich their learning opportunities, the festival body of work also indirectly becomes a historical record of Labrador culture – how and why is that important?

Regina: It’s important for students to show how proud they are to be Labradorians, of their history and the events that shape their culture. Writing and presenting their plays is a way for the students to dive deeper into these events as well as bring these memories and events to life for an audience.

Many scripts from our archives were unearthed last year and presented at the 40th Festival Coming Home. It was a theatrical spectacle but also a presentation of historical works written by Labrador youth.

Labrador has a very rich history and I’m very excited to see what students come up with this year. In the past we’ve seen many examples of Resilience; the inspiration for plays this year is endless! Labradorians embody resilience everyday and this year’s plays will be an excellent addition to the historical record!

ArtsNL: How are decisions made with respect to what professional artists are invited to participate in the festival?

Regina: In the weeks following the wrap up of the festival, the committee meets to start planning for next year. Committee members and the Festival Coordinator begin brainstorming and start to bring forth their ideas. We’re always searching for new artistic mediums to present to the students. There are so many types of artists and we want to give students exposure to as wide a variety as we can.  

Enthusiasm is one of the main things that we look for. Visiting artists have to be passionate about their work and passing on their skills to youth in order to participate. It’s an exhausting week but also an extremely rewarding one. They need to be ready for adventure or prepared to spend three days in the airport on weather hold!

ArtsNL: Who are some of the memorable visiting artists that have participated in the past, and who will be involved this year?

Regina: There are so many the wonderful artists; it would be difficult to select a few to highlight. For me it’s not just the artists themselves, but the moments that they create, that I cherish.  

Felt Butterfly with participant

Felt butterflies made with Rozalind Ford


My own niece and nephew have attended the festival for the last seven years. I’ve watched them learn to make felt butterflies with Rozalind Ford, they’ve heard Daniel Payne and Sherman Downey perform at the Concert at the Chalet, practiced contortion with Samantha Halas, and were transfixed during school performances by L'Aubergine theatre ensemble. It’s been great to see the festival through their eyes and see how much of an impact it can have. These artists provide lasting inspiration for my own family members to draw, dance, and create.  I see the positive impacts of the festival all year-long.

Our visiting artists this year include Brad Jefford who is a guitarist, composer, and improviser from St. John’s, Emily Pittman a visiting artist from Clarenville, and gypsy jazz group Christine Tassan et les Imposteures.  I can’t wait to see what memorable moments they create!

ArtsNL: How does the festival come together each year, who does the planning and organization work?

Regina: The bulk of the planning is done by the Festival Coordinator. We’ve been lucky to have some fantastic coordinators over the past 40 years. Tim Borlase, one of the festival co-founders, still plays a large roll. He’s a wealth of knowledge and is always eager to draft the driver’s schedule each year!  Committee members provide assistance with planning LCAF events such as the youth talent show, Labrador’s Got Talent, and our annual fundraiser, the Concert at the Chalet. We also receive assistance from the Labrador schools and from each of the school representatives, as well. It’s a collective effort and a big undertaking to host this event in Labrador each year.

ArtsNL: Why do you think the festival has thrived for more than 40 years, and why is it important to the students and the region?

Regina: It’s become an important cultural regional event; students highly anticipate it each year. The format that was designed 40 years ago still works as students still have the desire to get on stage to tell their own stories and learn new artistic disciplines. However, we still have lots of room to make changes and continue growing it over the next 40 years. 

Last year, I was blown away by the quality of work that each and every school group presented. Students are not only writing their plays but also learning so much about directing, set design, lighting and sound. More than ever students are getting involved behind the scenes of the stage productions and are learning about the importance of backstage crew when producing a play. They’re learning new skills from their teacher directors, visiting artists, and each other.   

Last year’s Coming Home Festival featured visiting artists that had all previously attend the LCAF. It was a great opportunity to hear how the festival helped shape their future artistic careers.  There are so many artistically talented students in Labrador, many who have the interest to turn their talent and passion into a profession. Sometimes all the students need is some inspiration or confidence to try something new and the LCAF is proud to provide a platform for that.

ArtsNL: What are some of the highlights resulting from the festival – in terms of creative projects occurring outside the festival as a result of student/artist participation?

Regina: In previous years we’ve had small groups of students work after school with visiting artists to create movies or choreograph dance pieces. Visiting artists that initially came to Labrador with the LCAF have returned to our region to continue to foster student’s love of the arts or to perform for residents.

For me, the biggest highlight was Tim Borlase’s 40th Anniversary Collaboration! It involved students and community members from all over Labrador performing excerpts from several previously performed LCAF plays from the archives. We even had actors from Mud Lake School perform the play they had written 20 years prior! Visiting artists provided additional vision for each performance. When it all came together, it was pure magic!

ArtsNL: What are some of the common challenges does the festival face, and how are they overcome?

Regina: Funding is our biggest challenge. For annual events like the LCAF it’s not easy to sustain ourselves each year. Funding is never a guarantee but each year when the festival ends we’re full of inspiration to continue writing and submitting proposals! We just keep searching for new applications, new projects to add to the LCAF, and keep typing!

Weather, there is nothing we can do about the weather; this would be our other biggest challenge. We try to work around it as best we can. Travelling to and from coastal Labrador is always a challenge. A few visiting artists have written songs, poems, or stories about being delayed in the airport. Schedules are always changing. We’ve learned to be adaptive and always have a plan B!

ArtsNL: Can you share more information about the workshops that the visiting professional artists lead?

Regina: Each visiting artist develops three workshop descriptions geared for primary, elementary, and junior/high school. The workshops are all interactive in some way. The students may learn a new painting technique, write songs, create costumes, learn about traditional storytelling, create puppets, make comic books, or dance!

ArtsNL: Are there ways that the general public can participate in the festival, aside from taking in shows as audiences? And how?

Regina: Visiting artist workshops are held on Saturday at Mealy Mountain Collegiate and these are open to the public. All residents of any age can come out and participate!

Students from the local area can also take part in our annual talent show, Labrador’s Got Talent, on Saturday night following the play performances. All students, not only festival participants, are eligible to sign up to perform.

We have our annual fundraising event on Sunday at the Birch Brook Ski Lodge, the Concert at the Chalet.  It features performances from LCAF visiting artists. It has become a highly anticipated event, and tickets are available to the general public.

The public can also sign up to be a volunteer and assist the committee with creating the line up for next year’s festival.  New volunteers are always welcome!

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

Regina: ArtsNL has been a long time public funder of the LCAF. We’re so grateful that ArtsNL continues to champion us and acknowledge the importance of this festival to the youth of Labrador. These funds have kept the doors open and the festival running. 

It also supports artists from Newfoundland & Labrador. For the island-based visiting artists it is often their first of many future trips to the Big Land! We get to showcase the talent of these artists, while the students get the opportunity to learn from those that are from our own province.    

I’ve participated in the festival as a student, visiting artist, and volunteer for 10 of the 40 years. I’m a product of the festival. Although I never went into the professional arts sector, I was able to utilize skills I have learned as an environmental educator and as a member of the Mokami Players Community Theatre group. The LCAF does enrich students’ lives, empowers youth to try something new, and inspires them to dream big! Thanks to ArtsNL we can keep this tradition happening.

ArtsNL: Is there anything else you would like to add?

Regina: We hope to continue the LCAF for another 40 years with the support of the students, teachers, school boards, community members, volunteers, and funding agencies!  People are now coming to watch their grandkids perform at the festival; it has become a family tradition. We hope that many generations to come get the opportunity to take part.