Newfoundland and Labrador Arts Council
Newfoundland and Labrador Arts Council
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featured projects

Rising Tide Theatre

Location: Trinity, NL
ArtsNL Program Funded Under: Sustaining Program for Professional Arts Organizations
Amount Funded: $57,000

Rising Tide Theatre publicity photo


Dates: February 2014 to February 2017
Festival Website:
Project Contact:
Donna Butt
Festival E-mail:

Formed in 1978, by Glen Tilley, Terry Rielly, Rick Boland, Jeff Pitcher, David Ross and Donna Butt, Rising Tide found its beginnings in writing and producing political plays that addressed important issues for Newfoundlanders and Labradorians. By 1993, the company established its cornerstone New Founde Lande Trinity Pageant – an outdoor theatre experience that takes audiences on a journey through the lanes and roads of Trinity, and the history and ways of life from years gone by.  A year later, Rising Tide offered the inaugural Summer in the Bight theatre festival, a companion event to the pageant.

That theatre festival has evolved over the years, and was renamed in 2002 to be known as Seasons in the Bight to reflect the addition of presentations in the fall shoulder season. The line up of productions offered by Rising Tide is a mixture of tried and true Newfoundland and Labrador theatrical classics, blended with new commissioned works called for by the theatre company. In that vein, and harkening back to the company’s roots, there is of course the annual creation of the Revue show that plucks out milestone moments from the past year and anthologizes them in a beloved and well anticipated comedic production that tours the province.

Rising Tide Theatre stage show


Playwrights such as Des Walsh, Berni Stapleton, Ed Riche, Ben Pittman, Petrina Bromley, Ruth Lawrence, Paul Rowe and others have penned entirely new scripts for the Rising Tide stage. Currently, the company has a few new works in development by writers such as Berni Stapleton, Steve Cochrane and Ed Riche, including a possible remount of Lisa Moore’s February. Rising Tide is also planning a cross-province tour in September and October 2016 of its highly acclaimed No Man’s Land by Kevin Major.

Much of this work comes out of the Rising Tide Arts Centre, located in Trinity, NL. The building was constructed in 2000 to serve as a permanent home for the company as well as a focal point for the 20,000 or so visitors that come each year.

Those visitors are treated to the pageant, dinner theatre, the aforementioned new commissions, as well as iconic theatrical cornerstone shows like Harry Hibbs Returns by Ben Pittman and directed by Butt herself; in fact, the show was a Rising Tide commission some years ago. Other productions offered include West Moon by Al Pittman, Saltwater Moon by David French, and The Birthday Balloon by Steve Cochrane.  As the company moves into its fall season offerings and readies to embark on their No Man’s Land tour, we chat with Donna Butt…

Q and A with Donna Butt...

ArtsNL: How does Rising Tide make decisions about what productions to include in the summer and fall season line up?

Harry Hibbs Returns stage showPerformance of Harry Hibbs Returns.

Donna: They’re generally based on shows I want developed that depict aspects of our history and society. In some cases I approach writers, and in others the writer will pitch an idea to me, which is always welcome if there’s anyone out there interested in doing that. Productions can also be contemporary pieces focusing on the present. There are also a number of plays that find their way into our repertoire that exist, like Al Pittman’s West Moon and Kevin Major’s No Man’s Land or our exploration of Pam Morgan’s The Nobleman’s Wedding. Plays are chosen that provide creative challenges for the many incredible artists who work here. The audience is considered, as well. I try to provide a variety and range that appeals to those who come. The pageant, of course, plays every season.

ArtsNL: Once the shows are selected, how does the casting process work? Who are some of the memorable actors that have performed in past or the current season line up?

Donna: Casting is done by consultation with different directors, and in some cases writers. Shows are occasionally chosen to suit the skills of individuals. It’s a repertoire company in the summer so everyone does a variety of roles but we try to ensure everyone has a role special to them. Many actors, both young and old, return for a number of seasons which contributes significantly to casting choices. There have been so many incredibly wonderful performances here I truly would not be able to single any out. I am constantly in awe of the amazing artists who have graced our stages.

No Man's Land cast

Publicity photo for No Man's Land.

ArtsNL: Can you talk about some of the partnerships you have with other theatre companies or theatrical producers?

Donna: There are different kinds of partnerships that form when you work in a rural region like Trinity. Partnerships with other non-profits in the area such as the Coaker Foundation (where we wrote and performed an onsite play about Coaker), and the Trinity Historical Society (where we developed and performed a site specific piece), as well as ones with particular writers, allowing for the ongoing exploration of their work, for plays like Megan Cole’s Hunger with White Rooster. That is the kind of partnership I want to do more of in the future. So again, if someone has a proposal for a partnership, please get in touch! We also read plays during our fall season here and do a performance that originated here at the Gander Arts and Culture Centre annually. We also work with the regional High School Drama Festival often and present a play each fall at the theatre for the schools in the region.

ArtsNL: Why are things like those partnerships important, and how do they enhance the work/productions being offered?

Donna: Partnerships are important because they financially and creatively share resources and contribute to the growth and development of individuals and organizations. They’re also a way to enhance regional co-operation. Equally, volunteer participation in many groups and committees is critical. Those volunteers help nurture ideas and strengthen a sense of place in the community, both the theatre community and the wider geographical community.

ArtsNL: What’s it like to take a show like No Man’s Land on tour, and why is it important that Rising Tide do tours for shows like that, and Revue for example?

Donna: It’s exciting and somewhat daunting to take No Man’s Land on tour but it’s so very special for all of us to take this story to as many people as we can, and to young students. What happened on that July day had a profound impact. We must honour it and learn from it. It was an individual loss and a collective loss. We feel privileged to have the opportunity to use theatre as a means of exploring that loss and those who were sacrificed. These kinds of stories are at the core of a lot of our work.

Revue has been running since 1984. It’s a chance for us all to share a laugh and poke a little at the political shenanigans that’s so much a part of life in Newfoundland and Labrador. The audience has come to know us and it a like a gathering of family every winter to dissect the past year; a gathering for those of us working on it and for those who come out to see the show faithfully every year. Travelling around in the middle of winter isn’t easy but there it is.

ArtsNL: What type of community role does Rising Tide play in Trinity, and the surrounding area? Why is it an important role?

Donna: Rising Tide is an integral part of Trinity, and the region. Our impact is significant: we employ a large number of people, with a well recognized economic impact. Our efforts contribute to the appreciation of Trinity Bight and to its growing status as a tourist destination. Our passion and commitment to telling the stories of our home and our province mean a lot to those who experience them, while providing opportunities for those who work here. Our promotional efforts help provide exposure, and we rent houses for those coming here for the summer, and frequent the businesses ourselves and do our audiences. We also rent the parish hall which helps keep it running. There are other ways as well, but these are some examples.

ArtsNL: How would you like to see Rising Tide grow further in future years?

Donna: I have referenced some of the partnerships we’d like to build on, such as working with companies like White Rooster to contribute to their continued growth. I’m interested in working with a couple of the independent companies for a co-production or some form of partnership, too. We will be presenting some ideas on the forms these partnerships could take later in the fall. We’re planning to take one or two of our shows from here to St. John’s for short runs in the fall or late spring, and will continue to do all we can to commission writers, providing a platform and venue for audiences to enjoy their creative talents. We hope to bring shows like Lisa Moore’s February, which we originally presented in partnership with the Winterset in the Summer Festival, and Steve Cochrane’s Birthday Balloon, as well as other plays to St. John’s, as well.

ArtsNL: What is the secret to Rising Tide’s continued success? What advice would you offer to emerging organizations with similar focuses elsewhere?

Trinity pagent

Performing the New Founde Lande pagent.

Donna: I guess our success is due to hard work - a passionate commitment to tell our stories, great teams of people year after year, both onstage and off. The energy, skills, and love of their craft shine through, along with a willingness to try new work, knowing there will be successes and failures. The effort matters as do good partners in the region and also at agencies like ACOA, the provincial government, the Arts and Culture Centres, and others. But we still face challenges every day, make no mistake. It’s very tough to keep a non-profit professional theatre company thriving in these times.

As for advice? Hard one. I enjoy the many conversations shared with colleagues and hope some useful knowledge is occasionally imparted. I suppose I’d say have a clear vision, be prepared to make many sacrifices and some mistakes but keep going, keep struggling. Surround yourself with dedicated and talented people, and find the place between and the heart and the brain where the company works, the plays matter, and the audience shares. Know what you want to achieve and build it slowly. Stay as true to yourself as you can in the midst of the compromises and disappointments. Enjoy the work and always strive to make it better. Oh yes, patience, and be prepared for long hours!

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

Donna: The sustaining funding from ArtsNL is absolutely essential. ArtsNL and the Canada Council are the only sources of sustaining funding. They are the place where the art is supported. They are an important part of the foundation.