He Said/She Said – Gros Morne Theatre Festival

This year’s Theatre Newfoundland Labrador’s Gros Morne Theatre Festival is in full swing and runs until mid September. Yesterday we posted an interview with TNL’s artistic director Jeff Pitcher who shared taking in one of the festival’s seven productions is a magical and “cultural experience,” … “of being in Cow Head, on the shores of Shallow Bay in the wondrous Gros Morne National Park on the Great Northern Peninsula on the spectacular island of Newfoundland!”

Today we hear from Amelia Manuel and Adam Brake, actors who are each performing in three of the festival’s plays. Yes you read that correctly—three plays—what a feat!

How and when did you first get involved with the Gros Morne Theatre Festival?

Adam Brake: I first worked with GMTF back in 2003 while I was still in theatre school, but I actually got involved with TNL much earlier. TNL has an excellent youth theatre training program, and I got involved with that when I was in high school. I was in TNL’s youth theatre productions, and took classes from actors and directors who worked with TNL at the time. It was those classes that made me decide to go to theatre school and made me want to be an actor!

Amelia Manuel: This is my second season with TNL’s Gros Morne Theatre Festival. 

What do you find most fulfilling about being involved in the festival?

Adam Brake: I think that GMTF is a special place to work. On the one hand we are a small company, so there is a very strong sense of community among Cow Head, and the cast and crew; but on the other hand our small size doesn’t keep us from producing ambitious work. TNL is constantly looking for innovative ways to tell the stories of the people of Newfoundland and, specifically the west coast of Newfoundland which is where I am from. I’ve been in many plays, but there is always something special about doing a play about your home. I have a personal connection to a lot of the work we do out here, and I find that very fulfilling.

Amelia Manuel: The quality of the work, primarily.  I feel truly privileged to work with such a great group of artists to produce good theatre.  GMTF brings together a group of individuals who bring their talents to every facet of this company, and I believe that is the most fulfilling part.

A scene from Tempting Providence (2014).

What would you like people, who have never attended, to know about the festival?

Adam Brake: I think I’d like to let people know that we are a full fledged professional theatre on par with anything you would see in a larger centre. We produce theatre shows of a professional caliber, with some of the most talented people in the country. We’ve had award winning directors, designers and actors here in Cow Head, and most if not all, are looking forward to the next time they can come back to work out here. Cow Head is a beautiful place, and the commitment to the artistic process here allows us to create truly special plays like Tempting Providence or Newfoundland Vinyl.

Amelia Manuel: This festival is special because not only does it tell stories of Newfoundland and Labrador, but many times stories of this particular region.  They are told for the people here and, of course, visitors alike. Sometimes the plays involve families from the area, so it is possible that when you come here and see a play you may be sitting in the audience next to a descendant of a character you’re watching on stage!

What roles are you playing in the three productions you are acting in?

Adam Brake: In The Known Soldier I am playing Tommy Ricketts, the youngest soldier (17) in WWI to be awarded the Victoria Cross. The play was written and directed by TNL’s artistic director, Jeff Pitcher. I am playing the role of “Man” in Tempting Providence. The play is about nurse Myra Bennett who was the nurse in this area until she died in 1990. It was directed by Jillian Keiley the current artistic director of the National Arts Centre. In Newfoundland Vinyl, I play the role of Ed, the host of the evening. Vinyl is a music show that has new arrangements of Newfoundland music from the 60s and 70s. The show was arranged and directed by Allison Crowe.

Amelia Manuel: In The Sinking of The S.S. Ethie, I’m playing Cassie Brown, a journalist and writer who was active in NL in the 50s-60s. I’m also playing a character that is loosely based on a singer who was quite popular in NL during the 60s-70s named Joan Morrissey in the show Newfoundland Vinyl, which is a music show featuring songs by NL musicians. In addition, I have the great honour of playing Myra Bennett in Robert Chafe’s Tempting Providence .  Myra Bennett was an English nurse who came to Daniel’s Harbour in the early 1920s and was the first formal medical care that this part of the coast had ever seen.  She was an incredible woman, and it is an incredible piece of theatre. This play had been a part of the Gros Morne Theatre Festival for many years and has been brought back this season with a new cast, and I am the second person to ever play this role.

Has it been a rush? difficult? amazing? to be in three plays at the same time!?!
Adam Brake:Any actor will tell you they would always like to have more time to produce a play, and out here in Cow Head it is no different. However, with our excellent crew and administrative staff, our jobs as actors are much more comfortable. There is a very good culture of support in this company, and when the going gets tough, we all pull together to make some truly spectacular theatre. Being in three plays can be difficult at times, but the variety of doing a different play every night keeps things fresh and exciting. 

Amelia Manuel: I think it’s always a little crazy to rehearse three shows then open them a few weeks apart but I think that is part of the rush. 

Amelia Manuel in Newfoundland Vinyl.

 How have you enjoyed the performances so far?  How have audiences reacted?
Adam Brake: The performances so far this summer have been great! I’ve got a really great line up this summer, and I get to do a little bit of everything. I’ve got some really physical work in The Known Soldier which is something new for me, and then I get to stretch my comedy chops in Newfoundland Vinyl which I always enjoy!
TNL has a great supporting audience who know what we are about and return year after year. I look forward to seeing them every year, but what really excites me is doing these shows for people who have never been to Cow Head before. It is exciting to meet patrons after the show who are surprised and moved by the stories of my own home, and that is a very common experience for me out here.

Amelia Manuel: I have been having a great time.  It has been pretty smooth sailing and the three shows that I’m in are very different from each other, so every night is a new vibe.  And we’ve had excellent feedback from the audiences, whether we hear it second hand from our box office, or standing in line waiting for a coffee.

Is there anything you would like to add?
Adam Brake: Just to come see us this summer, and when the play is over, if you see our cast in the bar or at the grocery store to stop and say hi! We all love hearing from patrons, and if there is anything we can do to make your theatre experience out here on the west coast better, just ask!

Amelia Manuel: It is pretty special to be able to work with team of people that I respect and produce great work within the beauty of the Gros Morne National Park. I feel very fortunate.

Gros Morne Theatre Festival
Presented by Theatre Newfound Labrador
Runs until September 17, 2014

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