English Theatre takes the smash hit Tartuffe home to Newfoundland

English Theatre's Tartuffe tour is a resounding success with actors Greg Malone, Robert Joy and Alison Woolridge © Richard Blenkinsopp

Andy Jones’s folklore workshop at Riverwood Academy in Wing’s Point, Newfoundland isn’t over yet, but already the Canadian actor and playwright knows he wants to come back one day.

“I got a special feeling as soon as I walked in the door,” Andy recalls.  “I remember thinking I’ll gladly come back to this school anytime.”

During the workshop, Andy tells stories and teaches elementary and high school students about the oral tradition, told in kitchens across Newfoundland until the 1950’s.  The students sit riveted, surprising their teachers by how attentive they are.

“In a world where everything comes from a screen, kids aren’t hearing a lot of stories told in the old tradition these days,” says Andy.  “They invested in the stories in an overwhelming way.”

Riverwood Academy was just one stop on NAC English Theatre’s two-week Tartuffe tour to Newfoundland last fall.  In addition to performances in five communities, the tour included an incredible 54 individual workshops for teachers, students and community groups.  For many of the 19 teaching artists, including Andy, the outreach and education events were the highlight of their time in Newfoundland.

“It was very rewarding,” says Andy.  “The tour went to some hard-to-reach places.  It was great to have all these artists on one bus travelling across the province, reaching out to students and communities.”

Along with Andy, the Tartuffe tour company also included two other original members of CODCO —  a Canadian comedy group from Newfoundland best known for their sketch comedy series which aired on CBC in the late 1980’s/early 1990’s.  Robert Joy and Greg Malone taught comedy workshops to theatre groups and students.  Meanwhile, other artists offered workshops in everything from creative writing to stage management.  They brought their talent and expertise to Memorial University, schools, community centres, and even three correctional centres.  Everywhere they went, the company received a warm welcome.

“We are one of the few performing arts groups touring through Newfoundland’s Arts & Culture Centres to offer a full slate of education and outreach events alongside performances – it’s almost unheard of,” explains Judi Pearl, Artistic Projects Coordinator for NAC English Theatre.  “Everyone who participated was grateful to have this exposure to arts education events.  It was so valuable for us to create bridges between the artists, students and communities in Newfoundland, especially outside of St. John’s.”

Andy agrees.  “As a national institution, it’s important for the NAC to do more and more outreach across Canada.  It helps people feel like they’re part of the whole country.  It’s great to go into schools and talk to the kids and encourage people to come out and see a professional production – something they don’t often get to see in a place like Gander Bay.”

Andy’s adaptation of Molière’s comedy classic, Tartuffe, which he set in 1939 Newfoundland, was a big success when it premiered at the NAC in 2013.  But Judi says its reception in Ottawa still can’t compare to the one it received while on tour.

“In Corner Brook, I watched the audience watch the show.  There was a special feeling in the room as they recognized themselves on the stage.  It was a celebration of who they are as Newfoundlanders.  It was a privilege for me to witness the pure joy and love for each other that was visible on their faces,” says Judi.

In the end, it is the education and outreach events that Judi cherishes most.   Both she and Andy are sincerely thankful to NAC supporters who helped make the tour possible.  “The opportunity to bring these artists to remote communities in Newfoundland is something I will treasure all my life,” she says.  “I’m very grateful to donors for helping to make it possible.”

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