On going small

Hello Internet, today is Monday, February 17, and I’m almost done reeling from rehearsing and remounting Original in St. John’s.

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Original, 2018. Photo by Ashley Harding Photography

The biggest difference between the 2018 edition and this one – aside from the fact that I am producing it this time, with so much freaking love and appreciation for PerSIStence for doing so last time – is scale. Until PerSIStence came on board, I was expecting to produce it myself (which comes with a much smaller budget), so I had a hybrid theatre/storytelling aesthetic in mind. And then some brilliant designers chewed on the stories for a while and came up with something bigger. We gave Embla the role of storyteller and put her in a costume, in a place – a beach, specifically – and, as the story unfolded, she set up camp there. We built a frame for our stories. I built a fire, and a tent, and a clothesline. We made a setting for the story to happen in.

When we reunited, the plan was to shrink the design to something that would fit into a suitcase. Carry on a milkcrate to sit on, rather than finding a rock there. Embla could build the beach, along with her camp there. We put the costume back together. We knew that lighting was out, but I had a couple of tricks up my sleeve for very simple ideas that might augment an otherwise on/off design. We expected to still, for example: make and drink tea, hang laundry, sit, stand, lie on the ground.

That all went out of the window almost immediately. When Berni and Jaimie and I got together for the first time this month, I read the script for them (there are new pieces since 2018, because history isn’t fixed and feminism is an ever-changing landscape), and we just tossed it. We briefly considered a packable roll of burlap to indicate an outline of a beach (or a nest, as we used to call the inner circle of our set), but that didn’t stick either. On day 1 we built a pillar out of some milk crates that happened to be in the rehearsal room for the purpose of giving me something to put my script on so that I could use my hands, and I found myself interacting with it (mostly Eve enjoyed leaning on it). And Berni suggested that I just tell the stories. Very little blocking – but an invitation to interact with the space I am given.

In short, the alternative to going big was going very, very small. Storytelling amounts of small. Look the audience in the eyes amounts of small.

The characters are the same. The costume is also the same: the story it tells is of a woman who has been walking around the world for a long time, and that still fits the new show. The sound design remains – and is, as expected, the main design element now – and ties the setting of the various stories into the elemental nature of the women. The beach is still there, in the sound, but it’s less literal. We hear the water reach up onto the shore and pull back, drawing its fingers through the pebbles on the beach. We have wind, and fire, and sometimes we have the sound of people – because people are, after all, what the story is about. But the show hinges now on the connection that the performer makes with her audience, and there is something about that that feels… right.

Original goes on tour at the end of the month with 3 dates in the Ottawa area, followed by shows in Corner Brook and Clarenville. See here for details.

Return to ‘Original’

Hello Internet! Today is Saturday, February 1st, and I am glad to announce a new life for Original.

HALL Original-Poster

More than a year after the original production of Original (I love saying that, it’s not confusing at all), I am working with director Berni Stapleton, sound designer Kathryn Burke, and stage manager Jaimie Tait on a new edition of this little solo show.

We’re returning to the roots, so to speak: the work as a piece of storytelling. There are some changes to the text – because history is being made every day and there’s always a new reason to be enraged or inspired – and we are stripping the show bare – just our three women, sharing space with an audience, telling a story.

After a very short run at the show’s home at the LSPU Hall in the Cox & Palmer Second Space, the show will be doing a few dates in Ontario and Quebec with our friends at Bear & Co., and then a small tour of Newfoundland, including dates in Corner Brook and in the Clarenville area. Keep an eye on this page for details.

Gratitude for Original

Hello Internet, today is Tuesday, December 4th, and the dust is just settling after the run of Original. And I have a story for you:
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Photo by Ashley Harding Photography

Last weekend, I wrote a final report to the City of St. John’s. A year ago they gave me a little grant to put toward the production of Original.
 
In a final report, you have to tell them how it went, highlighting in particular anything that happened differently in real life from how you planned it. Generally, best-case, you get to say “it all went pretty much the way I said it would.” At least, that was my best-case, until this project.
 
The grant application I wrote for Original a year ago described a solo show with minimal tech in a gym or art gallery, put together by an actor/producer, a director, and a stage manager/designer. That was the team, because the budget was tiny.
 
Instead, Persistence Theatre Company got behind this little show, hired the best humans available to build it, and then let it grow. This costume, this set, these lights, the soundscape… none of that was in the plan a year ago. But here we are, packing away all of those elements in the hopes that, in the not-too-distant future, we can pull them out again and put the show back together.
 
For the first time in my grant-writing career, my final report says that the real-life project goes way beyond the proposal.
To celebrate, here are a few other pictures taken by Ashley Harding Photography, and a very fine review written by Dr. Andrew Loman, who is a faculty member in Memorial University’s department of English.

 

 

 

Open!

Hello, Internet, today is Thursday, November 29th… the day after opening!

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This brilliant photo by Ashley Harding Photography

There is a review now. It is here.

Also, I thought I’d share the Playwright’s Note for the programme with you here:

“If you resist, you can change your story.”
There are three women – weird, otherworldly, not-quite-human creatures – who know the future. Shakespeare wrote these sisters into Macbeth. The ancient Greeks called them the Fates. In Norse mythology they are maidens, but there is a twist: they write the stories, but fate isn’t fixed. Your choices influence your future.
Here are three women – old as time, human but undying – on whose stories our culture is founded. Eve, who ate the apple. Pandora, who opened the box. Embla, who carries the burden of life. Original is an attempt to reclaim their stories, to tell them in their voices. Maybe, by giving these women a voice, we can change the stories that are told about them and, by extension, the culture that is rooted in them. I believe in the power of stories to change the world.
This piece represents a number of firsts for me as an actor, playwright and storyteller, and I dedicate it to the incredibly supportive theatre and storytelling communities of St. John’s that made it possible. Thanks especially to Jenn and to the board of PerSIStence who have believed in this particular story from the beginning. And thanks to you for coming in to share this story with us.
You can also download the whole programme if you like.
Original, running until Sunday, December 2nd at the LSPU Hall. Tickets are available here.

Introducing Embla

Hello Internet, today is Wednesday, November 28th… OPENING NIGHT! And I want to introduce you to someone. Her name is Embla, and she was once an elm tree.

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Ask and Embla, by Robert Engels

In the early days of writing Original, when I was just doing a general look-see for stories about first human women, I came across the story of Askr (or Ask) and Embla. There is a great summary of that story here, but in short:

Odin and two other gods (sources disagree about which ones) were walking along a beach and they found some tree trunks that looked kind of like a man and a woman. So Odin brought them to life and they became the first man and the first woman. He named them, dressed them, gave them the world (Midgard) to live in, and they parented human civilization.

That’s it. That’s the story.

So, when I was trying to figure out who was going to be in this play of first women, I wasn’t too sure about Embla. Unlike Eve and Pandora, who have detailed stories and personalities to use as a jumping-off place, Embla just… was a tree. An elm tree, in particular. But then, I found out about the flood.

So, in TONS of mythologies from all over the world, there is a huge, universally destructive flood. There’s one in the Judeo-Christian tradition, of course. There’s one in Greek mythology. There’s one in Hinduism. Several Indigenous-American cultures. Chinese mythology. There’s one in Norse mythology, too, but Norse culture has lots of cross-overs with Christianity and scholars generally believe that the existence of a flood in the Poetic Edda was based heavily on Noah’s flood.

Ragnarok

This piece, and Original, both take a few liberties with the mythology…

But one of the best-known stories from Norse mythology – Ragnarok – is also a flood.

To be fair, Ragnarok is a lot of destructive things. War, fire, death, eating by a wolf. But the end of it all is that the earth sinks into the sea. More info on that here, if you’re interested.

We generally think of Ragnarok as an apocalypse, but there is a version of the mythology where there is rebirth of all things: gods, worlds, people who survived and repopulated Midgard. Ragnarok is the distant past. But it’s also the future. And it might just be me, but I think that is pretty darn cool.

So when I imagined Embla living now, it meant that she had to survive Ragnarok (at least the first one), and the result is the character in the play.

When Odin found me, I was an elm tree, green with life. Supple, adaptable. Opportunistic. He gave me human form and he gave me Askr, who was an ash tree when he was born. The two of us were pale and perfect. I was resilient, could bear the weather. He was strong and flexible. We reached up the sky, out to the world, we reached down into the earth. We were happy for a thousand years, but then it began to wear a little.

-Embla, Original. Playing at the LSPU Hall TONIGHT, November 28 to December 2nd. Get your tickets here.

3 things I didn’t know about Pandora

Hello Internet, today is Tuesday, November 27th, which is cue-to-cue and tech rehearsal day at the LSPU Hall. It’s also the day we get to talk about Pandora.

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Pandora, by John William Waterhouse, c. 1896

I don’t think this will come as a surprise to anyone who knows me, but I’ve always been a giant nerd. I devoted a large portion of my spare time throughout my teenage years to learning way more than is necessary to know about ancient Greek mythology. Gods & goddesses, a woman who became a spider, a man who fell in love with his own reflection and then drowned, a woman who opened a box that let every bad thing into the world.

Pandora is so entrenched in our culture that a “Pandora’s box” has a meaning beyond the story it came from. You open one and the situation gets out of control and you can’t undo it. You probably know that this is what happened to Pandora – she was told not to open a box, she opened it anyway, and everything evil in the world came out of it.

Here are some things you might not know, things I didn’t know about Pandora until I started working on Original.

1. It was a pot, actually.

Pandora's jar

One of these.

Pandora’s story appears in Hesiod’s Works and Days, and the container was actually a large clay jar – of the variety used to store things in Ancient Greece. It was mistranslated as a box and then got famous.

2. Pandora was a first woman.

Before Zeus had Pandora made, there hadn’t ever been any women. Lots of men. Tons of em, a whole society. No women, though. Nobody ever died (death was in the pot, right?) so there wasn’t really a need for procreation.

3. Pandora was literally a curse on mankind.

Ok, here’s the deal. Prometheus (you might have heard of him if you, like me, are a giant nerd), stole fire from the gods and gave it to mankind, so that men could have heat and light, cook their food, etc. For this he was famously punished, in the following manner: he was chained to a rock for all eternity, and every day an eagle would eat his liver. And then, because Prometheus was immortal (he was a Titan, and not a human, if you’re keeping track), his liver would regenerate overnight so that it could be eaten again the next day. Solid punishment, right? Zeus was really good at punishing folks.

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Heroes, right?

This particular punishment was going great until Hercules killed the eagle and set Prometheus free. So then Zeus had to come up with something better. So, he made Pandora. Or, rather, he made the other gods make Pandora. Hephaestus made her, technically speaking. Athena brought her to life and taught her to weave. Aphrodite coated her with charm. The Graces gave her jewelry. Hermes gave her wit, and a sense of mischief. Then they brought her to earth – this beautiful creature designed especially to be irresistible to men – and gave her to Prometheus’ brother, Epimetheus, who, of course, loved her. And then the jar/pot/box was opened and you know the rest.

So, yeah. Pandora was Prometheus’ second punishment. Literally a curse on mankind.

In the very early days of work on Original, I tried out Pandora’s story – starting with the moment she opened her eyes – at a couple of storytelling events. Very little of it made it into the final script, but I feel like I know Pandora far better because of it.

Hermes gave me the pot, and then he gave me away. He gave me a name, too. He called me “Pandora.” It means – he said it means – “gift from all the gods.” So I thought of myself that way for a while, you know? I thought I was a gift.

Pandora, Original. Running at the LSPU Hall November 28-December 2. Tickets are available here.

What I learned from the story of Eve

Hello, Internet, today is Monday, November 26th – programming & levels day at the LSPU Hall. It’s also the day that we’re going to talk about Eve.

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Eve and the Serpent, by John Dickson Batten, 1895

I grew up in Christianity. I went to Church every Sunday. I sang in the choir from age 9 to age 19. I grew up with an illustrated children’s bible, which I loved and scoured regularly for stories.

In that book, there was a picture of Eve and Adam, running from the walled Garden of Eden, looking dejected as the gates slammed behind them. Eve was carrying an apple core, and they were both covering their nudity because eating the apple had made them ashamed of it. There was an angel with a sword of fire guarding the gates.

Here are the things I learned from that story:

  1. God told Adam and Eve that they would die if they ate the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. That was a lie. Sometimes parents lie to their kids to keep them safe and that’s a totally reasonable thing to do.
  2. When the serpent told Eve that she wouldn’t die, but would, in fact, gain wisdom by eating the fruit from that tree, she ate it. She trusted the snake over God, and that was the wrong thing.
  3. Even though it wasn’t Adam’s idea to eat the fruit, he still got punished for it. Adam and Eve and the snake all got in trouble together, like you and your friends would if you decided to, say, hypothetically, have a water-balloon fight in the living room, regardless of whose idea it was.
  4. Eating the fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil makes you notice that you’re naked. And being naked is bad and embarrassing.

For my developing brain, none of this was too problematic. God = parent was an easy jump for me and being punished for disobeying parents is a pretty normal part of life at the time. I didn’t think about any of the gendered stuff at all.

But now that I am an adult, I have some observations:

  1. God lied.
  2. The snake told the truth.
  3. Everyone got punished but Eve got it WAY WORSE than Adam: she got pain in childbirth and also Adam will “rule over” her; and meanwhile, Adam… got farming. He has to farm for his food, because he’s kicked out of the garden… Eve, of course, also kicked out of the garden. (PS: the snake actually got it the worst of the three – check your Gideon if you don’t believe me.)
  4. Being naked – in a climate that is a reasonable temperature, devoid of poisonous brambles and biting creatures, in the presence of several animals and one other human who happens to be your sexual partner – is EXCELLENT. Prove me wrong.

So I’m happy to be reimagining Eve’s story. I’m not the first artist to do that by a long shot, and I won’t be the last. But she’s so compelling that it’s worth exploring this story again.

In my defense – and the snake’s – it was a really good apple. Red. Shining. Hanging low enough that you could smell it from the ground… and juicy? Like a flood in your mouth, every bite. Adam thought so too, at the time. He’ll deny that now, of course. He’ll say “it tasted like betrayal.” And you know what? It did taste like betrayal… just not ours.

-Eve, Original. Running at the LSPU Hall November 28-December 2. Tickets available here.

Rehearsing Original – week 3

Hello Internet, today is Sunday, November 25th (how did that even happen?), otherwise known as the day that Original loads into the theatre!

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Look, Mom, I’m on the wall!

For various scheduling reasons, I have a luxurious 2.5 days off while the production community loads in and does some programming. So, as I sit here on my couch drinking tea and typing, some incredible people are building a friggin beach on the stage at the LSPU Hall. They are great.

This week in rehearsal, we did lots of tidying up. This is a rather incredible situation to be in – to be able to spend the last 6 rehearsal days, not making new decisions, but just taking the time to work through the nitty-gritty ins and outs of how to move around the stage. In one scene, for instance, I make tea. So, figuring out when and how to get the pan out, pour water into it, fetch a tea bag, pour the now-hot water into a cup. Oodles of time to figure all that out. Incredible!

Also this week: there is a tiny bit of dance in the show and my incredible friend and colleague Corie came in to help me work it out/teach me how to sail turn. So, if you come to the show (which you should) and you think I look like I know what I’m doing for the about 12 seconds that I’m dancing, that is Corie’s doing and she deserves all credit. And, as a bonus, I got to spend an hour working in the Arts & Culture Centre’s Dance Space.

I think we, as a theatre community, might undersell how extraordinary and vital it is to have access to the Arts & Culture Centre. Donated rehearsal space has real financial value to a production like this one, and to be able to just walk upstairs and use a room with a sprung floor, a barre, floor-to-ceiling mirrors and an in-house sound system is an incredible asset. Producing theatre in Newfoundland & Labrador has its obstacles, but the Arts & Culture Centres make it far more possible for many small companies and projects to get off the ground.

This week I also started to work in my costume, and we did a makeup test on Friday that has me properly excited about the look of the show. Every element in this show is so well-thought out and the designers are all so excellent that whenever I am feeling like nothing is under control, all I have to do is remind myself of how great it’s all going to look and that really, everything is under control and all I have to do just right now is make sure I know all 5 verses of this song I’ve decided to sing in old Norse.

Ek fekk sofa lika vel, ek truða þat væri best — at hvila mik á goðu þel´ok gløyma svá folki flest´…

Original plays at the LSPU Hall THIS WEDNESDAY-SUNDAY, November 28th to December 2nd. Tickets are available here.

Rehearsing Original – week 2

Hello Internet, today is Saturday, November 17th, and we’ve been getting some weather.

Winterton beach

A week ago today, my husband and I went for a walk to a little beach, which a) is something we both like to do, and b) gave me the opportunity to do a bit of scrounging for the set. And while we were there, it started to snow.

It was kind of a perfect moment. The air was still (relatively speaking… this is Newfoundland, after all). The waves were rolling in, gently. I had a bag of small things and we were looking around for beach glass. And then big, soft flakes started to fall.

When we got back to the house, we started a fire in our backyard fire pit and there was a ring around the fire where the snow couldn’t stick to the ground.

The snow turned to rain that night, and since then we’ve been getting all the seasons. On Wednesday, for instance, we woke up to wet snow, and then it warmed up to 10 degrees. While we were in the rehearsal hall that day, we had new weather every time we looked out the window. At one point, mid-monologue, I totally lost my words because I glanced outside and there was a blowing snowstorm going on, and I was pretty sure that it had been sunny and way too warm for snow 5 minutes earlier.

The biggest wind storm on earth was in Newfoundland Wednesday evening and Thursday. Extremely tall waves. There was an emergency landing at Stephenville airport. Some worry about the workers on the offshore oil rigs. The Coast Guard was out in it.

Wind gusts up to 160km/hr in places. The power went out in parts of the city. And last night St. John’s had what might be the first proper snowfall of the season.

Luckily, the lights stayed on at the Arts & Culture Centre, nobody in our production community lost their roofs or siding, and we were able to work in a big room with a window from whence we could safely watch the drama going on outside.

I mentioned in this blog last week that the elements (water, air, earth, fire) have a big part to play in the script for Original, and I feel as though the blowing wind has found its way into my bones after this week. The way that the elements all impact one another – and everything living in the world – has been seeming to me to be a clearer and clearer truth. The wind on the water, here in my home. The wind on the fire in California, of course, where yesterday the number of missing people jumped to over 1,000. The waves breaking against rock and the way earthquakes cause tsunamis. It’s in the text I’m speaking every day, and it’s happening just outside our rehearsal room window.

This week we started putting the show on its feet and discovered that I know more of it than I expected to – and then we discovered that we didn’t want to work with book in hand. So we spent a lot of time getting me off-book and then standing me up immediately. Every rehearsal day begins with a very thorough physical and vocal warm up and a period of time for me to spend in mask work. I am extremely lucky to be in a process where this is part of my rehearsal day, and not homework, which means that I can rest after rehearsal and put the show away for a few hours before bed. The overall benefit to my health is very clear, just from being able to take a real break.

Yesterday afternoon we were able to do a full off-book stumble through for most of the team, which is a pretty great way to cap off a good week of work. We have a day of rest, today, and then one more week of studio work before we move into the theatre. The elements are doing snow and fog today: a tiny respite from the wind, perhaps, so we can take a few deep, calm breaths before we dive back in.

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Original plays November 28-December 2. Tickets available here.

 

Rehearsing Original – week 1

Hello Internet, today is Friday, November 9th, and we’ve just finished the first week of rehearsal for Original.

A bit of background:

Orig (2)I’ve been working on Original for a few years now – it was a fledgling idea in the fall of 2016 when the call for proposals came out from the Arts & Culture Centre’s Playwright-in-Residence program for a playwrights’ unit. I was on tour at the time with woman, naked, a play written and performed by Berni Stapleton which was playing in Saint John, NB for a week’s run. I had a few pages written then, and I ran them by Berni in our little efficiency unit. With her encouragement, I applied to the unit and got in, and then had the incredibly valuable experience of working in the unit with Playwright in Residence Megan Coles and 7 other fantastic playwrights. Most of Original was written between November 2016 and June 2017, with some gentle kicks in the butt from Meg and a lot of encouragement and support from my unit colleagues. (Sidenote: Andrea Cooper’s Room for a Pony and Marie Jones & Patrick Foran’s Her Closely were also projects in that unit, so it was a great room to be in!) The unit culminated in a table read workshop where I was lucky to have actors Nicole Rousseau, Kimberley Drake and Laura Huckle play the women. An excerpt was read publicly for the first time in June 2017.

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In the middle of that process, PerSIStence Theatre announced their existence, and I went straight to Artistic Director Jenn Deon with this play. Jenn’s excitement, and that of the PerSIStence board of directors, is to thank for the momentum that has brought us here. In October 2017, PerSIStence and skc originals put together a one-week workshop and staged reading of the script, which you can read about here. And PerSIStence has programmed Original to open their second season… which brings us to now.

So, first thing’s first: LOOK AT THIS GROUP OF AMAZING WOMEN!

Production community

This photo was shamelessly stolen from the PerSIStence Facebook page.

Clockwise from my blinking face: Kathryn Burke, sound designer; Berni Stapleton, director; Diana Daly, production designer; Melanie Ozon, costume build; Emily Austin, production manager; and Jaimie Tait, stage manager. Absent from the photo (because she is behind the camera) is Jenn Deon, producer.

This is what Jenn calls our “production community,” and I love them. They are incredible and brilliant and their enthusiasm and ideas for this little solo show are inspired and inspiring. It’s going to look and sound amazing because of them. There’s going to be fire and wind and water and beach rocks and light and it’s all going to be beautiful.

On day 1 of rehearsal, Jenn walked us through PerSIStence’s Respectful Workplace Policy, which I am linking here because every theatre company should have one. And also because it’s on their website because they, too, believe that every theatre company should have one of these documents. Then we had a bit of a design show and tell, complete with costume sketches (!!) and set drawings (!!!) and a full read. I love my production community so much!

Day 2 was special because we had Sara Tilley come in to help me with some movement work. Sara is a wonderful human and artist and an incredible resource to have for a project like this where one person is playing multiple characters. Sara was on the workshop in October as dramaturge, and I can’t imagine doing the production without her. She brought in her neutral mask and we explored the elements I have assigned to each character: Embla is earth (or, since it’s quite hard to move like earth, she’s a tree), Eve is water, and Pandora is fire. If you don’t know about neutral mask, and are interested, you can read a little about it here. The work that Sara and I did on Tuesday has been enormously influential in developing the three characters separately from each other in body and voice. Neutral mask is magic and I wish I could do it every day of my life. But, lucky for me, Sara kindly loaned me a mask to use until the end of this process, so I get a month of it!

Neutral Mask screenshot

This is a still from a video Sara took so that I can watch my alien self move around.

Days 3 and 4 were mostly table work – reading through the play and talking about it, Berni giving me notes on the readings – with physical check ins in the form of mask work for me and yoga for all three of us – Berni, Jaimie and I. (Do you know Move with Melanie? You should.) This work was excellent and valuable but doesn’t take great photos. At least nothing as great as…

Day 5: the beach

Because the play centres around a beach, today we (Berni, Jaimie, Diana & I) took a field trip to Middle Cove Beach to do a bit of exploring. It was a beautiful day for it – not too cold, blue, and the elements were right there with us.

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I mean… hideous, right?

We walked around on the rocks and listened to the waves – not just the crashing in, but the tumbling of the rocks as they pull out again – and we breathed in the wind and we found a sunny patch of ground, and then we sat down on camp chairs and I read a bit from the play. The text of Original comes back again and again to the elements we explored in neutral mask – earth, fire, water – and reading it aloud, informed by the work I had done with Sara and by our wild beautiful surroundings, was an incredible experience.

When it got a bit cold, we stopped the reading, but we took the opportunity to pull up a few pieces of seaweed and beach junk for the set (I’m telling you, it’s going to be beautiful), and drove back into town.

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Our job is the best job.

When we returned to the Arts & Culture Centre for our afternoon’s work, the elements gave us an extra little end-of-week gift: a rainbow.

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Original is made possible by a grant from the City of St. John’s, as well as the generous supporters of PerSIStence Theatre Company. It runs November 28-December 2 at the LSPU Hall.