Stephenville

Hello, Internet, today is Monday, March 7th – our 2-show day! Yesterday, I woke up in my extremely comfortable bed at earlier-than-I-wanted-to-be-awake o’clock, went to the window, looked out, and found that the snow hadn’t stopped. So I crawled back into the extremely comfortable bed and when I got out again, the sun was out, so that was good.

After a morning off, we piled into the van and drove the 3 blocks to the Stephenville Arts & Culture Centre.

I have to tell you: I have been looking forward to the Stephenville venue since we booked it. This is because I have recently worked in the theatre, I know the space, and I know the house technicians. I knew we would be well taken care of.

Sville box

This was where I picked up my schedules and paycheques… at the moment it has a 5lb weight in it. I wonder if that’s for me?

I wasn’t wrong. Lori and Mike had us sorted out in record time. Loaded in, screen and boxes put together (and mended from their final journey by air), focused, levels set and Q2Q in 3.25 hours without breaking a sweat.

Sville set

Ready to go!

At 435 seats, this is our largest theatre venue yet, and this morning it will be chock-a-block with students from the west coast of Newfoundland. This venue drew so much interest that they had to book a second show!

Luckily, the show looks beautiful in there.

Sville house

Guest blog!

Welcome to our guest blog!

Today blogging, we have Laura, Evan & Crystal (because Sharon is busy driving our van and our suitcases and our tech gear across the island in a snowstorm like the superstar that she is. Picture evidence to follow.)

We started the day being sad that we had to leave Labrador but being pumped that we had an awesome breakfast that included huge deep-fried toutons.

Our Lab City experience was fantastic (if chilly), thanks to the wonderful assistance of Craig and Marty and the crew at the Lab West ACC. Craig (our self-proclaimed chauffeur) picked us up in his giant truck, which we could only recognize among all the other giant trucks in town thanks to the Star Wars paraphernalia decorating his dashboard.

Guest pushing

By this point in the tour, we’re pros at moving our boxes.

Guest hat

We arrived at the airport, got our weird bags checked through security as we all got “randomly selected” for additional searches, and were told numerous times that we might find ourselves stranded in Blanc Sablon due to weather warnings in Deer Lake. We were determined to get back to our fearless leader, so with Donatello by our side, we boarded the plane and hoped for the best.

Guest pickles

We were excited to get to Stephenville for our next leg of the tour, but also concerned about the future lack of pickles in Newfoundland.

We met a cute baby sitting in the row behind us and told him about the tour. He seemed to be a fan and was sad to see us go.

We didn’t get our staple Mrs. Vickies chips, but did get to enjoy two rounds of the PAL snack baskets.

Guest crossword

Our greatest accomplishment of the 3-leg flight, however, was this crossword.

Guest driving

We reconvened (slightly behind schedule) in Deer Lake with Sharon. She scooped us up in our new red van, and we began the last part of our journey to Stephenville through a snowstorm.

So far, we’ve been having an amazing experience on the Give Me Back tour. We’ve loved visiting corners of this province and sharing this story with over 1000 students so far. We can’t wait to continue to share this powerful show with another 1000 as we continue on through the rest of the province.

Future highlights:

  • Eating at the Fogo Island Inn (#givemesnacks)
  • Becoming Newfoundland’s best theatre bowling team (#givemestrikes)
  • Refining our crossword skills (#givemehints)
  • Finally warming up in the hot tub at The Wave Hotel (#givemehottub)
  • Exploring much more of this beautiful province and meeting new people along the way (#givemecarmanville)

Check out the past blog posts, below, to hear about our stops in Bay Roberts and Happy-Valley-Goose Bay!

Guest smiling

– Laura, Evan & Crystal

Adventures in Labrador

Hello, Internet, today is Saturday, March 5th, and yesterday we did the show for 200 high school students at the Labrador West Arts & Culture Centre.

Because of the availability of school buses, our show was performed perforce at 9:30 in the morning, which was a bit of a mind shift for us, but it went over fantastically. You could hear a pin drop in there. Magical.

LabWest 2 crew

Group shot!

We hit up a popular fast food restaurant for lunch because it was the closest thing to the hotel, and Evan wowed us with his colouring skills. Unfortunately, the crayon selection was… somewhat limited. Binary, even.

LabWest 2 Evan

Work in progress. Evan refused to colour Paddington’s hat any colour but yellow, and so it remains uncoloured.

 

The next bit of the tour is a bit weird, because I had to go back to St. John’s last night in order to pick up the van and all of the gear we need for school shows and drive out to meet the other three when they land in Deer Lake today.

So, yesterday afternoon I went to the Wabush airport with the giant boxes full of boxes – my portion of the checked luggage. I have taken these on purpose, because: a) I don’t trust that they’ll take these giant boxes as checked luggage EVEN THOUGH we’ve done it twice before; and b) if they DON’T allow them as checked luggage, then they have to go cargo, and I’d rather they had some extra time to get to Deer Lake (or Stephenville).

There is now a standard conversation with airport staff regarding these boxes. It goes like this:

Airline/Airport staff: Those are cargo.

Me: Nope, they’re luggage. The two of them together are 50lbs.

Staff: Well, they’re not going to fit through the x-ray machine.

Me: No, they’re not.

Staff: We’ll have to open them.

Me: Yes, you will.

There is no airport x-ray machine that can take these huge, awkward boxes, even diagonally, so they always have to open them. In St. John’s, they had us come over to look inside with them.

Staff: What’s in the boxes?

Me: Boxes. And bubble wrap.

Staff (opening first box and peering inside): Yep. Those are boxes.

In Goose Bay, it was a bit more complicated, but still a pretty seamless experience.

Staff: I don’t know if we can take them.

Me: You took them last time.

Staff: Mmph. Let me check.

(two minutes pass)

Staff: OK, we’ll take them. But we’ll have to open them.

Me: Yes.

Staff: (carts boxes to secure area out of sight)

And although we received them back barely closed and with a note inside that said “we had to open the box and are not responsible for damage,” everything was mostly OK. Nothing a bit of tape can’t fix, anyway.

In Wabush, things got just a little more interesting. Luckily, Wabush airport staff are all lovely and have a good sense of humour.

Staff: Put them up here and we’ll open them up and just swab them. What’s in these, anyway?

Me: Boxes.

(angry mechanical noise)

Staff: Ummm, that box has set off the alarm. Have you handled any explosives recently?

Here followed a long process where they asked me some questions about my life and work, completely unpacked both boxes of boxes, put all of the contents – and my carry-on luggage and my coat – through the x-ray, went through every pocket and leafed through every book in my carry-on, and then searched me. It was very thorough and hilarious, considering that the thing that had caused all the ruckus was a flattened cardboard box, but I had tons of time and everyone was pleasant. Apparently, the nearby mine throws off plenty of the stuff that sets off that alarm, and it’s not uncommon for any old thing to do it. Security and I were chatting away the whole time this went on, and I think I even told one of them it was nice to meet her before heading on my way.

And then, PAL took those boxes into checked luggage and they flew to St. John’s with me, to be loaded into a van and driven to Stephenville in the morning…

LabWest 2 set

The boxes that caused all the fuss.

Lab West!

Hello, Internet, today is Friday, March 4th, and yesterday, we packed up and flew to Wabush.

If we had been expecting warmer weather, we were sadly disappointed. While we had occasionally remarked to each other in Happy Valley-Goose Bay that it was cold, Labrador City-Wabush is freakishly, painfully cold. I failed to take a screenshot of the weather network while it was -43, but suffice it to say that it warmed up substantially today and it looked like this (with one from HVGB for contrast):

 

There was only one flight, so we only got one bag of chips each, but everyone was just as pleasant as ever. Thanks PAL!

When we landed, a member of the Arts & Culture Centre staff was there to pick us up in his giant truck, which comfortably fit all 4 of us and all our luggage and gear with no issues at all. He dropped us off at the Two Seasons Hotel (we think the two seasons must be winter and summer, because it is obvious that winter is a thing here, and we hear that bakeapples and blackflies are pretty bountiful round these parts). We had time to check in and have some lunch at the (truly excellent) hotel restaurant before heading over to the theatre to load in.

LabWest roll

This roll is made in-house and is 2/3 white and 1/3 whole wheat. A modern marvel. Photo credit goes to Laura Huckle.

This was our first Arts & Culture Centre on the tour, and it did not disappoint. The theatre is a lovely 300-ish seater, with a nice deep stage and excellent acoustics. When we walked in, we felt like this was the perfect space for our little show.

LabWest ACC

Look how lovely!

Craig and Marty had us sorted out in short order. They are both pretty new to their jobs at the Centre, but their common sense can’t be beat and their enthusiasm for the theatre in general, and for this play in particular, was truly wonderful. We couldn’t have asked for better hosts.

LabWest q2q4LabWest q2q6

The big news in Labrador City is Cain’s Quest, an enormous snowmobile race around the entire circumference of the Big Land. People come in from all over the world – I can tell you for sure that the Two Seasons was jammed – to ride a 3,500km course through the wilderness in -40 degree weather.

Meanwhile, we four wusses are enjoying the fact that there is a restaurant in the hotel, so we don’t have to brave the cold to eat.

Lawrence O’Brien Arts Centre

Hello, Internet, today is Thursday, March 3rd, and yesterday we had just the most fabulous experience at the Lawrence O’Brien Arts Centre.

After breakfast, we were picked up at our hotel and brought to the theatre, where we set about setting sound levels, running through lighting looks and reminding ourselves how we do the show in a theatre with the screen on the upstage wall.

Goose Bay 2 Levels 1

Evan meanders the stage while chatting with a video recording and several sound recordings, just so I can make sure I can hear everyone.

Around 1:30 pm, about 10 nursing students and probably 240 high school students poured into the gorgeous space that is that theatre (we were saying all day how much we love it and want to bring it home with us), and sat very quietly while Evan, Laura, Crystal and house technician/all-around-useful-person John made the show happen in front of them. The lights looked awesome (with special thanks to John on that one). The sound sounded great. By all reports, the audience was rapt.

(I say “by all reports” because I was hiding in the second dressing room, listening to the show – but only the bits of it that passed through the PA system – on program sound. I admit that, while I will never tire of watching this team work their magic, there is something profoundly stressful about sitting in, or behind, an audience watching a piece I’ve written and directed, and I prefer not to do it, generally. So the second dressing room was a perfect place for me.)

Today’s talk back was the first one we’ve ever done where we didn’t talk about mental health, beyond my directing the audience to their programs for a list of mental health resources. We did, however, get the chance to answer the question: “where did you get the idea for the boxes?”, which gave me the opportunity to praise our excellent designer, Mark Denine. Given that Jonathan has a well-kept collection of comic books, Mark – something of a comic aficionado himself – decided to build our lightweight, adaptable and generally extremely convenient set out of oversized comic book boxes.

Goose Bay 2 at theatre 1

In the midst of the gorgeous display in the lobby of the Lawrence O’Brien Arts Centre.

And then, Kathleen (Manager) and John Hicks (aforementioned useful person), who had already been driving us around for the better part of two days, rose to the occasion in the venue-we-like-best competition and LOANED US THEIR CAR. So we had to go on an adventure.

First stop was a gift-and-craft-type shop called Slippers ‘n Things, where we all narrowly avoided buying sealskin boots that definitely wouldn’t have fit in our luggage.

Goose Bay 2 boots

But look how gorgeous they all are!

…but we did each buy something that was easier to pack. And then, on John’s suggestion, we drove up to the Birch Brook Nordic Ski Club. We didn’t have time to ski, but we did get the grand tour, thanks to a very friendly and enthusiastic volunteer – one of several who run the place.

Goose Bay 2 ski lodge

Here it is from the outside…

Goose Bay 2 view 2

…and this is their view. Not bad at all.

We will be leaving a little piece of our collective heart in Happy Valley-Goose Bay today when we fly out, assuming the weather cooperates…

Now, we fly.

Hello, Internet, it’s Wednesday, March 2nd, and yesterday we flew to Goose Bay.

After a 7am start on Monday, gathering in the car at 8:30 didn’t seem so early. We left all the school show gear – and the bulk of our personal luggage – in St. John’s and flew with just our set, costumes & props, and a few personal belongings. The result: the whole thing fit into our checked luggage!

Goose Bay show pack

This is our set, costumes and props. 3 pieces, and 100 lbs between them. Not to brag or anything (definitely bragging).

Today seems like a good day to recognize the support of PAL. Provincial Airlines offers a great deal to productions touring with the Arts & Culture Centres, and without their support it would be much harder to get to audiences in Labrador. And I have to say – and please believe me when I tell you that what follows was not part of the discount deal – PAL service is awesome.

Seriously. Service when I booked the flights over the phone was awesome. I had to call them back to make some changes about a week ago, and they were awesome then, too. But then! Yesterday!

Goose Bay YYT

Obligatory “we’re about to go on tour!” airport shot

The snacks on the plane are cookies – not the hard, crumbly ones, but the soft kind – and Miss Vickie’s chips. And they offered us hot towels and newspapers. And then, on the last leg of the flight (which was St. John’s – St. Anthony – Blanc Sablon – Goose Bay) they gave us full-on sandwiches. The luxury!

I know, I’m raving, but these things really do matter. And additionally, everyone was very polite and friendly, and we landed early. So, about as good a review as I can give of an airline service, all told.

Goose Bay planed

They were much happier about the Miss Vickie’s than they were about me insisting on taking this picture.

We are settled into our hotel, we’ve unpacked at the gorgeous Lawrence O’Brien Arts Centre, and we’re adapting to the cold. (It was 10 degrees in St. John’s when we left, and easily -15 degrees here when we arrived… and we’re led to believe yesterday was a warm day.) Today, a show full of high school and college students!

Ascension Collegiate – Bay Roberts

Hello, Internet, today is Tuesday, March 1st, and yesterday, we started our tour by driving ourselves out to Bay Roberts for our first show. It was an early start to the day, since we wanted to give ourselves enough time to sort out how all the pieces went together before a 12:30 show.

Bay Roberts sunrise

Red sky in morning… time to drive to Bay Roberts!

After a brief stop at Tim Horton’s for some much-needed coffee and bagels, we loaded into Ascension Collegiate’s gym. Our stage manager’s partner in crime and theatre, Brian, came along to be our in-case-anything-goes-wrong-on-the-first-go-technical-genius, and we had a dozen or so awesome student volunteers.

(Turns out that Brian is something of a photographic genius, too, so that’s lucky.)

Bay Roberts setting up

A look from backstage at the halfway mark.

In addition to the extremely pack-able set (more on that tomorrow!), doing the show in a school gym basically means that we need to turn the space into a theatre, so school shows involve setting up a screen & projector, curtains, speakers, lights, and all the cables required to hold it all together, plus chairs.

Bay Roberts chairs

Many chairs.

Bay Roberts audience

Really, very many chairs.

400 chairs! And then, although I didn’t take a picture of it (and generally I won’t be taking pictures of the audience), every one of those chairs was filled with a high school student. And a few extras were brought in. And about 30 teachers were standing in the room as well. It was a pretty spectacular thing to see.

It must also be noted that our school liaison personally baked us cookies and delivered them to us before the show, along with some healthy snacks, thus endearing herself to us forever and setting a high standard for our future venues *cough* to meet *cough we like the smarties cookies best cough cough*.

Bay Roberts cookies

I didn’t get to take a picture before many of the snacks were eaten.

A couple of members of Ascension’s Social Justice Club introduced the show, and it was great to see them speak. Laura and Evan did a lovely job, Crystal ran the show in front of people for the first time and nailed it, and we had a few questions afterwards. Evan spoke about the research he did preparing for the role, and we had a bit of a talk about the onset of mental illness and the importance of opening up the conversation. At the end of the show, two more Social Justice members got up to thank us, and one of them told this story:

She had seen Give Me Back at the Mental Health Matters conference at Holy Heart of Mary in April, and after the show, one of the other delegates told her how much the play had affected her; she said it made her feel like she wasn’t alone.

What a thing to hear. What a thing to carry with us as we are setting out on this adventure.

We packed up the van – with loads of help from some very kind and patient student volunteers – and headed back to St. John’s for the night looking forward to the coming weeks. Another night in our own beds, and then… to Labrador!

All our bags are packed…

Hello, Internet, today is Sunday, February 28th… the day before we start our tour. It’s been a busy few months of planning, budgeting, fundraising, budgeting, rehearsing & budgeting, but now the rentals are picked up, the flights are booked, and we’ve figured out how to fit the set into 3 boxes and a suitcase.

Give Me Back was built for this: pile into a van with 2 actors, a stage manager & a tour manager, go to schools and start a conversation about mental health. Over the next three weeks, we’ll be seeing about 2,000 students from 15 junior high and high schools in Bay Roberts, Labrador, west coast Newfoundland, Fogo Island, the Burin Peninsula and the Clarenville area.

IMG_7688

Stage Management kit & props, looking tidy.

This was always the dream, but I admit I wasn’t sure it was possible until (honestly?) maybe a month ago. Touring a professional show is a new challenge for me, and I have relied heavily on the support and experience at the Arts & Culture Centres. They picked us up after our showcase at the Mental Health Matters provincial high school conference at Holy Heart last April, and have been working with us steadily since to make this tour possible. They are truly awesome and we are lucky to be working with them.

Here we go here we go here we go…