Simply getting off the island of Newfoundland in March is interesting; if not our biggest challenge. This spring we had a date to be in Halifax, our first show was Mar. 30th. Seeing Ryan Snoddon headed for a FORECASM giving out the weather report on CBC some days early I realized things were not looking good for our travel day. Now when things get like this in NL, or for that matter anywhere in Eastern Canada, one has to act. The first thing to do, estimate whether we can change flights and travel a few days in advance. So, Air Canada, our nation’s pride and joy, says there’s nothing to be done until they see an official Weather Alert issued by the appropriate department. Meanwhile the forecasters are fair coming out of their boots and the storm is still three days off. Air Canada remains resolute… don’t plan for a disaster until it’s too late…. Which is a very common bureaucratic course of action (or inaction as the case may be). I priced changing flights, our choices were diminished because all the vacationers headed for points south, the Caribbean cruises, Florida, Virginia, North and South Carolina saw the big black hairy thing on the road and got ahead of it. I was left to organize us out of two separate departure points and try and meet the first show deadline, have us in Halifax or a thousand ticket holders would need money returned. (Scrooge never shuddered more coldly than we did at the prospect of such loss). Our first option, fly to Goose Bay somewhere in the evening of March 29th and hope we’d get a seat to Halifax next day, or get us into St. Johns for a 5: am flight guaranteed to connect to no more than two other cities before landing us in Halifax – again, next day. Hmmm. “How much?” (the vital question). Only $8500.00 PLUS BAGGGAGE FEES. No thanks.
I did get Byron and Ray come into Gander early. That was at acceptable costs thankfully and we decided to collectively make a dash on Thursday the 30th. The weather was getting foul by then, snow had been falling all day and by noon the winds started to build. The flight was delayed, mercifully only by 90 minutes but it was looking chancy. St. Johns had cancelled all flights going out of there. The connector was coming from Halifax so just maybe… By God we did get aboard, and we did fly, not right to Halifax mind, but to Moncton as Halifax closed all runways but one. We waited in the aircraft in Moncton for the wind to change which it shortly did and we were again off. We actually got to Halifax, 5 hours behind schedule but we weren’t worried about that, it was remarkable that we got out at all. Gander shut down its airport after that and nothing flew out that evening, nor for the next three days as 170 cm of snow fell on central and proceeded to bury the place, almost out of sight.
Being in Halifax meant that we had our shows on schedule and that now we could tour. Our tour of the Maritimes is always a lot to do; Halifax is the only venue in which we spend more than one day. So, two shows there meant three evenings in one hotel. Nice. Thanks to the Marriott Residence Inn for a fabulous stay, always the best. Crowds were up and seeing old friends was, as usual, a big thing there. Each of us has a multitude of friends and relatives in the area and they all come out to the show. We always have to make an extra hour after each performance for seeing people. The Rebecca Cohn Auditorium may be the finest of its type in Canada, the sound in that room is nigh on perfect. It’s so well designed that whether performers want a recital hall, a big auditorium, or a dry theatre, they can get it all in that one room. The staff is great and seeing them all again is a delight. They have two new staff there now, we met them for the first time. The General manager and the bookings client manager both are new to us… changes.
From here on it was a whirlwind. We went to Sydney next day, five hours on the road and to a new venue, the Highland Arts Theatre, a repurposed church on Bentinck Street. It’s a lovely place to do a show. We started new relationships there with the owner, manager, handyman, soundman, Kevin Colford. Practically a one man operation that place, I think he brought in a Light man to assist.
I was really tickled to find awaiting us after the show Gillian Head – one of Cape Bretons upcoming fiddle talents. She’d done shows through NL last year and I had her performing in Glovertown at the House of Diamonds Art Centre. Also there was Lucy McNeil of the Barra’s fame. I was chuffed to think she’d actually come out with family to see us and I still have to pinch myself at the great fortune to share a few moments after the show. The Barra McNeils happen to be one of my favourite groups ever, monster talents.
It was onto Pictou the next day and that’s a place we’ve visited now since 1988 when the Performing Arts Sponsors of Nova Scotia sent us through the DeCoste Centre for the first time. We’ve been going since and John Meir is still there, doing anything and everything to make sure the show goes on.
From there we were off to Fredericton, by now the weather is less threatening. Days of driving in freezing temperatures had now given way to warmer temperatures and instead of snow we were getting some fog and rain, nevertheless, an improvement!
If there’s one thing I can say about the Fredericton Playhouse it’s that it remains in our books the finest small theatre of its kind on our circuit, seating just over 600. We filled it as usual and the staff were great, efficient, and punctual. The room is gorgeous but to our great discontent we find the place is coming down in two years time to make way for a larger, newer venue. The building was put there along with the Lord Beaverbrook art gallery and the Lord Beaverbrook hotel by guess who… LB himself in the early 60’s and I guess they need to get a more efficient place that’s not so in need of renovation. It will be a sad day however, that room is so great.
On to Saint John, the Imperial Theatre, renovated in the 90’s, one of the grand stately big sounding theatres which can mount everything from a Broadway show or Philharmonic orchestra down to a solo artist. The place is gilded in gold and the décor is so ornate as to belong to another century smacking of grand ceiling paintings and plaster works, countless cornices and trimmings, beautiful seats and balconies. Yes, its splendor is a thing to behold. We had a good show in there too! We’ve been doing shows there since it reopened after the rebuild.
Then to Riverview where at the Riverview Arts Centre you have a volunteer staff doing yeoman service to see shows brought into the area. They compete now directly with Moncton’s Capitol theatre just across the river. It’s hard because in the area they have another three venues in which artists / agents can pitch performances. That’s a lot of performance space for a general population of 70,000.
The final spot on our tour was Summerside, PEI, at the Harbourfront theatre. This little room is a lovely 400+ seater that is under 15 years old. It has great sound and modern equipment and for us served as a much less expensive rental than the Confederation Centre in Charlottetown. It’s odd to think that there’s only about 60 km’s between them but on PEI that’s a long distance, everyone there moves at a slower pace, which I think is one of the most attractive and redeeming qualities about the island. We had a great crowd as usual, an audience which included Senator Mike Duffy and his two siblings. We got into a lot of light discussion after the show with him and his brother, interesting things that we can’t repeat! It suffices to say that politics in Canada is not for the faint of heart.
We came home next day on a morning flight, three hour drive from Summerside to Halifax. In the airport we had lots of socializing with travelers including CBC St. Johns Debbie Cooper who had been in Halifax to receive a lifetime achievement award from the Radio Television Digital News Association. Congratulations to her, and we all went home looking forward to the inevitable if somewhat delayed spring, which will lead us into summer and hopefully proper pursuits like gardening and salmon fishing. Debbie is with us on that.
See you Maritimes in another 18 months.