Poverty Cove challenges theatre and theatre accepts the challenge

    Posted on: Friday, February 21st, 2014

Poverty Cove Theatre Company is a deceptively small company with an exceptionally large mandate: to challenge the perception of what theatre is. And next week you’ll have a chance to get in on the action.

Founded by writer/producer Megan Coles and director/producer Shannon Lynn Hawes, Poverty Cove now has two massively successful productions under its belt and has grown to include a board with six members, whom are themselves a mix of artists and non-artist professionals living in and around St. John’s.

Poverty Cove’s first production, The Battery, was performed in the vacant second floor of a popular downtown pub. Through ingenuity and might the space was transformed into a 55-seat theatre and staged a set that doubled as a bar and the craggy cliffs of the harbour narrows. One minute the cast were dancing on the bar, drinks splashing about in their hands while belting out all the words to AC/DC’s Thunder Struck, the next they were hopping from rock to precarious rock, the sea churning and surging a hundred feet below, to perch and purge their innermost secrets.

Their second production, Our Eliza, toured the province last year on just about every stage and non-stage you can imagine, from the Barbara Barrett theatre in St. John’s, across the island in Arts & Culture Centres, and up the Northern Peninsula in gymnasiums and community centres.

Both productions, written by Coles and produced by Hawes, played to sold out crowds and found audiences both in and outside of the traditional theatre sphere.

By all accounts, Poverty Cove is not only hitting their mandate’s mark but operating as a shining example of a successful theatre company. And like most theatre companies, the funds to mount their next production, Rabbit Rabbit, an awarding-winning Canadian play to be directed by Hawes and produced by Coles, remain elusive.

To solve this problem, Poverty Cove recently issued a challenge to their surrounding arts community: give us something you’re currently working on and we’ll give you a venue to showcase it. The community responded and next week’s event, Friends of Poverty Cove, was born.

pctc fundraiser


Friends of Poverty Cove will feature performances, readings, screenings, music and standup comedy from the likes of Greg Malone, Robert Chafe, Ed Riche, Amy House, Matt Wright and many more. There will also be a silent auction featuring packages and services from Quidi Vidi Brewery, David’s Tea, and Chef Mark McCrow to name just a few.

And in keeping with Poverty Cove’s love of non-traditional spaces (among other things), Friends of Poverty Cove will be hosted at the Quidi Vidi Brewery – where the bar will indeed be open.

Friends of Poverty Cove kicks off at 8pm on Wednesday, February 26th. Tickets are $20 at the door, which opens at 7pm.

Something for everyone

Live joyfully

    Posted on: Sunday, July 7th, 2013

That’s the advice Dave Jones would like to give everyone if he could. That, and go to church. Not enough people go to church anymore, he feels. To encourage the churchgoing, he stands at various outdoor locations throughout the greater St. John’s area holding his trusty sign.



He doesn’t care which church you go to, just so long as it’s Christian.

And if church just isn’t your thing, you can still live joyfully. That would solve all the world’s problems, Jones believes, if we were all to live joyfully.

Can’t say I disagree with him on that one.

This is the eighth year Jones has been holding his sign up in public. He started doing it because he felt he had been called by God to do so. To do The Lord’s work. He also volunteers driving elderly women to and from church.

He likes to move around the city, finding different locations to hold his sign, which he’ll do for about an hour or so, and only in places with high traffic. Sometimes it’s Kenmount Road during the morning rush hour. Other times it’s outside the Cotton Club at night. This was Jones’ first time at this particular location, just down the road from Keith’s Diner in The Goulds, where I had a 20 minute wait on an order of fish and chips.

Don’t let the stern look on his face in the picture above fool you, he’s actually a very approachable and kindly man. I think he’s just over having his picture taken – he gets the request a lot, and it’s not always under the most respectful conditions. For the most part, though, he says the reactions he gets from people are positive. By his estimation, only about five percent are what he tactfully refers to as rebukes.

In the time I spent chatting with him, Jones and his sign received plenty of friendly waves and car horns — and not a single rebuke from what I could tell.

Jones spent the first 20 years of his working life as a land surveyor. But then the going got tough. There were a lot of younger people coming into the industry and as an older man he felt he could no longer compete in that workforce, so he changed careers and got into security, where he clocked in another 20 years. He says he didn’t really enjoy being a security guard, but it was a living and it contributed to his pension, which he now lives off of.

He’s often offered money between his sign holding and his volunteer work, but he never accepts it. For Jones, life’s not about money. It’s about doing good work and trying to make the world a better place.

If you ever see Jones and his sign in your travels, I recommend stopping to say hello and ask him a few questions. He’ll be more than happy to talk to you. It’s hard to know where he’ll be next since he does like to move around, but he tells me he will be at The Regatta this year with his trusty sign, so be sure to have a lookout for him there amidst the crowds and the kiosks if you’ll be out to cheer on the racers that day.

Getting it right: Piatto & Blue Lounge

    Posted on: Sunday, June 2nd, 2013

We had about a half an hour to 45 minute wait for a table last night at Piatto Pizzeria + Enoteca. And for good reason. When a restaurant gets it right on every level as much as they do, people are bound to flock there in droves.

Piatto doesn’t take reservations, which makes perfect sense. If you know you’re going to be slammed from open until close, why would you risk setting tables aside for people who, for any number of reasons, might not show? Instead, they have a system in place that is both thoughtful and convenient.

If you arrive to a full restaurant and would like to wait for the next available table, you can sit at the bar and drink wine and snack on complimentary olives, even order an appetizer, like we happily did. Or you can leave and receive a text message notification when your table is ready, giving you ten minutes to return and claim it. If you know you will need more time to make it back, you can text back and they will bump you to the next available table.

The front of house staff we encountered, including the hostess, the bar tender and our waitress, were all cheerful and attentive and just really on their game. Our waitress, a young woman named Alexx, with her confident and relaxed demeanour, was especially adept at handling our tipsy table of six. Bonus points for never needing to write anything down and getting it right every time.

And the food. Piatto’s caprese salad, with tomato slices as thick and juicy as steaks, topped with fresh buffalo mozzarella and a basil leaf, then garnished with salt, pepper and olive oil, can do no wrong. While their prosciutto pacchi is a saucy, chewy addiction waiting to happen. And of course there’s the pizza, cooked in a wood burning oven and made from a special flour that is extremely low in gluten. One is easily enough for two people to share, possibly even with a slice left over.

All that and three glasses of wine and my bill was in the $50 range. I was sure I was robbing the place, but I checked my bill and it was all there. Make no wonder there’s a 45 minute wait for a table.

At Blue Lounge my butt had barely hit the stool when a sharply dressed, tattoo-clad bartender was there to serve me. As it turns out, this was the recently appointed bar manager – something Blue Lounge never had prior to his arrival. I’ve had drinks here in the past and the experience was on par with just about any other bar in town. But tonight was on a whole other level.

There were maybe half a dozen staff either behind the bar or moving back and forth between it and the tables, serving up carefully crafted drinks with such fluidity that you’d swear there was a conductor at work somewhere in the room. I guess that would be the bar manager, but the impression I got was that his instructions had been given long before this night began, and his presence was all that was required to see them implemented.

The lounge was bustling with patrons, but it felt so relaxed. Throughout the night, I’d finish a beer and lay it on the bar and someone would just be there to happily clear it and ask if I’d like another. Shots were mixed, poured and distributed with purpose. Drinks prepared and served with care. It all lent itself to the distinct feeling that our presence was not only welcomed, but that it mattered.

Piatto is located at 37 Duckworth Street and is open Monday to Thursday from 11:30am to 10:00pm, Friday and Saturday until 11:00pm, and Sunday from 5:00pm to 9:00pm.

Blue Lounge is located at 319 Water Street and is open weekdays from 10:00am to midnight, and weekends until 2:00am.

Adult massage parlour coming to town makes Here & Now nervous

    Posted on: Wednesday, January 30th, 2013

There’s a new adult massage parlour coming to town, and they’re hiring. According to CBC’s Here & Now, Sherry’s Sugar Shack has been circulating an ad around the campus of Memorial University which states they’re looking for “motivated young women” to “provide company & a relaxing massage if required” to their clientele of “business people”.

Ok, so what? That doesn’t sound like much of a news story to me. There’s nothing illegal about what this ad is proposing. And circulating it around MUN seems perfectly acceptable. Outside of a few rare circumstances, everyone attending Memorial is going to be 18 years of age or older – especially now that we’re in the winter semester – making them adults according to federal law.

And yet the report seeks the opinion of a youth worker on the matter (who incidentally is not on the massage parlour’s side). But we’re talking about adults here, right?

Here & Now set up a fake e-mail account and contacted the recruiter for the massage parlour seeking information, of which they got plenty. A “shocking” amount of information, according to reporter Jen White.

Shocking you say? That sounds, well, shocking, doesn’t it? But there’s nothing shocking about the information itself given that it describes what you would expect would be the duties of an adult massage parlour worker. So why use such a strong adjective (in a pejorative tone, no less) to describe it?

Sprinkle in a few easy-to-get sound bites from young women saying the ad looks “sketchy” and “not something I’d go for” and it really starts to feel like this whole adult massage parlour thing might be a bad idea.

But we’re still not told, in any way by anyone, why it might be a bad idea.

I’d like to make something perfectly clear here: an adult massage parlour is not a brothel. Massaging people or being massaged, clothed or naked, within an establishment which offers such services is perfectly legal. And the recruiter that responded to Here & Now’s undercover e-mail made it clear in their reply that Sherry’s Sugar Shack is not a brothel, and described potential duties for a worker there in line with what an adult massage parlour would legally offer.

White closes the report by saying, “And with no real regulatory agencies in place, these young women may not be aware of what they’re getting themselves into.”

Which is, what, exactly?

Not only is what White has to say here condescending towards the viewer, who hasn’t been given a single shred of real information to indicate that there’s anything potentially unethical, illegal or dangerous about working for Sherry’s Sugar Shack, it’s also condescending towards the young woman who might be applying for a position there. As adults, these women are capable of making their own decisions and assessing their own safety; if there’s anything these women should be concerned about, this report by Here & Now certainly hasn’t informed them of it.

Manufacturing controversy: CBC’s thermography story – who’s deceiving who?

    Posted on: Tuesday, December 18th, 2012

A few weeks ago in late November, CBC’s Here and Now presented an investigative report on thermography.

Sort of.

It wasn’t really about thermography. I mean, they didn’t look into thermography in any great detail. What they did instead was focus in on the only clinic in the province that offers thermographic breast cancer screening services, and did their level best to rake them over the coals for it.

I’m not going to spend any real time debating the potential merits of thermography here. But I will say, while the jury is still out on its usefulness here in Canada as a breast health screening tool, it has already been approved for such use and is regulated in several other developed nations, including the United States. The key thing about that is, thermography in the US can’t be used or advertised as the sole method for screening for breast cancer. It’s what is known as an adjunct service. In countries such as the US, thermography does not replace mammography, but it can be used to seek additional information about the health of a woman’s breasts.

You wouldn’t know that from watching CBC’s investigation, though. While they did feature two Canadian breast cancer experts who testified against thermography’s effectiveness, never was it mentioned that thermography has been approved for use in other parts of the world, including our neighbour to the south. If there’s one idea this investigative report really wanted to prime the viewer with, it’s that thermography doesn’t work. A bit selective with their facts, maybe, but this for me was not the most concerning aspect of this investigative report.

The report spends most of its time building a house of cards wherein they want you to believe that Avalon Laser Health Clinic is misleading patients about the intended use of thermography as a tool for breast cancer screening. The only problem is, they have no proof that this is actually taking place – because it isn’t. So instead, they go to great lengths assembling all the usual sites and sounds of a hard-hitting investigative report. There’s the ominous sounding score, the darkened lighting, the tinted camera effects, and the clincher: an undercover patient who goes into the clinic for a thermographic exam.

And uncovers nothing. But you wouldn’t think that prior to seeing the footage, when reporter Amy Stoodley tells the viewer, “They say it’s only additional information, but we wanted to be sure. So we sent our undercover agent to Avalon Laser Health to find out what actually happens.”

Several prolonged minutes and one entire commercial break later (the report is conveniently split into two segments), nothing happens.

The sting turns out to be a bust. Everything the patient was told is everything the clinic has always said in public, that they offer the service as additional information and that it is not a replacement for other breast exams – indeed, the undercover patient even signed a standard consent form stating as much. But the viewers at home never get to hear or see any of this – if it was caught on tape, they never bothered to include it in the report. Instead, we get a shaky camera with a tinted lens walking down a corridor and muffled voices going over mundane test results. It’s all sizzle and no substance. But we still walk away with the sense of something covert taking place. The undercover footage has served its purpose, at least from an editorial perspective – it leaves the viewer with the impression that something worth going undercover for is taking place here. When it isn’t.

Then there’s the video on the clinic’s website that the report compares to an online video in the US that was taken down by the FDA. The report refers to the FDA-offending video as a “similar video” that made “the same claims” as the clinic’s video. Only that isn’t entirely true. The video in the US taken down by the FDA was done so specifically because it made the claim that thermography could be used in place of mammography for a breast exam – which, as I explained earlier, is not allowed. The clinic’s video, on the other hand, actually states clearly in a slide that lasts for 35 seconds that a thermogram is not a replacement for a mammogram. Again, the CBC report doesn’t tell you this, and instead cherry picks images and text from the video out of context for maximum shock value.

They even went so far as to try and make the clinic’s owner, Clare Barry, appear to be lying about a statement she makes in the report that frequent mammograms can increase a woman’s risk of getting breast cancer. Her claim is indeed a well documented fact. However, when Miss Barry says this, the footage is digitally zoomed in again and again and again on her lips as she speaks the words. Then breast cancer expert Dr. Nancy Wadden is shown saying that this is “incorrect advice” and “false advertising”. What exactly she’s referring to is unclear, but the connection the audience is being asked to make is that she’s responding to Miss Barry’s claim – a claim that is indeed factual and true.

Dr. Wadden, who created our province’s breast screening program, claims at one point that thermography patients are “clogging up” her ultrasound and mammogram list. But what we aren’t told is that in the past two and a half years just seven thermography patients have been sent for further breast screening. Again, it’s all about what they’re not telling you.

What this investigative report really lacks is a smoking gun. There’s no sign of anyone from Avalon Laser Health Clinic telling a patient, undercover or otherwise, that thermography is a replacement for mammography – because they don’t do that, and are explicit in telling their patients about the limits of thermography. There’s no interview with any women who were told by the clinic that thermography is a replacement for mammography – because no such woman exists. There’s nothing to really pin on anyone here, aside from some claims made by a couple of Canadian cancer experts that thermography doesn’t work, which contradicts the established practices of other developed nations, including the United States.

Without anything substantial to give this story any real purpose, what we instead get is a lot of smoke and mirrors, ample suggestion and even some clever misdirection. The report is so well put together that by the end it’s almost impossible to tell that nothing has come of it. Unless you count the damage it’s done.

This report has seriously damaged the entire reputation of Avalon Laser Health Clinic, its staff and its services, where thermography makes up less than one half of a percent of their business. By offering thermography as a breast screening service, Avalon Laser Health Clinic was following in a long line of other clinics across Canada, and clinics around the world where thermography has already been approved and regulated for use. Unfortunately for women in Canada, this country has yet to catch up with the rest of the world. And CBC’s Here and Now report seized on that opportunity to attack Avalon Laser Health Clinic for essentially trying to give women more choice in their approach to monitoring the health of their breasts.

Now Avalon Laser Health Clinic, its owner, Clare Barry, and its many staff are suffering for it, both financially and emotionally. As Miss Barry explained to me over e-mail, this experience has shattered her.

I urge anyone who saw this report when it originally aired to watch it again online and decide for yourself who is really doing the deceiving here. The CBC would like you to believe it’s the subject in front of the lens, Avalon Laser Health Clinic, but it should be clear to anyone after a second viewing that the real deception is taking place behind the lens at the CBC.

You can view the video online by clicking here.

I hope you’ll agree that CBC’s Here and Now owe Avalon Laser Health Clinic a heartfelt apology and a highly visible, well advertised retraction for the false claims and suggestions they made against them in their report.

One final note: Throughout the day yesterday I tried getting a response from the CBC about some of my concerns with their investigative report, but I got stonewalled. I contacted the investigation’s reporter, Amy Stoodley, with a list of questions I was hoping to have answered for inclusion in this piece, but was eventually told that she was not permitted to comment on the story – though she did say she was happy with the story’s outcome. After further inquiry she suggested I try Peter Gullage, Executive Director of CBC News, NL, whom I contacted with the same list of questions. I received a curt reply from Mr. Gullage, asking who I was and who I wrote for. I explained myself fully, and followed up with another inquiry before the end of the day, but I never heard back from him.