Interview: Poverty Cove Theatre Company’s Our Eliza

    Posted on: Friday, March 1st, 2013

This week I sat down to talk with Meg Coles and Shannon Hawes of Poverty Cove Theatre Company. We were at The Ship. Amelia Curran’s album War Brides was playing. We were told by the powers that be (at The Ship) that we didn’t have long to chat, as Fred Eaglesmith was going to be playing soon. So, we sat down with our respective drinks and had a turbo talk about Poverty Cove’s newest hit show, Our Eliza, the idea of theatre itself, and why Joel Hynes is Nan Bait.

Em: So, you had a sold out show this past weekend.

Meg: Yes.

Shannon: Yeah!

Em: So, explain to me now – you’ve changed venues?

S: Meg and I are both co-founders of Poverty Cove Theatre Company and our mandate, among many other things, is to do theatre in found spaces, and challenge peoples’ perceptions of what theatre is and where theatre can happen. And part of that is taking theatre outside of conventional venues – where you wouldn’t necessarily see theatre happen. Because of the production with the Arts and Culture Centre, we’ve been able to incubate and manifest this play within the safety of what is an existing theatre, you know, with the ACC staff, and a more senior producer, and with all of that safety net, we’ve been able to find what Our Eliza is – what the constants are, what the necessities are.  And what will be malleable when we want to take it out of the Barbara Barrett Theatre.

E: And now you’re taking it to the library.

S: Yeah, the AC Hunter Library.

E: What’s your reason for that?

S: Doing a show in a found space is not just an arbitrary (idea); we like to use the environment and the atmosphere of the place to add as an extra to the setting, or support for the setting. For example with The Battery (Poverty Cove’s last production), our show was at The Republic.  The Republic is a bar; The Battery takes place in a bar.

M: Thematically, you connect it to subject matter of the play, right? The intent is in making that connection, however subtle, there’s an additional ambiance created within the room.  So if you’re watching a play that’s very much concentrated on education and books, it’s interesting to convey that through space – for example, Eliza always talks about how much of a book lover she is – and we’ll  actually be surrounded by books, and hopefully that’ll resonate with the audience members.

Eliza - Still 5

E: Cool! And you’ve been writing this since you’ve been in school (National Theatre School)?

M: It started off as my first year project…And after I graduated I worked on it with the RCAT Write On program…(and years later) I decided to pick it up and work on it again…and since then it’s become what you see now. But this is the first professional production.

E: How did you come to decide to have Lois Brown as director?

S: She was my mentor when I first decided to pursue theatre, (and continued to be) right through National Theatre School. And we were talking about it with (co-producer) Aidan Flynn and he suggested bringing Lois in from Montreal… and so it was a great opportunity for us to work with her.

E: I thought the performances were really strong. I was particularly struck by Joel – he was so different.

S: Yeah.

E: Did you always have him in mind for that role?

S: He was definitely on our list.

M: Joel is really conformable with that rural Newfoundland role. He understands the speech rhythms; it’s very inherent… so it really came natural to him – that language. And for Joel, I know he said in other interviews, that he kind of wanted to perform against the persona he normally plays – rather than that tough guy character. He kind of plays a gentle softer sweetheart character. Which he does very wonderfully.

E: Totally.

M: I think a lot of audience members will go away having a crush on Joel.  Hank is…I mean, Eliza is remembering her husband after death, so in a lot of ways…she’s romanticizing him. He is the ideal bay husband.

E: And in the writing of it – I think there’s an obvious passion behind the entire play and I was wondering — that must come from you in some way, but you didn’t actually live that sort of life. How do you connect so strongly with the play?

M: I mean, I spent a lot of time with older rural Newfoundland men and women as a child, just because I’m from that world and when I started writing that play, I was living in Montreal, and I was feeling very far away from that world and I was trying to reconcile how my life in Savage Cove was related to my life in Montreal. And I feel like being able to spend that time writing that play and accessing that part of myself was a way of dealing with my homesickness. So I got to spend time with those characters which are very much a part of my childhood – that sense of humour, and that sense of family, that sense of community. Which is something, when you’re living in a foreign city – not to say that Montreal is foreign, but it’s not Newfoundland. It’s just nice to be able to return to that world for a couple of hours every day.

E: Do you find it easier to write about places that you aren’t currently living in?

M: It’s a different experience, certainly. There’s a clarity that comes with not being right in the middle of it. You can see things for what they are, rather than become bogged down in the tediousness of everyday life. I love Savage Cove. But I can even become frustrated with the isolation, and the lack of proper internet connection and things like this. Distance is a wonderful tool.

S: And remember that you’re also renovating a house in Savage Cove.

E: You’re renovating a house out there?

M: This house I inherited from my grandmother…I was thinking about this house a lot (while I wrote)…and this house… Our Eliza’s house unintentionally became my grandmother’s house. It’s very small. These homes, too…I’ve walked through the house again, to try to figure out what the renovations will be…as a child I thought the house was really large…now I know, as an adult…you’re cognisant of the fact that more that 10 people lived in this tiny house… I have friends that couldn’t stand up straight in this house.

E: So for people who saw the show at the Barbara Barrett Theatre, would you say this is a different show now that it’s in the library?

S: Yes, definitely. I mean, this is an opportunity to see the actors with four shows under their belt. And we really are passionate about having the show in a found space, because we do think the atmosphere of a location adds to the production. And hopefully people will feel that when they see the show amongst the stacks.

M: And I think it’s really interesting for people to see a play more than once. So often, people only attend a performance that one time. And they think this is what it is and what it will always be, but theatre – a play – is something that changes every night, a little bit – the energy in the room, the audience –

E: — Well people will see a movie more than once, but I guess it makes more sense to see a play more than once.

M: Because it’s living, right? It changes…and Renee, Greg, and Joel are wonderful. They are wonderful. We were so lucky to have such a wonderful, seasoned cast. Greg is a treasure – his comedic timing is… awe-inspiring. And Renee – Renee’s the emotional heart of the show, she truly loves and respects her Eliza.

E: The chemistry between everyone was amazing. And I loved how the chemistry kind of adapted, depending on where they were in time.

S: Yeah, totally.


E: So what’s next for the show?

M: We are hoping to take this show on the road to rural Newfoundland. It’s really important to Poverty Cove, because this play, it lives in the world of rural Newfoundland, so we’d like to take it to them.

E: I was thinking I wanted to take my Nan to the show

M: You know what? Nanny’s love the show. They love it – they are very taken with Joel. Want to talk about him with me afterwards, in fact.

Our EIiza, directed by Lois Brown and starring Greg Malone, Renee Hackett and Joel Hynes, will be at the AC Hunter Library this Saturday and Sunday night at 8:30 pm (March 2 & 3). I’ve just received word that the Saturday evening show is sold out. If I were you, I’d scramble to pick up a ticket for the Sunday night show.



Movie review: Stoner FM

    Posted on: Tuesday, February 26th, 2013

This is not a film. This is a bender caught on tape. At times it appears to be grainy VHS tape. Allow me to start by stating the obvious: this is the worst film I’ve ever seen. Ever. The acting is terrible across the board. The story is base and at times non-existent. The characters are so low on the evolutionary scale one has trouble even opening ones eyes to even look at them. This project is racist, sexist and so ignorant that it boggles the mind that any business or organization would have supported this venture in any way had they known the content being captured.

In terms of the craft of film making, there is very little to be seen. Every now and then there is a decent shot by director of photography Pat Dunne – who for anyone who knows Pat – has some good chops. However, the shooting is destroyed by low budget camera technology and neophytic editing skills. The editing of this film is so bad it will have you cringing. Audio editing elements such as room tone, lip dubbing and transitioning are mangled to the point of anger and despair.

The project also features stock footage and music that goes completely uncredited which shows a definite lack of respect to other artists who may have actual struggles in getting their work into the marketplace.

This project made me angry. Not because it was an absolute waste of money and time on all accounts. It made me think about Andy Jones struggling to get Faustus Bidgood made. A film that took over a decade to complete. There was no rich doctor there to help Jones, that film was largely completed with unemployment insurance, grit and guts.

This film made me appreciate the skill that the true artists of this community have – the knack for story telling and the passion for the work. I have often criticized film industry people for being so curt and short with people on set. I’m not ashamed to admit it. Film sets for me, in the past, have been uncomfortable places to be – so much so that I’ve often said no to the work.

But it occurred to me last night, that the reason why everyone is so curt and short is because they love what they do so very much. For years I’ve confused a fire in the belly with rude behavior. For that, I want to apologize.

If anything, what the experience of seeing this project on screen has taught me is that we have some fantastic storytellers in this province. Many people have said to me that this project is harmful to Newfoundland and Labrador film. I disagree. By showing “film making” at its lowest level, this project shows us how lucky we are to have such talented and passionate people working in a blooming industry.

One can only hope that Donny Goobie and Kent Brown both learn something from this project. One hopes that they will take a big step back and see that there are two kinds of people in this world, those who can tell stories and those who can’t. I have no problem with stating the obvious, these gentlemen can’t.

To family physician Dr. Brian Ramjattan – the funder of this drug-fuelled party – you need a new financial advisor. To those who struggle, push and sweat blood to get their voices heard – keep pushing. The community needs to hear what you have to say.

Rachel Mwanza is heading to the Oscars

    Posted on: Friday, February 22nd, 2013

War Witch Rebele

Here’s a heart-warming story on a nose-freezing day.

Rachel Mwanza is a sixteen-year-old girl who spent most of her youth living in the streets of Kinshasa, the capital city of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Her parents abandoned her when she was a child.

Then Quebec filmmaker Kim Nguyen put out a casting call in Kinshasa for his next film. Mwanza went.

That film was Rebelle (War Witch), and it’s now up for this year’s Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.

Mwanza, who had no previous acting experience, won a Silver Bear for Best Actress at the Berlin Film Festival and got the best actress nod from Tribeca for her role as Komona, a young girl who is telling her life story to her unborn child. Komona was a child solider but, with the help of “magic milk,” premonitions, a warlord, and an albino, she managed to escape her gruelling life at war.

Nguyen told the CBC that Mwanza is “the most talented actress [he has] ever worked with.”

The film’s producers, Marie-Claude Poulin and Pierre Even, have promised to pay for her education and room and board in Kinshasa until she is 18 years old.

When they found out that Rebelle was up for an Oscar, they applied for a visa for Mwanza so that she could attend the ceremonies. Last week, they were still struggling with the process: American authorities had to be convinced that she wouldn’t stay there as an illegal immigrant.

But yesterday, the Visa was granted and Mwanza is on her way to the Oscars!

She’s even landed another role in a film — she’ll be in Henri Wajnberg’s film, Kinshasa Kids.

Be sure to cheer for Rebelle (War Witch) this Sunday at the Oscars, and come out to see the film on March 1st at the LSPU Hall at 8pm as part of Scene & Heard, the St. John’s International Women’s Film Festival’s annual celebration of International Women’s Day.

Rise up

    Posted on: Tuesday, February 12th, 2013

The timing of One Billion Rising is amazing.

In the past four months, events in this fine city have unearthed some troubling victim blaming tendencies in the public, particularly in the context of sexual assault.

In October, there was a string of sexual assaults and reports of women’s drinks being drugged.

That inspired Linda Ross, president of the Provincial Advisory Council on the Status of Women, to tell women not to go out alone and to avoid drinking. It also inspired VOCM to ask whether women did enough to “ensure they don’t become victims of the ‘date rape drugs.'” That last one even made it to

Much discussion followed these two PR blunders. (They’re “blunders” because, well, the only way to “ensure” people don’t get raped is to “ensure” that people don’t rape in the first place. So, y’know, it’s probably more appropriate to focus education about sexual assault on those who sexually assault people — maybe talk about what constitutes consent, like these “Don’t Be That Guy” posters that helped cut sexual assaults in Vancouver by 10 per cent. But you know that.)

Then, last month, Sara Tilley had her drink drugged downtown and wound up in the news over it. Guess what happened? People blamed her for it; check the comments in that story.

So, it’s pretty incredible that One Billion Rising is happening now. When I first saw the Facebook event, I wondered if it had been initiated here in St. John’s as a response to all this horsepoop.

But it’s bigger than that.

One Billion Rising was initiated by Eve Ensler, in response the horrific acts of violence against women in India, Pakistan, Steubenville, and — sadly — everywhere else in the world. According to Ensler in this article from the Women’s Media Centre, the UN estimates that one in three women will be raped or beaten in their lifetime. That’s over one billion people.

So the idea is to have a billion people stand up and dance, instead. If possible.

“What if we did a call to those one billion to walk out of their jobs and schools and houses and to get with their posses and groups and to do a global dance action?” she asks.

One Billion Rising events take place on Valentine’s Day, this Thursday, across the world. The St. John’s event will take place from 4pm until 10pm at the Knights of Columbus Hall, on St. Clare Avenue. There will be booths and tables set up by various community organizations like the Downtown Community Watch and us here at the Women’s Film Festival, and there will be dancing. And food by the Multicultural Women’s Organization of Newfoundland and Labrador.


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.