For two decades now, the Gros Morne Theatre Festival has acted as a mirror to generations of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians all across the province, reflecting our culture, history and heritage back to us. Based in Cow Head in breathtaking Gros Morne National Park, it’s little wonder that the festival has drawn thousands of locals and tourists over the years to take in the sights and sounds on the stage, as well as around the dramatic landscape that surrounds it.
Consisting of a 16-week repertory season that includes six to eight plays, a visiting artist series and workshop development week, the festival is committed to inspiring a love of local theatre both here at home and abroad. Founded by the non-profit Theatre Newfoundland Labrador (TNL) – who has toured their works throughout the province, country and the world – the festival relies on its patrons, as well as a number of industry and individual sponsors, to keep the stage lights on. And it’s thanks to businesses like Shallow Bay Motel & Cabins in Cow Head that those won’t be dimming anytime soon.
It is because of Shallow Bay Motel (a family business since 1972) that the festival exists at all says Gaylene Buckle, General Manager of TNL. In 1995 motel management, wanting to expand upon their offerings for the Cabot 500 celebrations, approached TNL about the possibility of doing a dinner theatre.
“So that’s when we created our dinner theatre the S.S. Ethie, and it played there for two nights to sold-out audiences,” Buckle recalls.
“It was that fall that we decided wow, you know, this is Gros Morne National Park – there’s lots of activities happening in the day for people to do, but absolutely nothing for them to do in the evenings. So that was really what kicked off the Gros Morne Theatre Festival.”
Buckle says the festival employs about 50 people each year, from designers to directors, actors, technical and box office staff and more.
“A lot of the work that we develop there we tour around Newfoundland and Labrador and to Canada, England, Australia…so it’s a pretty significant festival, and of course artists from around the province are able to make a living and stay here because of it,” she adds.
Shallow Bay Motel has supported the festival in a multitude of ways over the years (something for which they earned ArtsNL’s Patron of the Arts award in 2003). In addition to hosting performances and helping with marketing, the motel leases the neighbouring Warehouse Theatre to TNL for $1 a year; covers building insurance; donates the use of the “Ethie” conference room for rehearsal and performance space free of charge; and pays for all of the expenses, including heat and light, for six months of the year, splitting the other six months with TNL 50/50.
“It’s a pretty unique relationship,” Buckle says.
“They’ve grown quite a bit since we’ve been there, as a result of us being there, which is great. The more business they do, the happier we are.”
Darel House, manager/owner of Shallow Bay Motel, says about 90 per cent of the people who come through their doors are there for the festival. It’s an event he’s proud to support.
“It’s very important to them and it’s very important to us,” he says.
“It’s a great partnership.”
House says the festival (which closes on September 24 this year) benefits not only his business and the town, but it’s a “big attraction for the whole west coast and Gros Morne National Park.”
Hopefully, with the partnership that exists between TNL and Shallow Bay Motel, it will last for many years to come.