By Tracy Barnes
In 1992 Dr. Denyse Lynde, a drama specialist with the English Department
of Memorial University, and Gail Weir, performing arts archivist with the
Centre for Newfoundland Studies, submitted a proposal to the Social
Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada for a grant to
preserve the social and cultural heritage of the province through a collection
of its performing arts material. Obtaining this grant of $15,000 for a
three-year period, Dr. Lynde and Ms. Weir launched STAGE (the SSHRCC
Theatre Archives Grant Enterprise), subsequently granting the wish of
immortality to the history of the performing arts in Newfoundland and
The original aim of the STAGE project, specifically designed to
the oral, written and visual history of the performing arts in Newfoundland
and Labrador, was to hire university students for the summer months and
have them travel throughout the province, interviewing people who were
involved in both professional and/or amateur theatre.
Unfortunately, this first SSHRCC grant was not large enough to
costs, accommodations and wages for the intended student travellers, and
interviews were able to be conducted only in St. John's and Corner Brook.
Such a problem only roused the enthusiasm of Dr. Lynde and Ms.
increasing their determination to gather theatrical anecdotes and materials
from all across the province. So, in the next three years, as Ms. Weir took
various self-funded trips around the province and part-time student workers
continued to interview and acquire materials (programs, scripts, production
notes, scrapbooks, set designs, etc.), the performing arts collection
gradually grew. And as 30 student workers were employed over 60
semesters, approximately 19 linear feet of archival materials were
collected and added to the Centre of Newfoundland Studies archives.
This year, the fourth year of the STAGE project, Dr. Lynde and
have finally been able to realize their original plan for STAGE. During the
summer months, with the aid of a new SSHRCC grant valued at $17,500,
four university students hired specifically for the STAGE project, have
dispatched themselves to their home communities of Branch, Renews,
Grand Bank and St. Brides. Each of them, armed with a standard set of
questions, hope to conduct interviews with local people who have been
involved with any and all aspects of the performing arts: school and church
concerts, variety shows, high school dramas and locally written plays.
"Some people think that their programs and their scrapbooks are
only to themselves, but we know that's not true," says Dr. Lynde. "People
are being alerted to the fact that the archives are really there and that their
papers are worth very much."
As each interview is conducted, the students will transcribe the
recorded information and return it to the university to be edited by Dick
Buehler, a professor with Memorial University's English department.
"Because the students are young, sometimes they don't recognize
of plays or people," said Ms. Weir, "so Dick edits the interviews, making
sure that the names of plays and people are spelled correctly."
After passing through such detailed editorial procedures, all
interviews and their corresponding materials will be placed within the
Centre for Newfoundland Studies Archives, easily accessible to visiting
patrons. "Students have come and spoken to us," says Dr. Lynde, "saying
how exciting it is to hear what their grandfather did, or what their uncle did,
and the great stories that they told. It allows these anecdotes to be given to
With the continuation of such a worthwhile project as STAGE, the
performing arts collection has steadily increased in its value to researchers
and to those who wish to re-stage productions. Said Ms. Weir, "Whether or
not we'll ever finish - theoretically it could go on forever - I think we'll end
up with a really good resource, one that will be beneficial to everyone (both
researchers and performers)."
So with SSHRCC funding bulging in one hand and a loaded tape recorder
held tightly in the other, all is to be fondly remembered and expertly
preserved at the Centre of Newfoundland Studies archives. From the
amusing anecdotes of an outport parish priest, to the bawdy humour of
Christmas jannies, to the carefully rumpled programs of a retired high
school drama teacher, the performing arts heritage of Newfoundland and
Labrador will be rich fodder for many future reminiscence. For, in the
words of Gail Weir, "It's not right or wrong, it's how you remember it."