Nfld. & Labrador

Theatre groups feeling pinch year after Labrador travel fund axed

Labrador theatre companies say they aren't sure if they'll be able to afford to go the provincial drama festival in Corner Brook next year after the Labrador Cultural Travel Fund was cut in the 2016 provincial budget.

Attending future provincial drama festivals looks bleak for Labrador theatre companies

Mokami Players actor Jamie Felsberg and treasurer Philomena Abbass say they aren't sure the company will be able to afford to go to the provincial drama festival in Corner Brook next year. (John Gaudi/CBC)

Labrador theatre companies say they aren't sure if they can afford to go the provincial drama festival in Corner Brook next year.

In Labrador West, the Northern Lights Theatre Company's treasurer, Lester Simmons, says the company is feeling the pinch since the Labrador Cultural Travel Fund was cut in the 2016 provincial budget.

The fund provided Labrador groups up to $5,000 to help pay for travel costs to the island.

Theatre groups in Labrador rely on ticket sales and do fundraising, but admit it's tough to get by without the travel fund.

Actors Jamie Felsberg and Karla Abbass perform in Mokami Players' production of Saltwater Moon at the 2017 provincial drama festival in Gander. (Submitted)

Simmons said his group spent about $13,000 to send four cast members and three support crew to the 2017 drama festival in Gander.

He said they could afford it because the company hosted the provincial drama festival in Labrador City last year and that meant they didn't have to pay for travel out to the island.

"Right now, the bank account is pretty well depleted, and we're starting to worry about next year."

Labrador groups not participating is definitely going to have an adverse effect on the festival.- Lester Simmons

Simmons said the Northern Lights Theatre Company didn't get an ArtsNL community arts program grant and figures it's unlikely there will be enough money to go around.

"That funding, while it's there — and I think it's great that the government has put it there — I don't know how readily accessible it's going to be to three groups in Labrador on an annual basis," he said.

Arts targeted in budget cuts 

Mokami Players treasurer Philomena Abbass says she isn't sure the Happy Valley-Goose Bay theatre group will be able to attend the provincial drama festival next year either.

Lester Simmons, second from right, of the Northern Lights Theatre Company, displays trophy at the provincial drama festival in Gander this year. Simmons says it would be a sad day if Labrador groups can't attend future provincial drama festivals. (Submitted)

Abbass said the provincial government is not only unfairly targeting the arts during budget cuts but that the government doesn't appear to be treating all groups equally.

She added the provincial government offers its employees paid leave to take part in amateur athletic events such as the Labrador Winter Games and the Newfoundland and Labrador Games, but not the provincial drama festival.

Abass said provincial employees have to use their vacation time to take part in the festival.

"How does the government support the arts? When I see examples of that and it's not equal across the board, I just sometimes wonder, are they really supporting the arts as much as they are supporting some of the other areas of recreation?"

Not able to progress

Mokami Players member Jamie Felsberg, who won best actor under 21 years old at the provincial drama festival two years in a row, is bracing for uncertainty.

He says not knowing if the group will have enough money to go to the provincial drama festival in Corner Brook in 2018, as well as what kind of cast they're going to have, will weigh on him over the summer months.

Mokami Players actor Jamie Felsberg says not being able to go to the provincial drama festival would stop him from progressing as an actor. Felsberg has won best actor under 21 two years in a row at the festival.

"To not be able to go to festivals and get criticism and comments and watch other productions, to me that's almost stopping me, if you will, from progressing as an actor," he said in a Labrador Morning interview.

Simmons said he wrote a letter to Labrador politicians and to Premier Dwight Ball — also the minister of Tourism and Labrador and Aboriginal Affairs — asking the province to consider reinstating the Labrador Cultural Travel Fund.

Sad day if Labrador theatre companies can't participate

Simmons said if Labrador theatre companies can't participate in the drama festival, "I think it would be a sad day," noting it's a 68-year-old provincial institution that needs to continue.

To be not be able to go to festivals...that's almost stopping me from progressing as an actor.- Jamie Felsberg

"Labrador groups not participating is definitely going to have an adverse effect on the festival," he said. "And that in turn, would have an adverse effect, I feel, on the cultural aspect of our province."

Abbass added, "If Labrador, because we're cut funds, can't attend … they're going to have to start from scratch because they're going to have to start with the Newfoundland drama festival."

About the Author

John Gaudi

CBC reporter

John Gaudi reports from Happy Valley-Goose Bay for CBC's Labrador Morning.