Nfld. & Labrador

Come From Away cancels world's biggest screech-in after backlash

Mirvish Productions backpedalled on its plans to hold a theatre-wide screech-in ceremony in Toronto this July, saying it heard Newfoundlanders "loud and clear."

'In our enthusiasm we took a misstep and apologize,' production company says

A day after announcing a plan to hold the world's biggest screech-in, the production company for Come From Away flip-flopped and apologized to Newfoundlanders upset by the idea of holding the ceremony outside the province. (Quilts by Jen)

The world's biggest screech-in is now a screech-out after some Newfoundlanders decried a Toronto-based theatre company's plan to hold the ceremony on the mainland.

Mirvish Productions said in a release Friday afternoon that its marketing department believed the plan to screech in an entire Come From Away audience would celebrate "the unique culture of Newfoundland."

 "In our enthusiasm we took a misstep and we apologize," the statement said.

"Rightly, many people in Newfoundland took exception to a screech-in happening outside of the actual province that created the tradition. We've heard them loud and clear and will no longer be organizing a screech-in."

A spokesperson for the company said nobody was immediately available for an interview Friday evening to discuss the decision.

Concerns over location

As feedback over the plan percolated online Thursday, one Newfoundland resident traded emails with Mirvish to voice her concerns about the company's choice of location.

"It's ironic that non-Newfoundlanders spent years making fun of us and now they're stealing our traditions," wrote Nicole Collins. "I expect better from a company that spent so much time and money on this production."

An unsigned response from someone at the company told Collins: "I'm sorry that we have upset you and many other Newfoundlanders. That certainly wasn't our intention. We are not stealing your culture; we think we are celebrating it."

Newfoundlander Nicole Collins expressed her discontent with the publicity stunt directly to Mirvish Productions. (Submitted by Nicole Collins)

The email went on to describe how the "publicity event" was "designed to get more attention" for the show, claiming that more tickets had been sold thanks to the media spotlight.

"The more people who see the show, the more they will be exposed to the reasons to visit your province," the email said.

"We believe we are not taking anything away from Newfoundland and Labrador; instead, we are attempting to build a higher profile for your land and its culture, all of which we think can only benefit your province."

'Silly' idea

Collins told CBC News she found the entire concept of holding a screech-in outside the province illogical, but the company's response set her teeth on edge.

"If it was just someone doing this event in Toronto without making a profit, I would still think it was silly," Collins said.

"But the added fact they're doing it at the end of a show, and that's going to attract people and they're going to make money from it, that definitely adds another layer of annoyance to it."

Come From Away has found worldwide success, and Collins says overall it's been a positive reflection on Newfoundland culture. (Matthew Murphy)

Collins said she wouldn't call what happened cultural appropriation, but despite acknowledging the tradition is "a modern one, and not something that many people take seriously," said she still felt the company was "stealing" an aspect of Newfoundland culture — one always meant to welcome outsiders into the province.

Keith Vokey, whose father is widely credited with developing the ceremony into what it is today, agrees: a screech-in is only a screech-in if it occurs in its birthplace, he said.

"In my mind, you can't be an honorary Newfoundlander if you haven't actually come to Newfoundland," said Vokey, the master screecher at Christian's Pub in St. John's.

Tradition or money-maker?

Despite enough outcry for Mirvish to backpedal on its idea, the plan didn't bother everyone. Bob Hallett, a former musical consultant for Come from Away, felt the tradition in general has always been a lighthearted means to leverage a profit.

"It's a marketing ploy for the Newfoundland and Labrador Liquor Corporation, it's a marketing ploy for tourism everywhere," Hallett said.

Bob Hallett wasn't bothered by the promotion. (CBC)

"It's a great way to get people into bars, it's a great way to get people to embrace our culture, and I think that the producers of Come From Away in Toronto recognize this and just want to have a bit of fun, and I think for us to take it so seriously is a sign of our overall foolishness."

The original plan, to set the Guinness World Record for largest-ever screech-in at Toronto's Elgin Theatre, has now been replaced by another promotion: sending "four lucky couples" who attend the performance in July for an official screech-in in Gander.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from As It Happens


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