© Frank Gale
Professional actor Robert Joy, adjudicator for the 2014 Newfoundland and Labrador Provincial Drama Festival, addresses the full house at the Royal Canadian Legion in Stephenville on Saturday, April 26, 2014 during the festival's Closing Awards Night ceremony. Joy decided the winners of the majority of the awards that were presented.
Robert Joy did not know what was in store for his rookie experience as an adjudicator, let alone what to expect from the productions at the 64th annual Newfoundland and Labrador Provincial Drama Festival in Stephenville.
Joy, better known as the Newfoundland and Labrador actor who portrays a coroner Dr. Sid Hammerback on the CBS television show “CSI: New York,” said he had “a fabulous experience” and was wowed by the quality of the festival’s productions.
The festival featured seven plays in seven nights by seven different community theatre groups from all over the province.
To prepare, Joy read all of the plays he would be judging and asked a few friends of his who had been adjudicators about what to expect and how to go about the task.
He knew the quality and the subject matter was going to vary widely from work to work, but was surprised at just how good the higher end of scale was.
“If you saw seven plays in seven nights in New York or Los Angeles or Toronto or London, there would be a variety of quality and material as well,” he told The Western Star in a phone interview from Toronto after the festival.
“I just felt that, at the upper end, the higher quality was as good as or better than anything I’ve seen anywhere in the world. That’s what shocked me.”
Joy gave the nod to “Blasted” by the Off-Broadway Players of Corner Brook as the best production of the week, but said “God of Carnage” by the Northern Lights Theatre of Labrador West was an extremely close second. Of “Blasted,” he said it would be “hard to imagine a better production of that anywhere” and called “God of Carnage” an “amazing production and every aspect of it was wonderful.”
He was relieved to see “God of Carnage” walk away with the audience appreciation award, one of the few awards not selected by Joy himself.
“I was in pain trying to choose,” he said of the award selection process. “In practically every category, there were two or three or even four candidates who were worthy of winning. In one case, which would be the lead performance by a woman, there were nine or 10 candidates, all of whom deserved enormous praise.”
Joy was struck by the dedication and commitment of all of the theatre groups, especially for tackling some difficult works in a one-stage festival setting featuring shows just 24 hours apart. When he read “Blasted” before going to Stephenville, Joy questioned why a community theatre group would ever approach such gripping material and wondered if it might be too much even for the audience.
“But, to their credit, they delivered an incredibly satisfying production,” said Joy of the play that won seven of the 19 awards presented at the festival.
Some of the works, like “The Laramie Project” by the Avion Players from Gander, contained nuances and elements that challenged the thoughts of the audience, noted Joy.
“It’s the kind of thing that, if it’s done well, the play can change your opinion of how you look at the world,” he said.
Joy said he left Stephenville inspired by the vibrancy of the province’s amateur theatre community. Every production, he felt, had its own redeeming qualities.
“There was an unquestioned level of enthusiasm and dedication to hard work in all of the productions,” he said. “There was something to applaud every single night.”