The Isle aux Morts Theatre Festival is once again underway for the summer season.
This year’s lineup includes Rhonda Payne’s classic Newfoundland story Stars in the Sky Morning and A Fish Tale: A Puppet Lantern Play. The children’s show Cods Love also returns for this season’s lineup.
Braver souls can enjoy Tour de Morts, which a scary walk around the tiny, historic town complete with local ghost stories.
Theatre festival staple and comedy skit dinner show Da Koodens is celebrating its 10th year. The show debuted on Thursday, July 12 for the season featuring new cast member Eileen King.
King credits her friend, Doreen Billard, for recruiting her to the comedy troupe.
“She just started to encourage me. She said, ‘Oh you’ll do good,’” said King, who initially brushed off the suggestion that she’d be a good fit. “She started to tell me more of what was involved and why they had Da Koodens and what the money was going for that they were raising.”
The main goal of Da Koodens is to establish a Newfoundland Dog Museum and Harvey Sea Rescue Interpretive Centre by converting the town’s community centre.
“I’ve been involved in the community centre and Ann Harvey Days and stuff over the years,” said King.
Eventually Billard got her way and King signed on.
“I like to keep our community spirit going and give somebody a good laugh, so I said, ‘Yeah, I think maybe I’ll try it.’”
King confessed she had a bit of stage fright during her debut.
“Very nervous that first night,” said King. “Didn’t think I’d be able to pull it off, but after I got down there and got into a couple of skits, you know it felt more comfortable.”
Once she got past that initial hurdle King found out she enjoyed performing.
“If you can put a smile on somebody’s face I think it’s worth it.”
King says the cast have been very welcoming, encouraging and helpful, offering lots of tips and guidance.
Blandford Billard has been with Da Koodens since its inception and is a founder of the Isle aux Morts Theatre Festival. He also serves as director and producer for the show, and says King is doing well.
“As people move away we try to replace them and, of course, we had a person pass away on us,” he said. “Our oldest member, Bert Skinner, passed away a couple of years ago, so we’ve been sort of looking for someone to fill a spot.”
Billard was pleased to see so many new faces in the crowd for this year’s debut show and hopes the festival will continue to grow.
“I’d like to see it grow faster,” he admits. “This year was big. That first show we had, we had a lot of people from outside.”
Billard says he recognized people in attendance from Codroy Valley to Rose Blanche and everywhere in between. He even spotted folks who came in from Corner Brook to catch the show. Naturally he was delighted to see the regulars come back this season too.
But while the show may be growing in reputation and popularity, there are no plans to take it on the road. The volunteer cast, largely made up of Billard’s friends and former coworkers, decided from the start not to travel.
“One of the first things they said was we’re only doing this at the café. We don’t want to be going on the road,” remembers Billard.
Even invitations to perform at nearby communities like Port aux Basques have been rejected, but Billard points out that the skits are not always suitable for or aimed at younger audiences.
“We do put a lot of time into it,” he said. “We’ve been practicing for it for this show now since May.”
Given the limited number of shows and the time required to rehearse, all three have the same lineup of skits.
“We don’t always get it straight the first time,” laughs Billard. “It’s meant to be a lark and a bit of fun. That’s all.”
While the skits may not change each show, they do change every year. Billard spends a lot of time coming up with timely, relevant ideas and adapting them into the comedy skit format. For example, this year’s offering features a local resident calling United States President Donald Trump to threaten war.
Billard likes to keep the skits not only original, but different from each other. This year the troupe also performs a silent physical comedy skit, and then there are the dancing nuns.
“(It’s) a little bit of something that breaks up the night, rather than just having all the straightforward skits is good too,” said Billard.
Billard tends to avoid inspiration from obvious sources like Mrs. Brown’s Boys or the Carol Burnett Show. The Mrs. Brown attempt just didn’t work well according to Billard, but there’s a different reason altogether for not adapting a Carol Burnett skit.
“You really got to be good to try to replace them,” said Billard. “They’re one of a kind.”
Da Koodens has two more dinner theatre shows scheduled, one on Wednesday, July 25 and one on Tuesday, July 31.
The Isle aux Morts Theatre Festival show schedule and ticket information are available online at http://www.iamtf.ca/2018-season/.