Rising Tide Theatre’s Revue 2017 takes audiences on Newfoundland’s wild carnival ride, with all manner of colourful characters and gut-busting foolishness
Step under the big top with Rising Tide Theatre and Revue 2017. It’s the circus that is, has been and will be Newfoundland and Labrador. From politics to social phenomena, jaw-dropping happenings and everything in between, there are all manner of curiosities and wonders to explore.
‘Facing the Bogeyman’
Each and every year the crack team of satirists, actors and writers congregate to piece together what will be a multi-show telling of the year that was, a hodgepodge of tasty licks and meaty morsels that underline the need-to-know of the past year.
“It’s almost surreal if you think about it in the larger sense. Everyone is going around and somehow hoping that the province doesn’t collapse, that the deficit will melt away come spring, and that the world will be a better place,” says Donna Butt, co-founder and executive and artistic director of Rising Tide Theatre and Revue.
“I guess it’s so frightening in a way and overwhelming to think about what happens if we continue on the trajectory that we’re on with the deficit, the continuing costs on Muskratt Falls. It’s so overwhelming that people almost want to carry on as if it wasn’t so, including government in a strange way. We kind of try to have a look at that – are we facing the bogeyman or is it not under the bed at all and everything is going to be ok.”
There is a particular skill and balancing act – not unlike the trapeze artist or sword swallowers – in finding the humour and levity in a year full of dire circumstances and socio-political unrest. The Revue crew have that juxtaposition down to a fine science, concocting a filling melting pot of informative and timely re-tellings, while also turning the narrative on its head with satire and slapstick.
“There weren’t a lot of silver linings, for sure. We have to try to dig underneath that and find a way, both to be able to laugh and smile at it and also to reflect on it,” Butt explains. “We try to keep a good balance of that in the show, with, hopefully, some thoughtful commentary that is dressed up with interesting characters and scenes while still capturing the feel, smell and taste of this place. That’s what we really are trying to do.”
Combing through a years worth of material is an unenviable task for a satirist. On one hand, how do you piece together something fresh and relevant, while on the flipside how do you decide what makes curtain call and what is relegated to the cutting room floor?
The Crème de la Crème
2017 provided no shortage of opportunity for spoof and playful hyperbole. From the Muskrat Falls debacle, lovingly homaged in the style of Charles Dickens with the ghosts of deficits past, to the ever-present and boisterous Danny William’s Galway crusade – musical edition, to “the opposite of a colourful character” Ches Crosbie, Premier Dwight Ball’s rocky liberal ship navigating perilless seas, Steve Kent’s political exit-stage-left, the millennials hammering the panic button the day the cell service died, the island going ‘up in smoke’ under looming marijuana clouds and the giant splash of the internt sensation Mer B’ys, Revue has chosen the crème de la crème for their 34th tour.
Never content to rest on their laurels or revert to tried-and-true tropes, Revue enlisted the help of up-and-coming sketch comedy trio and ‘“artistic good-for-nothing millennials,” HalfHandsome. Injecting some youth into the Revue formula has led to artistic paydirt, Butt explains.
“I invited them to come out and help us on the writing and it worked out really well,” she says. “They were fabulous. It sort of brought that new young voice mixed with the seasoned voice and we really had a great time. That was a way too of bringing another fresh voice into the mix.”
2018 itself serves as a milestone year for Rising Tide, as the company celebrates their landmark 40th anniversary.
“We really weren’t sure,” Butt admits when asked if there were designs for such a long-lasting company. “We obviously formed the company with the hopes that it would have something to offer over the long term. We didn’t form it to say we were just going to do it for a show or two. We really wanted it to have a long life.”
“I don’t know if anybody really realized when we were sitting around that day and putting this company together that 40 years later it would very much be on the scene, that we’d create a major festival and built a building here in Trinity and also be doing a political revue show around the province for over 30 years. It takes a lot of hard work and great teams of people to realize that vision. We’re certainly proud of what we have achieved and hope there’s more to come.”
Revue itself is a year away from celebrating its 35th birthday. Quite the achievement for a political satire. It goes a long ways in illustrating Newfoundlanders and Labradorians built in mechanism for learning to laugh at ourselves, our quirks, hiccups and failures.
‘Joy Out of Tragedy’
And while 12 months worth of head-scratching press conferences, sombre news bulletins and worrisome economic development would be enough to get even the most optimistic Newfoundlander down in the dumps, it is that deep-down in the pit of your gut comedic defense mechanism that carries the day, and one that has allowed Revue to survive, and thrive, for over three decades.
“I think the ability to find joy in the midst of tragedy has always been a Newfoundland trait,” Butt says. “It’s always helped us to keep our heads up high and carry on in spite of it all. I think that humour also comes from a kind of wicked need to survive. It’s just ingrained within our psyche. It’s not just humour either, it’s that blunt honesty and forthrightness that just spills out of people that live here. When you live in a place that’s as challenging as this – both economically and geographically and one that has such a past as what we have – so many marvelous things but so many tragedies as well, that it shapes a person that is unique and stands on their own two feet. It says look at us! We’re here and we’re going to stay and it expresses that it many many ways.”
Rising Tide Theatre’s Revue 2017 runs from January 12-February 23rd and hits St. John’s, Grand Falls-Windsor, Cornerbrook, Stephenville, Gander, Labrador West, Clarenville, Carbonear, Happy Valley-Goose Bay and Bonavista. For tickets visit artsandculturecentre.com or contact the respective box offices.