Perchance to dream – and build on it: a conversation with artistic director, Danielle Irvine

July 2023

What’s on the go with Perchance Theatre?
Lots. In the big picture we’re moving our theatre, our whole company is moving from Cupids to Conception Harbour. And that is the first step of what will be the evolution to the new Perchance experience that will take us a few years to fully develop.

Was that always on the drawing board?
Great question. When the original founders, Aiden Flynn, Brad Hodder, and Geoff Adams had conceived of the theatre it was built as a touring piece, and it was built as part of the Cupids 400 celebrations, in 2010. Where they set up their location was in the backyard of The Haven, a B&B and tearoom. It was a good relationship. They just never moved it. And when I came along in 2014, it was pretty firmly established in Cupids, and there was no way that we could conceive of moving the theatre at that point. And then the B&B owners decided their life was taking a different direction, and they put it up for sale. We weren’t in a position for buying at that point, in 2018, but as fate would have it, in 2021 we had gotten to the point where we thought we could reach out and take on a lease, because it still hadn’t sold because of the pandemic and everything, and they said oh we just sold it a week ago. We were like whaaat, it was something of a shock, it was a pretty sudden startling thing for all of us because we thought we had a bit more time. We arranged to stay for the summer while we figured stuff out, and we looked all over Cupids, over the next year and a half. Our goal was to stay. We did find a property, but in Conception Harbour, and it took us a long time to get a mortgage, being a theatre company, amazingly banks don’t really want to give mortgages to theatre companies! We finally did get that organized; it took a lot longer than we’d hoped. We got the property, and we were really sad to move. But we’ve been really welcomed by Conception Harbour and the area, and supported by Cupids in the move. We’re only 15 minutes away. The goal is to stay regional and connected, in terms of direct impact, and still serve the province as a whole, as we grow. Our goal was always to put down roots that will allow us to grow our bigger programming, and now we will be able to do that.

You physically moved the theatre.
We did. That was its own journey. We had a deadline, we put out a call on a Tuesday for a Saturday move, it was a Hail Mary, and 40 people showed up. Shakespeare himself was in the same position, Shakespeare and his friends owned the theatre but they didn’t own the land it was on, and when the lease came up they had to move their theatre. I draw comfort from that.

Lots of people from Cupids, including this gentleman, Aubrey, with his dumptruck and his flatbeds, and people from Conception Harbour and everywhere in-between. We did 90 per cent of the work taking down that day, and it took another couple of days to finish the move, and then building in Conception Harbour again, which is still going on. It’s an outdoor theatre, but it’s also an outdoor process to build it, and the weather the past little while has kept us behind, we’re delayed by a week. We’ll have a temporary venue, we’re calling it our Garden Party Year, it’s much simpler, we don’t have the big structure, we don’t have the sailcloth roof, yet, and we’re just going to get through the summer. We do have a beautiful design for a new long-term structure that will incorporate the past and the future, that will have the ability for us to grow, be accessible and environmentally sustainable, and we’re hoping to break ground on that as soon as we can get funding behind that and that will be the next stage.  But in the meantime we are landed, we own a convent, with a chapel, so we can do very small intimate concerts down the road, board meetings, art exhibits, artist retreats, corporate retreats, we have bedrooms, bathrooms, offices, a kitchen, parking. All the stuff we didn’t have, which for basic operations was so hard, our staff were outdoors all the time. The basic human amenities we now have plus the ability to build into the future.

When is your opening night?
High Steel on July 15th, the very next day The Flying Doctor on July 16th, and then we’re going to remount The Tempest, that will be the end of July, that will be our three main stages, our Open Sky Series that will last all summer.

Why High Steel?
High Steel, Mary Walsh and Rick Boland wrote that in the 1980s, and it is about the ironworkers leaving Newfoundland, leaving particularly Conception Harbour, to build the skyscrapers of New York and Boston. And for us in terms of building connections with the local community, and also in terms of our Newfoundland Classics series, which we started in 2017 with Megan Gail Coles’ Our Eliza, about NL culture through time, in both ways it is the perfect show for us to open with. It’s music by the late great Ron Hynes. And it’s a story that is extra relevant today, I feel, because our society and our culture is still where the women are here building the families and the men are either going to the Labrador or to the high steel or the oil sands or going offshore. This has been hundreds of years in our culture and the conversation remains relevant. And it’s so well written and so beautiful and the set for the show is really special. It’s a very special inaugural summer.
The Flying Doctor is by Molière. Molière wrote a lot of fantastic farces and pieces for commedia dell’arte. Evan Mercer wrote the adaption. It’s the commedia dell’art style, the masks, the make-up, the stock characters – your miser, your lovers – characters that come from that Italian style, and what’s really fun about that Italian style is everybody knew the characters and it was heavily improvised. So it works really well with our sense of humour. Evan adapted it to 1990s Newfoundland, this young couple want to get together but her father wants her to marry a rich lawyer, and they’re trying to distract him by getting this doctor who is not a doctor at all but a guy pretending to be his own nonexistent identical twin who’s a doctor –

If we only had a dime.
Exactly. It’s very physical, very funny. I love the classics because they allow us as artists to stretch into these styles of performance that we don’t do everyday, and yet work with stories that we can see are still relevant today.

Are you already looking ahead to 2024?
Yes.

Anything you want to tease?
We have commissioned a brand-new musical. We’ve never done from scratch a new musical. It is being written by Jodee Richardson. He’s built a whole world of music. Richard Rose will be directing. I like to be three years out in my planning, but with the pandemic and the move my planning has shifted a bit so I’m redeveloping a three-year plan, and part of that is getting to know the community this summer, and that theatre space, because our work is so immersive. I want to keep evolving that and I just need a little bit of time with the space.

For more information on Perchance’s 2023 season click here.

(Images: Commedia dell’arte, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, courtesy Wikimedia)

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