'This is our theatre': Performance arts centre named for Myra Bennett opens in Cow Head

·3 min read
The state-of-the-art Nurse Myra Bennett Centre for the Performing Arts opened for its first showing Friday. (Colleen Connors/CBC - image credit)
The state-of-the-art Nurse Myra Bennett Centre for the Performing Arts opened for its first showing Friday. (Colleen Connors/CBC - image credit)

A nurse like Myra Bennett — who delivered about 5,000 babies in Newfoundland and Labrador — would have surely known newborns don't always arrive on time.

Neither do theatres — like the new performing arts centre that bears her name in Cow Head on Newfoundland's Northern Peninsula.

The state-of-the-art $10-million theatre was nearly ready to open when the COVID-19 pandemic hit last year. But on Friday, the Nurse Myra Bennett Centre for the Performing Arts opened with a performance of Tempting Providence, a play that details Bennett's decades of serving the people of the area.

"This is fantastic, we have been looking forward to this for so long…. We are opening this Nurse Myra Bennett Center with her story," said Jeff Pitcher, artistic director of Theatre Newfoundland and Labrador.

"And you can sit back and watch four of the most magical plays we have produced here in Cow Head."

Colleen Connors/CBC
Colleen Connors/CBC

Pitcher said the Gros Morne Theatre Festival, which is run by TNL, has put on plays for nearly three decades in a hotel conference room or the small Warehouse Theatre, and a new home for the festival was needed.

The new performance space has a large stage and a smaller studio stage, an improved box office and bar space, plus a full kitchen, a prop room and a space for building sets.

"The lighting, I just couldn't believe it. The sound, the acoustics in that room, it's so different from that old conference room," Pitcher said.

"It just comes to life, you just go, 'Wow.'"

This new theatre is not some government building.… This is our theatre. - Jeff Pitcher

And he said he's happy that most of the audience will be Newfoundlanders and Labradorians this summer because the plays represent the province.

"We need Newfoundlanders to come out and support us. We had no income last year. None. These artists have been unemployed for a year. This is a time to support Newfoundland art," said Pitcher.

"This new theatre is not some government building. It's not something somebody gave us. It's something we worked very hard for. It belongs to the Theatre Newfoundland and Labrador. It belongs to the people of Cow Head, the people of the entire west coast. This is our theatre."

Colleen Connors/CBC
Colleen Connors/CBC

Actor and director Stephanie Payne was a part of the first performance of Tempting Providence at the theatre, and has been involved with the festival for 18 years.

The play, written by Robert Chafe, has been part of TNL's offerings since 2000 and has shared Bennett's story on stages across the world.

Bennett was known both as Florence Nightingale of the North and also simply "the Nurse" — as she was the only one providing medical help along the isolated stretch of the Northern Peninsula.

She travelled by foot, boat and dogsled to reach patients until she retired in 1953, and was later appointed a member of the Order of Canada.

Payne says the new building allows them to continue Bennett's legacy and perform professional plays in Cow Head.

"We were always a professional company, but now it seems like we really are a professional company doing what we love — and it's here. We didn't have to move to St. John's or Corner Brook; it's here in this small little town," she said.

"It's because of the hard work and years we put in slogging away with very little that we are able to be here where we are, and it's beautiful, it's really lovely."

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