Tag Archives: Theatre PEI

Anne’s Family Pack

Treat the whole family to an Anne-mazing night out! Family Pack Includes: four show tickets to Anne of Green Gables – The Musical™ and an Anne souvenir program for $150.

Up to four additional tickets can be purchased for $37.50 per ticket. Souvenir programs must be picked up at the box office prior to the shows start. Available on select shows performances June 25, 27, 28; tier 2 & 3 seats.

✨Use promo code: annefam22 ✨

Buy Tickets: https://confederationcentre.com/wha…/anne-of-green-gables/

Title Sponsor: The Gray Group Real Estate & Development

Production Sponsor: CAA | Atlantic

Theatre PEI

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Let ‘Er Rip

By Ed Staskus

“J’aurais quelque chose a dire.”  Barachois

The Sterling Women’s Institute is the Stanley Bridge Hall on the corner of Route 6 and Rattenbury Road on the north-central coast of Prince Edward Island. The small town of Stanley Bridge spreads out in all directions.

A new traffic circle at the old intersection keeps the traffic moving. On one corner is the Race Trac gas station and farther down is the farmer’s market. Where the road flattens out at the river is the actual bridge that kids spend the summer jumping off down into the channel flowing out to the New London Bay.

The Women’s Institute is a yellow two-story clapboard building with white trim and a fair-sized deck. From the vantage of the front deck is a solitary house across the street, a cropland spread out wide and long, and the Atlantic Ocean. It is a quiet building on rising ground, except when six nights a week ceilidhs fill the hall with Irish Scottish Acadian fiddles guitars pianos and step dancing.

The hall holds close to 150 if every seat and bench along the side is taken. The night the Arsenault Trio – Helene Arsenault Bergeron, Jonathan Arsenault, and his mother Louise Arsenault – joined by Gary Chipman, played their first show of the summer in Stanley Bridge on a Wednesday night, there were upwards of a hundred ready to go.

“It’s great to see you all, thanks for coming,” said Marsha Weeks, the host of the show.

“All set?” asked Gary Chipman.

“All set,” said Louise Arsenault.

Ceilidhs are concerts, but more like musical gatherings, often staged at small halls in the Canadian Maritimes. Not so long ago, and sometimes even today, they were more along the lines of a kitchen party, a kind of jam session at home with the neighbors. Whoever could play a fiddle or a guitar or belt out a song at the top of their lungs would inevitably find themselves in the kitchen with everyone else. In the middle of January a case of beer might be close at hand in the snow just outside one of the windows.

The word itself comes from the Old Irish for companion.

“On long, dark winter nights it is still the custom in small villages for friends to collect in a house,” Donald Mackenzie wrote explaining ceilidhs more than a hundred years ago. “Some sing old songs set to old music or new music composed in the manner of the old.”

The music at Prince Edward Island ceilidhs is alert animate full of life, mainly jigs and reels, with a mix of waltzes and country songs. There are occasional vignettes about life on the island, some island humor, and stories about islanders making the music. Most of the shows are set in community centers, churches, town halls, and Lion’s clubs.

The Arsenault Trio ripped into the ‘Acadian Reel,’ an Evangeline Region tune in the Cape Breton style played in 4/4 time, in other words, on the fast side. From kitchen parties to laser-lit techno dance floors, the same rhythm pattern is part and parcel of the carousing. The signature style of Acadian fiddling is down home rhythmic drive with sawstroke syncopation, sometimes called shuffles.

“When you do the shuffle,” said Louise Arsenault, “it’s like two up bows in a row. That was dad’s style.”

The Evangeline Region of PEI is the land west of Summerside, from Miscouche to Mont Carmel to Abrams Village. Flags in blue, white, and red with a single gold star fly from front porches and front yards. Mailboxes are painted in the Acadian colors. The annual Agricultural Exhibition and Acadian Festival features boot throwing, horse pulling, and a big music and dance party at the end.

The communities are about co-operatives, farming and fishing, vittles and fiddling.

“Where’s everybody from?” Marsha asked the crowd.

Ontario, Quebec, Alberta, Ohio, Florida, and Australia were some of the answers.

“Massachusetts,” a man called out.

“Whatever you said,” said Marsha. “I can’t pronounce that.”

“Wellington,” another man called out.

Several in the audience, probably all from Prince Edward Island, laughed. Wellington is a small town on PEI. It is home to the head office of College Acadie as well as the Bottle Houses, which are three fantasy-like buildings made of approximately 30,000 recycled glass bottles.

Most of the year islanders have the island to themselves. In the summer ten times as many people as live on PEI visit there for a week-or-two.

“They gave it 150% and we could feel it down to our tappin’ toes,” said a man from Amherst, Massachusetts.

The Aussies in the audience thought it was an “all there bonzer” show.

“The energy was amazing,” said a woman from New South Wales, Australia. “We all clapped and stamped our feet.”

Gary Chipman announced he was going to sing a song.

“I’ve been told I have a great voice, but that I’m going to ruin it by singing,” he said. Still and all, he has been singing for many years. He sang ‘Prince Edward Island Is Heaven To Me,’ a country song penned in 1951 by Hal Lone Pine and recorded with his Lone Pine Mountaineers.  

“The air is so pure, and the people so gay, Prince Edward Island, I’m coming to stay, there’s swimming and hunting and fishing galore, the sun shines so bright on its long golden shore, a touch of God’s great hand this island must be, Prince Edward Island is heaven to me.” 

“Yes, sir!” somebody rang out at the end of the song.

Somebody else called out a request for the ‘Arkansas Traveler.’

“It was some hot day today,” said Louise Arsenault. “You can go from your fur coat to your bikini just like that here on this island.” A few days earlier it had rained eighteen hours straight and never reached fifty degrees. The day of the show it was a breezy sunny 74 degrees.

“Arkansas Traveler!”

“Has anybody got a drink in his car?” asked Gary Chipman, to keep his singing voice well-oiled. He told a joke about a young woman in a tight skirt trying to board a bus.

“Arkansas Traveler!”

The ‘Arkansas Traveler’ is a plantation fiddle tune, a quick reel, from the early 19thcentury, one of the most famous of American fiddle tunes. Back in the day it was a barn raiser, meant to tear the audience up. The band tore into it, followed by ‘The Maid Behind the Bar’ and ‘Farmer’s Daughter.’

Jonathan Arsenault played ‘Cottonwood’ on his guitar. In the second half of the show he played ‘Jerry’s Breakdown.’ Written by Jerry Reed, a Nashville guitarist and country singer, the song is played finger-style on guitar in a similar way to the banjo.

“It’s a wicked hard tune to play, but Jonathan makes it look easy,” said Gary.

“When I was a boy, mom bought a little guitar at a flea market,” said Jonathan. “That was her only guitar back then. She sat me at a table, put the fiddle in her lap, and played a set. I learned to flat top pick from my mom, from the fiddle, since she didn’t have a second guitar to show me what a fret was.”

Step dancing is a part of most, if not all, ceilidhs on Prince Edward Island.

“Louise and I are from Acadian backgrounds,” said Helene Arsenault Bergeron. “We grew up with fathers playing the fiddle. In those days they didn’t have a lot of accompaniment, so they accompanied themselves with their feet. That way they always had their accompanists with them.”

She and Louise Arsenault stepped to the front of the stage.

“When you hear that every day, you learn how to play and dance and you don’t even remember learning it. We saw our fathers, aunts and uncles, and grandfathers, and it was just kind of always there, and so we’re going to do a dance for you now.”

The dancing was sparkling high-spirited swashbuckling.

“I was waiting all night for that,” said Jonathan.

Step dancing descends from traditional Irish dancing. Tap dancing is a modern form of it. It is a looser form. The arms move along with the feet. Step dancers keep their upper bodies still with their arms at their sides, except when they don’t, when they’re fiddling at the same time.

Creating your own melody by using your feet is challenging enough, but fiddling a reel at the same time as step dancing like the Arsenault’s do is gnarly, time to sit up and take notice. Louise and Helene do it like a walk in the park, no matter the large front tap on one of Helene’s shoes secured with black electrical tape.

Louise grew up down the road from Helene and Albert Arsenault, who she would later collaborate with in a roots music band. Her father, Alyre Gallant, played music, too. “I grew up in a musical family,” she said. “My father played the fiddle and my mother played the pump organ. I started playing when I was seven. I learned a lot of tunes from my dad.”

At a time in the 1960s when few Prince County girls picked up the fiddle, her father jigged tunes when she was a girl so she could find them on her instrument.

The first half of the show ended with a series of reels. “Whoop, whoop,” someone in the audience shouted. Someone else stamped their feet. It was getting dark on the other side of the windows. It was still fired up inside the hall.

The second half opened the same way as the first half, with the ‘Acadian Reel.’ The song is the work of Eddy Arsenault, a carpenter and fisherman and one of the hands-down best fiddlers on PEI for more than 70 years. Helene Bergeron’s father, he blended local Acadian fiddling with the Scottish approach.

“Is this a new tune,” asked Marie Gallant Arsenault the first time she heard the song a few minutes after its composition. “It is lively.”

“Yes, it is,” said Eddy Arsenault. “What are we going to call it?”

“That sounds right like Acadian music,” said Marie. “Why don’t you call it the Acadian Reel?”

The name stuck.

Even though Eddy Arsenault wrote it, it’s the kind of song that was never new and never gets old.

Gary Chipman strolled into ‘You Are My Sunshine,’ inviting everyone to join in, which many did, some of their voices uncommonly good.

“You are my sunshine, my only sunshine, you make me happy when skies are gray, you’ll never know dear, how much I love you, please don’t take my sunshine away.”

After Gary put his guitar down to the side, Helene stepped around her piano to the front of the stage, and brought some perspective to the sunshine song that had brought a warm glow to the hall.

“Louise and I used to be in a band called Barachois,” she said.

Helene Arsenault Bergeron got her start as a fledgling in a barn putting on step dancing shows set to old records scratching out fiddle tunes. She watched her elders. “The kitchen parties we had at my grandfather’s and at our house, everybody was always jumping up to dance because the fiddling, the music was so lively.” By her 30s she was one of the best step dancers on Prince Edward Island. She took up the piano, taking on the Cape Breton style, with lift, syncopated, marked by step dancing rhythms.

“Jonathan would come on tour with us when he was a small boy, and he just loved this song we’re going to do for you. Some of the older generation, they used to compose songs as a way of keeping track of local events. It’s a song about an old maid, an old girl, whose neighbor, a young girl, asks for advice about getting married, but the old girl is disillusioned, so it’s not a very encouraging song.”

Louise threw her head back and laughed zestfully full-mouthed.

“It’s called ‘The Family Song,’” said Helene.

Later in the summer Gary might tell a joke about a RCMP officer who calls his station from a crime scene.

“I have an interesting case here,” he says. “A woman shot her husband for stepping on the floor she just mopped.”

“Have you arrested her?” asks his sergeant.

“No, not yet, the floor’s still wet.”

After more hoedowning by the band, Helene and Louise brought two chairs to the center front of the stage.

“Helene and I are going to do a sit down dance,” said Louise. “It’s not because we’re lazy. We can dance standing, we can dance sitting, so here we go!”

Their arms at their sides, their hands gripping the sides of their seats, able-bodied, their feet a breakdown blur, seeming to never leave the floor no matter the tapping, they chair danced up a storm.

Marsha Weeks walked out from the wings with her fiddle.

“You know it’s a great show when the host comes back on stage,” said Jonathan.

Gary, who taught Marsha how to play, picked up his fiddle, as did Helene and Louise.

Gary Chipman has been playing the fiddle since he was five-years-old. He says it was “about a hundred years ago.” Later in life he picked up the guitar and vocals, when “Elvis Presley and the boys came along and the fiddle was out.” With the revival of PEI fiddling in the 1990s, he rosined up his bow again. He earned a degree in clinical psychology, but says it “only made me a smarter fiddle player.”

A hundred years later he concedes, “I’m going to keep playing until I can’t play anymore.”

They played an arrangement of the ‘Tennessee Waltz,’ a tune from the 1940s whose lyrics were first written down on the back of a matchbox and whose music by Pee Wee King remains sad and lively to this day, tracing a man and a woman turning around and around a dance floor.

“I was dancing with my darling to the Tennessee Waltz, when an old friend I happened to see, I introduced her to my loved one, and while they were dancing, my friend stole my sweetheart from me.”

They played a pretty arrangement on four fiddles of the pastoral melody ‘The Rosebud of Allenvale.’

Although they had been letting it rip all along, at the last Gary and the Arsenault’s let it rip. “We’re going to end with the fastest tune of the night, I’m pretty sure,” said Marsha. They dove headlong into an instrumental version of the ‘Orange Blossom Special.’

Laisse les aller!

The tune is for raising high the roof beam. It is sometimes just called ‘The Special’ and is known as the fiddle player’s national anthem. For a long time fiddle players needed to know how to play that one song before being able to join any bluegrass band.

“It is a vehicle to exhibit the fiddler’s pyrotechnic virtuosity,” wrote Norm Cohen in his book about railroads in folksongs. “It is guaranteed to bring the blood of all but the most jaded listeners to a quick, rolling boil.”

No one at the Stanley Bridge ceilidh was left jaded as the last notes of the ‘The Special’ steamed away into the night.

“She’s the fastest train on the line, it’s that Orange Blossom Special, rollin’ down the seaboard line.”

The show ended with hootin’ and hollerin’ and a big round of applause.

“If you had a great time, please tell everybody at your cottage and campgrounds,” said Marsha as the lights came up. “If you didn’t have a good time, you can just see Gary in the kitchen after the show.”

It wouldn’t be a kitchen party if something lively wasn’t going on in the kitchen.

Ed Staskus edits Theatre PEI. He posts stories on 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Cleveland Ohio Daybook http://www.clevelandohiodaybook.com

Theatre PEI

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Summer Swing Ding

Okay gang! The details are starting to come out!

We’re having a big band experience on Saturday July 2! When Mr. Cudmore closes the doors for the weekend, we’re going to take over the food court in the The Confederation Court Mall, the Charlottetown Jazz Ensemble is going to be playing some Swingin’ Tunes, and Upstreet Craft Brewing is going to be serving some fizzy beverages!

On Sunday, July 3, we’re piling on the fun with a brunch catered by Café Thomas-Martin and the Strait Jazz group is going to fire up the instruments for an extra shot of dance music! There *may* be beer-mosas. Just a rumour at this point.

This is not an event to miss! If you dance… welcome! If you like to tap your toes… Welcome! If you love Jazz… WELCOME! If you like BRUNCH? Then grab your tickets soon!

*if you are travelling from out of town, there are special rates for you from The Holman Grand Hotel and The Arts Hotel

Theatre PEI

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Dancing the Day Away

⭐️One week from today we will be hosting 2 days of Dance Vistruosa at Harbourfront Theatre!⭐️

Saturday June 18th (4pm & 7pm)
Sunday June 19th (4pm) 

➡️Dance Virtuosa welcomes you to join them for an unforgettable evening showcase of skilled Prince Edward Island bodies in motion!⬅️

Upbeat dances that stir the soul!😊
#ExploreSummerside#CultureSummerside#ExplorePEI#WelcomePEI#CityByTheSea#TheatrebytheSea#localtalent#danceonpei
Photo:Georgia de Lotz 

Theatre PEI

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Making the Pageant

Have you recently moved to PEI? Because we’d love to meet you and bring you into the creation of this summer’s River Clyde Pageant! We are holding a free theatre creation workshop for Island newcomers this Sunday. The Pageant is a great way to meet new people and participate in a magical outdoor performance in the community of New Glasgow, PEI.

Coming Ashore: A River Clyde Pageant Workshop for Newcomers to PEI

When: This Sunday, June 19 from 2 – 5 p.m.

Where: New Glasgow Christian Church

To sign up, visit: riverclydepageant.com/get-involved

Theatre PEI

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On the Right Track

By Ed Staskus

   “Oy, where is it you are coming from,” William Murphy asked the scruffy pussycat going on tomcat at his feet. The half-pint was looking up at him. He had been in Thomas Spate’s coat pocket when Prince Albert’s hired gunman shot him. As the ferryman was falling and spitting out his last breath, he jumped out of his pocket and scurried to the side. He watched William Murphy roll push kick Tom Spate with his boot into the Stanley River. He floated face down into the New London Bay.

   That was the end of Queen Victoria’s would-be assassin, at least until he sank. When he did bottom feeders like eels would chew on whatever was left of his decaying decomposing body. The cat had seen plenty of eels in his short time on Prince Edward Island. He knew what they were up to. It was why he never snacked on them.

   The cat was gray, still small but on the stocky side. “The only true animal is a cat, and the only true cat is a gray cat,” Lucy Maud Montgomery said years later. She had two of them. “When people ask me why I want to keep two cats I tell them I keep them to do my resting for me.”

   Snapper was a Scottish cat from Rear Settlement, on the west side of Settlement Rd. beside a tributary of the Montague River. Everything had gone wrong a month before when Ann Beaton, the woman who had given him his name and kept him fed dry and warm in bad weather, was murdered when somebody caved in the back of her head with a grubbing hoe.

  Ann was 41 years old and unwed. She was lonely but had a year-old daughter. She lived with her brother Murdoch and his family. The night she was killed was the day she went visiting her neighbor who was weaving some cloth for her. They had tea after dinner and Ann started for home when it was near to sunset.

   “What do you say, it’s getting awful dark, maybe you should stay overnight,” her neighbor said.

   Ann said she knew the way back like the back of her hand and enjoyed walking in the dark. Her brother was away and one of his children was watching her girl. She wanted to get back so she could watch the girl herself. Ann was found the next day laying in a ditch at the back of her brother’s farm, blood everywhere dry and caked.

   She was laid out in the barn. She was a mess. She had been stamped on and violated. Her body and dress were marked with the prints of a shod foot. Everybody from the community filing past the viewing laid a hand on her. There was a Scottish belief that if a murderer touched the body of his victim, blood would spring forth. At the end of the viewing everybody was in the clear. The killer was still on the loose.

   Snapper stayed bushy-tailed as William Murphy walked back to North Rustico. He bounced up and down in the man’s coat pocket. The island’s pioneer days weren’t over, except where they were. Most folks still farmed and fished, but not all of them. Some made and sold farming implements while some built ships or worked in shipyards. Everybody needed lumber and many men worked at lumbering. There were sawmills and shingle mills. There were schools, churches, and post offices. There were some inns and hotels. There were plenty of distilleries.

   Ann Beaton’s funeral was presided over by the Reverend Donald McDonald, a minister of the Church of Scotland. He had a large following of “kickers” and “jumpers.” They were known that way for the religious frenzy they fell into while being “under the works.” 

   The clergyman had emigrated from Scotland to Cape Breton and finally to Prince Edward Island. Everybody knew he drank too much when he was a Scotsman. When he became a Canadian, he tried to stay on the wagon. “Prince Edward Island is a dubious haven for a man fleeing demon rum,” one of his kinsmen said. There was plenty of strong drink on the island. A year before her death Ann attended several prayer meetings and while “under the works” knocked a Bible and a candle from Donald McDonald’s hands. She invertedly kicked the Bible. She purposely blew out the candle.

   “They are both under her feet now and mark the end of that girl,” he said by way of a sour eulogy. 

   Snapper saw country folk going to Cavendish by horse and buggy to buy tea, salt, and sugar. If they had something extra in their pockets, they bought molasses and tobacco. They only bought clothes they couldn’t make themselves. They didn’t buy food as a rule. They grew and processed it themselves, picking and preserving berries, milking cows and churning cream for butter, and curing beef and pork after slaughtering the animals.

​   The grubbing hoe that killed Ann Beaton belonged to Archibald Matheson. He lived nearby on the Settlement Rd. with his wife and son. The three of them were arrested on suspicion of the crime. Some local women reported being molested by the farmer, but he and his family were soon released. Bad feelings among neighbors weren’t facts. He may have had a bad reputation, but so did Ann. There were rumors she had been killed by a jealous wife. A smutty ballad was written describing her as “light in her way.”

   After the funeral Ann was buried in the Pioneer Graveyard. Her brother moved away nobody knew where. Nobody knew what happened to her baby, either. Nobody wanted to know. By the time Snapper was on his way to North Rustico everybody was doing their best to forget all about it.

   The cat was sleeping in the back of a wagon almost a month after Ann’s death. He was sick and tired of nobody feeding him. Before he knew it the wagon was on its way. When he looked back, he didn’t see much worth going back to. He made himself snug comfortable and went with the flow. The flow was towards the northwest. The wagon stopped overnight at Saint Andrews and Covehead before getting to the Stanley River, where it rang for the ferry. Once they were across, and the wagoner was stretching his legs, Snapper stretched his legs, too. When he was done the wagon was long gone. Unlike wagoner’s hauling freight, Snapper wasn’t on a schedule. He was go-as-you-please footloose.

   Tom Spate’s young wife took him in, poured him milk, and fed him scraps of white fish. He bulked up fast and stayed agile staying out of Tom Spate’s way. The ferryman had a bad temper and wasn’t above hitting his wife or trying to kick the cat. Snapper was fast and none of the ferryman’s kicks ever landed. Tom Spate’s wife wasn’t fast and had the black and blue evidence to prove it.

   Snapper wasn’t overly dismayed to see the dead as a doornail Tom Spate floating away. William Murphy was his kind of man, gruff but not mean-hearted. “I have never known anyone worth a damn who wasn’t irascible,” is what the Irishman thought. Snapper stayed in his pocket, not jumping ship. Besides, he had already spotted foxes along the coastline. He would deal with them once he was grown up and ready for bear, but for the moment he kept his eyes open and his nose on high alert.

   They walked past a house where it was wash day. Behind the house was a field of sunlit rapeseed. A woman was raising water from a well with a bucket and washing clothes on a wood washboard with home-made laundry soap. She pressed what clothes needed to pressed with an iron she heated on her kitchen stove. Snapper didn’t own or wear any clothes and thought it was all a lot of bother.

   A traveling tailor was walking up the path to another house. He was going to stay for several days, maybe even a week, making wool coats for everybody. The lady of the house had already spun dyed and woven the cloth. What Snapper didn’t know was winters on the island were long and cold. He was going to find out soon enough. When he did, he was every single day going to sniff out wool so he could curl up into it.

   When they got to North Rustico there was still plenty of daylight left in the day. Snapper ran behind the boarding house where William Murphy was staying and started messing with a beetle. He batted it one way and another way. The beetle looked for a tree to scurry up. The only beetles Snapper never messed with were lady bugs. He liked the way they went about their business and took lessons as they hunted for aphids. They were deadly killers of the pests.

   Snapper slept at the foot of William Murphy’s bed that night. He made himself small and pressed himself against the man’s feet. He wasn’t a tosser and a turner, which suited the gray cat. He didn’t have to catnap with one eye open, ready to jump at any minute. He slept better that night than he had in many days.

Excerpted from “Blood Lines” at http://www.redroadpei.com.

Ed Staskus edits Theatre PEI. He posts stories on 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Cleveland Daybook http://www.clevelandohiodaybook.com

Theatre PEI

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Off to the Rock

Tell Tale Harbour to tour Newfoundland and Labrador this fall

The new musical comedy Tell Tale Harbour already has its next destination after it makes its world premiere at The Charlottetown Festival. After its summer run, the show and its original cast will pack up and head to Newfoundland and Labrador for a cross-province tour. 

“Confederation Centre of the Arts is thrilled to partner with the Arts and Culture Centres to bring Tell Tale Harbour to Newfoundland and Labrador,” says Steve Bellamy, Confederation Centre’s CEO. “It’s a musical full of East Coast pride about the true meaning of home, so it couldn’t be a more fitting addition to the Come Home 2022 celebrations.”

The tour was announced by the Honourable Steve Crocker, Newfoundland and Labrador’s Minister of Tourism, Culture, Arts, and Recreation as part of the province’s Come Home 2022 programming. 

“We are thrilled to be bringing Tell Tale Harbour to our province,” says the Honourable Andrew Furey, Premier of Newfoundland and Labrador. “I want to say a very special thank you to our partners involved in making this happen, including Alan Doyle and Confederation Centre of the Arts in Prince Edward Island. We couldn’t have done this without your energy and support.” 

Several members of the musical’s cast and creative team are Newfoundlanders, including director Jillian Keiley, and co-adaptors Alan Doyle and Edward Riche

Tour dates in Newfoundland and Labrador include: 

September 27 (Concert): Labrador West Arts and Culture Centre 

September 29: Stephenville Arts and Culture Centre 

October 1, 3: Cornerbrook Arts and Culture Centre

October 5, 7, 8: Grand Falls-Windsor Arts and Culture Centre

October 12, 13, 14, 15: St. John’s Arts and Culture Centre

For all performances dates of Tell Tale Harbour in Charlottetown and Newfoundland and Labrador, visit telltaleharbour.com.

Theatre PEI

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