The summer I turned 13, my parents and I, and my older brother Stan, moved from the heart of Kitsilano, on the edge of UBC’s Endowment Lands, to Frenchman’s Cove, Newfoundland. Population: 200.
I spent my formative teenage years growing up the Maritimes, and I can’t even begin to tell you what an impact it had on my adult life. I will say this: I know that my deep and abiding love of the arts was a seed planted in Newfoundland soil.
Because it is an island, it has withstood outside influences longer than other places in Canada, and the culture is more preserved there. There is a tradition of songs and storytelling that goes very deep.
I have two favorite plays by Newfoundland playwrights: the first is A Rope Against the Sun by Al Pittman, and the second is Salt Water Moon by David French.
I was, as you can imagine, quite thrilled when I got the job of doing publicity for an upcoming production of French’s 1949 at Capilano University. The play follows the Mercer family (we meet Jacob and Mary and their young love in Salt Water Moon) who have married, had children, and moved to Toronto. They struggle with feelings of belonging and displacement the eve of Newfoundland joining confederation.
We emailed Mr. French’s agent, and asked if we could ask him a few questions, and he said yes.
TAoTB: Give your impressions on the state of Canadian playwriting?
DF: I’ve seen many excellent Canadian plays, and I’ve also seen plays that I wish I hadn’t seen. Theatre is a constant invalid, but sometimes he hops out of bed and runs around.
TAoTB: What’s next for David French?
DF: I’m working on two new plays and a novel.
TAoTB: Your plays about the Mercer family are produced all over the world. What is the appeal of a play about a family from a small Newfoundland outport that is so universal?
DF: It deals with our common humanity.
TAoTB: Do you sometimes miss Newfoundland? And long to move back?
DF: No. For years now, it’s existed in my imagination.
TAoTB: What is your favorite production of your work you’ve ever seen?
DF: That’s a tough question. Several are special to me, including the original production of Leaving Home at the Tarragon Theatre back in 1972, the production of Salt-Water Moon at the Saidye Bronfman Theatre in Montreal, and, during the last few years, the revival of those two plays at Soulpepper was outstanding.
For more information on David French, visit his website.
For more information on the upcoming production of 1949, please click here.
Special thanks to the director of 1949, Colin Legge, who supplied some of the questions.