Hey blog world! My favorite place in the world as you all know is Spirit of Newfoundland! Soon it will be celebrating its 20th anniversary! I thought that today I would give you a little history lesson on Spirit and talk about my experience with it as well.
A piano playing singer and teacher, and a journalist. Not the likeliest of combos. However, that’s just what Spirit needed! You see, these were the prior jobs of the artistic director and COO of Spirit. One fateful night Kathie Hicks, the now COO of Spirit attended an Easter brunch at a restaurant called the Stonehouse. Peter Halley, the now artistic director of Spirit was performing there. Peter recognized Kathie right away from her work in media and Kathie had a big crush on Peter! Kathie got to know him further through mutual friends Ronalda Hutton and Peter MacDonald and they became fast friends. Many of the conversations that they would have would be about what they wanted to do with the rest of their lives. They both loved their jobs but felt like something was missing and they wanted more. When she asked him if he could have any job what would it be he said; “I’d like to know that my job was going to work in a show.” She asked him why not and when he replied that he didn’t have a regular show she suggested that the two of them put one off and so they did! They had humble beginnings. At first, since they were just starting out and unknown to the public Peter and Kathie had to drag people from off the streets and pay them to come see the show! Now, Spirit is approaching 20 years and thriving! They have a show almost every night and quite often they sell out!
Their first show was in 1997 and was titled “Hard Tickets in High Society”. Peter Halley wrote it with Shelley Neville. Peter writes the majority of Spirit’s shows. A lot of people think that it must be such fun for Peter to write these shows. It’s actually a lot of hard work. A lot of blood, sweat and tears go into it. To date, they have done 66 shows, 40 of which are originals! They have done approximately 10,000 shows in total! Spirit’s shows have had a wide variety of themes. Duets (“Go Duet Yourself”), musical men (“Women Doin’ Men”), tributes (“Feelin’ Groovy”, “Sinatra On The Rocks”, “Viva Lost Elvis”), and of course Newfoundland (“Skeets, Snobs & Peppermint Nobs”, “Our Celtic Spirit… Written In Crayon”)!
Newfoundlanders are not the only people that Spirit has performed for. They have performed in many other places! In 1998 they went on a cross-Canada tour with the Ennis Sisters to promote Newfoundland tourism. Also on September 20th, 2002 they performed “Nunsense” in the Waterford Light Opera Festival. The IBP (Ireland Business partnerships) gave Spirit $10,000 to help them along with this endeavor. They were the only Canadian troupe selected to perform and they competed against shows such as “Les Misérables”, “Singin’ in the Rain” and “Godspell”. They didn’t win the competition but they did win the adjudicators choice award.
Spirit has won many awards in their 20 years of existence and rightfully so! Some of them include the 1998 Tyrone Guthrie award from the Stratford Festival, the 1999 Hospitality Newfoundland and Labrador Ambassadors award, 1999 City of St. John’s Event of the Year award and the 2002 Cultural Tourism award for Newfoundland and Labrador.
Spirit has performed in many venues. They began at the Majestic Theater. They operated there the whole summer of 1997. However, they found it difficult that the venue was also a bar and that smoking was allowed in the venue. That September they scouted out somewhere else to go. They came upon the architectural beauty of Cathedral Street, the Masonic Temple!
Absolutely gorgeous isn’t it?! Here’s a video tour, guided by Peter so you can see just how beautiful it is inside and out.
Eventually, Spirit left the Masonic Temple and moved to Theatre at St. John’s Lane. In 2008, the Temple went up for sale. Spirit placed a bid on it but they lost. A couple from Vancouver won the building. They wanted to turn it into a BnB (Bed and Breakfast). Sadly, however, they ran into a few minor problems. A radiator exploded and they sprung a leak and owed $32,000. Adding on to their issues, the city wouldn’t let them transform the Masonic into a BnB because of the historical significance of the building. So, they had a large, historical beauty and nothing to do with it. They saw a Spirit of Newfoundland show and thought that what they did would work really well in the Masonic Temple. Peter and Kathie met with the couple and they sold them the Temple! It’s been Spirit’s home ever since!
My favorite part of a night out at Spirit is at the end of the night when the cast sings the Spirit of Newfoundland song. It’s an absolutely beautiful song that was written by Shelley Neville, Peter, and Kathie. Every time I go to Spirit, I stand, put my hand on my heart and sing along with the cast when they sing this song. I’m flooded with a feeling of happiness and pride every time I hear it! At first, when Spirit was just starting they didn’t know what the show was going to be about but they wanted a song with a key message, so Peter lived with the song for a few days and eventually came up with “Spirit of Newfoundland”. Because they were just starting out they would use this song to plug their company. They would go to government agencies, tourism groups and anyone else dealing with the tourist trade, ask them for 5 minutes of their time, explain that they were putting off a summer show and then sing them the song.
My first Spirit show was in 2007. I was 10 years old and my parents took me to see “Viva Lost Elvis” at the Majestic Theatre. I was at the Buskers Festival that day and got music notes painted on my face to wear to the show! My 10-year-old mind was blown that night! I was mesmerized by the lights, the music, the dancing, everything about the show! I loved every minute of it! To this day, that childlike wonder is still there. Each time I see a show at Spirit I’m mesmerized by the pretty colors of the lights, the beautiful singing, the incredible dancing, etc. It’s magic and it makes my heart so happy!
I will willingly admit that I am a Spirit of Newfoundland junkie! I have seen 29 of their shows! Some of them were so good that I’ve seen them multiple times! It’s so hard for me to pick a favorite because I loved every single one that I’ve seen, but if I had to narrow it down, this is my top 5.
5: “Beatles: Back In The N.F.L.D” (2013): A magical mystery tour through the Beatles songbook. My favorite part of this show was “Beatles: Through The Ages” where they took Beatles songs and adapted them to different genres. A Newfoundland version of “When I’m 64” for example. That was great but my favorite part of that segment was when they rapped “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer”!! So cool!
4: “Where Once They Stood” (2016×2): An emotional roller coaster of a show that depicts the story of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment and their involvement in the First World War. This show will make you laugh, cry and feel proud to be a Newfoundlander. It’s a show that everybody, especially Come From Away’s must see! Its one of the best shows that Spirit of Newfoundland has done!
3: “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change” (2015): This was a touching, funny, slightly scary and all around wonderful show! It takes us through the life cycle of a relationship from first dates to marriage to kids and onward. “Funerals Are For Dating” is my favorite part. It’s so sweet!
2: “Grinch, Dressing & Gravy” (2014): Best Birthday gift ever! I went to see this show to celebrate my 17th Birthday. I even dressed up as Cindy-Lou Who! The Grinch is one of my favorite Christmas stories! I loved the Newfoundland… I mean Whofoundland twist that Peter put on this tale. I liked it when he went mummering. My favorite part though was the twist ending!
1: “ABBA: Gotta Get The Scoop” (2011, 2013, 2016×2): I’ve seen this show 4 times and would gladly come back and see it a dozen more! It never stops being fun! This show is my most favorite because ABBA is one of my favorite bands. Rocking out to all my favorite ABBA songs is a ton of fun and hearing the beautiful ballads makes me smile and sometimes tear up. Side note, it’s really too bad that Shelley has stopped doing “Slipping Through My Fingers” in the show. She did it the first time I saw this show in 2011 and it tugged really hard at my heartstrings. It was so emotional and beautifully sung that it brought me to tears! I think they should put it back in the show.
Another reason why “ABBA: Gotta Get The Scoop” is my favorite Spirit show because the night I first saw it, April Fools Day 2011, was the night I met Peter. During the show, he told the audience that his favorite ABBA song was one that was sung by the girls but was from the perspective of two men. He asked if anyone in the audience knew what it was. I assumed that question answering protocol there was the same as it was at school so I raised my hand to answer. Peter, being a former schoolteacher was taken aback by this. He said that he felt like he was back in his classroom! He called on me and I made a guess. It was an incorrect one (I guessed “SOS” and the answer was “Fernando”) but at least I tried! Later in the show, he asked another question, if anyone in the audience had a favorite ABBA song that hadn’t been sung yet. I did! Again I put up my hand to answer. Peter saw it and was again astonished by my politeness. He told the women that he was talking to that their answers were void now because they didn’t raise their hands! After the show, I got to meet Peter! I was pleased that he remembered me as “the girl in the back who was raising her hand.”. We introduced ourselves and chatted about the show. I thought Peter was very nice. I liked him and could tell that he liked me. We kept in touch and got to know each other more and more and quickly became best friends.
Everyone at Spirit is lovely! They are always smiling and are very friendly. I’m not accepted by many neurotypical people so it makes me and my heart smile that I’m accepted and welcome at Spirit and I haven’t got to worry about being ridiculed or bullied. The staff at Spirit are my 2nd family. I feel blessed to know them, have them as my friends and work with them.
Speaking of work, for the past three years, I’ve had a seasonal job as a jack of all trades at Spirit! I do everything that needs to be done! I polish silverware, package screech cake, advertise the shows on Facebook, transcribe scripts, take inventory, etc. I love my job! It’s awesome that I get to wake up in the morning and come to such a happy, accepting and fun place! The work I do doesn’t even feel like work. It’s so much fun! Having such amazing co-workers as I mentioned above is wonderful too. That’s one of my favorite things about my job! I can’t wait to come back to work this summer!
I’ve made so many lasting memories and lifelong friends at Spirit, as have thousands of other people. Thank you for the music Spirit of Newfoundland! Congratulations on 20 years!