The Newfoundland and Labrador Drama Society was founded more than six decades ago. It’s main event is the provincial drama festival, which brings together theatre groups from across the province for a week of performances, workshops and good times.
Born from an idea first proposed in 1949, the thought of a provincial regional drama committee came into existence with a newspaper article published on Nov. 8, 1949 on page 3 of the St. John’s Daily News.
Entitled “Local Drama To Be Encouraged,” the article invited the public to attend a meeting to be held in St. John’s that week for the purpose of setting up a regional drama committee for Newfoundland that would “encourage the development of drama here, and would act as a link between dramatic efforts in this province and those throughout the rest of the Dominion”. Once formed, the group would also “consider the possibility of arranging local drama competitions between groups from different parts of the island”.
Two days later on March 10 a meeting, chaired by Fred Emerson, was held in St. John’s where it “unanimously and enthusiastically agreed that steps should be taken forth-with to form an organization for the purpose of encouraging the presentation of well-produced and well-acted plays throughout the Island”. A nominating and organizing committee was struck to work toward that end with the long-term goal of being invited to participate in the Dominion Drama Festival (DDF) – Canada’s national drama festival. The DDF was first held in Ottawa during April, 1933 and was held annually except from 1939 to 1947 when it was cancelled as a result of World War II.
With Confederation with Canada in 1949, Newfoundland and Labrador gained the right to enter the Dominion Drama Festival. St. John’s was the site of the first drama festival held in 1950. The event was held as a trial to see if the province should seek membership into the Dominion Drama Festival which it did the following year because the premier festival was highly successful.
In 1951, Newfoundland and Labrador participated in its first Regional Dominion Drama Festival. At that time, the DDF was a series of regional events held across the country, judged by an adjudicator who travelled from region to region, who would then invite troupes to participate in the national drama festival. Each region had a separate trophy and the Newfoundland Region’s award was known as “Charity”.
In the late sixties and early seventies cracks began to appear in the DDF foundation … the organization was having budgetary problems, Quebec left the to form ACTA and the Calvert Distillery withdrew funding. Also, as a result of the Canada Corporations Act (1970), the Dominion Drama Festival was morphed into a new organization called Theatre Canada Dominion Drama Festival d’Art Dramatique du Canada. One of the goals of this new organization was to create a non-competitive drama festival with neither awards nor winners. The impact of the new festival format led to “Charity” – our regional trophy – being withdrawn in 1971. The Dominion Drama Festival’s pending doom was cast when its funding was drastically reduced by the Canada Arts Council and the Department of Secretary of State.
1970 was the last year that the province participated in the competitive Dominion Drama Festival as the Newfoundland Region – being represented by the Carol Players, Labrador West with their production of “Spoon River Anthology” by Edgar Lee Masters. The DDF Regional Trophy – “Charity” was last offered for competition in 1971 as the Festival was renamed to the Newfoundland Drama Festival. The provincial government commissioned a bronze statuette, known as “Camina”, to be created as the new award for the best presentation of a full length play for the 1972 Festival … and so began the Newfoundland Drama Society and the Newfoundland Drama Festival which in 1981 was renamed to the Newfoundland and Labrador Drama Festival.
The last non-competitive Theatre Canada Dominion Drama Festival d’Art Dramatique du Canada was held in St. John’s in 1974. The province was represented by the Open Group, St. John’s who presented “Jacob’s Wake” by Michael Cook. The DDF offices were closed in the late 1970s