Bringing Christmas to Alberta's Newfoundlanders
The ‘Best Little Newfoundland Christmas Pageant Ever’ is in Camrose at the Jeanne and Peter Lougheed Performing Arts Centre for three shows from Friday through Sunday this weekend. File photo/ Camrose Canadian
A taste of home is being brought to Newfoundlanders just in time for Christmas.
This weekend the Best Little Newfoundland Christmas Pageant Ever, based on the novel The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson, takes over the Mayer Family Hall at the Jeanne and Peter Lougheed Performing Arts Centre for three nights.
This will be the second time this season a take on the Christmas classic has taken the stage at the Lougheed Centre, with the Augustana Fine Arts Department doing a version more closely resembling the original.
Cheryl Jameson was part of the Newfoundland version in St. John’s but when she move back to Alberta with her husband, they brought the play with them.
“It is so expensive to fly to Newfoundland for Christmas — it’s ridiculous — and I really missed doing the show,” said Jameson, who credits her husband for suggesting “‘Well why don’t we bring a little piece of Newfoundland to the Newfoundlanders who can’t get home for the holidays?’”
The play has sold out shows for the last seven years in Edmonton, mostly at the Varscona Hotel, with a year at the Backstage Theatre. This is the first year Whizzgiggling Productions has taken the play out on the road and Camrose is the final stop on their eight-community tour before finishing up back in Edmonton. Local theatre enthusiasts have responded well to the play coming to Camrose, selling out two shows and adding a third date that was also approaching sell-out status.
“I’ve always felt this one has legs, it can go further because there are Newfoundlanders everywhere and everyone knows a Newfoundlander,” said Jameson. “Plus, the story its self is just the spirit of Christmas, it’s international.”
This version of the play was originally pieced together when St. John’s theatre company Spirit of Newfoundland got Petrina Bromley — now on Broadway — and Newfoundland actor Aidan Flynn to adapt The Best Christmas Pageant Ever to their home province in 2001 and to shrink the cast from 20 to six members.
The play was hit.
It worked because the main characters, Imogene Herdman and her siblings, were relatable and fit a stereotype that Newfoundlanders call hard tickets — what most refer to as rough around the edges or from the wrong side of the tracks. The story chronicles their almost accidental involvement of that year’s Christmas pageant and introduction to the Biblical Christmas story. Their involvement challenged the community’s pristine vision of what the Christmas story was about. In doing so, their brash innocence when it came to the nativity forced everyone to look at it with fresh eyes.
“These kids are so harsh and they’re so rough around the edges that by the end of it you’re cheering for them and you love them and you’re like ‘they truly found the spirit of Christmas’ while the rest of us are in the mall, they discover it is about giving and giving of yourself,” said Jameson, who also plays the dual role of Imogene and Mrs. Amstrong while also directing, producing and filling other functions as needed.
Part of the adaptation, even in Alberta, is keeping as much of the play authentic to Newfoundland, whether it is references or even the accents. Jameson’s husband, who was born and raised on the Rock, plays a behind the scenes role of set builder and accent coach.
“We’re not out there to do a caricature,” she said.
“The whole intent was to bring home to the Newfoundlanders who are stuck here, so we’re trying to do the very best with the accent and not make it as a joke. We’re trying to honour it.”
Most of the cast has been together for several years and Jameson says it is a collaborative effort at this point. They are constantly tweaking performances and trying to keep some of the jokes fresh from year-to-year. They have also tried to make the show even more kid friendly this year by not bursting the image of Santa Claus completely.
“It’s like a little family, it’s not like I’m the director and they’re the people in the cast,” said Jameson. “We do it as a family and we work through the script every year.”
The Best Little Newfoundland Christmas Pageant Ever runs Friday through Sunday at the Lougheed Centre at 8 p.m. Tickets are still available for the Sunday show at the box office or at www.camroselive.ca