Thursday, 18 July 2013

TNL’s “Sinking of the S.S. Ethie” is great dinner theatre in Cow Head, Newfoundland

by Keith and Heather Nicol

       “My goal is to create memorable performances about this place –Cow Head and Newfoundland in general -that will appeal to both local residents and visitors alike” Theatre Newfoundland Labrador’s  artistic director Jeff Pitcher told us as we chatted in the bright June sunshine overlooking  beautiful Cow Head Bay. And the dinner theatre performance of “Sinking of the S.S. Ethie” by Shane Ellis Coates fits this philosophy to a tee. This is the show that started it all for Theatre Newfoundland Labrador (TNL) in Cow Head and it has been running to full houses since 1996. The play deals with the plight of the steamship “S.S. Ethie” which runs into a particularly savage storm in December, 1919 while traveling off the coast near Cow Head. This performance gives the backstory to the reasons why the Ethie sailed that night as well as what life was like along this coast over 90 years ago.  The “S.S. Ethie” faced hurricane force winds that night and the spray froze to the deck! When it was clear that they were running out of fuel the Captain decided to run the ship aground in one of the only places where they could possibly make it ashore. Amazingly, none of the 60 passengers and 32 crew were lost despite the very stormy conditions, thanks in part to the people on shore who helped with the rescue. A baby was even rescued by being transferred to shore in a mail bag! If you like dinner theatre, the “Sinking of the S.S. Ethie” is sure to please. For more information on TNL’s Gros Morne Theatre Festival schedule or to book tickets to a show see- or call 1-877-243-2899. 
Amelia Manual and Colin Furlong in "S.S. Ethie"
       Either before or after you see the show “Sinking of the S.S. Ethie” be sure to visit the actual site of what remains of the “S.S. Ethie”. The marked turnoff is located just north of Sally’s Cove and just south of the Western Brook Pond parking.  For those equipped with a GPS here are the UTM coordinates of the parking lot- 21 0435237 E 5513719 N. You can see the rusted remains of the “S.S. Ethie” along the beach and Martin’s Point which figures prominently in the play can be easily seen to the south of the wreckage.  To learn more about the human history of this coast we also suggest a visit to Broom Point (just south of Cow Head) and we recommend attending  the Parks Canada presentation about the Mudge family that used to fish these waters from 1941-1975. As well the museum in Cow Head is very well done and shouldn’t be missed. The Dr. Henry H. Payne Museum is the oldest museum in Western Newfoundland and it is a great place to learn about some of the people who settled Cow Head and how they lived in summer and winter along this rugged coast. The video below shows a variety of other activities to check out in the Cow Head area while you are attending a Theatre Newfoundland Labrador show in the evening. 
Heather looking out over the remains of the "Ethie" with Martin's Point in the distance
     If you happen to be staying in Rocky Harbour or Norris Point or at Berry Hill or Green Point campgrounds and would like to access public transport to get yourself to a Gros Morne Theatre Festival production at Cow Head, contact the Festival Box Office 1-877-243-2899 no later than 2 pm on performance day to arrange transportation via the Shuttle Bus. 

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