A document discovered in the Provincial Archives of New Brunswick offers a detailed look at the foundations of TNB Young Company and its first productions.
Theatre New Brunswick’s Young Company is celebrating its 45th anniversary this season. Founded in 1974 by Paul Hanna, Walter Learning and Keith Sly, TNB’s first offshoot became the first New Brunswick English Language theatre company to bring live, professionally produced performances into schools throughout the province.
During several trips to the Provincial Archives of New Brunswick last year in preparation for TNB’s 50th anniversary publications TNB Memories, staff came across a typed report documenting the Young Company’s first five years in great detail. From the search for initial funding to the first school performances, Young Company Report: 1974-1979 offers a fascinating inside look at the people, productions, and performances that helped shape the early years of the TNB Young Company.
In many ways, the work of TNB Young Company founder Paul Hanna truly defined the Young Company’s early years. As a playwright, an actor, a director and an administrator, his tireless efforts to establish a touring theatre company for young audiences in the province are documented throughout this report.
Read the full report below.
Young Company Report: 1974-1979 – The History of Theatre New Brunswick Young Company
Theatre New Brunswick’s first offspring, the Theatre New Brunswick Young Company was born in 1974. The founding fathers at the time were Paul Hanna, Young Company Manager; Walter Learning, Theatre New Brunswick Managing Director; and Keith Sly, Young Company Administrator. The purpose of the Young Company was to introduce young people in the province of New Brunswick, partly as an educational measure, and partly to ensure a larger and more appreciative audience of future theatre-goers.
The original plan was to have a group of professional or semi-professional (non-equity) actors trained by directors who specialize in children’s theatre in larger Canadian cities. They would go right into the schools and perform for and with the young people, and frequently hold workshops after performances to show, and explain and involve the kids in the ways and hows of what actors do and the many reasons for doing it.
The project was tackled simultaneously on several levels. Walter Learning went after an LIP grant (Local Initiatives Program) and eventually received over $9000 for the pilot project. He approached the Beaverbrook Canadian Foundation, who gave $16,000. He approached the Department of Youth, who said yes, they could be counted on for a substantial grant. For some reason this grant from the provincial government was never received by the Young Company, and no one, it appeared, was able to find what happened to the non-appearing funds at that time. The provincial government did, however, contribute $5000 for 1976 operations, the following year.
At the same time that Walter Learning was busy finding funds for the project, the company manager and administrator, Paul Hanna and Keith Sly, were contacting the Department of Education for their blessing, and meeting individually with school superintendents, principals and teachers in the four districts around the Fredericton to ensure their co-operation and to work out the complex tour schedule.
Actors were being auditioned to find just the right people. A thorough search was conducted to find the right script material. It was discovered that a large portion of the plays written for children were patronizing, or laden with absurd sexist references and stereotypes, or just plain silly; at any rate, inappropriate in terms of education through drama.
Theatre New Brunswick eventually selected four shows, each one aimed at a different age group. They were the plays, No Name, Island, Aladdin and Radisson. Aladdin was performed only a few times and was soon found to be unsuitable for Young Company purposes. However, the other three were quite successful. Between January and May they played to over 20,000 children in 63 schools in the four school districts around Fredericton. The company received hundreds of thank you letters laboriously printed or written, or sometimes event drawn by the kids themselves.
During the summer the Young Company survived on a special grant from King’s Landing and the money raised by the Active Members Group on Monte Carlo Night. The company performed four afternoons a week at the Morehouse Theatre at King’s Landing, playing an original melodrama, The Secret in the Wood, written by Paul Hanna. They also played outdoors in dozens of parks from Mactaquac to Oromocto. By the time the summer finished Theatre New Brunswick’s Young Company performed to over 35,000 children and adults in just eight months.
On August 29 they performed for what appeared to be the last time. The money was gone. LIP grants were non-renewable, and the provincial government turned down TNB’s application for the new school year beginning in September 1975. Both the Canadian Beaverbrook Foundation and the Canada Council were willing to contribute but only if they received some strong indication the project had local support. Another application was submitted to the New Brunswick government for the period beginning January 1976. This application was approved granting the sum of $5000 to the Young Company. The Canada Council then contributed $10,000. The company had been revived for another year.
The 1976 winter season’s programs consisted of two plays both educational and historic in nature. The Mysterious Stranger, written and directed by Paul Hanna, was based upon the true story of a New Brunswicker, Henry More Smith. The other, Gligamesh, was a tale derived from ancient legend and was set to music by Marlo and Lutia Lauzon. The Lauzons and their music were to have a distinct influence on the Young Company’s style and performance over the next couple of years. The children’s theatre adopted a minstrel quality that became a familiar and well received trait of the company.
The summer of 1976 saw the birth of Dr. Mildew, as the Young Company returned to the Morehouse Theatre at King’s Landing with Dr. Mildew’s Marvelous Magical Musical Medicine Show. As the title implies, magic and music were combined together in a show patterned after the traveling medicine shows of the late 19th century. The key figure (writer, director, and performer) in creating Mildew was Paul Hanna.
In the fall of that year, Mr. Hanna undertook the Theatre in Education project, something never before attempted by Theatre New Brunswick or anyone for that matter, in the province of New Brunswick. With the help of Artistic Director Walter Learning, and the Playhouse staff and facilities, Mr. Hanna conducted a series of workshops and seminars in schools and with drama groups throughout the province. The only cost to the school was that of transportation.
By now the Young Company had become rather well known among children and teachers around New Brunswick. The ball was rolling and gathering more and more momentum as it went. 1977 was to be the most successful year in the history of the company. The winter tour was expanded to include 23 school districts, more than double that of the previous year. More than 45,000 students saw the Young Company perform that winter, as compared to the 28,000 in 1976. Funding was provided in the form of a $10,000 Canada Council grant and $7000 from the province of New Brunswick.
The shows were The Vanishing Village and the new Dr. Mildew’s Marvelous Musical Merriment Show, both written and directed by Paul Hanna, with music by Marlo and Lutia Lauzon. The Vanishing Village told the story of Jewett’s Mills, a village destroyed when the Mactaquac Dam was built. This play was designed and presented for junior and high school students. Dr. Mildew entertained the elementary children, and had the audience singing, clapping, dancing, gasping in amazement, laughing and even juggling.
In the summer of 1977 the Young Company returned once again the King’s Landing with the melodrama Dash Leaves the Theatre, and of course the very successful Dr. Mildew. Ilkay Silk, who had acted with the company for the past three winters, directed the melodrama while Walter Learning directed Dr. Mildew. That summer the attendance at the Morehouse Theatre increased by over 2000 as compared to the previous year, and for the first time at King’s Landing, the Young Company experienced a profit, $909.00 to be exact. This success was aided greatly by assistance from Young Canada Works in the amount of $6424.
In June, rehearsals began for the summer melodrama The Drunkard while King’s Landing prepared for the Young Company’s fourth season at the Morehouse Theatre. As in the previous year the staff at King’s Landing contributed to the Victorian style entertainment by constructing costumes for the players.
Funding for the 1978 Young Company operations come again from the Canada Council and the Province of New Brunswick, $17,200 and $8000 respectively along with a generous donation from the Beaverbrook Canadian Foundation in the amount of $11,770.
For the winter season of 1978-79, the Young Company changed its policy of the past few years by selecting scripts already published, rather than having local writers prepare new material for them. The plays were Anton Chekhov’s The Marriage Proposal and Canadian writer Eric Nicol’s The Clam Made A Face. Both proved to be very successful, being well received by audiences all over New Brunswick. This new season also saw the arrival of Theatre New Brunswick’s new Artistic Managing Director Malcolm Black. Mr. Black directed The Marriage Proposal, while Paul Hanna directed The Clam Made A Face. The Young Company closed its season in early June at Brunswick Square in Saint John.
The 1978 winter season incorporated the talents of two local writers, David Etheridge and Ilkay Silk. Mr. Etheridge wrote a play for grades 1-6 entitled, A Peaceable People, which told a story of the history of the Acadians in New Brunswick. Ms. Silk also wrote of New Brunswick history in a play presented to children grades 7-12 entitled, John Gyles: An Indian Experience. Both of these plays toured the province until May, at which time The All New Dr. Mildew’s Marvelous, Magical, Musical, Medicine Show was preparing to hit the road on an extended tour of Newfoundland, Nova Scotia and areas of New Brunswick before opening at King’s Landing. James Duplacey became the new Dr. Mildew with Alice Hamilton as his assistant.
By late June, three new actors were in rehearsal for the opening performance on July 4, of the 1979 Summer Company. The play, Box and Cox by John Maddison Morton was directed by Ilkay Silk.
The Young Company has experienced its difficulties since its inception in 1974, but these have always been outweighed by its numerous gratifications and wide-ranging success. The Young Company’s popularity as a children’s theatre is unmatched in Eastern Canada, and is fast approaching, if it has not already reached, the number one position for children’s theatre in the country.
– Author Unknown
TNB Young Company’s 45th anniversary season will include two productions. Boys, Girls and Other Mythological Creatures by Mark Crawford and It’s A Girl! by Michelle Raine and Alexis Milligan will tour New Brunswick schools this winter.
TNB Young Company’s annual school tour is made possible in part by support received from Canada Life, Corey Ford, the Canada Council for the Arts and the Province of New Brunswick.