By Bertha Ann MacLean
Summertime. The mere mention of the season stirs such an easy smile. What a day to be walking, grinning into the sun. It’s cold this day, windy on Charlotte Street, but I can’t help feel the promise of the warm days ahead; days of barbeques and festivals, in sunshine and rain. I feel like skipping, like a gleeful child with thoughts only of playing and basking on the shores of Big Bras d’Or. So it is of course already decided that my head should be filled with thoughts of summertime… and the Summertime Revue.
Joella Foulds leads the way as we step out into the brightness of the day. We are off to talk about this year’s cast, and nosh a little at Sit & Gid’s. Joella and Max MacDonald, partners in Rave Entertainment Inc., are co-producers of this year’s show. This will be the second year Rave Entertainment has shared, with Brookes Diamond Productions of Halifax, the often arduous task of producing another Revue. Each company has its field of expertise: Brookes Diamond Productions sees to the booking of venues, the arranging of touring schedules, and all the promotion necessary with such tasks. Joella and her company tend to the talent, the show, the board and the bottom line—a huge task.
Joella has long been a good sounding board for young talent. And, in fact, I recall her pointing out to me a young guitar player, playing with her boys in Realworld. She took me aside and foresaw great things for such a large talent. And she was right. He even did a stint as Musical Director of the Revue, and is now on tour with The Rankins. Gordie Sampson and the Rankin Family also share a history that includes performances in past Revue productions.
“Part of our job is the nurturing of young talent,” Joella asserts when I asked her if she holds out any promise of such talent finding their way to the Revue lineup again. “And in this case,” she continues, “we are presenting an award winning artist in J.P.” Recent winner of the Roots/Traditional ECMA Vocal Artist of the Year, J.P. Cormier will tour this season as both player and Musical Director, joined by his wife Hilda Chiasson on keyboard. Jennifer Roland, coincidentally also a showcase artist as this year’s ECMA, fiddles and steps her way into the icon of cape Breton culture. Brian Talbot, long recognized as an awesome percussionist with The Right Stuff, and Bemus Tun, shares his beat with the house band. Julie Martell is back again this year, and her strong vocal talent will round out the news musicians that grace this year’s Revue.
A host of regulars makes up the rest of the house band: Allie Bennett on bass guitar, Dave McKeough on electric, and Richard Burke on keyboard and horn. A good mix for lively, musical interludes. Joella feels that musically, the show is strong, and the character driven humour will work well again this season. Maynard Morrison, along with co-director Bette MacDonald, “…develop remarkable characters,” says Joella. With Mary Colin Chisholm joining this year’s entourage as writer and actor, Joella is thrilled to have her caliber of talent as part of the ’98 Revue production.
The Summertime Revue opens tentatively on May 21st with a month-long run, and starts its tour again the third week of August. When I asked Joella if she takes much flack for shutting down in such peak tourism travel dates, she replied,”…we’re to be a service for tourists, then give us the money to make that work.”
There are so many festivals and events happening during the high days of summer, perhaps it’s wise not to divide the potential audience. As it is, Rave is unpaid labour until the box office receipts are tallied. Last year, star-up costs were covered by a grant from the tourism pot of gold, The International Year of Music fund. This year, the second and last year for moneys available from this source, the Revue failed to meet the changing criteria for “international” dollars. Joella is not disheartened and sees the Revue rather as a cultural endeavour.
“We are a cultural entity, not a tourism entity, and should be pursuing Cultural Affairs (for financial support).” Brookes Diamond has secured Sobey’s as a corporate sponsor, and the producers hope government money will meet corporate sponsorship dollar for dollar. “There is an imbalance there… we’ve never gotten our fair shar of program dollars.” And when the dollars given to such productions as The Nova Scotia Tattoo, or mainland theatre, is compared with the revenue allocated for Cape Breton shows, there certainly seems to be a discrepancy.
In the early days of the Revue the show was profitable and provided fodder for a growing and burgeoning musical, cultural industry. Joella sees the show as “…a victim of its own success.” When government money was readily available and accessible, the board of Summertime Productions had no need to stick their foot in the door, and ask for a piece of the pie. It seems when money is needed to feed the pot and start the show on the road, past successful seasons hinder their need.
Because there has been only a sporadic sprinkling of grants to aid the Revue, it is harder today to secure steady financial support. The Revue now faces competition with shows that did not exist twenty years ago for a share in the funding arm of government money; an arm strained from cuts and abuse.
“Our two companies…” (Rave and Brookes Diamond Productions) “…float this production for months, and work for nothing,” Joella sees the work the companies does a bargain for the price. Total revenue from last season’s show left a surplus, and a chance for the board to pay off some debt, and cut some operational overhead. Still, Joella argues the future of the Revue’s success rests not only with providing the audience a return to the familiar humour and good, old-fashioned boot-stomping music, but more importantly, with its ability to win commitment for sponsorship from agencies designed to promote such a show.
The Summertime Revue has had its detractors over the years, and some would say maybe it’s time to give the show a rest. But for me, summer just would not be the same without talk of the new Revue; sharing with visiting family what we liked, what made us laugh, and what has changed, or hasn’t, in the political fish tank on this Island. The Revue employs and showcases Cape Breton musicians, writers, actors and will extend this year’s show to include more Island venues, such as Judique, Petit-de-Grat, and Inverness. Maybe thoughts of the Revue’s future do not instantly come to mind when I long for days of summer, but perhaps they should. For should the Revue disappear, I don’t know if another show would spring from its demise. Oh sure, Cape Breton talent will continue to thrive, but I’d hate to travel to the mainland to see what our Island’s culture has to offer. And realistically, I probably wouldn’t go. At least, not in the summer.