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Musical on memories of confederation coming to Lawrence O'Brien Arts Centre

Filmmaker Robert Chafe received a standing ovation at the world premiere of his dramatic piece “What Was Needed Most.”
Filmmaker Robert Chafe received a standing ovation at the world premiere of his dramatic piece “What Was Needed Most.” - Submitted

HAPPY VALLEY-GOOSE BAY, NL – Tuckamore Festival’s new musical and dramatic piece “What Was Needed Most” is touring the province this month and will come to the Big Land on Dec. 17.
Written by St. John’s-based playwright Robert Chafe, “What Was Needed Most” is based on interviews and conversations Chafe had with people around the province who lived through confederation.
Chafe said it was a privilege to travel the province and talk to people about their recollections and feelings.
“I was invited into people’s homes. Some of the conversations lasted a couple of hours. They told me some funny stories, but they also told me about their hard memories,” Chafe said during a phone interview.
Rather than begin the playwriting process with a carved-in-stone idea of what the final product would look like, Chafe allowed his research to guide him.
While he initially thought the play’s plot could be about the politics of confederation, he soon realized that many who were old enough to vote in 1949 were quite elderly now and may not have the memory recall on which to base a play.
However, Chafe said those who weren’t old enough to vote had vivid memories about the differences in their parents’ and families’ lives before and after confederation.

A proud Canadian and proud Newfoundlander, Chafe said, for him, confederation was always about identity and the possibility of what Newfoundland could have been had it not joined with Canada.
As he began listening to the audio from the interviews, however, he was hearing more about the positives than the negatives of confederation.
That was “eye-opening” he said.
“I was having people sit across the table from me saying ‘confederation saved our lives. Our family was very poor. We lived in a house with dirt floors. We had no food,’” Chafe said.
“I know that some people will say we got along for hundreds of years without confederation, and that may be true, but it’s kind of hard to dismiss it when someone is sitting across the table from you and they’re telling you that they didn’t know if they’d survive for another year the way they were going,” Chafe added.
Chafe also realized he was talking about his own parents as those he interviewed shared their memories of their early years and youth. That realization led him to include his conversations with his father, 79-year-old Bill Chafe of Petty Harbour, about confederation.
“So, for me, the show became quite personal,” he said.
The play does not represent the thoughts of all Newfoundlanders; rather, it focuses on those living in the 10 communities that he visited, including Stephenville, Corner Brook, Happy Valley-Goose Bay, North West River, Twillingate, Eastport, St. John’s and surrounding areas.
Chafe’s monologues are framed by new musical works from NL composers such as Duane Andrews, Bekah Simms and Labrador City’s Aiden Hartery, and performed by Juno award-winning Duo Concertante consisting of  Nancy Dahn, violin; Timothy Steeves, piano, and cellist Amy Collyer-Holmes.
“I’m really proud of how it’s come together. When I put together what I’d be reading on stage (the composers) went off and wrote the music for it. And it’s performed so well. It’s gorgeous music,” Chafe said.


About Robert Chafe
Chafe is well known for his role as artistic director and playwright for Artistic Fraud of Newfoundland. He is the author of 18 stage scripts and co-author of another 10.
Chafe’s plays “Tempting Providence” and “Butler’s Marsh” were shortlisted for the Governor General’s Award for Drama. His play “Afterimage” won the award in 2010.
Chafe has been a guest instructor at Memorial University, Grenfell Campus and the National Theatre School of Canada.

“What Was Needed Most” will be on stage at the Lawrence O'Brien Arts Centre on Sunday, Dec. 17 at 2 p.m. Following the performance audience members will be given an opportunity to share their thoughts on confederation and on the performance. For more information visit






Dates and Venues for “What Was Needed Most”

Saturday December 2nd, 2:00pm

The Old Church, Admiral’s Cove

Tickets available on Eventbrite


Sunday December 3rd, 3:00pm

St. George’s Heritage Church, Brigus

Tickets available on Eventbrite

Thursday December 7th, 8:00pm

New Curtain Theatre, Milton

Tickets available through the Theatre

(709) 466-7490


Friday December 8th, 7:30pm

D.F. Cook Recital Hall, St. John’s

Tickets available through MUN School of Music


Saturday December 9th, 2:00pm

The Garrick Theatre, Bonavista

Tickets available through the Theatre

(709) 468-5777


Thursday December 14th, TBA

Grenfell Theatre, Corner Brook

Tickets available through Grenfell College


Friday December 15th, 8:00pm

Arts and Culture Centre, Stephenville

Tickets available through the Centre

(709) 643-4571


Sunday December 17th, 2:00pm

Lawrence O’Brien Arts Centre, Happy Valley-Goose Bay

Tickets available through the Centre

(709) 896-4027

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