Watermark Theatre’s artistic director presents a bold new vision reflecting the changing times

Photo of Robert Tsonos, taken by David Leyes
A New Vision by Robert Tsonos

Dear Watermark Theatre Patrons and Supporters,

This past year has been transformational. I do not believe any of us can look at our lives, our communities, or the world the same way we did prior to March, 2020. The financial hardship, emotional turmoil, and collective stress endured during this past year have been tremendous. There has also been an enormous amount of change for the good. People have re-evaluated their lives, made significant changes for the better, and prioritized family, health, and their own mental well-being. We have also seen incredible calls for social justice and now look at diversity, equality, and our own behaviours and beliefs in a new light.

Theatres across the country have used this time to re-evaluate what it means to create art, whose stories should be told on our stages, and what role theatre plays in our society. We have had time during this pandemic to look inward and think about why we do what we do.

Since its inception 13 years ago Watermark Theatre, and under its previous name The Montgomery Theatre, has produced classic and modern classic plays. There have been a few exceptions – The Canada 300 Project, What to Wear to the Birth of a Nation – but the company originally produced plays written during the lifetime of LM Montgomery (1874 to 1942), and more recently, plays written more than 50 years ago.

Given the time to reflect during this pandemic, in light of the Black Lives Matter movement, and my own conscience, I have decided with the full support of our board of directors to open the theatre’s mandate to include contemporary plays reflecting the times in which we live. I do not make this change lightly, knowing that the founders of the theatre created a classical theatre company in a rural setting believing that was what the Island needed at the time.

But times change and we must adapt and grow. Classic and modern classic plays are almost entirely written by white men, about white people, living in white societies. A narrow viewpoint that is not inclusive and not always reflective of our society in 2021.

In addition to contemporary plays, I will continue to produce what I am now calling “time-honoured” plays – those that remain relevant and reflect who we are as Canadians. There are beautifully written plays that continue to explore the human condition, remind us where we have been, and shed light on our own lives.

We have also made other changes to our theatre to modernize our building and to be more inclusive.

With the help of Rural Development PEI and Heritage Canada we have recently completed a large sustainability project updating our theatre lighting instruments to more energy efficient units, insulating and fortifying parts of our building, and installing a heat pump in our office and box office area. We will also start looking at how we design, build, and dispose of set, prop, and costume pieces to make sure we are being as environmentally responsible as possible.

Another change, is that all public bathrooms in our building will now be gender neutral, a further step in our goal to becoming as inclusive and welcoming to everyone as possible.

With all that being said, I now present to you the new mandate of the Watermark Theatre:

Located in North Rustico, PEI, on land that is the traditional unceded territory of the Mi’Kmaq, the Watermark Theatre is a professional theatre company that produces time-honoured plays, as well as contemporary plays that resonate with our times.
As a company we are led by the principles of inclusion, diversity, equity, and accessibility and commit to incorporating these core values in everything we do.
We prioritize environmental stewardship and sustainability.
The Watermark Theatre is dedicated to the development of the next generation of theatre artists and arts administrators through mentorship and professional training.
In all of our programming we strive for artistic excellence while endeavouring to inform, affect, and engage our audience and our community.
Our 2021 summer season will be announced in early March and you will see some of these changes clearly reflected in my programming choices.

I look forward to seeing you all this summer at the new and improved Watermark Theatre.

Until then, be well and stay safe.

Robert Tsonos
Artistic Director


Getting ‘back to normal’ won’t be the same as before

By Jim Brown

Lately I find myself thinking what it means to “get back to normal” during the coronavirus pandemic.

Those thoughts are increasingly prevalent now that the Pfizer vaccine is rolling out across the country and the world.

Our enchanted little province of barely 160,000 souls got its first shipment on Dec. 16, enough doses for nearly a thousand arms. More will be coming in the following weeks as production ramps up everywhere. And within months the Pfizer vaccine will be followed by another one that doesn’t require the same deep freeze technology to be effective (the Moderna vaccine). And there are others in the wings in late-stage clinical trials.

All told close to 60 vaccines around the world are approaching the finish line. Not all of them will succeed, probably not even the majority of the candidates, but we can safely say there will likely be at half a dozen available.

The end of a horrifying pandemic that could claim more than 600,000 lives by the time it fades in the US, and as many as 30,000 in Canada, is within sight – maybe even by mid to late summer.

Will we be ‘back to normal’ then?

My answer is yes and no.

Yes, because it will feel like ‘normal’. No, because it won’t be the ‘normal’ we all experienced prior to the pandemic. It will be, to quote a much over-used cliche, “a new normal.”

For much of the pandemic I struggled to follow Health Canada’s guidelines, including washing hands frequently, slipping on a face mask when venturing indoors, staying away from crowds of people and physically distancing when that wasn’t possible. Then all of a sudden it wasn’t a struggle.

The guidelines became part of my routine, a new normal.

Now, when a vaccine is just around the horizon, I find myself imagining how strange it would feel not to wear a mask when walking into an indoor space. It wouldn’t seem ‘normal’ to go back to my pre-pandemic mask-less lifestyle.

I will get the vaccine when my number comes up, but I know it won’t be a panacea. It may prevent me from getting sick with COVID-19, but medical authorities don’t yet know if vaccinated people can spread the virus to others who haven’t been vaccinated and they likely won’t know for a while yet. And we don’t know how long the protection will last. Will it be weeks, or months or longer? Don’t forget, the average vaccine can take years, even a decade or longer to develop, so there is plenty of time to determine if long term immunity is in the cards.

The Pfizer vaccine, from early trials to approval and then to delivery, took barely 10 months. That’s an incredible accomplishment, more astonishing even than the race to land a man on the moon by the end of the 1960s, not even 10 years after President John F. Kennedy announced America’s lunar exploration program.

So, what does “feeling normal” mean? In my case it would mean walking into a crowded space knowing I likely won’t contract COVID-19 and become ill. That is a huge load off anyone’s shoulders.

But there are many other Canadians who won’t get the same chance at immunity. They may have life-threatening allergies to vaccines. Or their immune systems may be weakened from cancer or other serious medical conditions.

I still have to look out for them.

For millions of Canadians that will be their normal for the foreseeable future. One thing I’ve discovered over the past nine months is that wearing a mask and following other basic hygiene measures and physical distancing isn’t that hard.

And just think of the benefits of continuing those practises. The flu season has been a no-show this fall and early winter, with the incidence of the seasonal flu way down. Remember, influenza claims many lives a year – usually older, frailer Canadians with underlying conditions.

Many experts believe pandemic guidelines have played a role in the flu’s mysterious vanishing act around the world.

There are a number of diseases that are also spread from person to person that can be greatly reduced by mask wearing and other public health measures we never thought of doing before the pandemic.

Isn’t that a good reason for everyone to keep their guard up?


Premier Dennis King Must Divert High Voltage Lines

By Dr Herb Dickieson, former Island New Democrat MLA

Wind powered electricity is a renewable resource that could benefit all Islanders in their homes and businesses by creating jobs, and providing an alternative to fossil fuels to do our part in countering global warming. However, acquiring and transmitting wind generated electric power must respect and receive social license from local residents most affected by development of the resource.

In 2006 the Binns government allowed the establishment of a high voltage power line to transmit power from the West Cape wind farm along parts of Routes 142, 144, 147 and 143 in West Prince. The line ran along the highway through the communities of Springfield West, Haliburton, Forest View and Howlan.

Following compelling appeals from local residents, in 2008 the Ghiz government diverted part of the high voltage line away from Howlan, joining a non-inhabited corridor to Summerside, but left most of the line that remains in parts of Springfield West, Haliburton and Forest View. Close to fifty dwellings, housing almost three times as many residents continue to have the high voltage power line along the highway adjacent to their homes.

Many local residents in these communities have health concerns, and their property values may be compromised due to the presence of high voltage power lines. Although debate exists in scientific circles as to health risks for those in close proximity to high power lines, responsible government should follow the precautionary principle and avoid risk to the people they claim to represent.

The King government must heed the legitimate concerns of rural Islanders and correct the failures of previous governments by ordering complete diversion of the West Cape wind farm high voltage transmission line, and allow meaningful consultation for any further development.


They love their ‘Jillies’!

Long lineups greet Village Pottery Jilly mug promotion
Story and photos by Jim Brown

They brought their masks, their raingear, their umbrellas and an unquenchable desire to go home with a ‘Jilly’ mug – named after wildly popular Canadian influencer Jillian Harris, host of Love it or List it and star of The Bachelor and The Bachelorette, who expressed her love for the pinkish-hued mugs in a viral Instagram post.
Though the doors to New London’s Village Pottery weren’t scheduled to open till 11 am on Saturday, Nov 14, several determined customers had been waiting in line since 6:45 am, said owner Suzanne Scott. And the lines kept growing throughout the day, to as many as 50 or more. They had to be patient because the store only allowed five in at a time, due to COVID-19 restrictions, which also included using hand sanitizer, mask wearing recommendations and physical distancing.
“We had people drive here from Souris and New Brunswick and Nova Scotia,” said Suzanne.
The shoppers were limited to two mugs per household and these mugs were ‘seconds’ with slight imperfections. Good luck trying to nab a regular ‘Jilly mug’ since there thousands of people already on waiting lists.
Lots of merchandise was available for sale but the big prize for many shoppers was the Jilly mug, of which 35 were available on Saturday.
Those disappointed in their quest on Nov 14 had another chance the following day, when 35 to 40 more Jilly mugs were to be made available. The big question was, how early would people arrive to ensure they are at the front of the line?

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Scaled down Remembrance Day services in North Rustico

Story and photos by Jim Brown

The pandemic took a toll on Remembrance Day services across the country and on PEI on Nov 11. But in North Rustico, even though there were no guest speakers, more than 100 people converged on Veterans Memorial Park to pay their respects to Canada’s veterans. Visitors heard the mournful sounds of bugles and pipes. They were also greeted by more than 400 six-inch-high crosses, placed by Knights of Columbus volunteers in honour of veterans from North Rustico and surrounding area.

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Pedestrians risk their lives on the Rattenbury Raceway

From an anonymous resident on the Rattenbury Road, Stanley Bridge

I am writing regarding excessive speeds on a stretch of Rattenbury Road, especially in the 50 km section, just before the Stanley Bridge roundabout. The 50 km sign is almost completely hidden by tree foliage on the road’s shoulder.

Using a stop watch and a little distance measuring it is easy to determine we get traffic at all times of the day and night, with vehicles easily traveling close to 100 km an hour in the 50 km zone, on what is really not a sound road.

We are seniors and we walk the road to get mail, put out and pick up garbage containers and hike, among other activities. We are hell to cross the road and often seem to be run at by cars and trucks. Having our grandchildren here is an even scarier proposition.

We actually find the driving here shocking and very disrespectful compared to what we are used to. The thing that amazes us is that it seems the local residents in this upscale area seem to accept this as part of life here. Maybe if they all rose up and raised hell the problem on the ‘Rattenbury Raceway’ could be solved.

Aside from cars we get all manner of trucks and even some farm equipment as big as a two-story house and wheels higher than a man – and they travel by as fast as anything else.

If somebody traveled 90 km in a 60 km zone, or 130 km in a 100 km zone, they would be facing a ticket. But 100 km in a 50 km zone on our little road is a routine occurrence. The people who travel at this speed surely would not like it in their neighbourhood. It is just not civilized.

I feel this is a very serious issue because something very bad will happen eventually if nothing is done.


A good weekend for bridge jumping

Story and photos by Jim Brown

Stanley Bridge River Days Festival events, including the bridge jumping competition at the local wharf, were cancelled this year, a casualty of the coronavirus pandemic. Events would have been held on the weekend of Aug 21-23. However, dozens of bridge jumpers of all ages still showed up to try their tricks over the weekend, joined by family members and friends who snapped pictures of their acrobatics. The words “boat coming” were also heard several times during the afternoon.

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Island woman was a flight attendant on Trump-owned airline

By Jim Brown

Cheryl MaclinSummerside resident Cheryl Jean Maclin is a Canadian who lived and worked in the US for much of her adult life. She is not a fan of the 45th president of the United States, but for a brief period she worked for Donald Trump as a flight attendant on the so-called ‘Trump Shuttle’
That was in the late 80s and early 90s, but her memories remain vivid of those exciting times.

Trump had just taken over the bankrupt Eastern Shuttle that she worked at, which flew passengers to New York, Boston and Washington. She had been laid off for three months before she resumed her job under a different and more flamboyant boss.

“We wanted to do the shuttle, which I enjoyed doing because of my kids. I had regular hours on the shuttle,” said Cheryl.

She worked the New York and Washington run and recalls several of the regular passengers were “powerful people”, including Jacqueline Kennedy and Robert Kennedy and the Kennedy children.

“I was pretty impressed with what he did to the aircraft after he took (Eastern Shuttle) over. He tore them all up inside and put all new leather seats and carpeting and gold sinks in the bathroom, you know the ‘Trump-style,'” said Cheryl of the fleet of 140-seat 727s he acquired.

Cheryl said Trump did a nice thing for the newly acquired flight attendants – allowing them to keep their seniority.
“He also gave all his flight attendants a pearl necklace,” she said, with a laugh.

“Back then he wasn’t the person he is today, that’s for sure.”

Eventually Trump Shuttle and its fleet of 21 Boeing 727s would be grounded when the company went bankrupt and was swallowed up by US Air. Meanwhile Cheryl continued on with her flight attendant job. Her career would end with 35-plus years of service in the airline industry and the seniority she was allowed to carry through from her Trump Shuttle days would boost her pension payout.

With Trump’s election in 2016 the US entered a dark chapter in its history. Things became much worse when the Trump administration badly bungled its response to the coronavirus pandemic, leaving 148,000 Americans dead and millions infected by late July.

“It’s really bad. I have family living there. I have two sons, four grandchildren and two daughter-in-laws. One daughter-in-law last night wrote to me and said she’s just losing all hope (because of the virus)…People are losing hope it’s ever going to be okay,” she said.

“Everything he has tried to do has failed.”

Even when Trump’s purchase of the shuttle service helped save a thousand jobs decades ago, including Cheryl’s, she says had she been an American and able to vote in 2016, Trump would not have received her support.

“Because of the bankruptcy and already knowing bits and pieces what he was like as a person, no, I would never have voted for him.”
Trump Air would lose more than $125 million in just 18 months, before going bankrupt.

Cheryl was born in Sydney, Nova Scotia before moving to the States when her dad, Islander George Stavert, accepted a job as an airplane mechanic for Rolls Royce. She would eventually return to her Maritime roots after giving her green card more than three decades of use.

She and her husband Austin Maclin, a Vietnam war veteran who trained military dogs, left America in 2003 to settle in Darnley, where the couple lived until their recent move to Summerside.

Austin, a permanent resident of Canada, uses his German shepherd Myah to help treat veterans on PEI who have PTSD.
He will be able to vote in the Nov 3 election and, unfortunately for Trump, Biden is his choice.