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NICHOLAS MERCER: Letting the mummers in

Lovely Mummers is a short film set in Twillingate.
Lovely Mummers is a short film set in Twillingate. - Contributed

Toshon Dawe fell in love with being an actor as a teenager at Elwood High in Deer Lake.

She always enjoyed performing and being on stage. Dawe played saxophone in the school band before making the transition to the stage.

It was an instrument chosen for her by a fourth grade teacher and it is something she played

When she was 12, her father took her to prestigious Montreal International Jazz Festival. It was Dawe’s first time in the large city and it was her first time experiencing jazz on a such a large stage.

Dawe
Dawe

It was always played at home with an assortment of other music, but on this trip she got to see Canadian legends like Oliver Jones and Trevor Payne, along with the likes of Nina Simone.

“It was a big trip,” she said.

As it is when you’re in high school, she had friends who were in the drama club and wanted to join.

The stage wasn’t foreign to her. She grew up watching her grandparents — Dr. Neil and Mairin Walsh — performing on stages in Corner Brook and beyond.

It wasn’t long before the she fell in love with acting and left the saxophone behind.

Now, she can’t imagine doing anything else. Her early experiences on the stage became a launching point for the next two-plus decades of her life.

It’s a journey that took her across the country performing, taking whatever acting workshop she could find and finally returning home.

Last April, acting brought her to Twillingate and an old Victorian-style home.

She was there to play the part of Jane in Rendering Glint’s short film titled Lovely Mummers. Directed and written by Bhaveek Makan — who spent time in Twillingate as a young immigrant from South Africa as a child with brother Jashan and family — it is a 13-minute film set in the central Newfoundland community and centres on a Jane’s family as they’re tormented by mummers during the Christmas season.

There is mention of fairies and changelings, but who exactly the evil mummers — perhaps janneys in this instance — are, whether they be man or supernatural creature.

It is a mixture of well-known aspects of Newfoundland culture and folklore.

“We wanted to make something that is catered to Newfoundland (and Labrador),” said Makan. “We wanted to cast local and we wanted to case people with accent from Twillingate.”

Dawe doesn’t think she speaks with an accent. Makan seemed to think so as she was hired for the film just several days before filming was set to start.

She sent in a tape of herself — something she does regularly as an actress living in Corner Brook — and Makan was blown away.

“(Dawe) killed it,” he said. “We were so happy at how it turned out.”

When the film was making its rounds at various festivals, there was a need for subtitles as people were having trouble understanding what was being said.

Primarily a stage actress, Dawe had to acclimate herself to the setting.

That meant less exaggeration and definitely no jazz hands. She’s trained to project her voice on stage, something she does well.

In front of the camera, however, she felt like she was whispering.

She found the experience liberating. Being that acting for film can be done in takes, whereas on stage you’re performing it live, it allows for a certain level of experimentation by the artist.

Each take means another chance to try something new with the lines.

Some work and others don’t.

You can draw a parallel from those takes to the life of an actor. Its filled with auditions that work, lines that don’t and the constant fear of rejection.

Artists have to push themselves through the doubts created by auditions that went bad.

She admits she made mistakes, but she stuck with it. That love she developed in high school wasn’t going to be extinguished that easily.

While she was auditioning, she use monologues from a play called Jewel by Joan MacLeod. A couple of years ago, she turned into a one-woman show as a part of the Stage West Theatre Festival in Corner Brook.

It was about challenging herself and learning more about her craft.

That gave her a lot of confidence moving forward, as if it was leading to this point.

It is never easy watching, listening or even reading projects you’ve worked on. Not only do you cringe at the sound of your own voice, you offer small critiques of what you’re doing that can make enjoying it impossible.

It can take a lot to put yourself out there for people to discuss and digest.

Speaking from experience, you’re never quite sure how something is going to be perceived or how people will react.

On Tuesday night, Lovely Mummers was being shown at the Rotary Arts Centre as a part of its monthly film series.

Dawe was on hand to introduce it.

She was a bit nervous going into the showing and didn’t purposely look at the faces of the people in the crowd to gauge their reaction.

In reality, Dawe didn’t need to.

She is proud of the work she’s done.

Nicholas Mercer is the online editor with The Western Star. He lives in Corner Brook and can be reached at Nicholas.mercer@thewesternstar.com.

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