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Although formally registered in 1978 as the Mulgrave Road Co-operative Theatre, the origins of Mulgrave stretch back two years before, in 1976, when Robbie O’Neill was awarded a Canada Council grant to write and produce a play about the Nova Scotian town. Located on the eastern shore of Nova Scotia in close proximity to Cape Breton Island, Mulgrave experienced an economic decline after the construction of the Canso Causeway in 1954, which prompted O’Neill to explore “the past and convey something of what it was like being part of a proud community and county in decline.” Joined by Michael Fahey, Gay Hauser, and Wendell Smith, O’Neill and company co-wrote and performed in the play The Mulgrave Road Show, which—unintentionally—paved the way for Mulgrave Road Co-operative Theatre.
The theatre is now known simply as the Mulgrave Road Theatre, with a mandate to identify, develop, produce, and promote a theatrical experience which resonates with Atlantic Canadians. As a professional touring theatre, Mulgrave has performed several acclaimed productions throughout Nova Scotia and in several major Canadian cities, such as Ottawa, Toronto, Vancouver, Winnipeg, and Edmonton. Mulgrave also extended its audience beyond Canada to Ireland, Australia, Scotland, England, and New Zealand. Local productions take place at the Guysborough Masonic Hall, the Mulgrave Road Theatre Centre, and Chedabucto Place Performance Centre. The administrative office is located in a historic building in downtown Guysborough, which is also used for rehearsal and studio space.
Productions created by Mulgrave are developed in a number of different ways: commissioning, playwrights-in-residence, on-site and distance dramaturgy, work shopping drafts, and premiere productions. In the beginning, productions were mostly collective creations, such as Business of Living which was written by eighteen Atlantic playwrights. Other notable productions include I’m Assuming I’m Right (Frank MacDonald), From Fogarty’s Cove (Ric Knowles), Battle Fatigue (Jenny Munday), Marion Bridge (Daniel MacIvor), and Caribou (Michael Melski). Annual productions per year range from two to three performances. In addition to the touring company, Mulgrave also offers a youth program. ROADies is an annual summer drama lab aimed at youth in the area interested in exploring the world of theatre.
Mulgrave is managed by a board of directors consisting of a chair, vice chair, treasurer, secretary, artistic rep, and technical rep. Staff members include an administrator and artistic director. Mulgrave is a member of the Professional Association of Canadian Theatres, the Nova Scotia Theatre Alliance, and Arts Cape Breton. Additionally, Mulgrave is financially supported by the Canada Council for the Arts, the Nova Scotia Department of Communities, Culture, and Heritage, and the Municipality of the District of Guysborough.