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Mirvish cancels plans for Toronto screech-in after Newfoundland complaints

Mirvish Productions says it's cancelling plans to attempt the world's largest screech-in at a Toronto performance of "Come From Away" due to complaints from people in Newfoundland and Labrador. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Daly

Mirvish Productions says it’s cancelling plans to attempt the world’s largest screech-in at a Toronto performance of “Come From Away” due to complaints from people in Newfoundland.

The theatre company said earlier this week that it wanted to celebrate the province’s unique culture by staging “a big group screech-in” at a performance of the Newfoundland-set musical, “Come From Away.”

Since then, Mirvish says “many people in Newfoundland” took exception to the ceremony occurring outside of the province that created the tradition.

A screech-in is a traditional Newfoundland welcoming ceremony that involves downing a type of rum, kissing a codfish and reciting a short speech full of local expressions.

Mirvish says it has heard the concerns “loud and clear” and apologizes.

Instead, Mirvish says it will send one couple from each of the four performances running July 5 to July 7 to Gander, N.L., to experience an official screech-in on Newfoundland soil.

“In our enthusiasm we took a misstep and we apologize,” Mirvish said Friday in a statement.

“Come From Away,” written and created by Canadian couple Irene Sankoff and David Hein, tells the true story of how the tiny town of Gander welcomed more than 7,000 stranded airline passengers after 9/11.

Mirvish had planned to enlist the entire audience following the evening performance July 6 at the 1,000-seat Elgin Theatre, saying every audience member would get a small fake plastic cod to kiss and a shot to drink at the end of the show. The shot options were to be real screech or ginger ale.

Brian Mosher, a former Gander teacher/broadcaster who inspired the character of Janice Mosher in the musical, was set to officiate and have a bag of soil from the province during the ceremony to make it legitimate, said Mirvish.

After the ceremony, participants were to receive certificates saying they’re honorary Newfoundlanders.

The formal ceremony largely evolved in the 1970s as a form of entertainment for tourists.

Some consider the screech-in a manufactured tradition, but folklorist Philip Hiscock argues its roots go farther back, to informal guest ceremonies in the 1940s and initiation rituals performed on sealing vessels and other ships.