Audiences visiting ArtsCommons next week for Downstage’s Stage It Festival will be getting more than just a single show during an evening out this month.
In addition to staged performances of works by emerging and upcoming artists, the Stage It will also be featuring music, stand up comedy, special festival only art experiences, and a makers market.
“I love the sense of coming to a space, and being able to have multiple art art experiences all in the span of one evening or one afternoon,” said Downstage Theatre Artistic Director Clare Preuss.
“It’s like you you come here you can have arts market, you could have music, you can have stand up, you can have improv, you can have various theater experiences—and more than half of it’s free, and then the other stuff is really easy ticket prices.”
She likened the offerings to something akin to having a sampler flight at a brewery taproom, but for the arts.
“You get to sample from all these different artists in town, and it’s a fun spring thing to do,” Preuss said.
“All of the pieces are focused on a sense of hope and playfulness, and things really do fit in with a springtime feel. It’s a nice blend, fun, playful way to experience awesome local artists, and a real diversity of local artists.”
The festival is also supporting emerging and established artists on stage, with an emphasis on artists who have connections to Alberta.
“We’re really excited to promote this notion of growing not only artists, but artist producers,” said Preuss.
The festival will be holding productions of emerging artists Stephanie Alexandre and Keith Boniol in Kindling, along with established improv and comedic production performers Islay McKechnie and Ciarán Volke in their entirely improvised show Secret Saloon.
Dana Prather and Rosemary Morrison will be holding a staged reading of Good Grief!, the play that puts the fun back in funerals.
Rounding out the festival’s top-billed offerings is an audio listening party and artist Q&A with Tara Beagan for Ride and Die, about getting Grams to her vaunted bingo hall spot through hell and some high water.
Tickets for kindling and Secret Saloon are both $20 each, or $30 for both. Ride and Die and Good Grief! are both $10. Tickets can be purchased through Downstage at www.downstage.ca.
Secret Saloon elevates Downstage’s goal to encourage conversation through theatre
In Secret Saloon, the conversations that normally follow a Downstage production will instead form the basis of the show each and every time.
McKechnie and Volke will be interviewing local Calgary queer artists and creators on stage, and then producing musical theatre based on those conversations right before a live audience.
“Because we ourselves are also queer, we wanted give those people a moment to share their story. Especially, too, because we both have deep roots to Calgary,” said Volke.
“I’m from there, and I left seven years ago, and so this feels like a bit of a homecoming for me. So, our idea behind interviewing these people is almost to celebrate the work and the light the life that people have made there.”
The performers will be joined on stage by guitars, pianos, trumpets, and even a Mellotron.
Volke said that regardless of the conversation that is had on stage—with no list of hard topics to shy away from—the performances will always end up being fun for audiences.
“We always strive for that, but by the nature of the form, it just ends up being silly. It ends up being funny, but we’re not going to cut back on the heart of the story,” Volke said.
“That means we’re going to be telling the story the way it needs to be told, and we’re going to honor the inspiration and we’re going to honor the story. It’s still going to be fun. It’s still going to be ridiculous, no doubt.”
He said that he wants audiences to leave the theatre feeling what he calls the three ‘S’s, especially in light of the increasing attacks on Calgary’s queer community.
The performances he said would be like a gift to Calgary, and to the queer community by letting people tell their own stories instead of having their stories told to them.
“Sometimes I find it easy to forget that this is the state of the world when we’re so caught up in helping with the community. I want people to feel like in the face of all this—I mean, for lack of a better word, complete shit—people can still feel like they can be silly, they can be sexy, they can be surreal.”
“Those are kind of my three ‘S’s, if you will. And they can actually believe in a story.”
Stage It and Kindling have deep connection to changing the way the public views an artist
Alexandre and Boniol’s Kindling is a play about what happens when strangers are forced to spend a night together in a home, after one roommate suddenly decides to leave without warning, and new tenants with tornado-like personalities arrive at their doorstep.
“Between phone calls to an irresponsible landlord, a kitchen fire, and an accidental unveiling of secrets, these pairs of strangers begin to unpack a kindred-ness towards each other, realizing they are not as alone in their struggles as they thought,” is how Downstage described the play.
It is the creation of just-graduated Alexandre, and soon-to-graduate Boniol from the University of Calgary.
Boniol said that the idea to participate in the Stage It festival came about a conversation with his co-creator Alexandre about wanting to try something fun.
“When we applied, we were just our normal selves, we didn’t really have a show yet,” Boniol said.
“I guess they just really liked us and our vision, and it’s kind of cool, because as emerging artists to have a company like Downstage to really see us and believe in us, it was quite magical.”
Preuss said that there aren’t many bridges in the city to connect emerging artists with established theatre companies, especially for artists not yet out of university.
“We really do want to be that bridge,” she said.
Being taken seriously as an artist, instead of being viewed as merely a student, was one of the things that Boniol said was a real benefit of getting to put a production on the stage during the Stage It Festival.
For Preuss, she said, that was one of the major goals of the festival was to make artists feel like they belong on stage.
“People know that ArtsCommons is a place to come to go to see really great professional art, professional theater, professional music, all that stuff. So being green presented in that way, I think does have a real impact on the reality,” she said.
Boniol said that he was hoping that his play would be creating more conversations in the spirit of what Downstage is known for.
“Something I love about leaving the theater is having those questions and having those conversations.”
“Even if it’s in a mindset of something small or big, it changes something. I think that having a conversation really does that in theater.”