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IGNITE! Festival enkindles emerging theatre artist careers

Sage Theatre’s IGNITE! Festival is back again this month for its 18th year, offering audiences an exploration of the theatre arts not often seen at other Calgary theatre festivals.

Running from June 7 through 10 at the Pumphouse Theatre, the 2023 festival is putting on a wide variety of performances that range from a musical comedy about taking on new exercise routines during the pandemic, to cutting-edge combinations of computer graphics and choreographed dance, and representations of decade long stories within an hour.

Artistic Director for Sage Theatre, Jason Mehmel, said that the festival gives early career artists the freedom to take risks on stage while giving mentorship, networking, and theatre resources to the festival’s curated projects.

“We’re a festival of emerging artists, specifically about supporting emerging artists and helping them connect to the more established or experienced industry. The ways we do that is literally just putting up their work, bringing them into the festival, giving them space, giving them time, give them rehearsal space, and production support,” Mehmel said.

“One of the secret sauces of the IGNITE! festival is mentorship.”

Audiences would be see the many months of work that artists have put into their projects—fine tuning and collaborating on ideas that were submitted to be a part of the festival, Mehmel said.

“All of these pieces felt like they were in that space where they had a thing that they wanted to do, and that they needed that extra step to take to the to it to its next level,” he said.

“One of the things that I often look at when I’m looking at the variety of work that gets submitted to us is that there are projects that I think ‘this is great, I want to see this show, I think it’s gonna be awesome.'”

Festival has produced notable Calgary theatre alumni

Mehmel said that the IGNITE! Festival over the past nearly two decades has seen many emerging artists go on to successful theatre careers.

“I mean, I’m one example,” he said.

“I don’t think I would want to say [IGNITE!] takes the credit for their success—I think they own their success—but I feel like we’re a part of that story.”

Mehmel said that what distinguishes the festival from other programs, like post-secondary education or arts training programs, is the mix between putting early career artists with already established professionals.

“I think the way we do this through that mentorship and networking and experience is that it’s like we’re getting in between that step of going from ‘I’ve learned how to do this’ to ‘how do I do this out in the world,'” he said.

“It’s an interesting bridge and I don’t think there’s that many in Calgary, there’s not that many groups that offer that kind of benefit.”

Projects actually a mix that people will want to see

Mehmel said that it was an interesting year to curate projects.

“There is sort of something for everyone, and that was something that I noticed when I was looking at the submissions,” he said.

“What unified a lot of these things was not necessarily their content… but a lot of this is people, especially in this post-pandemic situation, realigning themselves with where they live in the world, and how they live in the world, and how they connect with people.”

2023 IGNITE! Festival performances

For the full schedule of performances, and to purchase tickets, see sagetheatre.com.

  • Tales from the Gym, by Mark Rivest. A deconstruction of common character archetypes for gym goers—from “main characters” to “boysplainers.”
  • Verre Brisé (broken glass in French), by Amanda Iandolo. A movement piece that examines what it’s like to feel isolated because of body dysmorphia.
  • La Vieja Astronauta, by Alexandra Contreras. A play that explores what would happen if a woman could choose anywhere to die—perhaps even space.
  • Forever Anyway, by Amy Sawka. A play that documents the change of relationships over a decade, in the space of an hour with the actors performing many different roles.
  • Be Vardų, Be Kojų, by Brigita Gedgaudas. A dance work that explores the combination of queer movement and Lithuanian folk dance, using glitched 3D modelled representations of folk dance steps to guide the choreography.
  • Pointless purSUIT, by Maddy Faunt and Sarah Vander Ploeg. A play about what it means to be an artist breaking free from the corporate day-job world.
  • Green Key, by Saeid Asgarian. A participatory performance about what it means to be a refugee.
  • Islands Within Ourselves, by Fae Rhiannon. An exploration of the idea of past versions of one’s own self being islands.
  • Poor Recollections, by Cali Sproule. A play that uses found text and self-reflections to explain power dynamics, trauma, and healing.
  • Silver Spoon, by Sage Cannon. A coming of age play that navigates childhood, poverty, and family dynamics.
  • Innocence Astray – A Staged Reading from Third Draft Theatre. A work-in-progress reading of a play that uses fairy tales to explore how youth interact with the darker nature of adulthood.