Hello DARTcritics readers! Kristina here, reporting from St. Catharines as the In the Soil Arts Festival is full speed ahead in preparations. As Leah already...
The work of a theatre company with its finger on the pulse of a city, such as Suitcase In Point, is never done. The tents of The Hub have barely been packed away, and they are already hard at work planning next year’s festival.
Nick met up with Annie Wilson (read our other interview with her here) and Deanna Jones to chat about this year’s festivities and see what the organizers are up to in the “off season” (hint: it doesn’t exist).
Nick: Last time I interviewed Annie, I asked what she was most excited for about the festival.
Nick: What do you think got the most positive reaction, or paid off?
Annie: I’ll go first! …. I don’t know. I think all of it! We were really proud of our programing this year, people responded really well to it. I definitely felt good vibes at the hub. The interactive art projects; the vendor bender; the amazing signage done by Brian Kite artistic solutions; everything just blew it out of the park.
The largest challenge to wrap our heads around was Rhizomes. We took over a huge space this year. The quality of the art and the installations seemed high and people were digging it. It’s a little off the beaten path of what people are used to around here, but it was extremely busy. I couldn’t believe how many people filtered through those experiences over the weekend.
Deanna: It was great to see how word of mouth spread. Shows like Death Married My Daughter had a smaller house during their first show, but the next show was sold out with a huge standing ovation. It was nice to see POP Up Love Party build up momentum over their three shows that way too. They were actually over-sold for their last show.
Dee: It was great popping in to see Radio Radio and an incredible crowd having a great time. I was really curious to see how the other events were doing, and it was packed up at Oddfellows, the Mikado, and the Merchant Ale house. It felt so great to see so many people out, and not just for the main events but all around.
Annie: We’re a theatre company, so we try to nurture the theatre component of the festival. When In The Soil started it was really music heavy, and that’s still a huge aspect of the festival. Looking through the numbers, the theatres were pretty packed. That’s grown over the past few years. I remember going to a theatre show a few years ago and there were only twenty of us enjoying the performance. Now we have a sold out house at the Courthouse up against a headliner like Radio Radio. The festival is growing.
Nick: I remember wondering what the other venues looked like during Radio Radio.
Nick: I noticed on the billing this year that there were more workshop performances or shows that never had an audience prior to their debut at the festival. Is that something you’re going to continue to pursue with your programming?
Dee: Absolutely. Developing work, and presenting work that is in development but ready for audiences, is an important mandate of the festival and our company [Suitcase In Point]. We also try to program pieces that aren’t just in their first stage of development, the Sweet Murderesses were part of Lab Cab as a site specific performance. They [The Sweet Murderesses Collective] expanded that work into monologues on the Courthouse stage, and Yolanda [Ferrato, the project’s director] was really excited about the opportunity to be in a theatre. We originally thought it would be excellent for Rhizomes, but through our discussions [with Ferrato] we said, “Let’s see where the show can go.”
As far as workshop productions go, we want to provide industry type opportunities for artists to share their exercises and devised work. Even with music, we really push for new work so the festival can really be sharing.
Nick: It’s a good chance for artists to put their stuff out there.
Annie: In a supported environment. We provide professional production and publicity support. It’s a safe space for emerging artists and workshop performances to test things out.
Dee: That being said, we have a great balance. POP Up Love Party went through a few years of development. We saw it in its first stage in Halifax and now it’s ready to tour. We want work like that, that’s just about to take off. We want to be on the cutting edge.
Nick: Going forward do you think In The Soil will be able to provide dramaturgical feedback to artists whose work is in development?
Dee: As we push the industry side of the festival, we want to be able to invite more artistic directors and dramaturges to create those types of opportunities as well as provide artists with more exposure. We want to create more platforms for conversation where companies can talk about their creative processes. It’s important to provide artists who are doing new work an outlet to share their work with presenters, artistic directors, and people they want to get feedback from. I think that’s the next step of growth for the festival: cultivating that side of it.
Annie: I agree.
Nick: Any other steps for next year?
Annie: We already wrote a grant.
Nick: That quick?!
Annie: It was due on Thursday. It felt a little surreal but Deanna and I put our heads down to get it in. We’re currently planning a post-mortem with all our partner organizations and contracted staff. We’ll weight all our feedback and start dreaming up next year.
Dee: We get started almost immediately on our curated pieces. This means going out, scouting, and seeing new work starts right now. We’re already thinking about next year’s programing; next year we will be utilizing the [FirstOntario] Performing Arts Centre for the first time. The festival is excited to work within the venues there, it’s a totally new element we plan to take advantage of.
Annie: That’s going to be a huge aspect of next year. Since the moment we’ve founded this festival we’ve had our eyes on being able to utilize those facilities. I know it’ll be important for us to continue to use the venues of St. Catharines, but at the same time we have the first purpose build venues for theatre and performance. We look forward to using those. For example, The Hercinia Arts Collective-
Dee: They were the Gargoyles.
Annie: Are an aerial group who have been dying to bring their work down to St. Catharines, but we’ve never had the facilities to support them. We will now. The technical support of those venues will help open up the festival.
Nick: Sounds like we can look forward to seeing some awesome work next year. When DARTcritics returns to In the Soil is there anything else we can offer the festival?
Dee: As you know, there is a real need around here for a critical eye and reviewing process. It’s so important for us as producers and artists to be able to read about a production after the fact. Just from being around the festival you can see how excited the artists are to share their work with people and this helps them do that.
Nick: Thank you for another wonderful conversation and cup of coffee. I look forward to seeing what the festival has in store next year.
In The Soil is certainly blossoming, and with it so is DARTcritics’ critical voice and presence in the St. Catharines arts community. The space between artist and critic is being woven together, making room for a special kind of community-driven dramaturgy and criticism. We will see what the seeds of this year will grow into next April, when In The Soil returns and DARTcritics takes to the streets of St. Catharines again (hint: there will be more puns).
*In the meantime, stay tuned for our coverage of the Shaw and Stratford Festivals, the Hamilton and Toronto Fringe Festivals, and more!
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