In The Soil critics in residence Nicholas Leno and Hayley Malouin write,

Hello and welcome to Nick and Hayley’s mini-blog site for coverage of the 2014 In The Soil Arts Festival! We hope you’re pumped up and ready for a weekend of exceptional artistic talent – we certainly are.

A little bit about us: we’ve spent the last three years in St. Catharines as Dramatic Arts students at Brock University, and we feel we have a good grasp on the local arts scene which In The Soil is such a vital part of. After taking a theatre criticism course at Brock, we realized there was little critical engagement taking place in St. Catharines, outside of the coverage of big name shows and companies. What is more, no one was providing critical feedback for In The Soil artists and their colleagues. So, we decided to take up the mantle of engaging in such critical encounters with smaller and emerging artists. With the assistance of Professor Karen Fricker, we hope to prhayley and nickovide engaging material that will elevate your experience as an In The Soil Arts Festival spectator.

For the first-timers, In The Soil is an annual arts festival located in downtown St. Catharines featuring both local and touring artists. In its six years, In The Soil has grown rapidly, providing a showcase of music, theatre, comedy, film, poetry, and everything in between. Events take place throughout the weekend and are spread throughout the downtown core; you can spend the day getting a pint and listening to local tunes at the Merchant Ale House, and the evening in the old Sullivan Mahoney Courthouse Theatre for a few hours of live theatre. In The Soil will have an officially kick off Friday – today – at five o’clock, to begin this exciting weekend of creativity.

Oh, and did we mention they have a Ferris wheel on St. Paul Street this year?

Our critical response will take the form of what we call the three C’s: Criticism, Coverage, and Conversation. We want to be clear that our goal here as ‘critics’ is not to write thumbs up/down reports for spectators. Rather, we aim to produce criticism that advocates for artistic decisions and provides a useful assessment of those decisions for artists who wish to continue developing their work. And, most importantly, we want that work to continue to be Niagara-based and part of a burgeoning arts scene in St. Catharines.

Part of our initiative is to establish profiles for local artists and to inform the community of work locals are undertaking.  It is important to celebrate the presence of local artists if we wish to maintain a growing artistic community situated outside a large artistic hub like Toronto. This type of coverage will take the form of interviews, giving the audience an inside view into the creation process of a piece’s journey from conception to performance. Hayley is performing at In The Soil this year herself, so with the unique vantage point we have on her production – Once by Twitches and Itches Theatre Company – we aim to provide actor-written accounts of devising and producing a show for an arts festival such as In The Soil.

For those of you who are avid social media users, we have constructed the #InTheSoilCriticism and #ITSC hashtags, so spectators can dialog with artists about their work. We encourage everyone to tweet any comments, opinions or surprises that arise over the next three days. Our blog has an open comment thread as well for anyone who is looking to participate in our dialogue with In The Soil events. We encourage any and all constructive feedback, thoughts and comments – let’s get the ball rolling!

As the festival gets into full swing throughout the next three days, reviews of productions will be posted, so please continue to check back for more coverage. Preview pieces and interviews with local theatre makers can already be found below, and more are soon to come! We are always interested in meeting new people and conversing about what is happening, so if you see us downtown this weekend please tell us what you think of the festival! We hope you dig it as much as we do. See you there!


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