Darla Contois’ UNO Fest show, White Man’s Indian, is sure to stir up conversations around race and stereotypes. Photo by Peatr Thomas

UNO FEST 2018: Giving voice to artists with important things to say

Continued success of festival after 20 seasons a testament to the work of Intrepid Theatre

Heather Lindsay likes to refer to UNO Fest as the “voice of the now,” for the way it allows contemporary theatre artists a chance to reflect publicly on what is happening today in their lives and society in general.

The Intrepid Theatre executive director hand selected all of the 17 shows scheduled for the 21st annual festival, May 9 to 19. While artists submit applications to have their shows included in the lineup, Lindsay also travels the country looking for jewels that might otherwise escape notice on the West Coast.

Intrepid has long held a torch for the underserved voice in Canadian theatre, she says, which naturally has dovetailed into one of the central themes for this year’s UNO Fest.

“There’s just incredible work in terms of Indigenous women coming out of the theatre scene in Canada,” Lindsay says. “These amazing women are demanding to be heard; if that’s something Intrepid can jump on board with we’re happy to do that.”

UNO Fest has its first ever guest Indigenous curator in Yolanda Bonnell, who worked with Lindsay to bring more of an aboriginal voice to the festival and is overseeing a youth Indigenous storytelling workshop, another first. To expand the process, Bonnell will open her festival entry, Bug, with vignettes created by the youth.

Three other entries have distinctly Indigenous perspectives: The Only Good Indian (Pandemic Theatre), which explores the historical use of the I-word; White Man’s Indian (WMI Collective), about what happens when one with mixed blood doesn’t appear as aboriginal, and The Chemical Valley Project (Broadleaf Theatre), which retells the story of an Indigenous-led environmental protest.

Taking advantage of the fact contemporary theatre is a good outlet to spark discussion, some shows conclude with an audience participation session.

“These artists are taking creative risks to enlighten audiences with the power of story and invention,” Lindsay says.

Britt Small, co-founder of Victoria’s Atomic Vaudeville and an iconic figure locally in the development and guidance of theatre projects, is looking forward to an opportunity to explore her own voice in her one performance at UNO Fest. Bonhomme: A Male Renaissance in 32 Acts, is essentially a three-year work in progress that examines male archetypes, specifically the men in her own life growing up who were physically or emotionally absent.

“It made me wonder what happened to men from this generation, where at the same time women were going through revolution and keep going through revolution,” she says.

It’s not all serious subject matter at UNO Fest, though.

Sarah Hagen, a concert pianist who has played Carnegie Hall but experienced somewhat of a career crisis back in 2016, pokes fun at herself in Perk Up, Pianist!, a show she cleverly labels “sit-down comedy” – her playing is an integral part of the act.

“I think I’ve always kind of wanted to do it,” says Hagen, whose hometown is Courtenay. Growing up she loved to watch comic pianist Victoria Borge, as well as Carol Burnett. “What most motivated me is I had really burned out from playing concerts.”

Having already started crafting a different kind of act, Hagen’s self-effacing comedy show was simultaneously accepted for the Toronto Fringe Festival. The rest, as they say is history. “I came back full circle, it’s like a recital and then I give the audience a chance to see [my] thought bubble.”

For a full performance schedule and ticket information, visit intrepidtheatre.com/festivals/uno-fest/.

editor@mondaymag.com

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