By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca
“OMG, it’s the best part of the year!”
— Stuart McDougall of In Arms Collective, creators of Nest
Hold that thought. It’s the eve of the innovative arts festival that tosses the leading question “so, what’s next?” into the crowd of up-and-comers — and watches to see what they do.
Nextfest returns Thursday for the 22nd annual edition of its 11-day free-wheeling, cross-pollinating, multi-disciplinary showcase: young artists, some 500 of them, under 30 and on the brink of pro careers. And speaking of “next,” the festival that Theatre Network dreamed up so many Junes ago arrives on the scene with a new and startlingly multi-faceted director.
Ellen Chorley knows what it’s like to be young and inspired by a festival where originality is category-resistant. She’s a veritable poster child for that kind of versatility. In fact, Nexfest is where the award-winning playwright/ actor/ director/ dramaturg/ mentor/ teacher/ producer/ curator, who has founded both a kids’ theatre company (Promise Productions) and an experimental burlesque troupe (Send in the Girls), made her start.
“For me, as an artist, being part of that Nextfest community, was central!” declares Chorley. At 16, half her lifetime ago, she and her Citadel Theatre School classmates collaborated to create Caroline’s Court, a sort of courtroom/German-style cabaret cross-hatching, and took it to Nextfest.
Nextfest was where Chorley’s first play Bohemian Perso premiered; she was 20. “I was starstruck,” she laughs, recalling the emerging talent who stepped up to make it happen. “Amy DeFelice directed; Lora Brovold and David MacInnis were in it; Ryan Sigurdson did the music…. I’ve met so many contacts and collaborators there! People I still work with!”
Chorley first experimented with burlesque at one of Nextfest’s nite club performance parties. For the last four Nextfests, Chorley has been the “high school curator,” who turned an add-on into a full-bodied experience for hundreds of kids.
Since November, when she got the Nextfest job vacated by Steve Pirot (who left after 15 editions in order to run the iHuman Youth Society), Chorley has been talking to young artists, seeing their work, inviting submissions, “either actual scripts or pitches.” And, she reports happily, “there was a big response!”
The Nextfest generation of artists, she finds, regularly combine theatre and poetry with dance, or visual arts, or music and film — sometimes in a single show. They don’t call themselves actors or directors or designers. They identify as artists. “They don’t do just one thing,” says Chorley, who doesn’t, either. “But that’s the culture in Edmonton, a theatre city built by the idea of the Fringe and that DIY can-do attitude.”
The six-show mainstage theatre line-up, happening at the Roxy on Gateway (both on- and backstage), for example is a veritable seminar on the dramatically diverse ways theatre can get made, as Chorley explains.
There’s a new collective creation, Nest, from a five-member ensemble investigating the queer experience from multiple angles. There’s a new scripted play of the absurdist stripe, Ashleigh Hicks’s Garnish. There’s a full-bodied site-specific play happening in real time, Everybody We Know Will Be There: A House Party In One Act.
There’s a theatrical experience devised from visual images, movement, storytelling and improv, Dirt Buffet Theatre’s Charred. Ben Gorodetsky and Mat Simpson were inspired by photographs of the natural landscapes and neighbourhoods devastated by the Fort McMurray fire.
There’s even a solo play with an infrastructure of comedy routines. In No Allegiances, creator /performer Marvic Adecer taps his background in stand-up to chronicle his experience of displacement emigrating from China to Canada, then going back again as an adult. Chorley calls it “funny and poignant.”
In its talent broker mode, Nextfest found a team of Edmonton artists for Calgary’s Camille Pavlenko. The Jackal And Her Reflection blends the ancient and the contemporary in a fantasia on the Pharaoh Hatshepsut.
Additionally, Chorley has programmed four play readings, and a quartet of “workshop presentations” which, she says, are more elaborate than staged readings, but less than the full productions they’ll soon have.
Andrew Ritchie’s Assist Ed is one. It takes us to a hospital room where a man battles to be dead, a fraught subject if ever there was one. Julie Ferguson’s solo performance Antiquation is another. As Chorley explains, they’ve spent the last year collecting out-of-date technology from people’s basements — FAX machines, defunct TVs and computers, 8-Tracks, overhead projectors, cassette players. Larissa Pohoreski’s Moonshine is a technology-rich exploration of exploring your roots; hers are Ukrainian. And there’s even a “found space” presentation, Before The River, which takes its audiences into the great outdoors.
For sheer unpredictability, at a festival that specializes in that factor, it’s hard to top the Nextfest Nite Clubs, one-off themed performance parties full of surprising encounters. There are four, starting with Friday’s Trash Gala at the Roxy, presented by The Orange Girls and The Donnas. Chorley describes it as a”surrealist-style dinner party, with people in black-tie, a weird night of things seeming normal. Funky. fun.”
The Nite Club quartet includes Futuresmut, Saturday’s 10th anniversary edition of Nextfest’s lewd and crude Smut Cabaret. It comes with the come-hither advisory “costumes and lack thereof encouraged.”
The visual arts Nite Club Monster Masks, June 8, includes a tour to all the festival’s visual art locations, starting at The Paint Spot and ending at the Roxy. The Roaring Rebellion, which overlaps with the first day of Pride, June 10, is a retro-tinged homage to the people who weren’t afraid to be rebels and shit disturbers.
That bravery gets to the heart of the matter at a festival that celebrates the new wave of creators.
“It’s 11 days of the most supportive, open, beautiful community. where anything can happen.” says playwright Hicks. “You’re SO encouraged to be bold, make big decisions….”
Where: Theatre Network’s Roxy on Gateway, L’UniThéâtre, and a variety of Old Strathcona venues
Running: Thursday through June 11. Full schedule and show descriptions at nextfest.org
Tickets: in person at Theatre Network, 8529 Gateway Blvd., or by phone at 780-453-2440, or online at theatrenetwork.ca,