Losing yourself at Found, the festival of art in unexpected places

Found Festival 2016. Photo by Mat Simpson.

By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca

Unexpected things happen when you take theatre out of theatres. 

And we have a festival for that. The Found Festival returns Thursday to Old Strathcona for a sixth annual weekend of strange and surprising encounters, up close, with art and artists — in places you never expected to meet them.

You could find yourself in Mill Creek Ravine, for example, wandering through a magical dancing Ukrainian folktale. Or on a Whyte Avenue rooftop watching a play about forgiveness and revenge. Or in a hotel room paying tribute to the late great Leonard Cohen. Or having a dance/theatre experience in the glass public washrooms on the corner of Whyte and Gateway.

Or this: you could have a one-on-one eyeball-to-eyeball, encounter with a brave playwright up-and-comer who will create something just for you, personally, on the spot. Art doesn’t come more attentive to its audience than that.

From 40 proposals, artistic director Beth Dart, in her second year finding herself at Found, has assembled “a broad spectrum” of artists, some 120 of them of every stripe,  persuasion, and age from 19 to 60. What they share is the experimental impulse. The festivities dismiss the usual boundaries between art and its audiences like so much poplar fluff on a summer breeze.

“We bring art to you!” says Dart, whose own innovative Catch The Keys productions specializes in site-specific performance events in found spaces. “It’s exciting! Once you take the work out of the theatre, you erase the normal rules.. It’s totally up to the artist to re-define the relationship with the audience.…”

Sometimes that relationship is on the move: Short Girls Productions’ In Shoes takes you on a walking memory tour.  Sometimes it’s unnervingly static. Playwright David Walker will lifestream his life for 72 hours as he sit, holed up in a borrowed apartment, writing a play. Then you can see the premiere live on location at 7 p.m. Sunday. “It sounds absolutely terrifying!” declares Dart cheerfully.

And sometimes, it’s a one-off experience custom-made for an audience of one. As Dart concedes, laughing, the Admit One series is “not really a sustainable concept…. It’s hard to justify but so worth it!” for both artist and audience.

Balloon Lending Library, Found Festival 2016. Photo by Mat Simpson.

There are “poetry slams,” plays, and pop-up theatre. There’s music: 30 local bands, curated by Double Lunch Productions and Sweaty Palms, will play in the Gazebo Park, Found Festival headquarters, in the course of the four-day weekend. There’s free entertainment of every sort. There’s beer. And there are food trucks. 

“It’s much the same spirit as the Fringe,” says Dart. “Come and take a chance on something!”

WHAT TO FIND AT FOUND (half a dozen discovery possibilities to be intrigued by)

The Three Ladies: Lady Vanessa Cordona, a Colombian immigrant with a far-ranging skill set, has fashioned what Dart calls “an extremely personal poetic play, with support from a Colombian dance troupe. “It’s a ‘spiritual remedy’,” says Dart of a piece that explores healing from the trauma of sexual assault and civil war. “It’s a beautiful positive piece!” It happens in the back alley behind Meat and Gravity Pope.

Strife: a new play — the beginning version of a longer one —  from the ever-adventurous playwright Matthew MacKenzie (Bust, Bone Wars). Murder and the alt-right are involved. Discover three actors — which is three times the size of the audience — are on the roof of the building (10816A 82 Ave.) that houses the Northern Light Theatre offices. Patrick Lundeen directs the Pyretic production in the festival’s Admit One series.

Glass Washrooms: Niuboi’s dance theatre exploration of the tension between public and private for the gender non-conformist. It happens for 25 people at a time in the public washrooms on Whyte Ave. and 103 St.

Once A Champion, Always A Champion: Star musician Brett Miles explores the fascinating pre-Edmonton Eskimo career of his illustrious athlete father Rollie Miles. It’s on location at the Rollie Miles Athletic Field (10480 73 Ave.).

The Author Will See You Now: in this “installation durational piece,” as Dart puts it, playwright Bevin Dooley will be ensconced for at least six hours every festival day at the Wee Book Inn on Whyte. And she’ll create something — a short play? some prose? a poem? —for you. 

Before The River: Larissa Pohoreski’s inspiration in this five-performer folkloric piece is to take you through Mill Creek Ravine on the Eve of Kupalo, by Ukrainian legend the time when the mortal and spirit worlds are closest together. Half the audience of 30 experiences the story going forward, half going back, explains Dart. At moments, the two groups cross paths. “The ravine becomes a character.”


6th Annual Found Festival

Produced by: Common Ground Arts Society

Where: Gazebo Park, 83 Ave. and 104 St. and assorted spaces in Old Strathcona and a bit beyond

Running: Thursday through Sunday

Tickets: yeglive.ca, in Gazebo Park, or at the door 

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