Finding a new way at Found, the festival of unexpected encounters

Nicole St. Martin, Michael Bradley and son Luke in Chamber Obscura, Found Festival 2020. Photo supplied.

By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca

If ever there was a moment in history when artists and audiences have had to find each other in new, experimental, reimagined ways, this has got to be it, my stir-crazy friends. And, hey, Edmonton has a festival for that.

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The Found Festival returns Thursday for a ninth annual edition of weekend finds: 14 unexpected, surprisingly diverse encounters with art, created especially with a whole new set of rules in mind.

Found Festival 2020 is a veritable seminar in mind-bending and creative adaptability for a time in which we all feel more than a little lost. But then Found was always about finding new connections and relationships, often designed for particular  unconventional sites … grocery stores, parkades, public bathrooms, someone’s apartment.

As Found Festival’s Beth Dart (co-producer with her sister Megan Dart) points out, the strange and isolating circumstances of our lives have upped the ante. From the start Found always “cracked open the door to investigate other ways of audience engagement.” And (as you can’t have failed to notice) theatre has left the building anyhow.

This explains why sometime this weekend, you’ll find yourself driving to a location for a “private viewing experience.” Someone will black out the closed windows of your vehicle; the live soundscape comes through your radio. And through the windshield of your vehicle, you’ll find yourself watching the live performance of a 15-minute play called Chamber Obscura: 50 Cent Piece. The “whimsically dark” folk tale of gothic persuasion set in Dustbowl era Alberta is a creation of Le Fixe Theatre, performed by a multi-talented theatre family trio, Nicole St. Martin, Michael Bradley and their 10-year-old son Luc.

Chamber Obscura is Found’s sole live physically-distanced performance. And it requires advance reservation since, as Dart says, it’s a matter of  “32 performances, one ticket per show. But it’s for an entire car load: you and your partner, your family, your ‘immediate germ pod’.”

“It came out of necessity,” Dart says of the birth of Found. “The necessity of finding affordable spaces” for emerging artists, still the backbone of the festival. “And it grew from there to site-specific performances and the unique audience-performer relationship that happens in a found space.” Or with found materials. Or found footage. Or found people. “Working from the environment in which we find ourselves right now is the heart of what the Found Festival is. And we’re in that moment:  the fun and challenge is how to provide a sense of community to our audience and to our city now….Necessity is the mother of invention!”

Physically-distanced intimacy might be the great oxymoron of our time. Found tackles it head on. And the artists of the 2020 festival have found a variety of solutions. When the pandemic shutdown happened in mid-March, this year’s festival was already fully programmed, says Dart. “We asked the artists if they’d like to adapt their project to a digital or distanced world,” difficult with site-specific performances. “Or to defer it to next year, or to create something completely new.”

All opted to defer, so the entire 2020 lineup has been delayed for a year. And the Darts put out the call for “Found Festival Reimagined” proposals. “The response was incredible, overwhelming,” she says. “Some of the toughest choice I’ve ever had to make as a curator” went into this year’s new 40-artist edition.

Some of the projects are livestreamed, some pre-recorded. Some have been assembled on Story City, a new app for mobile phone (the founder has recently moved from Australia to Edmonton, and reached out) which pinpoint locations and how-to-engage instructions. 

Dwennimmen, aka Shima Robinson, Found Festival 2020. Photo supplied.

Sounding, for example, created by and starring spoken word poet Shima Robinson aka Dwennimmen, is a collage of three videos shot at three different locations meaningful to the poem being performed.

For The Home Suite, theatre artists Ben Stevens and Paula Humby and a quartet of fellow actors (Robert Benz, Kristi Hansen, Sheldon Elter, Christina Nguyen) create a “self-guided immersive outdoor experience” in Old Strathcona. It’s a collection of 10 short audio plays tied to buildings in the ‘hood. And the question in play at each stop is “who would I be if I lived in this house?”. 

You can take them in on a physical wander through Strathcona (probably the most evocative way, as Dart says). Or you can listen to them without ever leaving your own home.

Morgan Yamada in #NewSkills, Found Festival 2020. Photo supplied.

Actor/ fight choreographer Morgan Yamada’s inspired Found idea, #NewSkills, comes to you as a video online. And it taps directly into the experience of pandemic self-education, which has all of us struggling to learn something new (down with sourdough) in the course of being stuck at home. As Dart describes, Yamada “has been recording sessions in which she asked a bunch of artists (six in all) to teach her a new skill. Which she tried to learn on the fly with them.” Drag queen Marshall Vielle, for example, taught Yamada the basics of drag makeup. 

To experience Connection, you can take in Mackenzie Brown’s rich melange of storytelling and music on location through the Indigenous Art Park (on Queen Elizabeth Park Road). Or you can engage with it from home.

Stories From Nowhere In Particular, Found Festival 2020. Photo supplied.

Stories From Nowhere In Particular is a film by multi-disciplinary performance artist/ activist Simone A. Medina Polo. “She’s done all the scoring, all the text, all the visuals” says Dart of a collection of interconnected vignettes with “a beautiful existential lens to them.”

Musician/ composer/ DJ Mustafa Rafiq, the Found Festival’s music curator for a couple of years, has assembled a collection of interviews with DJs — as Dart says, “why they choose the music they do, how they build a set, the importance of the music..…” They come to you Live From the Found Fest DJ Booth, on a schedule available at commongroundarts.ca.).

Secret Creek, Found Festival 2020. Photo supplied.

The weekend includes a musical tour through the woods (Secret Creek). There’s a debut film by theatre designer Elise Jason (Existentialism For Babies) in which they layer conversations with the pediatrician who treated them for childhood cancer with found footage from their past. And there’s much more.

Found Festival 2020 runs Thursday through Sunday. Check out the full and varied program of Found offerings at commongroundarts.ca. Most are free, some ticketed. Donations will be received with gratitude and delight.

 

         

  

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