Surprise! Finding yourself at Found 2022: the festival of art in unexpected places

Dig by Breanna Barrington, Found Festival 2022. Photo suppied

By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca

At  Found 2022 you could find yourself … following a story into a fort in the river valley. You could find yourself in a hidden nook of Old Strathcona, in a park, in a garbage enclosure in an alley. You could even find yourself in a ‘theatre’, or at a table outside one. 

That’s the thing about Found, the festival that returns Thursday for an 11th annual weekend of surprising encounters with art, artists, and audiences. There’s magic in adventuring outside the concept ‘theatre’,  both the space and the experience — and “having your expectations subverted, in a weird way,” as Whittyn Jason puts it. “I’m honoured to be at the helm of a festival where that’s at the core of it.”

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Designer/scenographer Jason (they/them) is Found’s incoming director. And along with Mac Brock, playwright/ actor/ administrator who’s Found’s new managing producer, they’re explaining their attraction to surprising interactions between artists and their audiences. It’s everywhere in this year’s live multi-disciplinary line-up, a mash-up of theatre, dance, music, poetry, visual art that sets you in motion, map or ticket in hand, from Found Fest headquarters, the Backstage Theatre and the patio outside it.

Jason and Brock have curated the line-up from submissions — save one project pitched to Found in 2019, and deferred from 2020. Perfect Strangers, the brainchild of innovative Vancouver duo June Fukumura and Keely O’Brien of  Popcorn Galaxies, is perhaps the most audacious experiment of them all. 

Perfect Strangers, Found Festival 2022. Photo supplied.

Audience members who’ve never met are paired up for a walking journey through the Strathcona neighbourhood. And at curated stops along their route through the ‘hood, there are games, moments, experiences for them to share and react to, and leave a trail of Post-Its to record their impressions.

“It’s not a narrative in the theatrical sense,” says Brock. “It’s a development … an experience you wouldn’t have had with someone you wouldn’t otherwise meet.” Fukumura and O’Brien, who’ve spent weeks in Edmonton sussing out locations, have been “so thoughtful how to make a safe, engaging, meaningful experience for two people who may have little or nothing in common.” 

And who knows? Jason laughs. “You might make a new friend. Or a new enemy.”

Jason is a five-year veteran Found artist themself. “One of the first pieces I was ever commissioned for was a public art installation for the Found beer garden in 2017. I made cactuses made out of clothes and fabric…. A lot of my friends were moving, and trying to get rid of their stuff.” Since then they’ve even experimented with film for Found. 

Bringing a design background to the festival is a natural. The “truth through materials” design mantra prompts found-space choices like, say, producing a living room drama in someone’s actual living room (instead of trying to re-create a living room on a theatre stage). “If you’re doing a fight in a park, do it in a park!” says Jason. “It engages the audience in a different way…. There’s a sliver of that in Found.”

Big Feelings, Small World, Found Festival 2022. Photo supplied.

In Big Feelings, Small World, designer/ model-builder Skye Grinde partners with three different artists, a poet, a musician and a playwright, to create miniature models that are mini-captures of  stories and memories. Grinde locates them in familiar locations in Old Strathcona, and adds an audio track accessible by QR code.

“What gets me excited about Found Fest,” says Brock, “is getting audiences to re-familiarize and re-contextualize places they know and love. And it’s really urgent right now, getting people out into the community again, re-engaging with public events and businesses. Being out in the community. Finding a little magic in places we walk by every day.” 

There are plays-in-progress at this year’s Found Fest (“we’re planting seeds for what shows are coming down the line,” says Brock”). From Steven and Nicole Sobolewski, Found Festival’s 2022 Fresh AiR artists-in-residence, is Gym Class Queer-Roes, their debut as theatre creators. This piece, about the queer community within a fictional gym, gets an in-progress reveal in the Studio Theatre at the ATB Financial Arts Barns. Since Whittyn and Brock have re-thought Fresh AiR as two-year venture, Found 2023 will see a full production, in an actual gym.

003_Playback, Found Festival 2022. Photo supplied.

At Found you could find yourself participating actively in the creation of an innovative movement piece — online. That’s the ‘found space’ for 003_Playback, the work of Vancouver’s Caroline MacCaull. In a live-streamed choose-your-own-adventure way that goes far beyond rhetoric or reactions in a chat box, “it asks the audience directly to have a tangible, visible impact on what they’re seeing,” as Brock puts it.

“They vote on how the piece expands and breathes and changes and moves,” says Jason. “They can change camera angles and lighting; they make decisions that change their viewing experience…. The audience has the ability to be a creator.”

Former festival director Beth Dart and her team were tasked with the full digital shift of 2020, as Brock says. “And the something that happened, the experience with digital and online, is now encoded in Found’s DNA…. We’re intentionally moving forward with that, and the new opportunities to be found in it.” Jason adds, “because 003_Playback lives exclusively in an online world, the audience could be anywhere.” 

It’s a testament to Fringe TV, “the amazing infrastructure for film and theatre broadcast” built by the Fringe in the pandemic years,” Brock says, “that it actually made more sense to bring the artists here to do the (live-streamed) show than to do it in Vancouver. 

Another exploration of technology, this one designed for in person experience, is BASK, which assembles the work of queer artists and plays with queerness, queer identities and perspectives. As billed it’s “a durational projection mapping installation,” the creation of Calgary projection artist/ animator Mackenzie Bedford. You’ll find it shaping to surfaces in (and possibly outside) the Backstage Theatre. 

Perhaps the most original (and direct) invitation to the audience comes from visual artist Breanna Barrington and Dig. After all, as Brock says, laughing, “in what other festival do you have to source 300 to 500 pounds of soil to pack into a garbage enclosure?” 

Jason laughs. “A gardening festival, I would imagine.” 

For the first two days of the festival, Dig asks viewers to contribute used objects, broken knick-knacks, “clean no-longer-usable things,” to be buried in the dirt. Saturday afternoon, “they will emerge from the dirt,” to be “activated” in a largely improvised performance by Barrington as she explores consumerism and its ecological impact, and the climate crisis … through trash. 

You don’t need to leave empty-handed. Bring a receptacle on Sunday, and “at the end of the day you can take home some dirt and have it live in your own garden,” says Jason. 

And there is, it need hardly be said, a party. The Hoe Down, happening Saturday night at the Backstage, is curated by Exstepmom, aka Salem Zurch. And it’s your chance to dress up country-glam. “We encourage DIY,” says Jason, an expert on the subject. Declares Brock, “it’s us re-claiming Alberta!”

PREVIEW

Found Festival 2022

Company: Common Ground Arts Society

Where: Backstage Theatre, ATB Financial Arts Barn, 10330 84 Ave. and environs, plus Fort Edmonton Park. 

Running: July 7 to 10

Tickets, lineup, schedule, show descriptions: commongroundarts.ca

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