Our CEO Al Cushing reports from the Magnetic North Theatre Festival in Halifax

(photo: One of the nightly Magnetic North Theatre Festival Feasts)

The Yukon was well represented at the Festival this year.  I attended wearing two hats, CEO of the Yukon Arts Centre and member of the Board of the Festival (Past Chair).  YAC Artistic Director Eric Epstein was fielding the pitches from the artists who would like to bring their work to Yukon.  Playwright Arlin McFarlane was there taking intensive workshops and building the connections that will give her the tools to take her recent work, My Brain is Plastic, on tour.  Ken Bolton, late of the Yukon was there with Lee, his wife, who is the Executive Director of the Imperial Theatre in Saint John, N.B.  Set Designer, Linda Leon, was also there rekindling relationships with directors and producers.

Day One (Saturday, 21 June)
Fortunately, my Festival started slowly giving me time to recover from the daylong trek across the country.  Although, the Festival really started Friday night with the shuttle ride from the airport with Shelagh Magadza the AD of the New Zealand International Arts Festival, a chance to chat with someone even more jet lagged than me.  The first official event I attended was an Industry Feast.  The Industry Feasts are an opportunity for the industry professionals to meet in a casual environment and share impressions, ideas and plans.  The first Feast was held in the Halifax Citadel and featured lobster!  I had the good fortune to share my table with Peter Herndorff the CEO of the National Arts Centre, Brenda Leadlay the Festival Artistic Director, Linda Wood a fellow MNTF Board Member from Ottawa and Meg Taintor a presenter from Boston.

Following the dinner we made our way to the Dunn Theatre at Dalhousie University to see Broken Sex Doll a show that will be on the YAC stage November 26 - 29.  The piece is every bit as interesting as Eric said it would be.  After the play we returned to the Commons at the Atlantica Hotel for a libation with the performers.

Day Two (Sunday, 22 June)
I skipped the 08:30 Yoga session (see libations above).  The day started with a keynote address on Waiting to be Discovered by Rich Aucoin– which sadly was not very inspiring.  Then it was a four-play day, Stella Queen of the Snow (Children’s Theatre in the Alderney Landing Theatre), Wag (a brilliant multi-disciplinary piece by Calgary actor/dancer Denise Clarke – at the Neptune Studio), Two in the Coop (another young people’s piece, this one featuring two fledglings in the nest – back at the Alderney Landing) and then When it Rains (a fascinating work that made very imaginative use of projections.)  When It Rains was presented in the Spatz Theatre venue in the Citadel High School.  Sadly, the large auditorium was not an ideal location for this intimate piece.  Once again we ended the day with libations at the Commons.  That evening Lemon Bucket Okestra treated us to an impromptu concert.  The group, which was in Halifax for an international music festival, had lost a gig and decided to come play a few tunes for us for tips and CD sales.  They played a mix of eastern European folk and dance tunes that had the whole room up dancing.

Day Three (Monday, 23 June)
So much for the 08:30 Yoga………..  The day opened with a keynote address by  Diogo Burnay, Director of the School of Architecture at Dalhousie University, who delivered a fascinating presentation on the development of a fascinating theatre in Portugal that resulted in the animation of the city centre.  That evening we were back at the Spatz Theatre to see Lear.  This was a fascinating, experimental adaptation of the play. Lear was played by veteran actress Claire Coulter and was supported by a chorus of dance/actors.  Lear’s loss of kingdom and power was interpreted by having the daughters slowly cut apart her dress.  Lear’s tribulations and travels were interpreted through dance.  The audience to this piece was restricted to 70 patrons, who were asked to sit at the front of the theatre.  As Lear lost power the audience was moved from seats in the auditorium to seats on stage, staring at the now empty auditorium, and their own loss of power as audience.  After the show we made our way to the Lion and Bright Café.  There we got to experience a work in progress called Pop up Love Party.  It was a fun piece that lasted over two hours and will be excellent when it has matured into a 90-minute show. 

Day Four (Tuesday 24 June)
Chef Michael Howell using the story of the slow food movement to discuss the importance of building networks and network connections gave Tuesday’s keynote. It was a fascinating presentation that made me want to explore the slow food movement in more detail.

Each morning during the industry series there was an hour and one half dedicated to “1 two 1”.  Prior to the conference you had the opportunity to review the list of who was at the gathering and list up to 15 folk you would like to meet personally for a fifteen minute one on one chat.  For example, I had an excellent meeting with the director of the Riverbank Arts Centre in Ireland.  The Riverbank is a member of a nine-venue group of theatres that share/tour productions as a way of controlling cost and improving services to their publics.  A very successful programme, however, all nine towns would probably fit within the footprint of Whitehorse. 

In the afternoon we met a number of local theatre artists for a tour of a Dartmouth coffee roaster and then, caffeine fortified, moved on to the Pitch Sessions.  These short presentations give the presenters a chance to see some of the work in development or on the market.  They are limited to fifteen minutes, which barely gives one time for a taste, but they can be very informative.  The Pitch sessions included:
• Awake a multi-cultural work set at the funeral of a victim of gun violence
• The Damage is Done, an exiting exploration, through dance, words and video of the effect on two families of the decades of violence in Hungary – performed by Rita Bozi and Dr. Gabor Mate.  The Yukon Arts Centre will present this piece on the 12th and 13th of September 2014
• Fashion Machine is community engagement work that pairs professional actors, textile workers and photographers with elementary school children and audience members willing to have their clothes redesigned by the kids.
• Going On is a one-woman show examining the life of an aspiring actress.
• It is solved by Walking, a work in development, explores the break up of marriage that turns into a writing career.
• Let’s Not Beat Each Other to Death is a genre defying piece inspired by the murder of Halifax queer activist
• The Last Voyage of Donald Crowhurst is a project of Calgary’s Ghost River Theatre and will premier at Alberta Theatre Projects in February 2015.
• Making Treaty 7 is a work in progress that examines the contemporary relevance of the 1877 treaty between Queen Victoria and the First Nations 9Blackfoot, Tsuu T’ina, and Stoney Nakoda)
• Sacrifice Zone, was created by Toronto’s Theatre Gargantua in association with Australia’s The Uncertainty Principal company premiered at Toronto’s Factory Theatre in 2013.
Following the Pitch Sessions we were treated to a pizza at the Dartmouth community oven, an outdoor, wood-fired oven operated by the folks of the community garden.  It was a lovely supper under the trees.  Then, it was off to Alderney Landing for a brilliant presentation of a piece called Iceland.  The cast of three presented a fascinating telling of one event from the viewpoint and personal history of each of the characters.  There was very good acting and an interesting script.

Day 5  (Wednesday 25 June)

The day opened with a group discussion on “critical discourse”; a discussion of the role of professional criticism in the development of Canadian theatre led by a panel of professional theatre writers from the paper and electronic media.   It was a spirited discussion that provided interesting insights into the changing nature of communications about the arts that reflects integration of the electronic media into society.  There was even discussion about the need to have a smart phone at the Festival so that you could get the latest programming changes on the Festival App.

With the rest of the morning and early afternoon clear I was able to visit the Nova Scotia Art Gallery.  This is a small but interesting gallery with a wonderful exhibition of the folk art of Maude Lewis and a contemporary installation of bicycle art.

I then made my way to the Company House, a basic sort of bar for “Demostage” a presentation of works in progress.  As in interesting twist, and a way to make sure that the presenters focused on their work, not themselves, the audience was asked to introduce each presenter.  There were some interesting pieces presented including an electronic piece that featured recorded live applause and laughter that could be triggered by some one walking by the powered speaker.  We were invited to contribute some raw material.

The industry meet up that night was at the Lion and Bright, the same pub where we saw the Pop up Love story.  Excellent snack type food that included wonderful steamed oysters.  From there we walked down to the Neptune Studio Theatre for Who Killed Spading Grey a powerful monologue by Daniel MacIvor.

Day 5 (Thursday 26 June)

The last day of the industry series opened with a delegate only discussion of the shows that were in the festival that was followed by an open discussion about the Festival itself.  Both reviews were informative and interesting.

That evening we saw A Tale of a Town, Nova Scotia.  This unique work was built on the artists’ visits to small town Nova Scotia in the weeks prior to the Festival.  Then, in a mere two weeks they created a play that captured the sense of what they had seen and heard often using the words of the folks they had spoken with.  It was interesting and fun.  The company is going to produce one of these shows for each province and Territory before the Canadian 150 anniversary in 2017 so we will see them at some point in 2016 in the Yukon.

You can read reviews and more on the Magnetic North Web site at:  http://www.magneticnorthfestival.ca/communications/media/press-room/