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SkirtsAfire turns up the heat

Second annual arts festival features vast array of female acts

By: Anna Borowiecki

  |  Posted: Saturday, Mar 01, 2014 06:00 am

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  • PERFORMER – Soul-pop singer Nuela Charles is one of the featured performers at the SkirtsAfire arts festival.
    PERFORMER – Soul-pop singer Nuela Charles is one of the featured performers at the SkirtsAfire arts festival.
    Supplied photo
  • REALLY CRAZY SHOO – Hey Ladies! bills itself as a comedy high-jinx extravaganza that’s like The View mixed with Ed Sullivan by crazy people.
    REALLY CRAZY SHOO – Hey Ladies! bills itself as a comedy high-jinx extravaganza that’s like The View mixed with Ed Sullivan by crazy people.

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Preview

SkirtsAfire
March 6 to 9
Alberta Avenue Community Hall, Alberta Avenue Theatre, Nina Haggerty Centre and The Carrot Community Coffee House (118 Ave.)
Tickets: by donation

The newest arts festival puts women squarely in the spotlight. It may be titled SkirtsAfire, but there’s plenty to dazzle both sexes.

Now in its second incarnation on Alberta Avenue (118 Avenue), it aims to encourage women to nurture and pursue their artistic dreams as well as providing a platform they truly deserve.

Running from March 6 to 9, the festival is a fusion of disciplines crammed into four days of artistic energy.

Diversity is the key to festival director Annette Loiselle’s program. In this four-day mosaic, 90 artists will perform at play readings, art installations and exhibits, dance and performance art, comedy and variety, spoken word, groovin’ music, concerts, film, a belly-dancing workshop and yoga.

Some of the showcase artists include Viva Dance Company, Two Bears North, Nuela Charles, Hey Ladies and theatrical numbers such as Anatolia Speaks and The National Elevator Project.

All presentations will be held in four venues within a three-block radius. They include Alberta Avenue Community Hall, Alberta Avenue Theatre, Nina Haggerty Centre for the Arts and The Carrot Community Coffee House.

Loiselle became concerned about the state of artistic jobs available to women after reading some hardcore facts. The Professional Association of Canadian Theatre had printed a 2008-2009 study with startling statistics.

It noted that 71 per cent of artistic directors are men and more than 70 per cent of working actors are men. Yet 68 per cent of women are enrolled in theatre programs and ironically more than 60 per cent of the audience is women.

“Holy cow, it was worse than I thought. Here we are training all those women yet theatres are run by men. And it makes sense that a male artistic director would choose plays that relate to men,” said Loiselle, also one of the original founders of the Freewill Shakespeare Festival.

“But it didn’t make me angry. I just said, ‘OK. Let’s do something about it.”

Incubator

Working in collaboration with actors Sharla Matkin and Gina Puntil, the festival took flight in 2013. This year, it continues to celebrate women’s achievements just in time for International Women’s Day. Its thin budget is $40,000.

One of the festival’s long-term goals is to function as an incubator for new plays. To that end, it’s programmed Peep Show, a teasing glimpse into the works of four female playwrights – Nicole Moeller’s The Preacher, The Princess & The Crow; Holly Turner’s The Accident; Katherine Koller’s Dirt Baby, and Michele Vance Hehir’s Little Smiling Hooks.

St. Albert’s Jenny McKillop is part of the cast for a reading of Kristin Finlay’s The Easy Road, a play that explores the big moments in lives and how decisions push us to different places.

For McKillop, a relatively successful actor in her own right, it’s a no-brainer to expand women’s roles in theatre.

“It’s tricky. There are more fantastic women going for the same part. But there’s also more of an effort to write more roles for women. And I’m really looking forward to the chance of working with talented women.”

One event that’s sure to get visitors pumped is an evening concert and dance on Saturday, March 8 with folk-rock band Two Bears, ’60s cover band The Fortrelles and The Sweathearts, an all-female garage punk band trio.

“They’re (The Sweathearts) great. I wanted to get a gritty, edgy band and they made me want to get up and dance,” Loiselle said.

However, the festival isn’t just about a lot of fun, touchy-feely stuff. In this mixed bag, it also asks what it is to be a modern woman in the 21st century.

In the segment Ladies in the Lens held on Thursday, March 6, SkirtsAfire commissioned She Speaks, a short documentary that looks at how seven local women overcame hardships in their lives.

The second portion of the evening is a screening of Who Cares, a Rosie Dangerfield production that captures the gritty and dangerous world of Edmonton’s sex-trade workers.

“It documents their day-to-day living. It’s pretty hardcore and powerful. It’s all part of the post-Pickton era where women now voluntarily provide police with DNA samples for identification.”

Following this film, there will be a panel discussion on how the Supreme Court ruling on sex-trade law affects prostitutes.

How much of a game changer SkirtsAfire becomes is largely up to its supporters.

But in the meantime, Loiselle stated, “Everybody is so keen for this multi-disciplinary festival featuring women around International Women’s Day. With the winter festivals now completed and more daylight hours around, it’s almost a kick-off to spring.”

A complete schedule is available online at www.skirtsafire.wordpress.com.


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