This is a guest blog post by Annette Loiselle, organizer of the SkirtsaFire HerARTS Festival. The festival runs from March 9-12, and celebrates the multidisciplinary talents of women artists. For more information about the festival, visit their website. This festival is a treasure in our city, and we hope you check it out!
SkirtsaFire: Humble Beginnings
As many great ideas do, it began with a night of red wine, popcorn and three very good friends. All three of us were actors wanting to make a change in our community where women are significantly underrepresented. According to a recent study done by a national organization called Equity in Theatre, women represent less than 35% of people working in theatre across Canada. The irony, of course, is that the majority of people coming out of training programs are women and the majority of our audiences are women. So how can this be? Old traditions are hard to break, even in forward-thinking creative industries like the arts. We decided we needed to create something in Edmonton that could put a dent in these dismal statistics, create an event that puts women in key positions such as directors, writers, choreographers and designers. We knew that developing the work of female playwrights was key. If women make up the majority of our audiences, then they should see an equal number of plays on the stage written by women; they should be able to experience more of their own stories. It then has a trickle-down effect since the female voice will inherently lend itself to female directors, actors, designers and on and on.
As the wine flowed, we decided we needed a festival! A festival filled not only with theatre, but visual art, spoken word, music, dance, film and comedy. We knew that if we wanted to provide a platform for female artists, we also needed to have a large audience for their work. By including multiple disciplines, not only is it more interesting and celebratory, but it brings together different communities and audiences from each art form. It encourages people to step outside of their usual habits and see something they may not normally choose. We began a grassroots gathering of support amongst all artistic disciplines and people from Edmonton’s business, political and professional communities. We connected with many different agencies and programs who work with women. Today, we continue to bring artists and audiences together from a large, diverse community; an audience hungry for a female perspective in the arts where their own lives can be reflected, presented, dissected and celebrated.
The World Premiere of The Mommy Monologues
So here we are entering into our 5th anniversary festival with our first commissioned play, The Mommy Monologues. In June of 2015, SkirtsAfire commissioned ten playwrights and one singer-songwriter to write about motherhood. It was presented as a wide-open topic. It could be a child’s perspective (young or adult), a mother’s perspective, a father’s perspective, a grandmother, a woman unable to have children, a woman who chooses not to have children, a child-having a child, a prostitute who is pregnant, a foster family, a woman in labour, an LGBTQ mother, and so on – so many possibilities. Out of this, ten monologues and one song were created, representing different ages, ethnicities and life experiences. Some are funny, some tragic, some personal, one is in the horror genre - all are insightful, moving and entertaining. The writers have delved deep into the subject matter and created pieces that will surprise the audience and have them think about and feel motherhood in a whole new light. It is not a play only for mothers, it is a play for anyone who has a mother, a father, a grandparent, is considering becoming a mother or choosing not to. We spent the fall and winter work-shopping the play, and it had its first public read on March 6, 2016, co-presented by the Alberta Playwrights’ Network. It is currently in rehearsals, and we are readying it for the world premiere at SkirtsAfire herArts Festival, March 2 - 12, 2017. The Mommy Monologues is written by Beth Graham, Andrea House, Katherine Koller, Annette Loiselle, Conni Massing, Nicole Moeller, Mieko Ouchi, Dana Rayment, Glenda Stirling, Michele Vance Hehir and Cat Walsh. It’s directed by Glenda Stirling, designed by Tessa Stamp with sound design by Paul Morgan Donald and features Coralie Cairns, Chantelle Han and Mary Hulbert. The Mommy Monologues plays in the Cabaret Theatre in the Alberta Avenue Community League.
So Much Woman-Power...
The Mommy Monologues anchors the Festival, but there are so many other events to take in, such as our Spoken Word event, Words Unzipped, curated this year by Edmonton’s Youth Poet Laureate, Nasra Adem. She is calling it Black Girl Magic.
We also have six singer-songwriters in The Key of She at The Carrot Community Arts Coffeehouse and Otto Food and Drink. They are Kate Blechinger, Karimah, Ariana Brophy, Nadine Kellman, Jessica Heine and Maria Phillipos. In/Hospitable Women is the Visual Art Exhibit curated by Mary Joyce for SkirtsAfire in the Nina Gallery where many events and performances take place during the festival. We have staged play readings, The A-Line Variety Show, a Women’s Choir Festival, an outdoor film and fire pit, Yoga in the Art and so much more. After seeing a show, all are encouraged to hang out in our Cabaret Theatre for snacks, drinks and great post-show discussions while you take in comic, Lisa Baker, and dance to bands, King of Foxes and Audrey and the Crashers. Come for an evening, a morning, a full day or simply one event. I guarantee you’ll be entertained, surprised, intrigued, moved, inspired and wanting to come back for more. Check out skirtsafire.com for more information, a full schedule and descriptions of all events, exhibits and workshops in the festival.