Snowdays are the perfect day to hide in your room and ignore the world. Unless there’s a fresh, exciting theatre festival coming up this weekend — then you hide in your room and conduct a business-Skype with rising festival founder Karen Gross.
The StART Festival, ‘a celebration of diverse art forms by emerging artists’ kicks off its second year this Thursday and Gross promises “it’s everything!” From musicians to theatre, film screenings, painters, photographers, a zine artist and a dude who makes art using old air conditioners, the Bus Stop Theatre will be home to a “wide spectrum of emerging artists’ work” this weekend.
Inspiration for the festival came from Gross’s partner-in-crime Alanna Griffin while the two were theatre studies students, and Griffin was working in the Career Counselling office at Dalhousie. “There was nothing there for theatre students,” Gross reveals. “The advice they gave arts students was to go to law school!” With friends in the acting program as well, Gross noticed a “huge gap between school and actually working in our field. There is no education in how to build a career and get work seen.”
The two were bold to begin a new festival in the city — “It was scary to do. We were both university students, we had no idea what were doing! So it was less formal last year. We were figuring out structure, what kind of events to include, how to present interdisciplinary works — especially to bring attention to visual art and not just have a painting hanging in the lobby.” Challenges to overcome included figuring out how to balance a budget. “We were pretty much starting from scratch.” This year, StART has broadened its definition of ‘emerging’ from university/college students to “anyone still in a learning process,” focusing on youth approximately 25 and under. Gross admits the definition of an emerging artist is a “huge question. It’s not necessarily about age, that’s just a rough guideline. We’re welcoming artists of all different stages and ages, really. We’ve defined emerging as someone actively in the process of learning, whether that’s internship, mentorship, or school. It’s artists who are not yet making money with their art.”
Housed at Gottingen Street supervenue the Bus Stop, StART has been given “amazing support” by the theatre’s managing director Clare Waque, who also acts as a festival juror with Gross, Griffin, Ann Denny from Youth Art Connection, and NSCAD student Yalitsa Riden. Riden is also StART’s associate producer, and the liaison for university students now that Gross and Griffin have graduated. Coming from a visual arts background, Riden offers an alternative viewpoint from her theatre practitioner colleagues. “She’s focused on photography and film, so she’s someone with a different perspective,” Gross explains. “She has great insights and looks at art differently.”
Riden has taken charge of Thursday night’s preview event and gallery opening, as well as organizing artist-led workshops over the course of the festival. These events are free of charge and Gross tells me they’re essentially “a chance to hang out, eat pop tarts, and to make and see art.” There’s Swingbeat Basics with MC Vadell Gabriel, the aforementioned Hunter Lewis Lake will teach us how to make art using old air conditioner coils, and the multi-talented Rena Thomas is leading a workshop on “Making Art with Nature” (hi Rena, you’re amazing, thanks for helping me birth my son!!). Main events take place Friday and Saturday evening, and include short films by Thomas and Tyler Messervey, an adaptation of revolutionary playwright Georg Büchner’s Woyzeck, and a performance by soul singer/songwriter Lindsay Misiner. Photography and paintings by various artists will be displayed as well.
Creating the festival was a way to open doors into the professional world for Griffin and Gross, and they’ve found their artist mentors have been more than willing to help. “Lots of the artists say they wish this sort of opportunity was available for them when they were up and coming themselves!” It’s also a chance for participating artists to cross-pollinate — “it’s a fun chance to debrief and get to know each other.” Last year a guest poet and guest composer met at the festival, and later teamed up and put on a concert together. These are the collaborations Gross hopes to foster as the festival continues to grow. Looking to the future, she wonders if the two-day festival can really serve the collaborations, workshop opportunities and mentorship programs she hopes StART can implement. “Down the road, we’d like to expand beyond the festival format,” though she notes StART is “an awesome centrepiece.”
The festival takes place at the Bus Stop Theatre, 2203 Gottingen St, Halifax.
For full event listings, visit http://startfesthalifax.com/