Expand boundaries & explore identity at SkirtsAfire

This Friday, March 8, is International Women’s Day, and as has become my tradition, I’m celebrating at the SkirtsAfire Festival, which opens March 7 and runs for 10 female artist-lovin’ days, mostly in the Alberta Avenue area.

SkirtsAfire is Edmonton’s only multidisciplinary festival featuring work by female-identifying artists. Events in the festival range from theatre (of course) to visual art, spoken word, yoga workshops, dance, music and more. Festival Director Annette Loiselle says the 2019 festival is all about identity with many, if not most, of the festival’s events connecting back to that theme.

Michelle Todd in Deep Fried Curried Perogies. Photo supplied.
Michelle Todd in Deep Fried Curried Perogies. Photo supplied.

Annette says the through-line of identity really started to kick off when she heard Michelle Todd talk about bringing her Fringe show Deep Fried Curried Perogies (a look at family legacy and what happens when
a Jamaican Filipino and a Ukrainian Brit start a family) back to the stage. “I was at a panel discussion at the Citadel Theatre about diversity in theatre, and at one point Michelle Todd got up and spoke so eloquently and mentioned the show she had that she was thinking about resurrecting after a fringe circuit that’s when the light went on and I thought it would be a great show. That’s where we started.”

Shortly thereafter, Annette heard about a musical in early stages of development that challenges perceptions about queerness and polyamory out in Vancouver. After sitting in on a rehearsal, Annette was sold – and the fact that Poly Queer Love Ballad went on to be a hit at the Vancouver Fringe was icing on the cake. Created and performed by Sarah Vickruck and Anais West, Annette says “the music is great, and they’re such talented musicians and performers – they have this incredible presence on stage.”

Statue. Photo supplied.
Statue. Photo supplied.

As Annette was starting to put the finishing touches on the line up for the 2019 festival, a submission came in from a Montreal duo that Annette was drawn to because of its unique mixture of music, movement and narrative: Statue created by Céline Chevrier and Kristina Troske. Statue is a silent piece that uses music, movement and puppetry to examine the gender stereotypes implicit in the ways we move through the world.

With those three pieces – Deep Fried Curried Perogies, Poly Queer Love Ballad, and Statue – in hand, Annette was able to complete the SkirtsAfire 2019 mainstage line-up which, for the first time in the festival’s history, features double-header nights where audience members can enjoy two of the plays in sequence. And, if you attend the double-header on March 16, you can even stick around for the late night dance party, co-hosted by Fruit Loop and featuring DJ HaHa! Of the partnership with Fruit Loop for the late night dance party, Annette says, “Fruit Loop does monthly dance parties at different locations, and while the party at SkirtsAfire isn’t one of their official dance parties, they have pop-up drag shows and burlesque and at each party they raise money for different LGBTQ causes. It’s a good party and it’s a safe space. It’s really awesome and it aligns well with the festival.”

This year’s SkirtsAfire mainstage line up marks the first time the festival has brought in female-driven acts from outside of Edmonton (Michelle Todd of Deep Fried Curried Perogies is local, while Poly Queer Love Ballad and Statue join the festival from Vancouver and Montreal respectively). Also joining the SkirtsAfire festival from out of town is Montreal singer-songwriter and pianist, Cœur de pirate, who will be performing at the Winspear Centre Friday, March 8 as part of the festival’s opening weekend.

One of my favourite things about SkirtsAfire is always how much variety of female-powered art there is to experience during the festival. That variety is intentionally curated by Annette to encourage audience members to try something different. “What I’m always trying to do with SkirtsAfire overall is to give people as many experiences as possible, so they’re not just coming to the theatre. For example, with the double-headers with Statue and either Deep Fried Curried Perogies or Poly Queer Love Ballad – Statue is more of a puppet piece which gives our audiences a whole different style of theatre that involves movement and music on the same night where they also get a more traditional play…. Also, when Deep Fried Curried Perogies is with Poly Queer Love Ballad (it’s just the one night on March 16) one piece is about gender identity and one is about sexual identity. There are some people who think gender identity and sexual identity are the same thing, and this combination of plays shows that it’s not.”

For those theatre-goers who want to expand outside of the theatrical realm, Annette has some recommendations that will push your boundaries while staying true to your theatrical preferences:

  • The A-Line Variety Show, which Annette describes as one of the festival’s most popular events, is back again this year, times two! “We have two variety shows with different artists each night (March 7 and 15) … We’re giving every performer 10 minutes each and then the final performer gets 45 minutes. The first week is Girl Brain Sketch Comedy and then the second week it’s a band called Mercy Funk.”
  • March 14 is the ever-popular spoken word showcase, Words Unzipped, which this year is curated by Karimah. Annette says while this year’s showcase is more of a traditional spoken word event, ”
    The poets Karimah’s chosen are very good and spoken word can be so theatrical.”
  • A Place for Prose runs Saturday, March 16 and will feature writing from three local artists, including a reading of Michelle Vance Hehir’s play The Blue Hour, which is slated to be performed at the 2020 SkirtsAfire Festival – Annette describes The Blue hour as, “this big, epic, prairie sky play.”
  • Sunday, March 17 will feature a live recording of the podcast That’s A Thing?! in which Elizabeth, a teen, explains her media to her mother, Karen. In this podcast episode, Elizabeth and Karen will explore how the internet has created a supportive and informative space for LGBTQ+ youth and feature interviews with Sara Vickruk and Anais West (of Poly Queer Love Ballad), the 2019 Honorary Skirt Marni Panas and Harley Morison from Cardiac Theatre).

SkirtsAfire Festival runs at various venues, primarily around Alberta Avenue (118 Avenue) March 7 – 17. All events are by donation unless otherwise stated on the festival website or program.

Tickets for Cœur de pirate and many of the theatre mainstage performances can be purchased in advance, otherwise, pay what you will tickets can be purchased at the doors at the applicable shows.