Todd Houseman and Ben Gorodetsky brings together Cree storytelling, Chekhovian character drama and spontaneous comedy in Folk Lordz at this year's Chutzpah! Festival
Todd Houseman and Ben Gorodetsky in Folk Lordz at this year's Chutzpah! Festival

This winter may be cold, but that doesn’t mean it’s a season to stay home. The Chutzpah! Festival, the Lower Mainland’s biggest winter music, dance, comedy and theatre festival returns to bring some fire and passion into our unseasonably cold winter nights.

This year’s festival features artists from Vancouver, Israel, New York, and more, performing world premiere works for audiences the festival has been cultivated for the last seventeen years.

Artistic Managing Director Mary-Louise Albert has been with the festival for thirteen of those years and credits the consistent quality of the work with the festival’s success.

“What I find is that there’s a trust to the programming and so people will go,” says Albert. “The audience has grown to see the versatility of the artists. This is year three for Shay Kuebler and the audience keeps coming back. It reminds us all that just because you’ve seen someone once doesn’t mean you’ve seen them. They have to come back to see their range.”

This year’s festival features over seventeen groups with a strong emphasis on dance, music, and cultural sharing on stage.

Ali Hassan Photo by Riaz K Photography
Ali Hassan brings his one-man show Muslim Interrupted at this year’s festival. Photo by Riaz K Photography.

“We have the wonderful Ali Hassan, who is bringing their work Muslim Interrupted,” says Albert, “We are seeing sharing between a Canadian Muslim comic and Judy Gold, an American Jewish comic. Or David Broza and Mira Awad. David is a well known Israeli musician, while Mira Awad has a Palestinian father and Bulgarian mother. They both have done amazing work but at the core are just two really wonderful musicians coming together.”

The artists agree. Lorin Sklamberg of the Klezmatics, a world-renowned and Grammy-winning klezmer band from New York City’s East Village, says that meeting other performers and being inspired or influenced by them is the highlight of the festival experience.

But the mixing and sharing of cultures and influence isn’t isolated to backstage banter. It takes centre stage in shows like, Folk Lordz. An improv duo from RapidFire Theatre in Edmonton specializing in creating a new folktale knitted together from the audience’s suggestions.

“Juxtaposing Eastern European and indigenous storytelling traditions allows people to consider these unlikely styles as equally inspiring and worth honouring,” says RapidFire Theatre’s Ben Gorodetsky.

So what are our top picks for this year’s Chutzpah! Festival?

Check out Wrestling Jerusalem by Aaron Davidman for a sweeping, yet personal, take on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Looking for a new spin on a classic tale? Test the waters with Spellbound Contemporary Ballet’s full length production of Carmina Burana. Then, add a dash of Folk Lordz for what they promise will be “Cree myth meets Anton Chekhov in a high-octane, physical, improvised theatre spectacle”.

Always on the lookout for Vancouver’s new favourite, Albert is most looking forward to choreographer Kyle Abraham and his company Abraham.In.Motion’s first visit.

“I’ve been following his work for a number of years,” she says. “We are so excited to present them for the first time in the festival”.

Chutzpah! Festival is presented at the Norman Rothstein Theatre (950 West 41st Ave, Vancouver) and other venues around town. February 11 to March 13. Visit for tickets and information.