After 15 years at the helm of the Chutzpah Festival, artistic managing director Mary-Louise Albert is going out on top. But don’t expect it to be the last you’ll see or hear from her as she embarks on the next evolution of her career in the arts.
A professional dancer before taking over the top spot at the festival, Albert says she is leaving behind an organization that is not only financially but artistically healthy as well.
“15 years is a good chunk of time to spend somewhere, and it just feels right,” says Albert of her decision to step down. “There are other things I’d like to dig into, and when you get to a certain age, you want to still have some oomph to carry on and do other stuff.”
The “other stuff” she refers to is what will turn out to be a third career in the arts for Albert, with the establishment of the B.C. Movement Arts Society. Based in the small village of Sointula on Malcolm Island northeast of Port McNeil, Albert will refocus her energies in a desire to bridge rural and urban communities through art.
But while she may be leaving Chutzpah, Albert’s association with the festival is far from over. In fact, she just recently hosted the artists from Geoff Berner & TJ Dawes & Friends, one of the many shows at this year’s Chutzpah, at an artist’s residency.
“They just came up for a week and had a wonderful creation residency and then we did a performance in the pub, which was lots of fun,” she says.
Albert will also be bringing New York’s UNA Projects for a tour of the area before presenting the Canadian premiere of Coloring at the festival.
“That’s what I mean about bridging,” she says. “The company will travel to quite a remote and underserved part of B.C. to perform in Sointula, Port McNeil and Alert Bay. Then they will make their way back to do their shows in Vancouver.”
Albert may be looking to her future, but the immediate focus is on her final year at Chutzpah. It is an organization she has had a significant hand in developing over the years. “It took a lot of work and risk-taking, but I’m very comfortable saying I built the festival to what is now an international standard,” she says.
Now in its 19th year, it was in taking those risks that Albert sees as the driving force behind the festival’s longevity.
“It was a small cultural festival for the first four years, and it needed to move into an era where you’re also competitive,” she says. “There’s a lot of great festivals and programming out there for people to chose from, so you want to keep your game up.”
Finding it impossible to identify a single pivotal moment during her time at Chutzpah, Albert is most proud of the dance programming and residences she established. “[Vancouver dance artist] Shay Kuebler had two residencies with me, and both his pieces, Glory and Telemetry, are now off travelling around the world,” she says.
As for what’s in store at this year’s Chutzpah, Albert finds it equally difficult to choose from the festival’s extensive line-up of comedy, music, theatre and dance. “It’s always so hard because you get attached to all of them,” she says.
One act she does point to though is this year’s headliner, the trail-blazing Sandra Bernhard, who will perform at the Vogue Theatre on October 31. “She’s smart, fabulous singer, and intuitive,” says Albert.
Albert is equally excited about UNA Projects who will present the Canadian premiere of Coloring at the Norman Rothstein Theatre on November 17. An episodic dance piece inspired by themes of identity, unity, and mutual respect, it drew inspiration from personal narratives and bodies of artwork from members of the LGBTQ community.
“It is very, very relevant right now,” says Albert. “They are such a fabulous company that just opened in New York to standing ovations and filled houses.”
Finally, Albert points to this year’s new addition, a showcase of live music and film. Two in this line-up arrive just in time for Halloween on October 30 as Grammy-nominated guitarist and composer Gary Lucas will perform live while Spanish Dracula and Frankenstein play out on a screen behind him.
With so much on offer this year, Albert’s best advice is to not limit yourself to a particular genre.
“It’s an excellent opportunity to experiment and see something you’d not usually see,” she says. “And with ticket prices being so reasonable, you can afford to do that.”
The 19th annual Chutzpah! Festival takes place at venues around Vancouver from October 24 through November 24. Visit chutzpahfestival.com for tickets and information on this year’s complete line-up.