In May, Vancouver’s first festival dedicated entirely to the development and presentation of solo performance makes its debut at Granville Island’s Red Gate Theatre.
Created by Vancouver based theatre artist, Stéphanie Morin-Robert, HUNCH: Vancouver Solo Fest will bring together both previously performed award-winning shows and new works in a program to include dance, immersive theatre, and comedy.
An award-winning performer herself, Morin-Robert has taken her own solo show, Blindside, to audiences around the world. A personal story focusing on the normalization of disabilities, it would become the impetus for creating the festival.
“Creating and touring this personal solo show has empowered me to share the importance of honesty and vulnerability on stage, and I’ve been wanting to “give back”, by creating a space for my performing arts community to do the same,” she says in a media release.
Morin-Robert has collaborated with Alain Lafrance who takes on the role as the festival’s general manager. A former general manager of the Montreal Fringe Festival, Lafrance is known for his own solo work focusing on reducing the stigma surrounding mental health by finding the funny side of personal trauma.
“There’s a level of intimacy that can be reached in solo performance that you simply can’t get elsewhere,” he says. “That bond between audience and performer can be an inimitable experience.”
Along with workshops and a multi-disciplinary cabaret, the inaugural festival will feature three mainstage productions including Deanna Fleysher’s Butt Kapinski, Travis Knight’s Tap Tap, and Jayson McDonald’s Magic Unicorn Island.
Describing her show as “fun, immersive, gently participatory, [and] at times filthy”, Flesher’s award-winning Butt Kapinski has toured at Fringe Festivals around the world, including Vancouver where she was the winner of both that festival’s Critics’ Choice Award and Cultchivating The Fringe Award in 2013.
In this adults-only and interactive show, Fleysher involves her audience in a film noir murder mystery, illuminated only by the light she carries on her back.
“Once I learned that the audience is the comedy artist’s primary scene partner, I needed to be with as many audience members as I could,” she explains. “So I had a wearable streetlight designed so that I could go anywhere, straight to anyone.”
In a world premiere at this year’s festival, dancer, choreographer and performer Travis Knight presents Tap Tap, an exploration of meaning, connection and community in our technological world.
“Tap Tap is an analog show in a digital world that uses rhythm making and storytelling to awaken the most important aspect of our lives that is being threatened in the age of technology, human connection,” explains Knight.
Inspired on the spectrum between love and fear, Knight’s show highlights our increasing isolation due to our ever-increasing use of technology.
“Our culture is becoming more and more impersonal,” he says. “The convenience of our smartphones makes the choice not to engage in meaningful human interactions viable.”
As a tap dancer, Knight has also seen the loss of connection and understanding within the form of tap itself, as new generations emerge. Describing tap dance as an oral tradition based on connection to elders who share their knowledge, Travis has become concerned the wisdom from past generations of dancers is not being observed and passed down.
“I remember being so excited when I was given tap footage from teachers or peers, of long deceased masters of the form that I would never get to meet,” he says. “This was during the age of VHS. I would study the footage, steal steps and in turn, share the footage with others who expressed interest. Today, my dream of having access to a truck ton of footage, has turned a little dark.”
While technology has made footage widely available, Travis has seen the level of awareness and interest in the history of the art farm has diminished.
“We can’t, and shouldn’t put the Genie of technology back in the bottle, but it does beg the question, can we maintain our humanness while we interact with this emerging tech?” he continues. “Is scarcity necessary for gratitude, appreciation and emotional understanding of the importance of human connection?”
No strangers to solo shows, both Fleysher and Knight have found themselves attracted to the genre for a variety of reasons.
“It’s easier to schedule rehearsals,” says Fleysher. “Plus, the nature of my show means it’s not quite solo. But really, you’re right. Why solo work? Great question. Remind me not to do it solo next time.”
For Travis it is about getting the job done quicker and in being more nimble. “It’s also an irony that I want to explore, advocating for human connection in a solo show,” he says.
Having traveled the world to perform, both artists have seen and done it all, and no doubt come prepared for anything this new festival might bring.
Feeling most understood by British audiences due to their familiarity with eccentric comedy and mysteries, Fleysher remembers one particularly odd performance in that country where she presented the show in a village hall in rural Devon to a crowd of retirees eating curry.
Travis recalls having performed a gruelling three hour version of his show in a Toronto art gallery.
Given the differences between the two shows, it comes as no surprise the audience experience at both shows will be unique.
While Fleysher hopes the audience experience comes from “delight, the unexpected, mischief, and a sense of increased togetherness”, for Travis, he sees the audience experience quite differently.
“I want them to experience rhythm, and storytelling,” he says. “I want them to connect to an idea of the future that honours the lessons of the past and prioritizes the novelty and near infinite potential of human experience.”
In the third of the mainstage shows, Jayson McDonald will present his award-winning one-man show, Magic Unicorn Island. What our reviewer called “absurd, thrilling and powerful” in its run at the 2014 Vancouver Fringe Festival.
HUNCH: Vancouver Solo Fest opens at the Red Gate Revue Stage on Granville Island on May 9 and continues to May 11. Visit hunchfest.com for tickets and information.