Veteran Vancouver actor Allan Morgan writes and performs in his new one-act play Pride as part of this year's SHIFT Festival. Photo by Kathryn Mussallem.
Veteran Vancouver actor Allan Morgan writes and performs in his new one-act play Pride as part of this year's SHIFT Festival. Photo by Kathryn Mussallem.

For anyone involved in Vancouver’s theatre community it comes as no surprise just how interconnected it can be. No better example is how Nicole ‘Coco’ Roberge came to be the artistic director for SHIFT Theatre.

A high school drama teacher by day, Roberge taught SHIFT’s original founders who started the company with a desire to continue making theatre after they left school. Originally mentoring her ex-students, she soon found herself on stage and as a member of SHIFT’s board.

“Two years ago the main founder Nick Sartore decided he wanted to move his life in a new direction and asked if I would take over the company,” says Roberge. “Nick is still on the board and we ended up swapping roles.”

Part of Roberge’s inheritance is the annual SHIFT Festival of one-act plays. Now in its tenth year, Roberge is putting her own stamp on this anniversary edition. While this year’s festival still includes a pair of one-act plays, it will also feature a lobby installation, and a staged reading.

“Often one-act plays are dialogue and relationship based and a beautiful form since you must constrain a lot in a short period,” says Roberge. “This year I wanted to expand on all of that.”

From a theme of “passion projects”, the company’s call for content began in December. Garnering sixteen submissions the festival offerings were eventually pared down to new one-act plays from a veteran Vancouver actor and another Vancouver-based playwright.

SHIFT Festival's artistic director Nicole 'Coco' Roberge has expanded the offerings beyond the usual one-act plays for this year's festival.
SHIFT Theatre’s artistic director Nicole ‘Coco’ Roberge has expanded the offerings beyond the usual one-act plays at this year’s festival.

“In the end the standouts went to Allan Morgan who is debuting his solo piece Pride, and Unveiled by Fay Nass,” says Roberge. “In both cases the passion really shone through and we thought we could build something cool with these two plays.”

Morgan’s work, subtitled “For the Un-Gay, the Young Gay and the Jaded Queen in All of Us” will also be performed by the playwright.  It dovetails nicely into the festival’s tagline, “fierce truth telling”.

“When I listen to Allan rehearse he is being provocative and evocative while fiercely telling the truth,” says Roberge.

Nass’ Unveiled contrasts nicely as a collaborative project featuring an ensemble cast in a non-linear story. It is also presented in both English and Farsi.

Unveiled has a very filmic quality and sound which will immerse the audience in the streets of Iran and back to Canada,” says Roberge.

A first for the SHIFT Festival is a lobby installation from Vancouver’s The Troika Collective based on Marcello Di Cintio’s book Walls: Travels Along the Barricades.

Through the installation of a wall in the Firehall Arts Centre lobby, audience members will literally move inside and listen to a verbatim piece from the book.

“It will allow the book to leap off the page, giving voice to both sides of the walls, whether they are political or social walls,” says Roberge.

Of course, the installation will immediately conjure images of the real-world wall being touted south of the border. It is something Roberge saw as an inevitability.

““It is not possible to mention a wall and not think of ‘the wall’,” she says. “Part of selecting all four of the pieces in the festival was they all have an element of protest and resistance.”

The final piece at this year’s festival is a staged reading of the new play Titillations by Vancouver playwright Yvette Dudley-Neuman.

“It is another provocative piece of theatre about the power of the human breast, tackling topics such as body shaming and reproductive rights,” says Roberge.

SHIFT Festival 10: Passion Projects runs at the Firehall Arts Centre in Vancouver from June 1-3. Visit http://shifttheatre.ca for tickets and information.