Emmelia Gordon and Pippa Mackie perform in The Progressive Polygamists for the final time at this year's Revolver Fest
Emmelia Gordon and Pippa Mackie perform in The Progressive Polygamists for the final time at this year's Revolver Fest

Vancouver’s rEvolver Theatre Festival isn’t just devoted to showcasing new works from emerging theatre artists, it also has a strong training element that sets it apart.

“When you do rEvolver it isn’t just another gig,” says co-artistic director David Mott. “You also get taught how to produce, giving emerging producers future skills that they can take away.”

That training aspect not only differentiates itself from others like it, it also creates a bit of a catch-22 for Mott and Daniel Martin, the other half of the festival’s artistic director duo.

“When we created Walking Fish [one of rEvolver’s predecessors] we gave so many opportunities for these artists to learn how to do short form theatre that we really made ourselves obsolete,” laughs Mott.

But don’t think Mott and Martin are complaining that they are somehow doing themselves out of a job, as they’ve been producing festivals of its kind for more than fifteen years.

After producing the Walking Fish Festival for nine, and then another three as Neanderthal Arts before beginning rEvolver in 2013, the history of their festivals mirrors closely their own as artists.

“We were emerging artists ourselves at the time we started Walking Fish, and this idea of creating opportunity for other emerging artists was key for us,” says Mott.

After its near decade run as Walking Fish, the duo moved the short form festival format to its next logical evolution, the Neanderthal Arts Festival.

“Walking Fish morphed into Neanderthal because we decided we needed to change the focus from emerging amateur artists to emerging professionals,” says Mott. “After three years with Neanderthal we decided again that it didn’t tell the story properly of the quality of work that was happening, so we transformed again.”

Now in its third year, rEvolver moves the line between amateur and professional, even in name.

“rEvolver is a reference to the stage revolve, the circular turntable on a stage that allows you to change sets,” explains Mott. “It represents these artists passing from the amateur performing level to the professional.”

Revolver Festival co-artistic director David Mott
Revolver Festival co-artistic director David Mott

Taking rEvolver to this next level isn’t just about the artists though, as Mott and Martin keep its audience in mind with two weeks of programming that now includes main stage productions inside The Cultch’s Historic Theatre, its Culture Lab, and the full-on transformation of a third area in the facility that is not typically used for performances.

“We realized that with the way The Cultch is organized the main theatre is so large that it can only serve certain shows,” says Mott.  “rather than try to fit shows into a venue that doesn’t fit them, we have transformed the wine bar into an actual performance venue.”

Something the team experimented with last year on a smaller scale, this year sees the bar transformed into what they are calling the Founders’ Lounge with full tech, light, and sound for shows that are more suited for intimate audiences. With the addition of a third performance space, the festival will also see its schedule grow to include eight main stage productions, plus cabaret-style performances and reading series.

Among the main stage productions are three nationally touring shows from Toronto, and two world premieres from recent graduates of Simon Fraser University’s School for the Contemporary Arts. Highlights for Mott include three shows that could very well be the poster children for rEvolver, as they all mark milestones in the artist’s careers.

The Peaceful Sea tells the story of Magellan’s journey to circumnavigate the earth through a modern lens with lots of movement and an interesting dynamic,” says Mott. “It was first submitted as a reading in 2014 and it is now back this year. We really like the trajectory that this show has taken.”

The second is the world premiere of Jeff Gladstone’s Hell of a Girl, a musical theatre experience loosely based on the myth Orpheus and Eurydice set in a world of cowboys, nymphs and demons. This “cowboy style noir opera” also appeared in an early version at the festival in 2014.

The third highlight sees the return of the 2011 Vancouver Fringe Festival hit The Progressive Polygamists from Pippa Mackie and Emmelia Gordon.

“It is really great that we are able to present Progressive Polygamists at this year’s festival as it will be their last ever performance as they will retiring the show after rEvolver,” says Mott. “It is particularly satisfying to see the transition and success that these two artists have experienced.”

The 2015 rEvolver Theatre Festival runs May 20-31 at The Cultch (1895 Venables Street, Vancouver). Visit http://www.upintheairtheatre.com for tickets and information.