SHIFT Festival – New work created and performed by women

The 12th annual SHIFT Festival will combine movement, music, and sharp personal notes in a 90-minute show diverse in form yet linked in theme.

The three-day festival offers three pieces for one price from July 11–13.

A platform for expression

Claire Love Wilson, a multidisciplinary artist and creator | Photo courtesy of SHIFT Festival

Marie’s Letters is about the experience and survival of the Métis, with indigenous artist Tai Amy Grauman embodying five generations of women. Ōpimātis (Cree for “survivor”) is a movement piece about the last drop of water on earth, performed by Kelsey Kanatan Wavey. And Claire Love Wilson and Sara Vickruck’s Sound Off! is an audience-driven musical piece that will be a unique creation every night.

Though all different in concept, SHIFT Theatre’s Artistic Director Coco Roberge sees these works as decidedly similar in more ways than one.

“Our theme is always “fierce truth-telling,” says Roberge. “They are all original works created by local artists, they span the past [Marie’s Letters], present [Sound Off!] and future [Ōpimātis]…and the idea of embodied or ‘lived’ experience is especially on display.”

A high school drama teacher by day, Roberge steers the SHIFT ship on her off-hours, working to access funds, spaces and audiences for voices and stories she believes are underrepresented and deserve to be heard. The SHIFT Festival’s calling card since its inception has been several short pieces of original theatre in one night, which is why every year is very different from the one before it.

“There’s always an ad hoc collective created,” says Roberge. “Every year we work with different artists, so every year the company changes.”

A unique musical journey

The final piece of the night, Sound Off! is a musical performance with heavy improvisation. It is based on “Song Walking,” a practice developed by local multi-disciplinary artist and creator Claire Love Wilson.

“Song Walking,” says Wilson, “is essentially a practice where participants go on a walk and source gestures – specific movements and sounds that they collect on their walk – and then play around with creating music from them.”

These “gestures” can be sourced from anything: other people you see on your path, a natural thing like a bird or a tree, an inanimate object like a bench or a guardrail. There is no limit; what’s important is that you’re in tune with your surroundings.

Sound Off! uses sourced gestures as a baseline upon which Wilson and Sara Vickruck improvise more traditional musical elements such as lyrics and melody. The reason for the improvisation is that all the sounds and gestures used in their performance will be sourced from the audience, meaning each night will give the two creators a different base set of tools.

Coco Roberge, SHIFT Theatre’s artistic director. | Photo courtesy of SHIFT Festival

“It’s an interesting format,” says Wilson. “We’re basically practicing to not know what we’re going to get.”

This nightly evolution means that the audience will discover just exactly where the piece is going at the same time as the artists themselves. The sourcing of the sounds and gestures also means that the audience will be part of the piece in quite a literal way, which Wilson hopes will amplify the connection between those in the seats and the art that’s being created on stage.

“The audience is let into the process of creation, the risks we’re taking. There will also be this sense of ownership they’re going to experience, as they are going to be a major part of the creation with their gestures. I want them to leave feeling a sense of curiosity and awe, with a pull towards playfulness.”

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