interPLAY as a barometer

One of the thoughts that kept going through my mind this weekend, as I watched the goings on at the interPLAY Festival was that the event has always been a barometer for the state of the arts and cultural community.  The energy and connectivity that we built up over the years was so dependent on the number of local people actively involved in performing, whether that was in a play, the Homegrown Talent Search, Amazing Art Race, Karaoke Contest, theatre camps, busking or myriad other opportunities to get in front of an audience or share talent.

This year's lack of local participation, partly due to some programming choices, is also due to an arts community that is in a state of transition.  We (the collective "we") have a lot of work to do to ignite, inspire, encourage and support artists of all disciplines, ages and backgrounds to once again use interPLAY as a focal point of celebration, expression, development and sharing.

It took us more than several years to figure out that the key to getting interPLAY off to a great start was to have up to 50 Homegrown Talent contestants, friends and family in attendance to kick things off on the opening day and hour of the festival.  Not only did it generate a built-in crowd and energy, it provided a venue to expose incredible talent to the greater community.  It was less about competing for the cash prizes being awarded, and more about the process of overcoming fears, emerging from the garage or basement, and bringing under-exposed talent into the world.  It was also about hearing the interchanges between the participants and the judges as we went from the preliminary round on Friday, to the semi-finals on Saturday, to the finals at the close of the festival on Sunday. It was also fun to watch, and festival patrons would stop and enjoy the action between street performers or indoor productions.

Another former mainstay that has potential are the children's theatre camps.  With a regional mandate, Events Wood Buffalo ran camps in Fort McMurray and both Fort McKay and Fort Chipewyan in previous years, providing incredible experiences for young people from our urban and rural communities and the opportunity for us to spend some time with some great kids here in town during the festival.  I believe this is an area of programming that has awesome potential. There is no reason why camps in the various disciplines couldn't be developed, providing tonnes of opportunities and creating additional draws to the event.

There was a time when we had local musicians, magicians, and roving performers busking on the street corners and in unexpected locations throughout the festival.  Supporting them were a contracted cast of clowns, human statues, mimes, and characters of all shapes and sizes.  I believe that we need to return to that place where young violinists and guitarists with cases opened up to receive tips is part of the interPLAY experience.  We also need to recreate an environment where unexpected surprises happen at every twist and turn.

In days of yon, local actors would be roaming the street and avenues of the festival promoting their indoor productions, putting up posters wherever they could find an open space.  They traveled in bunches, acting goofy, trying to attract attention.  It was a form of shameless promotion that added to the flavour of interPLAY.

This year, we had only one theatrical production that had a local connection, and that was it.  We absolutely need to nurture and encourage theatrical participation, as it is fundamental to the essence of interPLAY.  It is the core of what got the celebration of the performing arts started in the first place.

All of these things need to be a shared responsibility as we aim toward the 2015 Western Canada Summer Games, when we'll want to blow away the thousands of visitors to Wood Buffalo with our level of talent, participation, enthusiasm and creativity.  Events Wood Buffalo is core to this success, but so is the fledgling Arts Council Wood Buffalo.  The schools have a huge role to play, as does the college, dance companies, private instructors, and the dynamic arts organizations that enrich our community and region every day.

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