Who created interPLAY?


I cringe each time I am referenced in the media as the creator of interPLAY.  I cringe for all those visionary men and women who were here in Fort McMurray in 1988 when the first conversations about the festival began happening, the fierce arts advocates who signed the incorporation documents and the hard-working leaders and volunteers who delivered the first five iterations of the event on Franklin Avenue in front of Jubilee Centre.  I was nowhere near Fort McMurray in 1989, I can't even say I had heard of it by that point in my life.

While the idea of moving the arts into non-traditional and accessible spaces was being incubated, I was the morning show host at a tiny radio station in Parksville, British Columbia, spinning (yes, we used records back then) tunes for the silver rinse crowd that lived in the famous beach resort community.  I was frequenting Brenda's Coffee Bar on a daily basis, a small eatery run by a lovely English couple who served the best coffee I've ever tasted.  They also had this very British breakfast that became a staple of my existence and included lucsious fried tomatoes and fried bread (in bacon grease).  How I didn't die of a heart attack during this period I'll never know.


I was earning $1,000 per month (before taxes) and learning the ropes of the radio broadcasting business, doing every job a small station required being done: spinning records, reading the news, selling ads, sweeping the floor, putting out the garbage, and everything in between.  While I went from CHPQ (Parksville) to CJAV (Port Alberni) to Q14 (Stettler), amazing people like Trish Blackburn, Mike Singleton, Madeleine Nixon, Alan Roberts, Gert McKenzie, Karen Towsley, Louise Gigliotti, and many others were doing the incredibly hard work of turning nothing into something.  They delivered the first five festivals in 1990, 91, 92, 93, and 94 before a series of unfortunate events and financial challenges forced them to make the gut-wrenching decision to cancel the 1995 interPLAY.


Barb Galbraith was President when I arrived on the scene in early 1996, having chosen the Fort McMurray interPLAY Society as the social profit organization that I was going to get involved with shortly after starting at the OK Radio Group.  Up to the that point I had lots of experience in theatre, having produced, directed, designed and performed in many productions through my travels with the radio business.  I had also picked up some special event, promotion and concert experience as a program director in a number of small to medium markets.

I volunteered to take on several portfolios in that first year and spent many hours putting the event together and being on site from start to finish, learning a lot about the festival: putting up tents, and working with the artists and volunteers.  In this rebuilding year, we actually did interPLAY at what is known today as the Casman Centre.  We took over a portion of the parking lot, used a number of rooms inside the building for stage venues, had a marketplace in the foyer, and did circle shows out back of the building where you still might find a small amphitheatre.


The memories of the 14 interPLAY festivals that follow blur together, but this first scaled-down version stands out in my mind for its uniqueness and the important role it played in giving interPLAY new energy and a fresh start.  In 1997, we moved back to our traditional home on Franklin Avenue and continued the hard work of building sponsorship support, community reputation and an annual summer happening that eventually grew into Fort McMurray's signature festival.


The great folks at Events Wood Buffalo, the producers of the interPLAY Festival, playfully refer to me as the interPLAY Godfather.  I smile and take that as a delightful honour in recognition of the 15 years I spent on the board and organizing committee.  But behind that honourary title are so many people who deserve recognition and praise for creating, building, re-igniting, and sustaining this wonderful arts celebration.


Who created interPLAY?  Who was the person who had that light bulb moment in 1989 as the finishing touches were being done on the latest addition to Keyano College, the Norm Weiss Arts Centre?  Who said we need to take the arts and move them out into the community?  I know a lot of things about interPLAY, but the question of who exactly came up with the idea I couldn't answer.

I went to chat with Alan Roberts first thing this morning.  His understanding is that the seeds of interPLAY were sown by Mike Singleton (engineer, actor, member of British Sm'Isles) and Trish Blackburn (first interPLAY President) in 1988.  Alan came on board in late 1989, shaking with fear as to how they were going to create these venues and festival out of nothing.  They did and they continue to do.  The 23rd interPLAY Festival is August 2 - 11 at Keyano College and King Street.

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