As an emerging artist in Calgary, I am delighted to find an outlet for performers, writers, and designers working in the “as-yet professional” environment so close to home. The Ignite! Festival, hosted by Sage Theatre, has been nurturing emerging artists since 2005 and this past week I was able to sit down with Sage Theatre’s Artistic Director Jason Mehmel and the two co-creators of #JustGirlyThings, Samantha Ketsa and Emily Sunderland, to talk about their piece and the festival as a whole.
Ignite! Festival for Emerging Artists is a five day festival giving local artists an opportunity to showcase their work in a supportive and progressive environment. “We try not to be just another venue for a show” said Mehmel, “[hopefully], by doing it here, the show has grown or the artists have grown in some capacity.” Creators are offered mentorship in various fields (depending on the project they’re presenting) and the artists greatly appreciate the outside eye – especially Ketsa and Sunderland who are not only choreographing their piece but performing in it as well. “It’s really hard to be like “does this make sense?” because we have all the information.” said Sunderland “So it’s been really helpful to have fresh eyes and people who just know more about it than we do.”
The festival as a whole has taken over the Pumphouse Theatre’s two spaces: Victor Mitchell and Joyce Doolittle, as well as several locations around the city, offering performances in at least five different disciplines: Dance, Improv, Interdisciplinary, Site-Specific, and Theatre. #JustGirlyThings is a part of the Theatre Series. I was able to sit in on the production’s final rehearsal and I was enthralled. These seven men and women use a mix of scripted dialogue and contemporary movement to tackle issues surrounding women from sexual assault, to slut shaming, to “man-splaining”, to menstruation, all in an evocative and entertaining way. “There’s a part of the show that touches on extreme levels of feminism and perspectives around women’s issues.” said Ketsa “For me, the really big thing was giving a voice to reproductive health on stage.” Sunderland added “It’s sort of an exploration of the female experience in the 21st Century and it touches on some hard issues and a lot on feminism. What a good feminist is, what a bad feminist is, how we can be both at the same time without realizing it. And sort of the impact that men have on us and our experience as well.”
Ketsa and Sunderland have clearly tapped into their individual strengths to create a powerful piece from a little nugget of inspiration. It all started as a solo for Ketsa back in September and it then became a collaboration between the two women to perform in January, and then again in April. She explained that she comes from a contemporary dance background and “Emily’s training is mostly in opera and musical theatre so we’ve kind of blended that together to physically develop a very stylized world where the physical expression plays an equal role as the text expression of ideas.” There is a script involved but both girls admit that there’s an element of poetry to their words. “It’s not pedestrian language.” Sunderland said with a laugh. “It’s heightened text.”
When Mehmel first took on the project (as the theatre mentor, along with dance mentor Pam Tzeng), the show was called #Anthology but together they worked to broaden the perspective of the piece and “not be so niche”. Ketsa explained she wanted it to be more than “a privileged, twenty year old, white girl screaming about all of my problems… What are the things we’re having a hard time discussing as women in general.” Something that was very important to everyone was the idea of tacking issues that we just don’t talk about. “And without giving too much away,” Sunderland promised “we deal with sexual assault and we deal with the discourse between men and women and we deal with when women are trying to be feminists and suck at it which is something we don’t like to talk about.” Mehmel admitted that this was an interesting process for him as well. “A lot of what they talk about is stuff that generally makes men uncomfortable to face and although I do my best as a feminist to do that, there’s always going to be a gulf.” Ketsa assured him that this was something they had discussed many times during the writing process. “[We have to determine] am I uncomfortable with the subject matter because it is genuinely too far or am I uncomfortable with it because societally I’m told we just don’t talk about it?”
This particular piece has a powerful message behind it that I believe needs to be heard. I can see that these women have grown as collaborators and artist through the support of Sage Theatre and Ignite!; I can’t wait to see what the rest of the festival has in store.
Tickets are $15 for a single ticket, $30 for a 3 show pass, $50 for a 6 show pass, and can be purchased at www.sagetheatre.com
Vicki has been working on and off stage for multiple theatre companies in her area since 2011. After spending 10 years as a competitive tap, jazz, and ballet dancer, she hung up her pointe shoes in favor of character shoes and has been performing ever since. She's had the privilege of volunteering with Calgary's Premier Community Musical Theatre Company (Front Row Centre Players) in such shows as My Fair Lady, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, and Anything Goes; as well as working with Storybook Theatre (one of the best semi-professional theatre companies in Canada) in shows like Hairspray, Anne of Green Gables and The Little Mermaid (as Ursula). You can keep up with her antics on twitter @vatrask.