Lisa O’Connell, Artistic Director with Pat The Dog Theatre Creation, has called Waterloo Region home for nearly 30 years. Like many of us, she’s witnessed changes – both positive and negative – in our community. “I’ve seen a lot of growth. But this is still a community that needs a push to get out to see more theatre.”
O’Connell and her team at Pat The Dog are doing more than just talking about this. Starting this week, they are hosting the first-ever Femme Folks Fest across venues in Kitchener and Waterloo. “The festival is a way to platform fem-centric work,” said O’Connell. “It’s dedicated to and in celebration of women – identified or presenting.”
The festival’s roots go back to 2015 and Pat The Dog’s Women’s Room series. Women’s Room was a project to help local women-identifying or women-presenting creators share their stories. O’Connell pointed out a significant difference between the number of productions created by men compared to women across Canada. “There is still a need for more work that reflects women’s experiences,” said O’Connell. “There are lots of systemic issues. I’m a practitioner who just wants to get things done.”
Getting things done might be an understatement. “It’s audacious – there’s never been a festival of this size dedicated to women’s work in Canada,” O’Connell said. Femme Folks Fest runs from Saturday, March 7 through Monday, March 30 with over 40 events taking place. The festival events can be panels, productions, professional development or pop-ups.
The festival programming team looked to events that are not just Interesting and thought provoking, but can be a good time, too. “We’re passionate, but you have got to have fun,” added O’Connell.
Pat The Dog has a large following in Canada and O’Connell noted that the festival is drawing a lot of interest from outside the community. “People know who we work with,” she said. “We have creators with master’s and PhDs in theatre who want to live here in Waterloo Region – not Toronto – and provide and create Canadian culture.”
O’Connell pointed to a critical mass of local creators as the reason the timing was right for a festival of this size. “We’ve been sending work outside our community and across Canada and getting great reactions.”
In the same way we want to create more companies to hire local, O’Connell wants our community to experience theatre without having to head to Toronto. “We’re an artistic startup, we want to make sure the work is seen,” she said.
The team took their ‘go big or go home’ mantra to their funding partners, too. The festival is supported by Canadian Heritage, Canada Council for the Arts, the Ontario Arts Council, the Kitchener Waterloo Community Foundation, the Cities of Kitchener and Waterloo and the Metcalf Foundation. “We’re the only theatre production group who has had two Metcalf producing interns,” O’Connell added.
Choosing from 40 events can be tough. I asked O’Connell for her top three picks for our tech community and she recommended:
Pest Me, Pet Me, presented by The Animacy Theatre Collective, which explores urban sprawl, growth, how we live and the economic realities of modern life. The play follows two raccoons who face off with two female roommates undergoing a suspicious renoviction from their downtown Toronto apartment. It’s an interactive performance taking place at Chainsaw in uptown Waterloo. Yes, Chainsaw.
Queer Spawn by Kira Meyers-Guiden is her true story of growing up with same-sex parents. Meyers-Guiden is only the second person in Ontario to receive a birth certificate with two same-sex parents. “It’s her ethnography of life with two same-sex parents – it’s dead funny,” said O’Connell. “It’s an important and funny story in a very positive way in what it’s like to negotiate that space.”
Proving once again that girls can be adventurers, too, Bike Face retraces a real-life bike ride from Halifax to Vancouver. Written by Natalie Frijia and performed by Clare Blackwood, the performance spins tales of graveyard groundskeepers, wild west proprietors and wanderers with secrets only fit for strangers. It’s won major awards in Canada and there are only two shows here at the Kitchener-Waterloo Little Theatre.
For the full performance list and schedule, visit femmefolksfest.ca.
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While the stage is being reset, I see and hear that…you can celebrate International Women’s Day at the Marit Collective’s Know Better, Do Better: International Women’s Day 2020 Immersive Conference from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on Saturday, March 7 at CIGI in Uptown Waterloo. It’s a day of main-stage talks, compelling workshops and a curated Feminist Market featuring local vendors and businesses. The Irish Real Life Festival kicks off on Saturday, March 7 with the opening ceremony at Speaker’s Corner in downtown Kitchener at noon. On Monday, March 9, Axonify hosts the HackerNestKW meetup starting at 8 p.m.