June 10, 2020

Students create online performances for annual Ignite! Festival

Artists adapt in response to pandemic to present ‘festival at a distance’ June 10-13
Chantel Dixon and MacKenzie McDonald on set Photos provided by Chantel Dixon

Since 2005, Sage Theatre’s Ignite! Festival for Emerging Artists has provided opportunities for young artists to showcase and develop their skills. Every year, students and alumni of the University of Calgary's School of Creative and Performing Arts are involved in the festival — and this year is no different, despite the gathering restrictions of the current COVID-19 pandemic.

Organizers of the festival have consulted with the artists involved and together they have decided to move forward and present a “festival at a distance," where performances are either livestreamed or pre-recorded.

Performances re-imagined

Reese Wilson, who just finished her BFA in Dance, re-worked an original piece she created as a dance student. “A Practical Guide to Serenity — a work about the ongoing experience of having an anxiety disorder in a society filled with self-help ‘cures’ — was originally performed live as a trio,” says Wilson. “Now, I perform it solo through the lens of film.”

Drama student Chantel Dixon created Anonymous, a three-part web series that follows the dynamics of Support Anonymous; an addiction support group that navigates tragedy, isolation and mental illness in the midst of a global pandemic.

  • Photo above: Chantel Dixon and MacKenzie McDonald on set. Photo courtesy Chantel Dixon

Originally written for the stage during a playwriting class, Dixon chose to adapt her work so it could be presented at this year’s festival. And it turned out this was a blessing. “Adapting Anonymous into a web series has allowed me to flesh out characters more thoroughly and expand the story into a more thought-provoking and empathic journey,” says Dixon.

Inspired by his own experiences with gender, euphoria and dysphoria, and his relationship to memories, drama student Oliver Bailey wrote SoulSwap, in which two individuals join an experiment to swap bodies. “Sharing this piece is a step towards sharing my own stories, and connecting with trans artists and audiences,” says Bailey.

“I’m incredibly lucky to find myself in a position of safety and privilege. This piece could not have been written or shared publicly without the activism of trans women of colour. The SoulSwap team stands in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement and marginalized voices.”

Through their involvement in the production of The Fairy Queen, dance students Stephanie Jurkova, Cindy Ansah and Alyssa Maturino were introduced to music student and pianist Daniel Szefer. “We were eager to create a multidisciplinary work together,” says Jurkova, who co-choreographed RE:New with Cindy Ansah for this year’s IGNITE! festival.

“Finding ways to negotiate between dance and music was exhilarating. To bring our vision to life, Daniel Szefer composed and performed the musical soundscore and Alyssa Maturino filmed and produced the film. Our process was built on curiosity and understanding, which allowed for an intersection to emerge.”

A different rehearsal process

To keep an aspect of live performance throughout their process, Ansah and Jurkova rehearsed outside with mini pop-up performances.

“By rehearsing, performing, and filming for the camera in a public space, viewers also get a look into our creative process,” explains Ansah.

Other students rehearsed at a distance through Zoom. Drama student Christian Daly is part of the improv show The Giggles. “We’ve been rehearsing twice a week via Zoom to prepare,” says Daly. “At first it was to get accustomed to the new environment, but now it’s all about refining scenes, and making things more fun for us and the audience.”

MacKenzie McDonald, a drama student and cast member in Anonymous, says there was a short span of Zoom rehearsals before the actual production. “Rehearsing online took awhile to get used to, but it was a wonderful chance to work with some people in Edmonton that I wouldn’t have had the chance to if we were rehearsing in person,” says McDonald.

Dixon notes there are other advantages that come with filming a performance: “There was less emphasis on material memorization, meaning there was more time for development and understanding the play.”

Rehearsing for a solo show was more challenging. “I had to find motivation to rehearse with just myself and feel inspired while being alone in my house,” says Wilson. She decided to rehearse outdoors. With more space and freedom to move, the choreography and feel of the piece started to flow.

“I translated this rehearsal process into the final version of the film,” says Wilson. “You can see the dichotomy of emotions present when inside versus outside.”

The 2020 IGNITE! Festival of Emerging Artists runs from June 10 to 13 and will be livestreamed on Twitch. Performances are pay-what-you-can. Check out the full schedule here.

The Giggles

The Giggles. Front: Sam Fleming, Christian Daly, Lauren Conn, Ibrahim Oshodi. Back: Mickail Hendi.

UCalgary resources on COVID-19

For the most up-to-date information about the University of Calgary's response to the spread of COVID-19, visit the UCalgary COVID-19 Response website.