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A stepping stone

Mat Simpson & Perry Gratton
Mat Simpson & Perry Gratton

NextFest isn’t the destination: it’s what comes along the way.

“We want to be used, and we want to live up to our mandate of being a place for development, not just for the art but also for the artists themselves,” says long-serving NextFest director Steve Pirot.

Thirteen years after he took the festival’s reins, Pirot is still adamant that NextFest should be part of an artist’s journey, as opposed to their end game.

“Since the inception of NextFest, we’ve been proud of the successes that happen after the festival,” he says. “We speak of being a stepping stone constantly; it’s a very important image to us and we use it often in negotiations with artists. We become less interested in what you have to propose if you think that NextFest is the end point.”

It is an emerging arts festival, after all—and one that’s multidisciplinary to its core. Theatre, dance, spoken word, music—and especially those things that fall somewhere in between—NextFest has always mandated eclectic programming. While Pirot handles the theatre content, a group of curators are in charge of NextFest’s other artistic disciplines. The festival thus shifts slightly from year to year while still holding to the structures that have proven valuable in the past.

This year’s NextFest has more dance on the agenda, a combination of the enthusiasm of second-year dance curators Good Women Dance Collective as well as the fruits of long-term high-school outreach.

“We’re starting to harvest a crop,” Pirot says. “We’ve done a lot of outreach in the high schools with our dance program, and the dance programs in high schools in Edmonton have really jumped up a level in the last 10 to 15 years. We have a lot of dancers and choreographers that were in high school a few years ago; now they’re out and now they’re looking for opportunities.”

Mat Simpson & Perry Gratton

Mat Simpson & Perry Gratton

NextFest’s theatre offerings include a set of shorts, play readings, a TEDx-style show, a one-woman musical and a bilingual creation done in partnership with L’Uni Theatre. The musical entries continue to give musicians the chance to do what Pirot simply describes as “a really good show”—to be the focus of attention and not just background noise. Poetry and spoken word have also received more attention this time around, with a poetry slam at the Rise Up! NextFest Nite Club as well as a spoken-word spotlight hosted by Edmonton’s poet laureate, Mary Pinkoski. The What It Is podcast will also be back interviewing artists and audiences alike, only this time they’ll operate as both an installation-style event in the Roxy Theatre lobby as well as a nomadic presence roaming around the theatre’s various venues.

“Looking at it from the artist’s perspective and from the type of proposals we receive, I think it’s fair to say that there’s a very strong vein of artists looking for opportunities to work in other forms than the one that they are primarily identified with,” Pirot says. “They’re still cutting their teeth, and that’s what NextFest exists for.”

Until Sun, Jun 15
Various locations

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