As the Chinook Series enters its second year, the three-headed festival is focusing on one thing: creating a space for artists who have not been adequately represented on Edmonton stages.
As if three distinct production crews weren’t enough (the festival is a co-production of Azimuth Theatre, Fringe Theatre Adventures, and Workshop West Playwrights’ Theatre), Chinook is bringing in Chris Dodd of Sound Off—Canada’s first deaf arts festival—and Nasra Adem of Black Arts Matter to round out the lineup.
“We’re so unique in how we partner and we’re so unique in how we program,” says festival director Murray Utas. “I just think it’s wonderful that now we’re—in our diversity of the programming—probably going to have a very unique audience come through this building. And I like that. I like being able to mix in the lobby, and everybody hangs out and has a good time together.”
Sound Off includes a deaf mime comedy troupe from Winnipeg, a physical theatre piece from Regina, and a special edition of Edmonton’s own Rapid Fire Theatresports.
Since opening last week, the Arts Barns staff has already noticed positive reactions from audience members—many of them first-time theatregoers.
One gentleman responded very strongly, Utas says, conveying to the organizers that he felt like he was a part of something for the first time in years.
Black Arts Matter brings dance workshops, spoken word, panel discussions, and jazz performances to the Arts Barns. In curating this festival-within-a-festival, Adem sought to include a wide variety of Black artists—whether they’ve been in Edmonton for two months or 10 generations.
“By reaching out to different African communities in the city I’ve been able to help them bring forth the different iterations of blackness,” Adem says. “I think a lot of the time we get fit into a monolith, like there’s just one way to be [black]. And I wanted the root of Black Arts Matter to be a dispelling of that myth.”
Edmonton is slowly awakening to the realities faced by its black communities, with a local Black Lives Matter chapter and the city’s Make It Awkward anti-bigotry campaign.
“We have to bring forth the ugly truths,” Adem says. “And I definitely wanted to encourage the artists to bring forth those truths—the truths that are rooted in Edmonton.”
Still, Edmonton’s Youth Poet Laureate stresses the performances of Black Arts Matter aren’t all about pain and prejudice. Many audience members have been surprised at how joyous and celebratory the shows are.
Ultimately, the Chinook Series has positioned itself as a first step in bringing marginalized Edmonton artists into mainstream spaces.
“I think the artists, now they have a knowing inside them that’s like: ‘Hey, I belong here. Hey, this can also be mine. And I’m actually needed. And my art is actually necessary in these spaces.’”