Throughout its location-hopping five-year existence, the Serca Festival has structured its celebration of Irish culture mostly around its theatre element. There have been other components, too—some fiddle music here, some between-show readings there—but the focus has landed squarely on producing a couple of shows, Irish by pen or nature, that speak to that strangely effective mix of gallows humour and true heart the country’s writers are known to produce.
Theatre remains an anchoring element of the festival’s latest incarnation, which is returning its happenings to Alberta Avenue. But more than ever before, Serca’s shaping itself up to embrace a greater spectrum of Emerald Isle cultural standards, pushing more towards being a community festival rather than a strictly theatrical one.
“It’s part of a function of being on 118th Ave again, I think,” explains Mark Henderson, of moving back to the avenue known for community festivals. “The first [Serca] we did on 118th Ave, we said, ‘We’ll have little performances in the lobby: we’ll have people doing poems, and we’ll have people doing little bits of music and people doing little readings, and that.’ And that took off; people got really excited about that.”
To that end, this fifth Serca is offering a broad swath of cultural touchstones: free Irish dance workshops, demonstrations of hurling—an irish sport Henderson compares to lacrosse without nets—Irish music, including an appearance by Jeremiah McDade of the Juno-winning McDade family band. There’s also a dinner and brothel combo—that’s /poetry/ brothel—and an open mic, to zero in on the country’s storytelling traditions.
And then there’s the theatre: this year’s Serca features a family friendly puppet show, Fiona and the Leprechaun, courtesy of Kaybridge Puppets, plus a pair of more mature scripts: Trunk Theatre’s adaptation of The Colleen Bawn (“one of the most beloved Irish melodramas of all time,” Henderson notes) and A Night in November, wherein Frank Zotter—an actor whose no stranger to Irish scripts—plays every character in an intensely charged mid-90s Belfast. It finds Ireland and Northern Ireland prep face off in a World Cup qualifier match and a dole clerk becomes aware of the ugly intolerance all around (and inside) him.
“I see and feel such a passion in Irish theatre that’s just really in your gut,” Zotter says, over speakerphone with Henderson. “It’s filtered through so much lovely humour and intellect and history”—”Irony upon irony,” Henderson adds—”But the passion underneath it all is really true and real. It comes form what I think makes all of us human. And somehow the irish seem to have their finger on this universality. “
“And now having done about six Irish shows,” Zotter adds. “My Irish accent keeps getting honed more and more and more.”
Until Fri, Mar 20
Various locations on Alberta Avenue
Schedule at sercafest.com