- Editorial:Festivals, Place, and Placelessness
On 22 March 2017, the Board of Directors of the Canadian Theatre Festival Society announced the cancellation of that year's Magnetic North Theatre Festival, a mere three months before it was set to take place. Although the festival had hired a new managing director just a month before, the board found there was no way forward considering the dire state of the festival's finances. In an article the same day, The Globe and Mail's J. Kelly Nestruck noted that while the festival had largely succeeded in its vision of becoming Canada's "only national theatre festival" ("Magnetic North") through its support and presentation of new work, the festival's structure was likely a contributing factor to its cancellation. As Nestruck notes, "the peripatetic festival had trouble growing an audience base due to the fact that it moved to a new host community every other year."
Though Magnetic North's demise turned out to be temporary (it is set to return in the Vancouver area in June 2019), Nestruck's comment points to a complicated relationship between festivals and place. In theatre and performance studies, it is often the productions themselves that are considered in this context. For example, in Reading the Material Theatre, Ric Knowles discusses how the festival touring "circuit" leads to a pattern of "nomadism" for certain theatre makers. For Knowles, the roving nature of this practice means artists risk losing connections to place, and productions created for touring often "develop a fuzzy universalism" (89). With Magnetic North, a kind of inverse occurred as the festival itself moved from place to place (though every second year it returned to Ottawa). Nestruck's remark suggests such a lack of connection to a singular place (and audience) can result in a macro version of the problems outlined by Knowles. Much like theatre itself, festivals often become inextricably tied to the place they are located in, and lacking a central base extends the transitory nature of the event.
Yet there is also something resistant about a festival with an itinerant nature. As Keren Zaiontz notes in Theatre and Festivals, festival identity can become inherently tied to "place promotion," particularly in the context of the "creative city" (90). The structure of public arts funding, often connected to economic development, encourages festivals to create a reliable annual attraction. The Magnetic North model, which allowed the festival to visit smaller cities that perhaps could not support such an endeavour on a yearly basis, reflects an alternative approach to the idea of a theatre festival—one that tries to account for Canada's vast geography while presenting an art form that is predominantly shown in a single physical space.
This Views and Reviews section consists of articles from curators, performance makers, and audience members, all addressing work presented in two newly developed festival contexts. Though different from Magnetic North in structure and aims, both CanadaHub at the Edinburgh Fringe and the festival of live digital Art (foldA), which began in 2017 and 2018 respectively, experiment with new modes of presenting Canadian theatre and performance. As Michael Wheeler notes when introducing foldA in this section, the festival emerged from the work of SpiderWebShow Performance, an ongoing website-based project that has brought a network of performance makers together digitally. Though it may seem somewhat paradoxical, the SpiderWebShow team found that "the only way to investigate the way the digital and online integrations are transforming performance practice was to bring a critical mass together in one place." For SpiderWebShow, collectively being together in a single physical site (in Kingston) offers another approach for sharing digitally engaged performance work. CanadaHub, a national showcase of Canadian theatre at the Edinburgh Fringe, has a broader mandate than foldA as it does not focus on one particular form of performance. Yet it similarly finds value in bringing a range of work into a single physical venue, which, as Ric Knowles notes in this section, makes it unique even for a national showcase at the Edinburgh Fringe.
The section begins with a brief introduction to foldA by the festival's Artistic Director, Michael Wheeler. As Wheeler outlines, a festival featuring performance work...