As Centaur’s Wildside Festival is at the middle of its run, QDF brings you a double-interview with co-curator Johanna Nutter and Coordinator Vanessa Rigaux, discussing the festival and the surprises it keeps for its audience.
[QDF] Tell us about this year Wildside Festival and why it is important in Montreal.
[Johanna] I think the uniqueness of the Wildside is that we have a mixing of so many different publics. Roy and I, as co-curators, try to find something that answers to every taste- it’s like preparing a banquet. This year, we really went to the extreme by programming a high school production, a drag queen show, a show from Serbia, a show from Vancouver, and productions by great local and emerging artists. It is an opportunity to really bring everyone together, which we don’t often have on the Anglophone side. We need to come out and play.
[QDF] What can you tell to a non-theatre goer about the Wildside festival and why they should want to come see as many shows as possible?
[Vanessa] With this festival, we are targeting people curious about what is going on in the Montreal theatre community, but also younger crowds, people in and out of university, people in other artistic disciplines, and underground artists who don’t usually get showcased at the Centaur. Being around for almost 50 years, there is a mix of people in our audiences, but what is unique about the Wildside and more attractive to a new audience is the wild card element of the festival: you don’t really know what you are going to see, from seasoned play to a drag queen show, all the way to storytelling pieces at the other side of the spectrum. The festival features all kinds of different productions, which invites our audience to share life experiences with the artists on stage while being pleased, shocked, and jubilant about the works that we are sharing through the festival.
[QDF] How did you choose the productions to be featured? What criteria were you looking for in each production?
[Johanna] We always start with the Fringe winner. We have a jury of 15 to 20 people that select the Best of the Fringe, which will be featured in the festival. We then build from that. It is a very organic process: every time we choose a show, it influences the next one. This year, it was very important for us to focus on diversity because it is an issue that is demanding attention. We want to go and see people on stage who don’t normally have a voice in the mainstream public sphere.
[Vanessa] The best of Fringe is chosen back in June. Centaur assembles a jury of people from various disciplines and who are willing to see a lot of shows from the festival. We then meet and have great and heated discussions before casting our vote and picking our winner. This year, Nisha Coleman and her piece Self-Exile was our winner because her story really hit us on the right spots.
[QDF] How is being featured in the festival a big and important step for the artists, and what does the festival open for these upcoming artists?
[Vanessa] For emerging artists in particular, the artists get the opportunity to have a festival under their belt. It gives them also a chance to rework their production from the Fringe, for example by having a director coming in, looking at different set options, and experiencing how the Centaur’s technical possibilities or limitations impact on their vision overall. Of course the Wildside is a mix between all levels of experience – Empire of the Son for example is on tour from the Clutch Festival in Vancouver, and they also did the NAC and will go to Toronto next, so there is a touring opportunity here as well. I think by being part of the festival, the artist also gets to know the other artists involved, share ideas, network and again feel that sense of community building. We encourage people to hang out after the shows and discuss theatre and what is happening in Montreal and beyond.
[QDF] Tell us about this year’s Offside: the tributes, the clown and puppet show?
[Johanna] The Wildside only has seven spots and with the requirement that a production featured needs to be a full production, I felt there were a lot of people who couldn’t be featured that I wanted the public to encounter. The offside is an opportunity from them to be seen.
[Vanessa] The Offside stimulates conversation. It is a place for everybody to hang out after seeing a show. We have short performances in a more casual setting – cabaret-style where we want people to discuss the shows and the artists. We also give tributes to musicians. This year we paid tribute to a fearless female artist, Madonna, but when we learned that Leonard Cohen passed, we decide to find space to honour both artists. We have been slowly integrating the shows at the Offside into our Calendar, and it has offered some rare and special moments with performers and interdisciplinary artists merging within the Centaur space.
[QDF] How important is it for Centaur and the Wildside festival to hire and showcase local talents?
[Vanessa] It is really important to showcase the local talent because we don’t have that many opportunities to do so. At the Wildside, we give 75% of the box office to the artist, so it is for the artist that we organize this festival. It not only gives the artists a second pair of legs to a show, but also exposure to a new audience who might pick up on these young artists and keep an eye out for them. It is so important to support each other. We have to keep on giving opportunities, and the Centaur theatre is in a position to provide the opportunities with its space and its technical abilities. We are very happy to give these opportunities, and it is a pleasure to go wild in the beginning of the New Year and set the pace.
[Johanna] It is important for the Wilside to be a forum for local artists to show their work. I feel there is a real dialogue that goes on between the different theatre communities, and Montreal is taking its time becoming a part of that dialogue. One of my side goal with the festival is to promote not only people from outside seeing what Montreal can do, but also for Montreal artists to see what the rest of Canada and the rest of the world is up to.
[QDF] What reactions do you want the audience to leave with?
[Johanna] I want them to feel that they love their city. I want them to widen their perspective and feel lighter, happier, and more connected with everybody else.
[QDF] Any last note you would want to share?
[Vanessa] It is the highlight of my year because I am able to work with these types of “wild” and independent artists. It is close to my heart and I really like the styles and the variety that happens on a Centaur stage as well as at the Offside.
[Johanna] It has been such an exciting and mind-altering experience for me. I used to think that my taste was the right taste; that I knew what good theatre was and what wasn’t. Now curating, I am starting to realize that, yes, there is a certain amount rigor, discipline, and courage that one can recognize, but there are also so many different elements that we like or don’t like. I started to open up to that. Now, instead of saying that was good or that was bad, I can say “well, that wasn’t my cup of tea” or “I loved that.” I’ve really appreciated having the possibility to discover this sentiment.
Thank you to Johanna Nutter and Vanessa Rigaux for taking the time to answer QDF’s questions. There is still another week filled with productions and Offside events at the Wildside festival you won’t want to miss out on. Here is the link for tickets and showtimes.
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