FemFest a fine start to hectic theatre season at U of W

Week-long festival prioritizes female artists

Tim Babcock, chair of the University of Winnipeg’s theatre and film department, can’t hide his enthusiasm about the upcoming school year.

“We’re quite busy,” he says. “We have a lot going on this year, and we’ll be getting right into things fairly quickly.”

First up on the schedule is the sponsoring and hosting of FemFest 2014, a national theatre festival that emphasizes female theatre artists. The week-long event, produced by Winnipeg company Sarasvàti Productions, aims to showcase a variety of artists in various theatre disciplines, while promoting social discourse on issues that matter to women.

The festival includes several plays, a few readings, and a “shorts” event which takes excerpts of scripts authored by Canadian playwrights and combines them into a single show. There are plenty of chances for the audience to get involved as well; one of the two workshops being put on will teach the skill of puppetry, Muppet-style.

There will be other ways to participate too.

Femfest will host an annual “bake-off” event, which pits writers of varying experience against each other in a live setting.  After eliminating the applicant pool down to five dramatists, those selected are handed a list of three stylistic elements referred to as “ingredients,” and then given eight hours to write a 10-minute play.  The submissions are later performed by actors and judged by a live audience, with the winner receiving a full production of their work in next year’s festival.

Last year’s winner was Rebecca Gibson, a Winnipeg-based writer/actress with several television and film credits; her play, The Naked Woman, is a comedy about coming to terms with aging and death, all performed while naked.

“The Asper Centre for Theatre and Film has been a wonderful home to FemFest,” notes Hope McIntyre, the artistic director for Sarasvàti and director of The Naked Woman.  “Due to this relationship we are able to offer accessible programming that realizes our goal of using art for social change. As well, we've been able to develop a link to emerging artists and utilize many students and recent graduates as artists, production team members and staff.”

That symbiotic relationship is evidenced by the number of current and former U of W students featured in Femfest 2014. Montana Lehman, a current student of the theatre and film program, will feature in the FemFest Shorts, while former acting program graduate and Fringe Festival veteran Grant Burr will be playing one of the lead roles in The Naked Woman. In addition, Fringe Festival favourites Bizarro Obscure – composed of two U of W grads – will be performing in one of the FemFest Cabarets.

Published in Volume 69, Number 1 of The Uniter (September 3, 2014)

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