Downtown DIY arts venue celebrates five years

Texas-based roots duo Twilight Hotel performs at The Cyrk, a venue operated by local poet Drek Daa. Supplied

Drek Daa is a spoken word and poetry champion, a Fringe Festival performer, a private practice psychotherapist and former CBC commentator. It hardly seems like he has time to also host an acclaimed musical venue out of his house.

But he does. And when he explains why, it is with a casual tone that seems to say it could not have been any other way.

Here’s the story. As a poet and spoken work performer living in Winnipeg, Daa says that he has always been slightly disappointed with many of the venues around the city.

“Most of the café places you go there are all these good things and then there are these things that don’t work,” says Daa. “Usually the thing that does not work is the sound system.”

So five years ago this week, Daa started running musical concerts and poetry performances out of his house at 254 Young St. The Cyrk was born.

Daa has considered all the potential complications of this house turned musical venue. He does not serve alcohol, nor does he make any money from the operation. People bring all their own alcohol and donate money to get in. All these funds go directly to the artist.

Basically Daa has house parties roughly twice a month with bands or poets performing and as many as 60 people in attendance. It all works out.

“The people who come here are always awesome, so we never have anything missing or any such situation,” says Daa. “Somehow the place just keeps itself.”

The real challenge for Daa is trying to strike a reasonable balance between work and enjoyment.

“I’m trying to keep it within the realm of me having fun with it,” says Daa. “And that means I can’t do an event every week because then I start feeling like I’m working too hard here.

“I try to balance it out so it’s at least as much fun as work and investment on my part.”

The casual aspect of the Cyrk’s arrangement means that when stuff starts to pile up, Daa can cut back on his commitment to the venue.

“If I’m too busy with my projects then I will slow down the Cyrk,” Daa says. “I just won’t do any shows or I’ll do very few shows.”

When it is going, however, the Cyrk receives praise from musicians and audiences alike. The secret, Daa says, is an excellent sound system and a comfortable space.

“From outside the house it looks like nothing, but when you walk in it’s just a really cozy warm space,” he says. “There are a few different nooks where you can sit and they are all good. Pretty much every space is very comfortable.”

The people who come to shows here also impact the overall experience.

People come here and they listen. It’s not like a bar where people at the back start talking depending on how good the music is. The artists really appreciate the attention.

Drek Daa, owner, The Cyrk

“People come here and they listen,” Daa says. “It’s not like a bar where people at the back start talking depending on how good the music is.

“The artists really appreciate the attention.”

Edmonton musician Ann Vriend certainly does - she’s played three shows at the Cyrk in the last three years. As an artist who plays many house shows, she knows a good setup when she sees it.

“They have the lighting right and the sound right, so it feels like a show,” she says. “Whereas some people’s houses are not primarily set up to put on shows, so you don’t necessarily have the mood and the stage in the same way as he does.”

That mood is partly created by the space, but Vriend credits Daa himself for a lot of the comfort and creativity that happens at the Cyrk.

“He’s such a quirky guy himself that you feel like anything goes,” she says. “There’s a lot of acceptance and enabling artistically because of his personality.

“He’s definitely somebody with more imagination than almost anybody I’ve met,” Vriend says. “He’s so contagiously enthusiastic about it.”

Daa is also incredibly picky about who plays the Cyrk, Vriend says. The high caliber of artists means that people know what to expect at any show Daa puts on.

But Daa says he doesn’t know how much longer he will continue to run the Cyrk. He might drop it at any time, but he gives the current setup no more than another five years at most.

He dreams of getting away from the city and focusing all his energy into one project that brings together all his interests and skills.

“I would like to have one life rather than two,” says Daa. “Or three or four.”

This only makes it more pressing to take in the Cyrk experience.

Published in Volume 66, Number 11 of The Uniter (November 9, 2011)

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