School for the Contemporary Arts, Performance & Culture

Image credit to Jackie Hoffart.
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New contemporary arts course offers behind-the-scenes experience of PuSh Festival

April 25, 2019

By Tessa Perkins Deneault

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to put on an international performing arts festival? FCAT has a class for that.

The first offering of CA 359, led by Peter Dickinson and Cole Lewis, took students behind the scenes of the 2019 PuSh International Performing Arts Festival to attend and analyze a range of performances, sit in on industry talks and pitch sessions, participate in panel discussions and meet with members of the PuSh staff. Visiting artists also shared their expertise with students through master classes.

Our School for the Contemporary Arts (SCA) and the PuSh Festival have a long history of connections and collaboration. Festival founders Norman Armour and Katrina Dunn are alumni of the theatre program, Dickinson sat on the PuSh board for six years, many PuSh events are hosted at the SCA, and FCAT has been a sponsor for many years. The idea for the course came up when Dickinson and Lewis were talking to Joyce Rosario, then PuSh artistic director, about ways to deepen the festival’s relationship with the SCA.

“The course materials stemmed from the festival programming,” says Dickinson. Once the festival program was finalized, Dickinson and Lewis worked to develop a course that involved plenty of theatre-going, critical analysis, and studying the history of festival performance while placing the PuSh Festival in the context of a larger global network.

“Festival performance is different than a subscription series or a single show,” explains Dickinson. “It frames the work in a certain way and puts it in context with the other works.” Unexpected themes can emerge across vastly different performances that are placed side by side in a festival context.

As an interdisciplinary arts festival, PuSh is a perfect match for the SCA where students have many opportunities to collaborate across artistic disciplines. Students in the course came from all areas of the SCA and were able to develop a critical discourse of their festival experience together — they were exposed to a wide variety of work that will inform their own artistic practice.

Lewis, who moved to Vancouver from small-town Ontario in 2015, didn’t always have access to the international performing arts we see in Vancouver. This course exposes students to the broad range of artistic work coming to the city and encourages them and to attend other performances beyond the festival.

“It’s the kind of course I would have loved to have,” says Lewis. “I would read about the festival and wish I could attend.”

Lewis and Dickinson say the barriers students face in attending more live performing arts include high ticket prices, lack of time, and sometimes an apprehension to attend shows or talks on their own. “They’re hungry for them, but rarely attend voluntarily. This course gives them a community of peers to share the experience with,” says Lewis.

The course involved a heavy time commitment during the festival (January 17 – February 3) including attending ten shows, industry events, Critical Ideas panels, and their regular course lectures.

After the festival, students were tasked with devising their own shows and creating a pitch for them. This helps train them in the practical aspects of their work and encourages them to reflect on how they are presenting themselves as artists, explains Lewis.

For their final assignment, they are documenting some of the festival’s history through archival   projects including an interactive map showing where artists have come from over the years.

The SCA and PuSh are eager to see this course continue as an annual offering so that more students have the opportunity to be immersed in the festival, interact with international artists, and develop their own artistic practice.