Magnetic North’s field notes

Magnetic North Theatre Festival---how does it work? With the hard work and talent of tons of Canadian artists and theatre lovers.

Denise Clarke of Calgary’s One Yellow Rabbit brings wag to Magnetic North.
Denise Clarke of Calgary’s One Yellow Rabbit brings wag to Magnetic North.

Magnetic North is pointing east right now as the national travelling theatre festival of new Canadian shows opens in Halifax. The event, which alternates each year between Ottawa and a different Canadian city, provides a kind of one-stop shopping opportunity for presenters and producers from across the world to experience some of our country's best touring shows. It also offers 11 days of plays, workshops and community gatherings that bring together the host city's audiences, citizens and artists.

The festival's artistic director Brenda Leadlay says Halifax is a great choice for this year's host city. "We look for cities with a strong independent theatre scene and a track record of producing great theatre. There have been a lot of people from Atlantic Canada who have participated when Magnetic North has been in other cities. It's been very obvious that there's a supportive theatre community here to help make the festival happen." Plus, Leadlay mentions, Halifax also happens to be home to Magnetic North's founding artistic director Mary Vingoe.

Throughout the year, Leadlay travels the country on the look-out for shows that are emotionally engaging---shows that make her "think, laugh and question." She says it's important that the festival also includes experiences that redefine what theatre is---or can be---for those who might not be regular theatre-goers. "Part of the legacy of Magnetic North is leaving the community we visit strengthened," explains Leadlay. "The existing theatre community is brought together to shape the festival. We take direction from local theatre producers and we offer experience that helps build new audiences."

Several of this year's shows fit the bill of "out-of-the-ordinary" theatre experiences. There's Pop-Up Love Party, a work-in-progress from Halifax's Zuppa Theatre Company that includes a three-course meal at Lion & Bright. Or Dance Marathon, an interactive performance piece from Toronto's bluemouth inc. that will have the audience strapping on its dancing shoes and dancing the night away at the Olympic Community Hall. And the prize winner for theatre in an unexpected venue would have to go to The National Elevator Project, a series of short, interactive plays that will be performed in Neptune's service elevator and the Maritime Centre elevator.

For the first time in its 12-year history, Magnetic North is joining forces with an existing local theatre festival to offer even more programming. Shows from Eastern Front Theatre's Stages Festival are bringing Atlantic Canadian playwrights and stories into the mix. Eastern Front's artistic director Charlie Rhindress says that combining the two festivals has been a win-win experience. "Working with Magnetic North has meant that we can share what we know from being an established theatre presence in this community, and at the same time, draw on the resources and experience from a much bigger, national festival," he says. "Partnership with Magnetic North means our Atlantic Canadian work is going to get huge exposure."

Rhindress says the festival is a unique experience that offers a lot more than just the chance to see plays. "These 11 days are jam-packed with things to do. There's a series called Encounters that brings people together with the artists to do fun things like go roller-skating on The Oval. There's Compass Points that's designed to inspire local theatre students. There's a whole industry series designed to connect presenters and artists."

Rhindress is especially excited that Magnetic North will premiere a new work called Who Killed Spalding Gray? from Nova Scotian playwright/actor Daniel MacIvor. "It's a new one-man show, and it's absolutely brilliant!"

More information on the festival, including tickets and venues, can be found at

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