There's only one Uno Fest (and we have a prize to give away)
Today marks the return of Intrepid Theatre’s Uno Fest - a Victoria festival featuring solo performances. PLANK Magazine will have a team of reviewers catching performances ranging from family-friendly to farce; from comedy to drama and all things in between. I had the opportunity to ask Intrepid Theatre’s Janet Munsil about this year’s festival and what theatre-goers can expect to experience over the next ten days.
Mike: I know what Uno Fest is, but many of our readers may not. What is Uno Fest and how did it come to be?
Janet: This is the 13th Uno Fest, and Intrepid Theatre has produced it from the beginning. It's the longest-running theatre festival of it's kind in North America. There are a few others, but the artists tell us that Uno Fest is the gold-standard - they want to come here and have "appeared at Uno Fest" on their resumes.
Intrepid produces the Fringe in Victoria, but a fringe the size of ours doesn't take the whole year to organize once you've put it on ten times. Most of the year, we had nothing to do but write grants, and that's boring, so we decided to take on another festival. A solo performance festival was a natch because we could put on a decent-sized event with a small budget, and feature up-and-coming writer/performers...who back then were artists like TJ Dawe, Michael Healey, Lyle Victor Albert and Theatre SKAM. Over the years we've presented about 170 performers from around the world in Uno Fest. Last year the big sold-out hit was internet phenom Chris Leavins in Cute With Chris Live! - it drew an audience from all over Canada and the US. Lately its started to become a destination event, for artists and audiences.
Mike: What are the differences between this year's Uno Fest and past editions? Have the provincial arts cuts had a significant impact on this event?
Janet: When the cuts were announced last year (we lost $35,000 on our 09 budget, which we learned about after our programming had wrapped for the year) we made a commitment to keep the name of the festival alive on whatever level possible, even if it was just one show. Anyone who has tried to "revive" a canceled festival will tell you - the prognosis is not good. Uno was in great shape, and growing - so even though it's expensive to mount, it would be totally unfair to lose it in the cutbacks.
The one big change this year is that we temporarily put our usual open application process on hold, because we weren't sure how big the festival could be. Although I usually love curating the festival every December, watching the hundred or so videos artists send in, I'll admit that after last year I was very happy to just close the office and have a break - and think about what a smaller festival would look like. After such a crappy end to last year, who and what would cheer me up?
Easy, Chris Gibbs in The Power of Ignorance. Okay, so we've got one show. Chris Gibbs has a new show, so while he was here, he might as well do that too. Two shows. Matthew Payne and Theatre SKAM were working on a solo show, Cariboo Buckaroo; and I invited local girl Jen Wilcox, who was awesome at our Monobrow! solo slam last year, to do her first full-length show. Now we have four shows - now we have a festival. We were fortunate to get travel support from the Canada Council, to bring artists from other provinces. Some private donors came forward to help, because they love Uno. We commissioned some local work, added a couple of special events. In the end, we have a festival that's only two productions smaller than last year - which is kind of a miracle.
I think this is one of the best lineups we've ever had. We have a mix of returning Fringe superstars, world premieres, crazy late-night parties and all ages shows. A little something for everyone. Uno has become an important event on the national arts calendar, and it's a real right of passage for many solo performers in Canada - especially those who are trying to move their successful Fringe shows to the next level.
Mike: Artists such as Chris Gibbs are considered favourites by local audiences, as is local talent J. McLaughlin (Never Again) and the returning Andrew Bailey (Limbo). Are there any other performers and shows that could be considered "sleepers?"
Janet: Johnnie Walker's Redheaded Stepchild, from Toronto. He's been getting lots of visibility there recently, but this is the first time he's been to the West Coast. It's a world premiere, which is pretty unusual for Uno - and then he'll be doing it at Summerworks. I met Johnnie at Banff last winter when we were both in Daniel McIvor's playwrighting workshop, where he was working on a monologue for himself. The writing was really outstanding, and even though he was just reading it, you could tell he'd be great. I invited him on the spot. I don't think he knew I curated a solo festival, and that he'd just done a three-day audition.
Mike: Besides the mainstage shows, what else can one expect to see as part of Uno Fest?
Janet: We have two cabaret events, Monobrow! which is a monologue slam, and Bring Out Your Dead 3, a costume party where the audience comes as their favourite dead people, and a bunch of performers do 5-minute mini-bios of deceased celebrities. People in the audience put a lot of work into their celebrity guises - the first year I was Edith Head, and the second time I was Jane Jacobs. This year I want to be Alexander McQueen.
We also have four workshops this year: storytelling, found-object puppetry, Nicolle Nattrass's Solo Show Intensive, and a two-day Bouffon Workshop with Eric Davis (aka Red Bastard). The cost runs from Pay-What-You-Can to $200, and they're open to everyone, regardless of experience.
All of the shows have Pay-What-You-Can opening nights, and student rush tickets are $10, 10 minutes before the show. And, we have our own festival iPhone app! All the details are there and on our website at intrepidtheatre.com.
Mike: What makes Uno Fest so special?
Janet: There's only one.
PLANK Magazine has a shareable Uno Festival Pass to give-away courtesy of the good people at Intrepid Theatre. Since the Festival starts today and we want to get this pass into your hands, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org by midnight tonight with "Uno Prize Giveaway" in the subject line. We'll hold a quick draw and inform the winner tomorrow (Thursday May 20th) by 10:00 am and you can start using your pass. We encourage Vancouver readers to enter - and if you win we'll tell you about a great hotel deal at Paul's Motor Inn.
To find out more about Uno Fest and what's on offer, fly solo here.