Since first hearing of NextFest a couple  years ago, I wanted to thoroughly swim in it. More than just stumbling into one or two shows, I wanted to grace such a fistful of performances that my impression of what NextFest ‘is’ could reach further depths. I tried my darndest to do that this year, packing a change of clothes in my work backpack and biking to Whyte straight after my shift. I would get home late after a show and struggle to sleep, still buzzed by the evening’s spectacles. This is the small price one must pay to be an armchair undercover private art investigator.
Similarly, since I first launched this modest website I’ve had visions of banging out delicious blogs loaded with the content that hits all my sweetspots. Taking issue with the reptile-brain tendencies of mainstream social networking, I want to get more sincere about how I digitally project myself and resist the urge to compress my thoughts into bite-sized snippets. I’ve been thinking about writing this blog since the final day of Nextfest which was 2 weeks ago! Tonight is the night I sit down and put my mojo where my mouth is.  If I’m getting at something here, it’s that sometimes making your idea happen involves an uncomfortably bulging backpack and a four hour sleep: this was the way my NextFest adventure took place this June.

Nêhiyawak performing at the Roxy ^


The shows I managed to see included

  • the Opening Ceremonies featuring RAANI & NIUBOI ,
  • Nêhiyawak + the Shiverettes + Yes Nice,
  • Odd Wednesday,
  • NUMUSIC at the Yardbird (possibly my favorite)
  • A Fool Spectacle
  • Hellsmut
  • the tail end of Queers on Queerz
  • and both Nextfest Collaboration projects.

The shows I would have liked to have seen but missed out on included

  • The Conduit dance nightclub
  • Other dance such as Occupy, Originate, or Overtake
  • Word Fight (a poetic battle)
  • Shadow State
  • The several visual art galleries located around
  • All of the workshops that I missed out on!
  • And everything else that was going on!

Collaboration Project 1 ^ (Birthday Party)


              Next Fest definitely had a homebase. The Roxy Theatre on Gateway set the stage for ten days. A bunch of shows were a stone’s throw away at the Backstage Theatre, but it was super relaxing to be able to just park your butt in the same reliable theatre night after night and not have to do all the navigation that festivals like Nuit Blanche and Sled Island demand. There were a healthy amount of shows for a $40 festival pass and because they all happened back to back I didn’t have to do the F.ear O.f M.issing O.ut calculative breakdown when deciding what to see. What to see at Nextfest and where to see it was plain and simple.  Maybe experiencing an entire festival is a pipe dream but it’s easier to do when able to report back to the same venue night after night: it fulfils my need for consistency. The Roxy was a blank black canvas for NextFest to be painted on.

Smut Night Props ^

           And they rocked the set up at the Roxy! The sound system seemed to be equipped to handle a variety of performer’s weird-o needs but I especially liked the way they used the theatre lights.Lets just say that the disco ball happened to turn on at the perfect moment on more than one occasion and a certain someone was not shy about kickin into full-on strobe light mode. It is definitely fun to be able to employ colored or moody lighting for a lineup of bands as those techniques are normally reserved for theatre. On Smut Night there were eerie fog machines and Nêhiyawak played in complete darkness with psychedelic visuals on screen. Locally-made shorts and music videos were played on the big screens during intermissions which was a chance to get introduced to and extra hyped about featured artists.

Props like a dramatic dragon doorway, handmade decorations, and a bombardment of balloons used objects as a way to change the mood of the show. More attention was paid to audio/visual media  than I’m used to in going to see a lineup of bands at a bar. This might be because NextFest is rooted in the theatre community which I don’t know much about, but I’m on board with the idea of ‘setting the stage’ a little more at shows, musical or otherwise, and NextFest pulled it off. Having the homebase of the Roxy made it easier to play around in that department. This “Theatre” stuff is starting to seem pretty cool to me.

             The “Fine Arts” as they are called were not a super In-Your-Face part of NextFest. I didn’t get around to visiting the satellite galleries that were listed briefly in the back of the festival program, and the only Fine Art I saw were the sculptural works set up in the lobby of the Backstage theatre. Setting works up in the lobby is an excellent way to intercept people with art but there wasn’t much overt attention drawn to other fine art shows that were a part of NextFest. You can’t emphasize everything , I understand, and the assumption is made that those looking for the art will seek it out.


The  ‘Narcissus’ room in Collaboration Project 2 ^


The NextFest Collaboration Projects had some tasty fine-art elements though. After receiving a poor grade from an instructor last semester because  my project was ‘theatre’ not ‘performance art’, I don’t think I have ever seen such a seamless meeting of the two worlds. During the second collab project, audience members were gathered in the Backstage theatre where a map was displayed and we were given only fifteen minutes to scramble through the building, visiting up to four different named rooms. Within those rooms were performative acts and installations. In one room a ‘talk-show host’ would select members of the audience, sit them down Oprah Winfrey style, get them to show her their instagram, and discuss it with them which I found hilarious. In another room a person was scrawling their intimate thoughts in a notebook, ripping out the pages, and adding them to a scattered pile on the floor that people could read like an open book. In yet another room called Narcissus mirrors were set up echoing projects like Robert Morris’ mirrored cubes or Yayoi Kusama’s infinity room in front of which a person tapped danced to self-centred sound recordings.

A photo of Yayoi Kusama’s ‘Infinity Room’ installation ^


Robert Morris’ untitled minimalist sculptures ^



              In the main theatre hung three large levitating windows. The windows had footage of the artist making them projected onto themselves(talk about reflective). At the end of our allotted time we were all gathered together again at the main stage where the evening ended with a recording of spoken prose from an omnipresent body, staring into our own image as it was videod back to us on a giant screen. I left the theatre with a hyper-reflexive feeling of ‘what just happened?’ but a firm conviction that there really is no sharp difference between theatre and performance art and that my teacher was off her rocker. I’ve even tried reading a textbook on ‘Performance Art’ and I still don’t see how the line can be drawn. What a fusion of possibilities can be explored when different disciplines collide and come together, and it’s sweet that NextFest provided the opportunity.

^^ The completed 2018 NextFest mural by artists Jill Stanton and Breanna Barrington. (Photo by Fish Griwkowsky for the Edmonton Journal) ^^


               Another Fine Art opportunity available through the festival was a mini-apprenticeship to paint a mural with veteran Edmonton artist Jill Stanton. Jill has carved out an unmistakable illustration style while taking on many murals daunting in size, and working with her on another one would be an unbeatable opportunity. After running into Jill’s student artist, Breanna Barrington, it seems that the caliber of the labor required to do the mural is no joke. Breanna says she had been working for strenuous hours and in gruelling temperatures to complete the mural, loving it the entire time. It’s hard to predict just how much blood sweat and tears can go into large scale visual art and providing apprenticeships is a killer way to help emerging artists break the ice with a bang when it comes to labor intensity. The completed mural is the cherry to top off the fest, long outliving the scheduled shows. Next Fest doesn’t ignore that collaboration is a key ingredient in the growth of “Up-and-coming” artists.

^ ‘The Safe Room’ behind the stage at the Roxy for those having intense experiences , needing a time-out ^

               The last point I will make on the festival is that performers were able to step to some of  their edges in terms of experimentation. This idea was reinforced to me when talking to other audience members about their thoughts. Several people noticed how there was a fair bit of audience participation in shows. There were post-show talkbacks where you could ask the artists questions, a static art installation happened to involve a living passed-out dude, Smut Night wouldn’t have been what it was without the audience dressing up in ‘Victorian-era’ garb and  I threw something at a clown from my seat in a Fool Spectacle. You could approach the artists during intermissions and shoot the breeze as I did during Odd Wednesday (though I’m always wary that performing must be pretty nerve-wracking and the last thing you want in between sketches is a wide eyed art-investigator staring in your face). From interactive workshops to frequent dance parties, the invitation of spectators to get involved brought life to the content of works. Other audience members mentioned to me that it was cool to see some shows as ‘works in progress’ and having that bit of feedback between audience and artist that can actually shift the way work continues to develop. Instead of hiding away in a hole until their script is completely perfect, playwrights can show what they have at NextFest and put it out there, opening themselves up to criticism in an environment that is freeing, fun, safe and super inclusive! Art dies in the pursuit of perfection and lives in dangerous- heart-pounding-breathing within a community.
From taking over the Jazz club with punk rock and ambience, having a single night where all the too-sexy-for-mainstream could have a chance to shine, and celebrating unabashedly queer content, NextFest was not afraid to tickle Edmonton out of comfort zones and stir the melting pot that is YEG. I look forward to diving in even deeper another year, and coming up refreshed and renewed. I will concede that the navigation of their website could use a restructuring but a little chaos in festivals is to be expected. That being said I hope my own website hasn’t been impossible to navigate… 😉


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