Stage Door News

Stratford: Kiwanis Festival Stratford connects with emerging artists through new programming

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Most people are familiar with Kiwanis Festival Stratford’s spring showcase of emerging performers, but moving that annual event online isn’t the only way organizers are adapting to the pandemic-related obstacles they’re facing this year.

The local charity has recently launched an online experience for artists interested in the professional feedback festival performers receive, minus the group classes and competition that’s part of the traditional program.

“Technology has now allowed an emerging artist to chose whether they are going to put themselves in a group of peers for feedback or whether they just want to do it privately,” said Patricia McKinna, the Stratford Kiwanis Festival’s executive director. “Everybody knows that practising the arts is healthy and, especially under our current constraints, it can be even healthier to spend time doing creative pursuits. That’s something we should no doubt be encouraging everybody to participate in right now.”

Registration for the new program opened in December and will be available year ‘round, another advantage it has over the more deadline-driven competitive option. Plus, visual artists and filmmakers can participate in the new program, for example, two art forms not showcased during the traditional festival.

“This is where our current situation has opened up a whole smorgasbord of talent for us,” McKinna said. “There are a lot of performing artists and professional artists who are really underused right now because live performance is sort of on hold. I’m talking to a whole array of professional artists who will hopefully participate in this coaching program because they have the time and the capacity to do that right now. It’s quite exciting, really.”

The cost to participate is $9-$15 per entry. More information, including the disciplines the program can accommodate, is available on the Stratford Kiwanis Festival website.

While the new direction will allow the festival to offer more for aspiring artists it may not have connected with prior to the pandemic, McKinna said it will be complimentary to the traditional program, which organizers hope they will still be able to bring to an audience in one form or another this spring. 

As of now, the showcase is more likely to happen online than in-person, with submitted performances becoming available to the public around the same time the festival normally takes place at the beginning of May.

“We will probably be asking our participants as they get more comfortable in cyberspace if we have permission to share that link … (with) the people who are interested in what this festival is doing, and that’s probably how we’ll create the normal showcases that this festival does,” McKinna said. “A really key part of this is for everybody to be aware and be comfortable of the next step that we’re taking because we want to observe people’s privacy rights and the control over their intellectual property. It’s a learning curve for all of us about the safest way to operate in cyberspace.”

The 93rd Kiwanis Festival was cancelled in 2020, but an annual fundraiser took place online in September. It featured a game show hosted by Stratford Festival alum Rod Beattie and recorded performances by musicians who missed out on their chance to perform live due to the pandemic.

McKinna said a sponsor has since come forward to help the festival develop a partnership with Avondale Church, where artists taking part in both the competitive and non-competitive programs this year will have access to a camera and an unlimited internet connection to upload their material, if they need a hand, at no extra cost.

“Like the rest of the performing arts world, we have to discover a life for ourselves in cyberspace since we can’t do the face-to-face thing at the moment,” McKinna said, adding that Avondale won’t be available until the current lockdown is lifted. 

“None of us in the performing arts world ever wants to replace that experience of an acoustic performance, or being in the same space. If anything, this pandemic is just whetting everyone’s appetite to get the real thing, but it’s certainly true that technology is giving us a whole new power to connect to people.”

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By Chris Montanini for