It all started with a late night musing on Twitter by celebrated Canadian playwright, novelist and journalist, Drew Hayden Taylor of Curve Lake First Nation: “Wouldn’t it be cool if we could do a fringe festival”? It turns out someone was listening who could put that idea into action: Joeann Argue, assistant professor of Indigenous performance at Trent University.
The Nogojiwanong Indigenous Fringe Festival, Canada’s newest fringe festival and the first in the world to focus on an Indigenous lens, will be held at Trent in June 2020, with the support of the University, the Chanie Wenjack School for Indigenous Studies, and Nozhem: First Peoples Performance Space. This new festival has been accepted into the Canadian Association of Fringe Festivals and will be placed strategically on the festival circuit between dates in Toronto and Ottawa.
The team behind this project is comprised of three key figures making up the Nogojiwanong Fringe Festival Collective: Professor Joeann Argue, Hilary Wear and Lee Bolton, each with a unique connection to the performance art community.
What exactly is a fringe festival? Fringe explores a variety of performance art that offers a seemingly limitless potential for artist creativity while ensuring inclusivity for its audience, Drew Hayden Taylor summarizes its benefits stating that: “Fringe at its best does stuff that other development programs don’t.” Festival participants are chosen out of a hat, giving the artists accepted full control over content. Fringe festival performers can include actors, dancers, clowns and musicians.
In being hosted at Trent, NIFF is also leaning into the opportunity for development and education. “Something that is going to be different about this festival is that we will have several days of not just technical rehearsals, but workshops mentorship where senior theatre artists might help some of the younger companies with the work they are bringing in,” explains Prof. Argue. “We are going to bring together this community of performers and artists with local people, with senior artists to really help them develop their work.”
“Having a chance to bring artists in to do independent, exploratory work is as a theatre artist myself, the most exciting thing,” notes Ms. Wear, a theatre artist and citizen of the Métis Nation, also noting that location is key and “to be doing it here at Nozhem First Peoples Performance Space which is a brilliant incubator and sharing space is the best.”