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Femme Fest Burning up All Over Edmonton

performers stand for a bow after a performance

By Stephanie Swensrude

Starting Feb. 27, art lovers will flock to venues all over the city to catch the eighth annual SkirtsAfire Festival, a collection of performing and visual art events with a focus on local woman artists.

“[The name comes] from this idea of women who are just on fire,” artistic director Annette Loiselle said. She chose the word “complicated” for this year’s theme.

Playing into the theme, Loiselle chose a local woman playwright’s “epic” to feature as the mainstage show. The Blue Hour by Michele Vance Hehir will be performed at the Westbury Theatre in Strathcona, just off Whyte Ave. It tells the story of a beloved local pastor entangled in a romantic relationship with a teen girl in a fictional Southern Alberta town in the ‘40s.

performers stand for a bow after a performance
Supplied photo.

Before the show and during intermission, viewers are invited to contribute to an interactive art installation in the lobby while local singer-songwriters perform.

“People are going to want to unpack it,” Loiselle said. “It’s going to make people uncomfortable.”

The Blue Hour is a microcosm of the festival at large; complicated stories designed to spark conversation.

Having expanded to three venues this year, 2020 is shaping up to be a year of growth for the festival. Art installations are hung in the Alberta Avenue area at the Nina Haggerty Gallery, and there will be performances downtown at The Station on Jasper.

The downtown venue, The Station on Jasper, is home to more performances. Formerly known as Needle Vinyl Tavern, Loiselle hopes that holding a women-centered festival there will help to change the image of the bar after sexual assault allegations were made against the co-owner.

“They’ve really been working hard to make it a safer place, change their image,” she said. “I feel like we’re going to be a big part of that.”

In celebration of International Women’s Day weekend, Derina Harvey Band will be headlining performances at The Station. The festival is also hosting brunches for the weekend, with funds and awareness on Sunday Mar. 8 being raised for human trafficking.

The Alberta Avenue area, the festival’s original home, features even more blending of the arts. Patrons will listen to Suspension, a radio play, on their personal devices as they wander through a gallery and a collaborative installation piece.

She Moves is a dance show, tieing groups that specialize in Lebanese, Colombian and Haitian dance with classical ballet.

“They kinda turn the story on its head,” Loiselle said.

Down the street, a drumming show is making its home in St. Faith’s church. In The Beat of Her Drum, groups with influence from West African, Korean and Indigenous music will shake the stained glass and vaulted ceilings.

With “complicated” as this year’s theme, Loiselle has surely curated a festival with something for everyone. Find all the details online at skirtsafire.com.

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