Words rush from artistic director Mark Henderson as he talks of his inspirations for the Thousand Faces Festival, now in its ninth year. It’s obvious that the brightness, the diversity, and the sheer joy of mixing and matching myths from a multitude of sources buoy Henderson’s commitment.

His passion for myths started as a 12-year-old watching Star Wars from the front row of a movie theatre. “Great stories come from [the] roots of all cultures,” Henderson says. “We always think of classical myths, but there are contemporary ones as well. I picked up on this as a young person watching Star Wars.”

The festival launches on Oct. 15-16 with a public, multi-disciplinary event at Alberta Avenue Community Centre. Dubbed A String of Mythic Pearls, both evening performances feature a feast of multicultural food and art. 

Audiences will enjoy short bursts of mythic theatre, dance, music, comedy, and other performances old and new, while feasting on a multicultural banquet provided by Alberta Avenue’s best restaurants. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. and pre-booking is required for this upbeat, uplifting evening.

These in-person events will have an RSVP link released on the festival’s website one month before the festivities. A limited number of spectators will be at each performance, all vaccinated and following COVID guidelines around distancing and masking to ensure safety for all. Anyone attending the in-person events must have proof of full vaccination. A negative test result is not accepted.

The online portion runs from Friday, Nov. 5 to Sunday, Nov. 7. Gather the family around the computer to watch Strings of Puppet Stories, featuring colourful, comical, and unique puppet performances.

Sharing in the festival’s activities is a powerful reminder that we live in a fascinating and culturally diverse city. Henderson recounts stories of past Thousand Faces performances, reflecting South Asian, South African, Indigenous, and many other cultural backgrounds. Audiences have embraced the music, dance, and storytelling around the myths highlighted, and the festival is warmly received every year.

Planning for this year’s events was chaotic, “with plenty of uncertainty as to how the world, our province, and our city would look,” says producer Aidan McBride. On the plus side, he notes, “We can reach people who could not come, for reasons of geography and others.” Virtual festival programming has been shown to audiences across the province, including Grande Prairie, Calgary, and Red Earth Creek. Online donations are now also possible through the festival’s RSVP link. 

Henderson is jubilant about this year’s offerings. “Audiences can learn about myths and art forms they might never have encountered. They can learn about themselves and what they love, fear, and aspire to through the myths. You can learn far more about a culture through its stories than any other means,” he says.

Thousand Faces Festival defines myths as stories we keep coming back to. “Myths rejuvenate us by taking us to the immortal, to the dream world, into the labyrinth, up to the shining summit, to the meeting with the ogre, the goddess, the hero, the guide. They take us into a realm where life has meaning and freshness at every turn,” observes Henderson. “Myths can give us hope, stir up our will to live and share and come together.”