Actor Annette Loiselle has always intuitively known that women were at a disadvantage in the arts, but it took her some time to really pin it down.
“I don’t know if there was a specific point, because when I was in theatre school it didn’t even occur to me that things are stacked against us,” Loiselle said. “Even though, when I auditioned for the BFA program, one of their stipulations when they were putting together a class for that year [was] it had to be two-thirds men and one-third women.”
She figured most of her classmates were men because most of the roles in plays were for men. But as she progressed in her career, she noticed that she and her peers would be competing for the same small pool of work, while men had a much broader choice. She noticed, too, that directors and artistic directors were almost all men, even though most students in theatre school were women.
Over time, it became clear to her that lack of opportunity created an imbalance in which artists end up working and in what audiences end up seeing. In 2012, she took things into her own hands and held the first SkirtsAfire Festival, a multidisciplinary festival focusing on women as creators of art.
The festival defines womanhood as anyone who identifies as a woman, and Loiselle stresses that it’s important for the festival to show work by and for women in all our diversity.
“I try to see as much as I can, but theatre is my discipline and I’m not an expert on the other arts. I hire curators. Visual arts, spoken word, choir festival, new play development. I rely on other experts.”
This means providing opportunities for artists to step into a leadership role, like visual artist Lana Whiskeyjack, curator of this year’s visual arts exhibition, The Wombs We Come From, showing at the Nina Haggerty’s Stollery Gallery.
“Her work was in the festival last year, and so I asked her to curate, and that’s not something she’d done before, but she’s versatile and knows a lot of artists in the Indigenous community, and I wanted her to make that a focus of the show. I love meeting artists from different communities of artists. I want to be really open to as many different voices as possible.”
When so many women come together, interesting connections and collaborations can result.
“I love the synergy of different artists from different disciplines,” she said. For example, a conversation with spoken word curator and Edmonton’s youth poet laureate Nasra Adem led to including musician Stephanie Harpe in the Words Unzipped spoken word night on March 9.
Loiselle hopes that by bringing together so many artists, she can spark conversations and provide a chance for networking in an open, organic setting.
“For the A-Line Variety Show, that’s sort of the opening night, they’re all there and they all see each other’s work and you hope some connections get made there. For over 100 artists who are performing, we encourage them to come to other events.”
The A-Line Variety Show, held on International Women’s Day (March 8), showcases a little of everything, from music to dance to the all-women and non-binary improv comedy troupe, the Rapid Fire SPHINXES. Wind down with dance parties on Friday (with the Kimberley MacGregor Band) and on Saturday (with Amy van Keeken’s Rock and Roll Sing-a-Long).
“It’s not about creating an audience. The audiences are there; it’s [about] bringing them together, getting the word out, about amazing work being done by women. Come out and see it.”
Locations around 118, 117, and 114 Ave
Visit skirtsafire.com for more information.
Most events are by donation.
Featured Image: Dance parties on March 10-11 will give people a chance to wind down. | BB Collective