Art walks, Shakespearean plays, early-music concerts, and outdoor dance: all are vying to pry you away from your barbecue this summer. The roster of arts festivals continues to grow at a pace akin to craft breweries, and you’ll want to catch some of them. Hit the barbie and brewskis afterward.
Bard on the Beach Shakespeare Festival
Until September 26 at Vanier Park
In its main-stage tent, the summerlong Shakespeare celebration boasts everything from a steampunk-style Comedy of Errors to a King Lear starring Benedict Campbell, son of Stratford icon Douglas Campbell. On the more intimate Howard Family Stage, look for a 1920s-Chicago-set Love’s Labour’s Lost and the world stage premiere of Shakespeare’s Rebel, which C.C. Humphreys has adapted from his best-selling novel of the same name, directed by Bard on the Beach artistic director Christopher Gaze.
Vancouver Draw Down
June 20 at community centres, galleries, shops, and outdoor sites around town
Vancouverites, get your pens ready: the annual drawing fest lets you try your hand at everything from comic jamming to murals at more than 30 free drop-in workshops around the city. This year, groups like the Vancouver Art Gallery, Vancouver Opera, the Contemporary Art Gallery, and Emily Carr University are participating.
South Granville ArtWalk
June 20 along South Granville Street
Wander the exhibits of Vancouver’s historic Gallery Row, taking in everything from Inuit works to photography, with loads of special events, like artist talks and winetastings. Must-sees include David T. Alexander’s squiggly, expressive acrylic-on-canvas abstract landscapes at Bau-Xi, and Katsumi Kimoto’s show Kuroshio, featuring hypnotic, wavy paintings that pay homage to the Pacific Ocean.
June 20 at Emery Barnes Park
Tom Lavin and the Powder Blues, Jim Byrnes, the Carnegie Jazz Band, Katari Taiko, and more converge on this fest to support Vancouver’s most disadvantaged inner-city populations. It’s the culmination of four weeks of workshops and special events, including art activities for at-risk street youth and aboriginal art-making. The all-free roster includes aboriginal blessings, a pancake breakfast, an art exhibition by 50 professional and amateur artists, circus-skill training, street poetry, concerts, and more.
Dancing on the Edge
July 2 to 11 at the Firehall Arts Centre and other venues
The 27th festival of contemporary dance features 32 innovative new works by over 70 dance artists—from veterans to emerging talents. Amid the highlights: Canadian dance icon Paul-André Fortier premieres the comical Misfit Blues (with Fortier and Robin Poitras performing) and the site-specific solo 15X AT NIGHT; and local artist and Japanese dance expert Colleen Lanki premieres Weaver Woman, a multimedia dance-theatre piece. New commissions include Justine A. Chambers’s choreographic distillation of Edge 2014 hit Family Dinner, and dance artist Ziyian Kwan’s collaboration with musician Peggy Lee that riffs on P.W. Bridgman’s short-short story “The Mars Hotel”. Outdoor Dusk Dances and a whole whack of mixed programs round out the offerings.
Ryerson Summer Music Festival
July 3 to 5 at Ryerson United Church
Woodwinds, cellos, and 19th-century town-hall organs: an eclectic mix of instruments appears at this fest in the heart of Kerrisdale. Among the offerings, Victoriana features John Mitchell at the pipe organ; Cellissima is a rare opportunity to hear a cello octet; and Whirlwinds marks the debut of the Vancouver Wind Quintet. Tickets are only 15 bucks per show.
Sunday Afternoon Salsa
Sunday afternoons from July 5 to August 30 at Robson Square
Volunteers from Vancouver’s booming salsa community, led by the Dancey Ballroom’s Stephen and Jennifer Dancey, bring their sizzling art form downtown, the way it was meant to be enjoyed: outdoors, on the streets. Newbies can join in lessons at 3 p.m. or watch the performances at 5 p.m.; others can come to simply strut their stuff in social dancing that runs all afternoon.
Ensemble Theatre Company Summer Repertory Festival
July 6 to August 8 at the Jericho Arts Centre
A challenging alternative to the season’s fluffier fare, this third annual fest’s lineup takes on some potent themes. Lillian Hellman’s 1934 hit The Children’s Hour looks at slander and lies in a girls’ school; the Jacobean-style tragedy ’Tis Pity She’s a Whore gets reimagined in the 1930s Mafia era; and Frost/Nixon digs into David Frost’s combative interviews with Richard Nixon in the Watergate era.
Theatre Under the Stars
July 10 to August 22 at Malkin Bowl
The two shows alternating this year at the scenic outdoor venue in Stanley Park couldn’t be more different—though both will have you rooting for the underdog. Hairspray is the singing-and-dancing spectacle inspired by the goofy John Waters film about a plus-size heroine who dreams of doing the Twist on a local TV show. And Oliver! is based on Charles Dickens’s classic orphan story Oliver Twist. So kitschy ’60s meets bleak Victorian London, all under the towering evergreens and the watchful eyes of raccoons and squirrels.
Harrison Festival of the Arts
July 11 to 19 at Harrison Lake
A waterfront art market, music on the beach, theatre evenings, and a literary café are all on deck for a fest in one of the summer’s most picturesque places. Performers this year include Ayrad, the Strumbellas, Bassekou Kouyate and Ngoni Ba, and Matuto.
Enchanted Evenings in the Garden
Thursdays from July 16 to August 20 at the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden
Enchanted, indeed: the garden provides a magical sunset setting for concerts and dinner. Pick up a pre-ordered picnic from 7 to 8 p.m., then catch concerts by the likes of Deanna Knight and the Hot Club of Mars (July 16), the Vancouver Piano Ensemble (July 30), and Silk Road Music (August 20).
Queer Arts Festival
July 23 to August 7 at the Roundhouse Community Arts and Recreation Centre and other venues
The theme for this year’s celebration of LGBT art is Trigger: Drawing the Line. It marks the 25th anniversary of a photo-based exhibition of the same name, one that presented provocative images of lesbian sexuality and directed audiences to draw on the walls, asking them, “Where do you draw the line?” There’ll be a partial remount of Drawing the Line, with a curated exhibition asking contemporary visual artists where they draw their own lines today. Other highlights include Cor Flammae’s Fallen Angels: sacred + profane, featuring choral music by historical and modern queer composers, and a new play called Sister Mary’s a Dyke?! by Toronto-based playwright Flerida Peña.
Vancouver Early Music Festival
July 26 to August 7 at Roy Barnett Recital Hall and the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts
Music for Queens is the enticing theme for the event—and a title befitting one of the reigning early-music festivals in North America. The concerts centre on music written for and about history’s greatest monarchs. Think crystalline-voiced soprano Ellen Hargis performing an ode to the “girl king” of Sweden, Christina; Les Voix Humaines Gamba Consort’s rendition of the musical drama The Queen’s Delight; and a stunning concert staging of Henry Purcell’s opera Dido and Aeneas.
Sculptors’ Society of B.C. Summer Show
July 30 to August 4 at the VanDusen Botanical Garden
Enjoy striking sculptures by over 20 artists in the lush gardens, where the fest celebrates both new and renowned artists from around the world. Among the names is Louise Solecki Weir, who just unveiled a statue of Pope John Paul II for the Catholic Church.
Harmony Arts Festival
July 31 to August 9 on and around West Vancouver’s waterfront
For its 25th anniversary, the thriving West Van arts fest is pulling out all the stops, with two outdoor waterfront stages for concerts, as well as outdoor movies, art exhibits, and a hugely popular art market under tents. This year, there’s even a pop-up marina where boaters can arrive at the festival and be chauffeured to the beach to enjoy all the celebrations. And check out the new outside art installation You and I, a large-scale hand-carved sculpture by Vancouver-based artist Marie Khouri, with its alcoves and curves designed to cradle the human body.
Powell Street Festival
August 1 and 2 at Oppenheimer Park, the Firehall Arts Centre, the Vancouver Japanese Language School, and the Vancouver Buddhist Temple
Amid all the food vendors, craft booths, taiko-drumming performances, sumo tournaments, and martial-arts demos at the popular celebration of the city’s Japanese heritage, there are some pretty cool contemporary performing arts. Piano virtuoso and avant-garde muse Rachel Kiyo Iwaasa performs Cosmophony, a solo recital of work by Canadian composers reflecting on outer space. In a project called Wabi, audacious drum and cymbal artist Bernie Arai teams up with renowned jazz musician Chris Gestrin on piano to explore the Japanese aesthetic principle of shibusa; and Calgary-based Mark Ikeda presents Sansei: The Storyteller, mashing up dance, storytelling, and interviews to explore the internment of Japanese Canadians. Did we mention all shows and entertainment are free?
All Over the Map
August 9, 16, and 23 at 1 and 3 p.m. in Basford Park, Granville Island
The world’s dance cultures come to Vancouver in these outdoor events. The roster this year includes Compaigni V’ni Dansi, a Vancouver-based traditional Métis and contemporary dance company; Luciterra Dance Company, an all-female fusion of belly dance with jazz, contemporary, and pop-and-lock; and Adanu Habobo, a drum-and-dance ensemble celebrating the traditional music and movement of Ghana.
Gateway Theatre Pacific Festival
September 3 to 26 at the Gateway Theatre in Richmond
Travel to the world of Hong Kong theatre without leaving the Lower Mainland: this new-ish fest stages well-known works in Cantonese with English surtitles for everyone to enjoy. A big draw this year will be opener The Will to Build, a free outdoor piece performed in the Gateway Theatre’s plaza, about the relentless cycle of destruction and construction in Hong Kong real estate—a theme that promises to hit home with local audiences. Elsewhere, a Cantonese adaptation of Tuesdays With Morrie stars “the Laurence Olivier of Hong Kong Theatre”, Chung King Fai; and there’s a hip comedic double bill, with Cook Your Life’s star cooking on-stage while making analogies between food and love, and MeChat, about a new generation’s increasing reliance on technology.
Vancouver Fringe Festival
September 10 to 20 on Granville Island and at various venues around town
The beloved theatre blowout marks the end of summer with hundreds of shows from here and around the globe. Among the names on this year’s roster are local faves like TJ Dawe, as well as Portland physical-theatre masters Wonderheads and Brooklyn storyteller Martin Dockery.