Not only are we blown away by the number of arts festivals filling up Vancouver’s summer months, we’re also impressed by how interactive and immersive they are.
What that means is you won’t necessarily be sitting down to passively watch a production in a theatre this season. You’ll be sketching live models, following dancers around a park lawn, taking in sculpture amid lavish gardens, wandering into different nooks and crannies of the Cultch to hear live music, and salsa dancing on a warm evening.
If getting in on the action is not your thing, you can enjoy playwrights from William Shakespeare to Martin McDonagh at waterfront theatres, or go medieval with glimmering early-music concerts. And you’ll find blond airheads and green ogres singing and dancing in Stanley Park.
Either way, you’ll be doing more than lying on a beach towel and soaking in rays. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
Bard on the Beach (until September 20 at Vanier Park)
The waterside Shakespeare festival celebrates 25 years in high style, bringing back two of its most lauded productions ever, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Tempest, and staging the Bard’s own Cymbeline and Equivocation, Bill Cain’s smart, contemporary play that reimagines the Bard’s struggle between art and politics. Look for special anniversary events throughout the summer, including Gazing Back: Reflecting on 25 years at Bard, with artistic director Christopher Gaze and special guests.
The Draw: If you missed director Dean Paul Gibson’s sexy, gender-bending Midsummer riot in 2006, the gods and fairies are in your favour. But we’re equally intrigued by the offerings at the Howard Family Stage at the Douglas Campbell Studio Tent: Anita Rochon’s female-powered, fencing-styled Cymbeline (July 4 to September 17) and fest favourite Bob Frazer’s turn as “Shagspeare” in Equivocation (July 2 to September 19, directed by Michael Shamata).
Info at the Bard on the Beach website.
Vancouver International Storytelling Festival (Friday to Sunday [June 13 to 15] at venues around town)
The 20th annual story extravaganza is called A Cabinet of Curiosities this year. Expect the unexpected, as well as a range of tales that mine everything from First Nations to Persian to African experience, all in theatrical style.
The Draw: Opening night features the show The Tallest Tails and Reddest Noses at Hungarian Hall, with Todd Wong weaving together yarns from his Scottish-Canadian history with those of his pioneer Chinese ancestors. Deborah Williams, Siobhan Barker, and Wendy Charbonneau round out a lighthearted, culture-mashing program.
Info at the Vancouver Storytelling website.
Vancouver Draw Down (Saturday [June 14] at community centres, galleries, and other sites around town)
Get your creative juices flowing at this interactive drawing extravaganza, with more than 40 free workshops in every corner of the city.
The Draw: We love the idea of live-model drawing at Emily Carr University of Art + Design, and the fact that everyone contributes one panel to a big story line at the Comic Jams at Ken-sington and Douglas Park community centres.
Info at the Vancouver Draw Down website.
South Granville ArtWalk (June 21 along Granville Street)
Wander up and down Gallery Row between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. to take in a mind-bendingly diverse array of art at more than 18 exhibitions, complete with artist talks, demos, and wine-and-cheese tastings.
The Draw: We can’t wait to see rising Vancouver painter Roselina Hung’s Of Myth and Men show at the Initial Gallery, a whimsical, colour-soaked blend of art and personal history; also be sure to stop by Tim Okamura’s Her Story at the Douglas Udell Gallery, cool portrait painting with a little NYC street attitude and smart, grrrl-powered social observation.
Info at the South Granville website.
Sunday Afternoon Salsa (June 29 to August 24 at Robson Square)
From 3 to 7 p.m., the downtown core heats up with open-air salsa dancing.
The Draw: Beginners and two-left-footers don’t have to worry: there are free lessons at 3 p.m. and performances of fiery footwork (with everything from swing to the cha-cha) by the pros at 5—all at no cost.
Info at the Sunday Afternoon Salsa website.
Dancing on the Edge (July 3 to 12 at the Firehall Arts Centre, Portside Park, Chapel Arts, and elsewhere)
Both veteran artists and innovative newcomers round out a strong roster at the 26th annual event—the longest-running contemporary dance fest in Canada, thank you very much. Established names like Karen Jamieson, Jennifer Mascall, and Tedd Robinson all show work, alongside an exciting new generation of artists like Ziyian Kwan, Vanessa Goodman, Meredith Kalaman, and Arash Khakpour.
The Draw: There are eight—count ’em—outdoor by-donation pieces at the fest this year, meaning you don’t have to enter a dark theatre on a summer day to enjoy the event. Dusk Dances at Portside Park promises to be a highlight, celebrating its 20th anniversary with a mixed bill that includes Meghan Goodman’s ode to the West Coast rain forest and Julia Aplin’s synchronized mini-pool swimmers.
Info at the Dancing on the Edge website.
Ensemble Theatre Company Summer Repertory (July 11 to August 16 at the Jericho Arts Centre)
Escape summer fluff with this meaty theatre festival out at Jericho Beach. This year, the company stages the AIDS autobiography The Normal Heart, the Jacobean masterpiece The Duchess of Malfi, and the blackly comic Irish tale The Cripple of Inishmaan in repertory throughout the season.
The Draw: We’re torn. The Normal Heart tells the story of the rise of AIDS in the 1980s and one man’s fight to spread the word in New York, and it was selected as one of the 100 greatest plays of the 20th century by the Royal National Theatre of Great Britain. But then Inishmaan is by the bitingly witty writer of In Bruges (Martin McDonagh).
Info at the Ensemble Theatre Company website.
Enchanted Evenings (July 11, then Thursday evenings from July 17 to August 7, at the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden)
Pre-order a gourmet picnic dinner, grab a glass of wine, and settle in for this sunset concert series in the downtown’s most serene oasis.
The Draw: Don’t miss the hypnotic sounds of Silk Road Music on opening night, or check out Deanna Knight and the Hot Club of Mars’s jazz sounds in the chill paradise on the final evening.
Info at the Vancouver Chinese Garden website.
Harrison Festival of the Arts (July 12 to 20 at Harrison Hot Springs)
Music on the beach, visual art, theatre, and more come together in one of the most spectacular settings for any arts fest this season.
The Draw: Revel in the diversity of the concert stages’ world music, featuring everything from concertina player Riccardo Tesi to Zimbabwean band Mokoomba to singer-songwriter Mae Moore.
Info at the Harrison Festival website.
Theatre Under the Stars (July 15 to August 23 at Malkin Bowl in Stanley Park)
Last summer’s hit Legally Blonde returns with Shrek: The Musical in rotation at one of the most lushly scenic settings for outdoor theatre in town.
The Draw: The younger set will love seeing their favourite green ogre, but, omigod, if TUTS can re-create the happy-hoofing magic of last year’s blond-airhead smash, like, don’t miss it.
Info at the Theatre Under The Stars website.
Queer Arts Festival (July 23 to August 9 at the Roundhouse Community Arts and Recreation Centre)
With the theme of “ReGenerations”, the interdisciplinary fest offers up everything from music to visual art and all manner of performance.
The Draw: Sunny Drake’s one-man show X looks at addiction within the queer community, using everything from stop-motion animation to puppetry. And the art exhibits are always provocative and high-quality: this year’s biggie is Queering the International, a show of immigrant, indigenous, and undocumented artists.
Info at the Queer Arts Festival website.
Vancouver Early Music festival (July 25 to August 9 at the Roy Barnett Recital Hall, the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts, and the Roundhouse Community Arts and Recreation Centre)
This summer’s mesmerizing medieval and Renaissance sounds come courtesy of guests like Les Voix Baroques, Sequentia, and octagenarian harpsichord virtuoso Colin Tilney (a co-pro with the Queer Arts Festival, above).
The Draw: On August 7 at the Chan, Vancouver’s crystalline Pacific Baroque Orchestra takes on George Frederick Handel’s Il Trionfo del Tempo, with mesmerizing singers Colin Balzer, Amanda Forsythe, Krisztina Szabó, and Reginald Mobley giving voice to the sweeping oratorio.
Info at the Early Music website.
Sculptors’ Society Summer Exhibition (July 31 to August 4 at VanDusen Botanical Garden)
There are few more enticing natural settings for sculpture than VanDusen Garden, which becomes a green haven for work by the likes of bronze virtuosos Louise Solecki Weir and Cliff Vincenzi.
The Draw: Marvel at the way the artists wield such a stunning array of materials, like metal, glass, wood, marble, and terra cotta.
Info at the Sculpter's Society of BC website.
Powell street Festival (August 1 to 3 at the Firehall Arts Centre, Centre A, Oppenheimer Park, and more)
From noise pop to multimedia-art installations, the celebration of Japanese-Canadian culture goes far beyond its roots—yet “Roots” is the theme this year. Think readings, concerts, screenings, theatre, and more amid the festivities.
The Draw: Everything you may stumble upon Saturday and Sunday in the park, plus Kyoto noise-pop artist GRMLN; a documentary about Japan’s new generation of mixed-race people, called Hafu; and the genre-mashing art installation Music Temple at Centre A, with interdisciplinary innovators Elfin Saddle.
Info at the Powell Street Festival website.
Harmony Arts Festival (August 1 to 10 along the West Vancouver waterfront)
Live music, visual art, and gastronomy combine along the picturesque North Shore.
The Draw: The Art Market is a don’t-miss, with gallery-worthy, wildly diverse works displayed under tents throughout each weekend.
Info at the Harmony Arts website.
Korean Cultural Heritage Festival (August 16 at Swangard Stadium)
The 13th annual fest, which draws tens of thousands each summer, moves from Coquitlam to Burnaby this year, bringing along its all-day assortment of live music, tae kwon do demos, dancing, and food.
The Draw: Kimchi and K-pop.
Info at the Korean Festival website.
Vancouver Fringe Festival (September 4 to 14 on Granville Island and elsewhere around town)
The annual theatrical free-for-all, with main-stage productions from here and abroad literally drawn out of a hat (we’re sure a very funky one!), wraps up the summer with more than 600 performances by about 90 troupes.
The Draw: Returning hit-makers include Jayson McDonald (Underbelly), Martin Dockery (The Bike Trip), and Peter N’ Chris, with local draws like puppetmaster Tara Travis and Ryan Gladstone—but it’s really about the total surprises, isn’t it?
Info at the Vancouver Fringe website.
Still not enough for you? There are a few special summer shows that bear mentioning here too. Don’t miss Dances for a Small Stage: Summer Lovin’, where performers will take to the Shadbolt Centre for the Arts’ south lawn on June 20 and 21; the lineup includes star Ballet B.C. alumni Makaila Wallace, Simone Orlando, and Maggie Forgeron. July 17 to 20 at the Cultch, Music on Main reimagines Greek myth in The Orpheus Project, roaming the entire venue, including backstage areas, to present music by the likes of Jocelyn Morlock, Barry Truax, Veda Hille, and George Frederick Handel.
So, outdoors or indoors, there’s a lot to fit in between visits to the beach.