For Vancouver, Shakespeare on the beach, plein-air competitions, and gallery walks have become as essential to summer as beer and barbecues. And as the following roster shows, there’s no shortage of arts festivals to choose from.
Bard on the Beach Shakespeare Festival
(At Vanier Park to September 22)
In the main-stage tent, the fest plays a heavyweight classical rendition of the tragedy Macbeth off a Beatles-infused, ’60s-set As You Like It. On the more intimate Howard Family Stage, Colleen Wheeler upends Timon of Athens by taking the title role and turning it into a modern fable about greed; and Jennifer Wise and Lois Anderson adapt a cheeky, female-powered Lysistrata to address 2018 Vancouver.
Snapshot: As You Like It’s Jacques performing his famous “All the world’s a stage” speech while twilight sets in over the North Shore mountains out the back of the tent.
Essential Accessory: A sweater.
Queer Arts Festival
(At the Roundhouse Community Arts and Recreation Centre and various other venues from June 16 to 28)
The multidisciplinary fest celebrates 10 years of arts and activism, starting with DECADEnce, a curated visual-art exhibition that remembers the trailblazers and tracks the progress of LGBTQ artists. Elsewhere, don’t miss frank theatre company’s new Camera Obscura (hungry ghosts), a play inspired by Vancouver multimedia art star Paul Wong and written by Lesley Ewen (June 20 to 23 at the Roundhouse). And catch the musical-theatre works of Skin & Metal: Homoerotic by Barry Truax at the same venue on June 24, with the Erato Ensemble and guest artist Jerry Pergolesi.
Snapshot: Pergolesi, dressed as a “leather man”, conjuring the world of S&M by playing drums and metallic instruments with his bare hands.
Essential Accessory: Rainbow anything.
Little Chamber Solstice Celebration
(At Mountain View Cemetery on June 16 and 23)
On the first night of this atmospheric happening, Little Chamber Music welcomes Montreal’s Paper Beat Scissors for haunting songs by singer-songwriter Tim Crabtree in the Celebration Hall (5455 Fraser Street). Then Little Chamber’s free Summer Solstice Celebration takes place on June 23, a collaboration with the Birds! Birds! Birds! project that takes wing with stiltwalkers, birdsong, and masks. Lil’wat composer-musician Russell Wallace opens it all at 7 p.m. with First Nations singers.
Snapshot: A giant heron puppet bobbing through the rows of the cemetery’s Masonic section.
Essential Accessory: A lawn chair or blanket.
South Granville ArtWalk
(Along Gallery Row on June 16)
Ten art galleries between West 5th and 15th avenues on Granville host one-day special events, with exhibits, artists' talks and demos, coffee tastings, and much more. Styles and media range from Gordon Wiens’s fleeting, brushy abstracts in Nature Transformed at the Bau-Xi to Uno Langmann Limited’s expansive look at the history of Indigenous art in Canada.
Snapshot: Philippines-raised Beatrix Syjuco’s performance-art “moving painting” at 2 p.m. at the Kurbatoff Gallery, in which she uses found objects, spontaneous movement, and live sound.
Essential Accessory: Your comfiest walking shoes.
(At various locations from June through September)
The open-air public-art fest opens June 20 with the installation of Saudi artist Ajlan Gharem’s welcoming Paradise Has Many Gates at Vanier Park. In July, watch for Colombian-American visual artist Jessica Angel’s monumental, blockchain-tech-inspired Dogethereum Bridge at Olympic Village’s Hinge Park, and Vancouver-based Maskull Lasserre’s Acoustic Anvil: A Small Weight to Forge the Sea in Leg In Boot Square. Montreal-based sculptor Michel de Broin installs his absurdly funny, bike-route-parodying Diversions in both Devonian and Charleson parks later that month. And September brings massively celebrated Aussie artist Patricia Piccinini’s hyperreal human-animal sculpture hybrids to a 90-day show at the Patricia Hotel.
Snapshot: Vancouverites’ jaws dropping as they examine Piccinini’s fleshy, freakily lifelike forms close up.
Essential Accessory: For Piccinini’s show, an in-demand ticket.
Theatre Under the Stars
(At Malkin Bowl from July 4 to August 18)
Two rags-to-riches musicals—Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella and the Broadway song-and-dance classic 42nd Street—alternate this summer at Stanley Park’s tree-enveloped open-air Malkin Bowl.
Snapshot: Cinderella’s magical Fairy Godmother appearing to conjure a squirrel or raccoon from the surrounding enchanted forest.
Essential Accessory: Picnic dinner, bug repellent, jacket.
Indian Summer Festival
(At various venues from July 5 to 15)
Driven by the theme of mythmaking, the contemporary, multi-arts, culture-bridging event brings flute master Hariprasad Chaurasia for a mesmerizing concert in the Orpheum on July 14, with the Allegra Chamber Orchestra and Mohamed Assani paying tribute to Scheherazade of One Thousand and One Nights at the Ismaili Centre the next day. And look for PAUSE, a new free series at a pavilion in Vanier Park, with performances, talks, food, and visual arts.
Snapshot: On July 6, artist in residence Sandeep Johal and Musqueam weaver Debra Sparrow will unveil a collaborative work against the backdrop of the Vancouver cityscape at PAUSE, followed by South Asian and Indigenous culinary treats.
Essential Accessory: Your global mindset.
Dancing on the Edge
(At the Firehall Arts Centre and other venues from July 5 to 14)
The contemporary-dance fest fetes 30 years with a roster that includes veteran Montreal artist Paul-André Fortier’s final one-man creation, SOLO 70; Toronto-born, Brussels-based Liz Kinoshita’s retro-dance-infused look at the explosion of Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull, Volcano; and Montreal’s Lara Kramer Danse’s Windigo, a harrowing look at the violence perpetrated on Indigenous people. Mixed Edge programs boast names like Wen Wei Dance, Company 605, Lesley Telford, Mascall Dance, Noam Gagnon, Kinesis Dance somatheatro, and Co.ERASGA and Kasandra Lea in a new collaboration.
Snapshot: Natasha Gorrie and the B-boys and -girls of Diamonds in the Rough busting moves at Granville Island’s outdoor Chain Forge performance area as part of DOE’s site-specific programming.
Essential Accessory: Java to fuel you through multiple day and evening shows.
Sunday Afternoon Salsa
(At Robson Square on Sundays from July 8 to August 26)
Free outdoor salsa dances continue to heat up the height of summer in downtown Vancouver every Sunday. Head down at 3 p.m. for free beginner lessons, dancing from 3:30 to 7 p.m., and shows by awe-inspiring experts at 5 p.m.; an after-party and social dancing starts at 7 p.m.
Snapshot: Guys in Havana shirts and women in sundresses carving up the floor like it’s midnight in Miramar.
Essential Accessory: A Panama hat or strappy Latin-dance shoes.
Ensemble Theatre Company Summer Repertory Festival
(At the Jericho Arts Centre from July 12 to August 17)
Three meaty plays revolve in repertory in the summer’s most serious acting extravaganza: Aaron Sorkin’s military courtroom drama A Few Good Men, Ian Rankin and Mark Thomson’s twisty, Scotland-set crime thriller Dark Road, and The Beauty Queen of Leenane, by Martin McDonagh—the frenetically foul-mouthed, blackly comic Irish scribe who gave you Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.
Snapshot: Walking in from the nearby beach to sink into the searing dysfunction between Beauty Queen’s elderly Mag and her lonely daughter Maureen.
Essential Accessory: Your brain.
Vancouver Bach Festival
(At Christ Church Cathedral and the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts from July 30 to August 10)
Early Music Vancouver expands to 15 concerts in the third iteration of its Bach fest, kicking off with French harpsichordist Benjamin Alard. Angela Hewitt tackles The Well Tempered Clavier—Book 1 the next night at the Chan. Other names include countertenor Reginald L. Mobley with Pacific MusicWorks; Monica Huggett and Byron Schenkman; and the full orchestra and choir of Gli Angeli Genève for the Bach Cantatas. The event concludes with Johann Sebastian Bach’s Trauer Ode, with top soloists, a choir, and the Pacific Baroque Orchestra led by Alexander Weimann.
Snapshot: Lyric tenor Colin Balzer singing Franz Schubert lieder, with Lucas Harris playing a restored 1831 guitar.
Essential Accessory: A touch of brocade, taffeta, or lace.
Harmony Arts Festival
(Along the West Vancouver waterfront from August 3 to 12)
West Van’s lively summer fest features outdoor concerts on two stages, visual-arts exhibitions, a sprawling art market (running both weekends of the event on Argyle Avenue), nightly outdoor movies, and the two culinary events, Best of the West and Night on the Pier. The newest additions are an Indigenous exhibition (a Coast Salish–focused marketplace and group show, kicking off with a traditional welcome on August 3) and an Indigenous-themed Ambleside feast called Salmon n’ Bannock (August 7).
Snapshot: Painters busily brushing up a storm at the Plein Air Challenge on Ambleside Landing (August 4).
Essential Accessory: Your Blue Bus ticket and a beach towel to use between events.
Powell Street Festival
(At Oppenheimer Park and surrounding streets and venues on August 4 and 5)
The largest Japanese fest in the country kicks off with a bang, with an appearance by percussionist Tatsuya Nakatani and his 14-member Nakatani Gong Orchestra. Other international guests include “sadgrrlrocker” Emma Lee Toyoda and the experimental musical duo Kamura Obscura, joined by KatariTaiko, Kaya Kurz, and the Sakura Singers. Search out exhibitions by artists Chiharu Mizukawa and Nao Uda at the Centre A gallery and a Japanese-Canadian young-actors forum, hosted by the Hapa-palooza festival.
Snapshot: Sweaty sumo tournaments juxtaposed with serene tea ceremonies.
Essential Accessory: An empty stomach.
Vancouver Mural Festival
(In Mount Pleasant and various other locations from August 6 to 11)
Create Vancouver Society’s third annual public-art bash features work this year by Vancouver names Danielle Krysa (the Jealous Curator) and Musqueam designer and weaver Debra Sparrow, as well as an all-female roster of international guest muralists: South Africa’s FaithXLVII, Los Angeles’s Bunnie Reiss, and New York City’s BKFoxx. The week’s mural-making culminates in the massive Mount Pleasant Street Party on August 11, with transformed alleyways, interactive art activities, music, markets, street-dance contests, a craft-beer garden, and a bash celebrating more than 30 new murals. It’s all followed by a ticketed concert at Jonathan Rogers Park.
Snapshot: More than 100,000 people mingling amid graffiti jams along Main Street and its alleys.
Essential Accessory: Your Insta app.
Monsoon Festival of Performing Arts
(At various locations in Vancouver and Surrey from August 9 to 19)
South Asian theatre takes the spotlight, with Anita Majumdar’s critically acclaimed one-woman show The Fish Eyes Trilogy and the site-specific The Undocumented Trial of William C. Hopkinson, plus staged readings and development workshops.
Snapshot: Fish Eyes’ television and film actress Majumdar bringing to life three teenage girls in small-town Canada, punctuating it all with dazzling dance.
Essential Accessory: Ideas around colonialism and cultural appropriation.
Vancouver Outsider Arts Festival
(At the Roundhouse Community Arts and Recreation Centre from August 10 to 12)
Discover a hidden talent in this showcase of visual and performing artists who operate well outside the mainstream.
Snapshot: Visitors wandering through rows and rows of artworks that they might otherwise never have seen.
Essential Accessory: Curiosity.
Kaleidoscope Arts Festival
(At Coquitlam’s Town Centre Park on August 11)
Two stages go all day at this free event, featuring headliners the Philosopher Kings, plus concerts by pop singer Mathew V and “violinist extremist” Kytami, who fuses classical, traditional fiddle, and electro and dub beats. The array spans the Eagle Song Dancers, the Royal Academy of Bhangra, and the contemporary–hip-hop Ouro Collective. Visit the artisan market, take part in a community-art project, or hit Food Truck Alley and the Beer Corner.
Snapshot: The Philosopher Kings belting out “Charms” across a grassy field bathed in sunshine.
Essential Accessory: Shades.
All Over the Map
(At Ron Basford Park on August 12, 19, and 26)
New Works brings you dance from around the globe, all for free at 1 and 3 p.m. on the grassy knoll on Granville Island (inside at Performance works if it rains). This year, flamenco fires up the series, with Calle Verde pummelling the stage at the opening show, followed the next Sunday by Spain-based Fin de Fiesta, whose Canadian, French, and Cuban members will be on tour. The final show mixes it up with Kunda African Culture Music & Dance.
Snapshot: Ivorian acrobat and dancer Kesseke Yeo tumbling across the outdoor stage while Kocassale Dioubate plays exquisite handmade instruments.
Essential Accessory: Sunblock.
Vancouver Fringe Festival
(At Granville Island and various venues around town from September 6 to 16)
Wrap up the summer with the city’s gigantic theatre extravaganza. Look for five shows making their way through the world’s Fringe circuit before coming to Vancouver: Al Lafrance: I Think I’m Dead, Magical Mystery Detour, Banned in the USA, Red Bastard: Lie With Me, and Forget Me Not: The Alzheimer’s Whodunnit. Other Fringe faves returning include Martin Dockery and offbeat German standup Paco Erhard.
Snapshot: Theatre entrepreneurs madly handing out flyers to the lineups that snake throughout Granville Island venues.
Essential Accessory: Your Fringe pass and a handy schedule.