With Western Canada’s largest Shakespeare festival already under way, to be closely followed by the Indian Summer, Dancing on the Edge, and Theatre Under the Stars celebrations, the warm-weather arts season is fully launched. With enough sunblock, caffeine, and strategic scheduling, you could spend the entire summer catching stage shows, checking out art markets, and listening to outdoor and indoor concerts, before finishing up with the bang of the Vancouver Fringe Festival. Here’s a guide to some of the events worth catching.
Bard on the Beach
(To September 21 at Vanier Park)
The city’s waterside Shakespeare fest celebrates 30 years with four plays featuring female protagonists. In the main-stage tent, Lois Anderson’s spaghetti-western-themed The Taming of the Shrew alternates with Lee Hall’s adaptation of the hit film Shakespeare in Love. At the Howard Family Stage, for the first time, the plays will run consecutively instead of taking turns: Rohit Chokahani and Johnna Wright helm a colourful, India-set All’s Well That Ends Well, while director Dean Paul Gibson upends Shakespeare’s rarely performed Coriolanus by casting a woman—Moya O’Connell, last year’s Lady Macbeth—in the role of the ruthless Roman leader.
The Draw: It’s too hard to pick a show from the compelling mix this year, but we’re excited to see what All’s Well does with the cross-cultural tensions of an Indian Helena and a British-officer Bertram, falling in love on the eve of Indian independence. Shrew has a creative dream team, with Lois Anderson (of last year’s raucous Lysistrata) at the helm. And Coriolanus will be a midsummer occasion when it opens in August; this is the first time in its three-decade history that the fest has tackled the work.
Survival Kit: A sweater for cool West Coast evenings and a preshow picnic.
Indian Summer Festival
(July 4 to 14 at various venues)
The musical and culinary meet the literary, fashion, and comedy worlds in the ninth edition of eclectic, diversity-rich programming. Big-name authors appearing this year include travel writer Pico Iyer and novelist and nonfiction author Amitav Ghosh, the latter speaking on climate change in a talk called “The Great Derangement”. Look also for comedian Hari Kondabolu and a fashion show inspired by the works of visual-art star Beau Dick.
The Draw: On July 12 at the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts, reigning sarod masters Amjad Ali Khan & Sons and three-time Grammy winner Sharon Isbin, one of the planet’s greatest classical guitarists, meld their musical worlds for a show called Strings for Peace.
Survival Kit: Your best South Asian silks for some of the fest’s more glam happenings, including the opening party hosted by chef Vikram Vij and friends.
Dancing on the Edge
(July 4 to 13 at the Firehall Arts Centre and other venues)
Artists from here, across the country, and spots as far away as Brazil and Korea converge at Canada’s longest-running contemporary-dance fest (31 years and counting). Watch local streets and parks for site-specific outdoor works, and shows by the likes of Brazil’s De Danca-Cearas, Montreal’s Danse Carpe Diem, and such local bright lights as Tara Cheyenne Friedenberg, Ziyian Kwan, and Rachel Meyer.
The Draw: As always, the Edge’s cleverly curated mixed programs work like a tapas menu of short, tasty dance.
Survival Kit: A Google calendar to plan your attack and a few bucks for a bite in nearby Strathcona or Gastown between shows.
Theatre Under the Stars
(July 5 to August 17 at Malkin Bowl)
Disney’s Broadway sensation Newsies, the story of a New York City newspaper strike at the turn of the last century, and Mamma Mia!, the hit musical based on the songs of platinum-haired Swedish superstars ABBA, will alternate.
The Draw: Mamma Mia! will have everyone dancing in the aisles, but we’re excited for choreographer-director Julie Tomaino’s high-kicking footwork in Newsies.
Survival Kit: A blanket and bug spray.
Sunday Afternoon Salsa
(July 7 to August 25 at Robson Square)
Follow the rhythms to the dance floor under the street in front of the Vancouver Art Gallery, where the free annual tradition starts with half-hour lessons at 3 p.m. and features experts in performances at 5 p.m.
The Draw: The eye candy of hundreds of amateur dancers showing their stuff, turning downtown Vancouver into a mini-Havana each early summer Sunday evening.
Survival Kit: Your dancing shoes, and bottled water for when you’re feeling hot, hot, hot.
Ensemble Theatre Company
(July 12 to August 16 at the Jericho Arts Centre)
The seventh annual repertory-theatre series alternates three diverse plays by the beach. Michael Healey’s The Drawer Boy opens the fest, followed by Garson Kanin’s classic Born Yesterday—a Washington-set political satire that’s painfully relevant to the Trump era.
The Draw: We’re eager to see Superior Donuts by August: Osage County playwright Tracy Letts, directed by Keltie Forsyth.
Survival Kit: Wheels or a Compass pass to get home from Jericho Beach after the show. And your brain.
Harrison Festival of the Arts
(July 12 to 21 in Harrison Hot Springs)
World music—we’re talking everything from Cajun to zydeco—meets a sprawling outdoor artisan market on one of the most dramatic pieces of waterfront in the province.
The Draw: The band lineup is always strong here, with a roster this year that includes Veda Hille, Gord Grdina’s Haram, and Quinta Kalavera, to name just a few.
Survival Kit: Your widest-brimmed hat, sunnies, and a bathing suit and towel to cool off between sets.
Vancouver Bach Festival
(July 30 to August 9 at Christ Church Cathedral and the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts)
The 15-concert celebration is making a name for itself as one of the largest of its kind on the continent. This summer, it spans the Vancouver Bach Choir’s performance of Gabriel Fauré’s glistening Requiem, Byron Schenkman’s rendition of Frédéric Chopin preludes on a 19th-century fortepiano, and a grand fest-closing concert of Henry Purcell’s Hail! Bright Cecilia, with the Pacific Baroque Orchestra.
The Draw: Montreal’s early-music group Les Boréades should bring down the house with its two-night performance of Johann Sebastian Bach’s complete Brandenburg Concertos.
Survival Kit: If you’re under 35, bring your driver’s licence to get tickets for half off.
Vancouver Mural Festival
(August 1 to 10 in Mount Pleasant and at various venues)
The fourth annual fest drew more than 120,000 people to Mount Pleasant for its wall-size art and music bonanza last year. Now, on top of the more than 25 murals it will add to its collection of 120, it’s expanding its programming so that there’s a special event every day of the festival, with a gallery show, flash tattoo event, mural tours, public talks, and much more.
The Draw: At the blowout Mount Pleasant Street Party on August 10 from noon to 7 p.m., the event turns 14 city blocks into a living art space, complete with four beer gardens, two live music stages, two markets, food trucks, DJs and dance battles, and a new Family Zone.
Survival Kit: Walking shoes and a bookmark for vanmuralfest.ca’s digital map.
Powell Street Festival
(August 3 and 4 at Oppenheimer Park and area)
Alongside favourites at this Japanese cultural fest, like martial arts, tanko bushi, taiko, sumo, and, of course, food, singer-pianist Yuni Mori visits from Yamanashi, Japan, and Montreal seven-piece Teke::Teke performs its Takeshi Terauchi–inspired blend of shoegaze, postrock, and noise.
The Draw: Seattle’s Katrina Wolfe will create a sculptural, shape-shifting butoh show that should bring an avant-garde edge to the fun in the sun.
Survival Kit: An empty stomach, UV protection, and curiosity.
Vines Art Festival
(August 7 to 18 at Trout Lake Park and other open-air venues)
Arts and activism meet in grassroots works that celebrate the land and explore environmental issues.
The Draw: The lineup has yet to be announced, but look for some of your most memorable experiences amid the greenery in the final, free outdoor showcase by Trout Lake—sometimes in the trees, by the water, or across the lawns.
Survival Kit: Drinks and snacks in reusable containers.
Vancouver Outsider ARTS Festival
(August 9 to 11 at the Roundhouse Community Arts and Recreation Centre)
The Community Arts Council of Vancouver throws the spotlight on visual artists and performers who don’t usually get it. Whether they’re simply self-taught or working well outside art-world trends, these are folks who face barriers to having their work seen.
The Draw: Hundreds of artworks form a massive exhibit and sale that is the hub of the event.
Survival Kit: Bring a few bills to play art collector, and leave pretensions and preconceptions at the door.
Vancouver Fringe Festival
(September 5 to 15 around Granville Island and elsewhere)
Wrap up summer with hundreds of theatre performances by artists from here and around the world. Make sure to find out word of mouth at the Fringe Hub (Studio 1398) and search out cool site-specific happenings in all the nooks and crannies of Granville Island.
The Draw: Some highlights this year are already creating buzz at fringe fests on the other side of the continent, namely Tim Motley’s Crazy for Dick Tricks: A Dirk Darrow Investigation, Rodney DeCroo’s Didn’t Hurt, and Martin Dockery’s You Belong Here.
Survival Kit: Your dog-eared Fringe program and some coffee for fuel.