The future of the Neanderthal Arts Festival has become uncertain after the two groups behind the East Vancouver summer theatre event have parted ways.
Upintheair Theatre, a nonprofit arts group, and Left Right Minds, a marketing and web development company, jointly launched the festival in 2010. Held at the Cultch in July, the festival was like a West Coast take on Toronto’s long-running SummerWorks Theatre Festival. The idea was to offer a series of edgy productions during a relative lull in Vancouver’s theatre season.
After three years of co-producing the Neanderthal Arts Festival, Upintheair has ended its collaboration with Left Right Minds and launched a new project, the rEvolver Theatre Festival. Upintheair’s latest festival will also be staged at the Cultch but it will take place in May instead of July.
Upintheair co-founder Daniel Martin said the creative partnership with Left Right Minds “came to a very amicable, natural end”.
“We have a very good relationship with them,” he told the Straight. “It’s more the case of two companies that have different modes of working and that everything had to go through two processes. It became cumbersome. Also it became clear at a certain point that we had different interests in where we wanted to go with our [artistic] curation.”
With Upintheair focused on its new theatre project, the future of the Neanderthal Arts Festival rests with Left Right Minds, but the company is still considering what to do.
Allyson McGrane, a Left Right Minds partner who co-founded Neanderthal Arts Festival, said her company might produce a scaled-down version of the event this summer. She said she wants to stick with the Neanderthal Arts Festival name and favours holding any event at the same time of year as in the past.
“I don’t want to completely miss a year because I think that’s the wrong thing to do because there’s been some presence built up around it,” McGrane told the Straight. “If we do something this year, it will be quite small. If it doesn’t work out at all, we’ll simply announce that, ‘Hey, we’re taking a year off.’”
McGrane also expressed uncertainty about how the finances would work for future editions of the Neanderthal Arts Festival.
"It’s a complicated thing because we’re a for-profit company rather than a not-for-profit company. A lot of the arts funding travels through not-for-profit organizations."
Asked about the split with Upintheair, McGrane said: “Different people come to different places. People want to pursue different things. We wanted to pursue something that was different.”
The rEvolver lineup, announced in late February, mainly features Vancouver theatre groups and artists but companies from Edmonton and Whitehorse are also on the bill. Among the offerings are a sci-fi puppet show, a movie pitch about a SkyTrain shooting, and a talk show about Vancouver’s drag history.
Martin described rEvolver as the next step in his theatre company’s decade-long history of producing festivals. He said the goal is to showcase talent from Vancouver and other parts of Canada.
“We’re still working with emerging artists now but we’re working with people who are somewhat established in their craft and on the bubble of taking that step into the public consciousness as significant theatre artists,” he said.
Martin cited the weather as a reason for holding the festival in the spring. He said audience numbers dropped on nice summer days during the Neanderthal Arts Festival.
The inaugural rEvolver Theatre Festival takes place May 14 to 26 at the Cultch.