Gabrielle Martin promises fun and adventure at Club PuSh

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      Programming a major arts festival has to be a daunting job at the best of times, but throw a global pandemic into the mix and the challenges really ramp up.

      Nobody knows that better than Gabrielle Martin, programming director of the PuSh International Performing Arts Festival. The rise of the Omicron variant has been causing havoc with the annual event, the latest casualty being the cancellation of Tarragon Theatre and Black Theatre Workshop's Our Fathers, Sons, Lovers, and Little Brothers. Before that, Martin had to scrap the festival's co-presentation with Music on Main of Leah Abramson's nine-song cycle Songs For A Lost Pod, as well as The Café, a collection of plays by ITSAZOO Productions and Aphotic Theatre.

      "They were two shows that were in their final stages of production," says Martin on the phone from the Push Fest's downtown office, "but there was just too much of a financial and health risk for these large casts coming together. So that was emotionally hard, because we were just sad to see those go, and we were worried about that being a trend.

      "That said," she adds, "the majority of our program is going forward, so 11 shows in eight venues. We're just really happy that we can move forward with these shows because we believe in each of them--that's why we programmed them."

      Martin is particularly pleased that COVID-19 hasn't put the kibosh on Club PuSh, which takes place over three nights at Performance Works on Granville Island.

      "We've partnered with other arts and theatre companies to curate each of the nights," she explains. "So February 2 is the frank theatre company, and we're describing the event as 'a celebration of the queer art of failure'. It also comes directly after the show How to Fail as a Popstar by Vivek Shraya, so they're kind of taking that theme on into the night."

      PuSh International Performing Arts Festival programmer Gabrielle Martin.

      According to the PuSh Festival website, that first Club PuSh night features drag artists Rose Butch, PM, Continental Breakfast, Maiden China, Kara Juku, Edzi’u, and DJ Softieshan, but Martin can't say which of those performers she's most psyched to see.

      "I wasn't involved in curating this," she says, "but frank theatre has taken the lead on it, and I absolutely trust that they have put together what will be a fun night. To be honest I know about as much as you from reading the names, but the names themselves have me intrigued. Maiden China and Continental Breakfast--those are really piquing my interest."

      The second Club PuSh, on February 3, is co-curated by Full Circle: First Nations Performance’s Rob Thomson and Nimkish Younging, and features a lineup of Indigenous artists performing everything from burlesque to hip-hop music. The third and final Club PuSh, on February 4, is a "dance battle" featuring interdisciplinary arts collective Immigrant Lessons.

      "This is actually something that [the festival] had done in previous years that was really successful," says Martin. "There's a spirit of exchange, and it's improvised, and my understanding is that the root of it is to try and mix up people's perceptions of what dance is, and bring dancers together across disciplines. So whereas originally audiences could jump up and join in, it'll be organized in advance where dancers will sign up to show their stuff."

      Martin notes that, due to COVID-19 restrictions, there will be a cabaret-style seating arrangement at Club PuSh, and patrons will remain seated.

      "People will not be mingling with their drinks in hand throughout the room," she points out, "but the cabaret seating also allows for something different. I know with the frank theatre night they're really gonna use that to their advantage in that some performances take place in different areas of Performance Works. It's a little bit hyper-live in that sense.

      "It'll be an adventurous night," Martin promises. "All of the Club PuSh nights will be adventurous in spirit, so you won't necessarily know exactly what you're gonna get."

      Club PuSh takes place February 2 to 4 at Performance Works as part of the PuSh International Performing Arts Festival. Tickets are $10 at the door, but admission is free with a ticket to any PuSh show.