Help Bring Live Performances Back to Edmonton at SkirtsAfire Festival 2021

The Cause

SkirtsAfire Festival is Edmonton's only 10 day theatre and multidisciplinary arts festival featuring women. Heading into our 9th annual festival in March 2021, we are excited to be a continued platform for women's stories to be shared and heard, presenting theatre, dance, spoken word, music and more.

With many unknowns of the pandemic, we are working hard to bring live performances back to an audience hungry for inspiring, passionate, and important stories in the safest way possible. Health and safety of our artists, audience, and staff are top priority and we are taking the necessary steps to ensure this through additional staff and equipment.

We will minimize programming in order to be in control of sanitation and health requirements set forth by the Government of Alberta. In 2020, we grew to include 8 venues, employing over 100 artists. For 2021, all events will take place at 1 venue and we plan to employ 50-60 artists. While this may seem like a step back for SkirtsAfire, we know it is the opposite. Our 2021 festival will be one of the first to relaunch post-pandemic and will set a precedent for others to follow. We plan to share our policies and procedures with other organizations that need them.

We are committed to elevating BIPOC voices with a goal of hiring at least 40% artists of color for 2021. We’re very excited about a new event currently being planned as we partner with Ballet Edmonton, integrating their company of dancers with our spoken word event, Words Unzipped, which has been curated by BIPOC artists for the past 5 years. It features powerful stories from a diverse collection of artists in music, poetry and dance. This year, the poetry of these BIPOC artists will be put to music and dance by Ballet Edmonton who will create movement pieces to express the pain, resilience, power and history brought to life in the poet’s words.

Our MainStage play, “Makings of a Voice” by Dana Wylie, is a story of feminism, motherhood, family and looking back at your roots to find meaning for today, strung together with heartfelt music. New to our line-up will be a digital project using photos, voices, stories and music titled “Covid Collections” that will share women’s stories of surviving, thriving, failing, and coping through the pandemic. This video will be shown live, but also online for any patrons who do not feel comfortable attending. We know that our audience will have varying levels of comfort and want to make sure our festival is accessible.

Who Will it Benefit?

Our artists, our audience and Edmonton’s diverse communities will benefit. As we have come to learn during this pandemic, art is important. We have gotten through isolation with movies, tv shows, books, and other online content. We have been able to turn our minds off from the scary reality of this pandemic and fall in love, travel to new places, and learn new skills - thanks to the stories shared with us through art. One thing our screens can’t deliver though, is the magic of live performance; the experience of gathering in a dark room and sharing a one-of-a-kind moment between a performer and audience and the sense of community brought together in that shared experience. While many other theatre, arts organizations and festivals have made the commendable effort to digitize their content, we must all admit that something is missing when you take away the in-person aspect. That is why it is so important for SkirtsAfire to do everything we can to safely and effectively produce our 9th annual festival in person. It is our duty as an arts organization to bring audiences back for safe, live performance.

The Artists
Artists have been greatly affected by this pandemic with many out of work for months and lots unable to see a live performance employment opportunity in their foreseeable future. We want to give artists that opportunity by creating safe ways for them to perform to a live audience at our festival. We have launched our annual artist submission call and welcome submissions from women artists of all disciplines and diverse backgrounds including trans women, self-identifying women, non-binary people, all ethnicities and all abilities.

The Audience
In an Arts Response Tracking Study conducted last May, one in four indoor culture-goers say they plan to attend, in person, indoor arts and cultural performances immediately after businesses are reopened and following public guidelines. We see this 25% as a great indication that in March 2021, many patrons will be comfortable attending live events with social distancing and masks in place, which we plan to enforce. Audiences are eager to return to live performances, and with their health and safety as top priority, we plan to deliver the much needed in-person experiences that the pandemic took away.