Norman Armour is on his way to a festival in Montreal in a few hours, and as artistic and executive director of Vancouver’s PuSh International Performing Arts Festival, this kind of trip is a way of life. “We are focused on our local artistic community, but nothing happens in a vacuum,” he says. “The overall design of our festival is to speak to a Vancouver audience, to give them an opportunity to experience new works, sometimes challenging works, from here but also from around the world.” Thus the travel, to see performances, yes, but also to connect with other arts festivals, other directors, writers, performers, as part of a vast yet intimate network.
Armour has been doing this for 12 years, and he is very good at it, coming from a background in acting, directing, and writing contemporary plays. “Well, you have to be good at putting this together each year, otherwise no one would come to the festival,” he smiles. “I think of PuSh as a kind of portal which an audience can enter, and through which they experience the world in a different way, through performance art.” A quick look through the 2016 program confirms he has done a marvelous job, assembling a dazzling array of exciting options, with many performances accompanied by post-show talks by the principals.
Not one to rest on past accomplishments, Armour has instituted a PuSh Youth program, in which people age 16 to 24 are invited to actively participate in the festival, in such ways as becoming interns, ambassadors, or simply acquiring a Youth Passport, which enables them to attend select shows for five dollars. It is a wise acknowledgement that refreshing and enlivening the arts community requires up-and-coming patrons and artists. The Fox Cabaret is one of the venues this time around, a great nod to the neighbourhood the theatre is in, but also to the people who tend to go there throughout the year.
One special event this time is a keynote address by Ron Berry, artistic director of the Fusebox Festival in Austin, Texas. “Austin is a culturally vibrant city,” says Armour. “It is a bit of a role model for other festivals, and Ron is a terrific advocate.” Armour says the festivals in Portland and Calgary are other great examples of how vibrant and relevant an event like this can be. All in all, PuSh is an exciting festival, and things kick off January 19, 2016, and runs through February 7.