The lobby of the Garneau Theatre is swarming with people. Local musician Colleen Brown bangs out tunes along the back wall as a line of thirsty people purchase beer and wine from volunteers working a makeshift bar. The crowd is made up of an eclectic mix of people of all ages and backgrounds, buzzing with conversation around the shared interest that has brought them together; the local arts.
When the announcement is made for the crowd to make its way into the theatre, the audience whoops and hollers for a show that includes a mix of comedy, dance, magic, music and film — all from Edmonton creators and performers. This January evening’s curated mix of up-and-comers and established acts is the first of two variety showcases the Culture Collective — a local not-for-profit organization that showcases the best of Edmonton’s film, music and performing arts talent — will put on this year.
In the audience are Kris Harvey, owner of local event production firm The Collective, and Thomas Scott, a local DJ and former program director for the Edmonton International Fringe Theatre Festival. The two founded the organization in 2013 to increase awareness of local talent and the city’s burgeoning performing arts scene.
“We couldn’t accept the idea that we are a city of trucks and truck-nuts, as maybe Oprah now thinks we are,” Harvey says. “We use this variety format so that people will take a chance on an event and come to it to experience a wide variety of things Edmonton has to offer.”
The duo hopes the audience will come away with a new perspective on the wide range of talent throughout Edmonton, and perhaps share their discoveries with others.
“We’re an arts accelerator,” says Scott. “People are consuming culture differently and so, by providing a stage for people who live and work in Edmonton in their chosen disciplines, and allowing them to showcase that in front of art-savvy people, it not only entertains, but educates as well. It’s what gets people involved.”
The showcases give five to 30 minutes to each of the performers — 15 per show, on average — who come from all aspects of the performing arts community. Stand-up comedians appear between performances from burlesque troops and Citie Ballet. Short films from local filmmakers grace the Garneau screen, mere minutes before electronic or live music acts grace the stage. During the show’s intermission, the audience can mingle and speak to the performers.
“For me, it’s almost all about education,” Harvey says. “But that’s less than half the battle. We have had near or more than 80 performers and there’s still more. It inspires us to keep going and to grow our audience.”
Another way of growing an audience? The collective has integrated three arts markets between variety shows. One such market, which will be held on April 2, at the Yellowhead Brewery, features a smaller variety show and a market featuring local designers and visual artists.