Innovations PUSHes Boundaries

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Do You Want What I Have Got?: A Craigslist Cantata, was one of the 20 Minute Musicals that were the hit of 2009's Club PuSh, an alternative stage within the two-week theatre festival. Richardson's celebrated wit was put to the test as he cobbled together lyrics from real Craigslist ads ("I have a backhoe that needs minor fixing...") Hille also released an album by the same name.

The Cantata shared the stage with Distant Second: The Steve Fonyo Story, about the one-legged runner who is often in trouble with the law. Nouveau klezmer accordion punk troubadour Geoff Berner explored the comic side of the Canadian dream, and why "we all blow it."

Club PuSh was launched in 2009 with $10,000 from 2010 Legacies Now, and about 3,000 people attended over two weeks, January 27 to February 7. They commandeered Performance Works on Granville Island and reconfigured the space to suit the performances. When they didn't have the crowds laughing in the intimate cabaret setting, they had audiences rocking out to indie bands like Calgary's Woodpigeon, which Toronto's Now Magazine recently called "the next great Canadian breakout band."

Or they provoked viewers with hard-to-label acts like New York drag queen Taylor Mac, whose poignant show includes singing and stand-up comedy

Theatre critic Colin Thomas calls the festival, which launched in 2003, a "stimulating annual showcase of risk-taking work," and Club PuSh continued in that vein. But Executive Director Norman Armour says it also offered something new - a salon where audiences can meet new artists and artists can find new collaborators. Because they served drinks, the club also served as a social hub, which Armour says is crucial to sparking new work.

"We wanted to create energy around work of this kind, with contemporary artists pushing the genre," Armour says, "And we're always looking to attract younger audiences."

With that in mind, Club PuSh offered a long roster of up-and-coming bands from across "Cascadia" - Washington and Oregon, as well as B.C.

Armour says that they wanted to give audiences the fun of encountering tomorrow's stars in an intimate setting. "The idea was that it's sort of like being in New York in the 1940s and stumbling across a young Charlie Parker in some little club."

And he adds that even though the $10,000 grant is relatively small, it has big pay-offs because the benefits of projects like this extend far beyond the event.

"It brings different artists together - from theatre, pop music - and that stimulates conversations and new work. It also attracts international producers, which allows our local artists to be seen on an international stage," Armour says.

Club PuSh is on hiatus for the 2010 PuSh Festival, January 20 to February 6, but it returns in 2011.

Innovations invests in arts, cultural and heritage organizations wishing to create new opportunities for community members to participate in arts and cultural activities. The program supports new events and exhibitions, as well as projects for artists to share their knowledge with community members to produce collective works. Innovations is supported by the Province of British Columbia.