Forced to shut down last year at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, the Femme Folks Fest is a go again this year, albeit in a virtual format.
Starting on International Women’s Day March 8, the 12-day event focuses on women and the arts in Waterloo Region.
The festival was created in response to a lack of programming recognizing women during March, International Women’s Month.
“Our intention last year was to run for three weeks at 11 different venues in Waterloo Region. We had 40 different events, and then COVID hit. So, we ran exactly four days before we had to close the festival. To say that was a disappointment. It’s an understatement. But it was no more disappointing than what everyone in the world felt with COVID happening,” explained Lisa O’Connell, founding artistic director of Pat the Dog Theatre Creation.
After much deliberation, organizers decided that this year’s event would proceed, though in a digital form. Given the financial uncertainty many may be experiencing during the pandemic, they opted for a pay-what-you-will donation system to make it accessible.
This year’s programming features options ranging from a stage performance to a playwright reading series, as well as a Playwright’s Canada book sale, which runs for the entire 12 days.
Another part of this year’s festival is the ‘Playwright in Residence’ with Michaela Jeffery.
“She has 14 spots available – sign up to them on the central fest website – for any playwrights or [aspiring] playwrights,” said O’Connell, noting writers can “feature a maximum of 10 pages of your work, and she’d be very happy to read it and have a conversation with you.”
Despite the modified format, organizers are glad that the festival came together again this year despite the usual interactions of a live event.
“I’m really happy to have a production, because we can see live in theatre. Normally, with a live theatre production [you] go to the theatre and you go into the lobby and get yourself a snack or a drink. And then you go in and you sit down and you enjoy the show. And then oftentimes after the show, you might have a conversation with your friends or they might even be a talkback amongst the artistic crew within the show. Well, we’re kind of doing the same thing here, but we’re doing it in a different form,” she said.
This year’s production is the Vintage Project, a collaboration between Conestogo’s Auburn Vintage and Pat the Dog. The play has a capacity of 20 people for screening, and there are only three showings, with O’Connell suggesting people act quickly on the limited spaces.
The festival has a unique way to ‘Gather’ with other attendees, using Gather to enter into a virtual world as an 8-bit avatar.
“Come and enjoy and learn and be part of it,” she said, emphasizing the goal of the festival is removing barriers to access.
“Lots of folks that may be uncomfortable, especially with new platforms: Don’t be afraid. I’m an older woman myself – if I can learn it, anybody can,” said O’Connell.
“It’s really important to me this year that people don’t have any barriers to access, so we’re super happy to offer this for free for anyone to come. If you can make a donation, that’s fantastic. But if you can’t, please do come anyhow, and enjoy and see the breadth of the beautiful women creators – we have a lot of innovation.”
More information about the festival programming and registration can be found online.