Club PuSh: Five Fabulous Years!

Ivan Coyote and Rae Spoon
Ivan Coyote and Rae Spoon

Club PuSh opens tonight — the fifth program of new performance that thrives in a bar environment — as part of the PuSh International Performing Arts Festival, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this year.

PuSh has made a lot happen in a decade, growing from a trio of presentations in 2004 drawing an audience in the hundreds to a program of 30, including those at the Club in 2014. Last year, PuSh attendance hit 34,000.

I remember entering Studio 16 and dropping into the beautifully bizarre dream world of Marie Brassard’s Jimmy, PuSh’s first show, and having the feeling like I’d connected to a new and fresh kind of performance adventure, as I had when seeing Robert Lepage’s Needles and Opium (Brassard and Lepage were long-time collaborators) or The Holy Body Tattoo’s early dance work at The Cultch.

Norman Armour and Katrina Dunn had good instincts and timing — the city was ready for a festival that built upon a taste for the cosmopolitan that had been established in part by the Fringe, Film, Writers’, Folk and Jazz festivals. PuSh’s distinct advantage in carving a niche was its multi-disciplinary nature, its flexibility: by drawing on the idiosyncratic interests of audiences in every genre, cross-pollinating them, and letting the chemistry evolve, PuSh could popularize boundary-pushing over time.

Norman had hit my radar about ten years prior to Jimmy, when I was new to editing in the entertainment department at the Vancouver Sun and looking to write about arts events that fell between the beats covered by the other writers.

Norman proved to be an articulate ideas man in talking about Wireless Graffiti. I was compelled to follow his ambitious work at Rumble particularly after Richard Wolfe and I formed Conspiracy in 1995 and got to know Norman through the establishment of See Seven, then an arts marketing initiative that has transformed into CIA.

Conspiracy jumped into the PuSh world in 2006, with Richard directing Scott Bellis in a blistering performance of Thom Pain (based on nothing) by Will Eno. Club PuSh stuff all the way, had it existed at the time.

We also did one-night PuSh cabarets over three years and then Live From a Bush of Ghosts, which I created with Tara Cheyenne Friedenberg, the DJ outfit No Luck Club and Cande Andrade, Richard directing. That was in 2009 [,] at the same time we were launching the Club. Total madness and a great success.

It’s been an absolute honour for Theatre Conspiracy to co-present the Club with PuSh and a great workout in curation to work with Norman and Veda Hille each year, thinking through new ways to animate Performance Works and make the Club the social heart of the festival.

PuSh has also offered some great opportunities for me to stretch out beyond Conspiracy (and has since informed my work there) in recent years, through writing and dramaturgical collaborations with Rimini Protokol on Best Before, Theatre Replacement and director Amiel Gladstone on Rimini’s 100% Vancouverand boca del lupo’s Vancouver version of Mariano Pensotti’s La Marea.

We open the Club with Gender Failure, the brilliant collaboration between Ivan E. Coyote and Rae Spoon, and close with Duets for One, which I’ve had the pleasure of creating with Tanya Marquardt over the past two years.

A big thank you to everyone at PuSh for all their good work from all of us at Theatre Conspiracy.

—   Tim Carlson

Become a member of Theatre Conspiracy during the Club PuSh run and you could land two seats at Secret Spaces