Skip to main content
nestruck on theatre
Open this photo in gallery:

Hold On Let Go continues this week with a brand-new work by Theatre Replacement called Best Life, pictured above.Chelsey Stuyt/Handout

While I was in Vancouver for the PuSh Festival last week, I kept being pulled toward another theatre and performance festival taking place at the Russian Hall in the Strathcona neighbourhood.

Hold On Let Go, which continues to February 2, is co-produced by Theatre Replacement, the accessibly avant-garde company founded by Siminovitch Prize winners James Long and Maiko Yamamoto, and Company 605, an arts organization run by Lisa Gelley and Josh Martin.

This single-venue festival of contemporary Vancouver and Canadian live performance is the evolution of what used to be a smaller event called PushOFF, which initially took place annually over a couple of afternoons during PuSh.

It has lengthened over the years and, in now expanding to a full two weeks, has also changed its name. The new branding is also, in part, in case it eventually decouples from PuSh or moves to a different time of year, I was told by Yamamoto, who became Theatre Replacement’s sole artistic director a couple years ago when Long was hired as a professor at Simon Fraser University’s School of Contemporary Arts.

My first post-PuSh evening visit to Hold On Let Go was for a party/performance: the 20th birthday celebration of Theatre Replacement. I got there in time to listen to a musical performance by Veda Hille, who writes the songs every year for the company’s popular East Van Panto, and a theatrical toast from Marcus Youssef, another occasional Theatre Replacement collaborator and Siminovitch Prize winner who is artistic associate at Vancouver’s Neworld Theatre.

It was wonderful to walk down memory lane, celebrating the two decades of visionary work that has given Theatre Replacement a reputation as a kind of Wooster Group of the West Coast. A couple of my faves: Bioboxes, with its little one-on-one performances that explored how multiculturalism “demands that you actually be apart before you can be together”; and Winners and Losers, a show (co-produced by Crow’s Theatre and Neworld Theatre) that busted all the taboos in its exploration of privilege, race and class.

In his toast, Youssef seemed to speak to the controversies that have roiled the theatre community in Vancouver regarding PuSh – not just this year, but over the past four.

“To building things, not tearing them down.

To not seeing what you want and so making something new,

To fighting back by building, not destroying.

To including … by including.”

Open this photo in gallery:

SmartSmart by Adrienne Wong is a clever piece of performance art that prompts the audience to use smartphones.Handout

But I digress. After being persuaded to let down my critical guard and dance a bit, I was was lured back the next night to see a work-in-progress performance of a piece called SmartSmart by Adrienne Wong and SpiderWebShow Performance.

This was indeed a very smart piece of interactive performance art. It required audience members to have a smartphone with a special app downloaded onto it – but, ultimately, involved interacting with a group of strangers at a crafting table and then, later, not having a phone to hide behind at intermission over complimentary tea. I found it quite healing in terms of my relationship with my phone and, sorry to be coy about the details, but I hope to write about it again next time it is produced.

On my way back to my hotel, I Googled the origin of the word “festival” and discovered that it was first used as an adjective in the English language. Well, Hold On Let Go truly felt festival: I really enjoyed the atmosphere. It continues this week with a brand-new work by Theatre Replacement called Best Life, and another from Company 605 called lossy (excerpts).

One last PuSh

The PuSh Festival comes to an end in Vancouver this week, and one show I wish I was still there to see in person is PLI, a collaboration between French-based Israeli circus performer Inbal Ben Haim and a pair of visual artists that sees aerial artistry interact with fragile paper.

PLI (the word for fold in French) is being co-presented with the Chutzpah Festival, the Vancouver celebration of international Jewish performing arts. It can be streamed online, too, from February 2 to 4.

Also on this week: The Shadow Whose Prey the Hunter Becomes, from Australia’s Ibsen Prize-winning theatre company Back to Back. You can read my review from its recent run in Toronto here. It, too, is available to stream online across the whole country (and around the world) from February 1 to 4.

Speaking of winter theatre festivals

... as this newsletter so frequently has of late, here’s a new one: The National Arts Centre in Ottawa is holding a Hip Hop Theatre Festival from January 31 to February 10. It’s curated by Rose-Ingrid Benjamin with English Theatre artistic director Nina Lee Aquino. Presentations will range from battle rap and spoken word to staged readings and concerts.

This just in from Edmonton

The Citadel Theatre has announced its 2024-2025 season, and the Edmonton regional theatre is again hosting a musical aiming for a Broadway run. The Ballad of Johnny and June is a new biographical show with a book by Robert Cary and former Stratford Festival artistic director Des McAnuff, who is also directing. It explores the lives Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash, through their music and the eyes of their son, John Carter Cash. It’s first at La Jolla Playhouse in California in May, then at the Citadel in November.

Onstage this week

Truth, a new play at the Young People’s Theatre in Toronto based on Caroline Pignat’s novel The Gospel Truth, runs to February 23. The show, which is set on a Virginia tobacco plantation in 1858, reunites playwright Kanika Ambrose and director Sabryn Rock after their Dora-winning success on our place last season.

Meteor Shower, a recent surreal stage comedy written by Steve Martin, plays at Theatre Calgary through February 11 in a production directed by Lezlie Wade.

The Land Acknowledgement, or As You Like It by Cliff Cardinal is back at the Burlington Performing Arts Centre in Burlington, Ont., from January 31 to February 4. You can read my 2023 review of that show – for which I was named a runner-up in the outstanding review category at the Nathan Cohen Awards for Excellence in Critical Writing last week.

Congratulations to Ilana Lucas, the winner in that category for her Intermission magazine review of Behind the Moon by Anosh Irani at Tarragon Theatre, and to the other Nathan Cohen winners and runners-up, especially Stephanie Fung, who was named outstanding emerging critic, a category I co-judged with Barbara Gabriel.

Follow related authors and topics

Authors and topics you follow will be added to your personal news feed in Following.

Interact with The Globe