John Aitken and Shelley MacDonald present the The Gift: Transformation, a theatre production with one word of dialogue, at this year’s Cultivate Festival on Gabriola Island. (Photo courtesy Roy Mulder)

Gabriola Island’s Cultivate music and theatre festival back for second year

This year’s event features a theatre production with a single spoken word

The Gabriola Arts Council’s Cultivate Festival is back for its second year.

In 2018 the arts council created Cultivate by combining its theatre and music festivals into a single entity. GAC program director Mitch Miyagawa said the goal with Cultivate was to “make this a true multi-arts festival.”

“We had really great turnout and this year we’re taking what we learned and bringing the theatre and the music even closer together,” he said. “So we’re really hoping that there will be even more crossover this year between people that want to go to theatre and people who want to go to music and people who want to do it all.”

Cultivate kicks off at Gabriola Commons on the evening of Aug. 30 and continues through Aug. 31 and Sept. 1. Miyagawa said this year organizers are aiming for an integrated “village experience,” with all performances, artists and vendors in closer proximity.

“The intention this year is to really make it an all-ages, all-generations festival,” Miyagawa said. “So we’ve really tried to program for different groups and tried to bring them together in a multigenerational festival.”

Miyagawa said an effort was made to showcase more diverse and innovative theatre. This year multiple productions make use of music, puppets, masks and projections and one play has only a single word’s worth of spoken dialogue.

John Aitken didn’t speak until he was 18 years old, and still isn’t quite sure why. In The Gift: Transformation, the Coast Salish performer expresses the story of his traumatic childhood entirely nonverbally, accompanied by Mi’kmaq theatre artist Shelley MacDonald.

When Aitken started working on The Gift he said “I was thinking at the time that I’d done all my healing … but then when we had got into creating it, it was quite clear that I hadn’t.”

Aitken’s mother died when he was seven years old and he was placed in government care after his abusive father died when he was 13.

In The Gift, communication is done through movement and sound, including stomping, drumming, singing and heavy breathing.

The only spoken word in the performance, “hello,” comes from Aitken’s memories of social workers visiting and knocking on his door. He said because there is no dialogue, he feels a responsibility to hold a discussion with the audience after the show to “fill in the blanks.”

“The reason I keep doing it is because of the feedback that I get in the talkbacks, just about how it is a healing piece and how it is about celebration,” Aitken said. “And that’s what this is about: You can go through something like this and come out at the end.”

WHAT’S ON … Cultivate takes place at the Gabriola Commons, 675 North Rd., on Aug. 30, 31 and Sept. 1. Click here for a full schedule of events and ticket options. Early bird pricing available until July 31.

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