Q&A: Norman Armour on the PuSh Festival

The festival’s artistic and executive director talks about performing arts and liberty. 

Why the name? Why PuSh?It’s about pushing boundaries, pushing the form or the genre, that type of idea.It all started 13 years ago, right?Yes, it was a co-founding between myself and Katrina Dunn, who used to be the artistic director of Touchstone Theatre and at the time I was the artistic producer of Rumble Productions (which is currently called Rumble Theatre) and we were both interested in doing something bigger, in having impact in the community. We were trying to create a new sense of excitement around the performing arts, and what dance might be or theatre or music as a contemporary form. We wanted to create a new excitement about the live performing arts, also trying to bring a bit of a spotlight to the Vancouver arts scene and its particular sensibilities, strengths, and innovations. And also, to provide opportunities where B.C. artists were showcased up against international work.So you also invite artists from all over Canada and around the world?normanarmour_photoyukikoonley Photo Cred: Yukiko OnleyVery much. It was always this idea of inviting into the city artists who would challenge the local artistic scene, who inspire audiences and perhaps create a window into other artistic communities with similar aspirations. Artistic works that spoke about certain issues or that explored ideas and other cultures and such, so that was always a big impulse for the festival.Is it hard putting together multiple disciplines under the umbrella of a single festival?It’s tricky. You’re always trying to find a certain balance. We certainly have a fair amount of theatre. I think that 50 percent of the festival is theatre, and the other 50 percent is dance and music and interdisciplinary work. We have work this year that’ll be from Portugal, South Africa and Korea. There’s certainly a kind of attempt to find a rich range of works, and scale, subject matter and tone. It’s a bunch of different things that we are always trying to find a balance for, and discipline, theatre versus dance versus music, is certainly one of them.The PuSh festival explores new ways of storytelling, so what do you think it is going to look like in 10 years?One of the ways that we grow and evolve would be that we’re a big player in the commissioning of work, that we join forces with festivals across the country and even internationally to invest in the creation of new work. But it’s hard to know at this point. What does it mean to do live performance in 10 years? What degree is that about live streaming in terms of work that might be co-created between two cities at a great distance and their different artistic communities? I think there’ll be a lot of work in certain aesthetics and the use of technologies that currently is not happening but in 10-years time might, people will expect something like that. I also like to think that in the future, PuSh will be associated with what Vancouver is as a place for creative and progressive thinking, for being relevant and “of-this” time.How do you think this mash-up of art disciplines affects the way people understand performances? What do you feel when you see them? To see an artist who so fluidly moves from the written word to the musical form to film to the visual art object, to me it’s kind of normal now. It’s the world that we’re in and this fluidity, moving from one art form to another represents how so many artists these days are creating and conceiving with a real sense of liberty.Do you still remember the first show in 2003? I do. We presented three pieces. One of them was called Jimmy by Québec artist Marie Brassard. There were over a hundred people in the venue and after one performance she came back into the room and not a single person had left. Everybody stayed to talk to the artist and what they had just seen. And you know, seeing that kind of engagement into the work and the remarkable artist, to me that was real evidence that there was a hunger and a desire to see work of that sort and that it would be welcome into this town. That’s what I remember from the beginning.The PuSh Festival is currently preparing for its 13th season in January 2017.