Arts

Ottawa's beloved undercurrents festival has a new look this year. Image: Matt Hertendy/undercurrents
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Patrick Gauthier spills the beans on this year’s digital events

If you’ve any familiarity with the Ottawa theatre scene, you definitely know Patrick Gauthier.

Maybe you had him as an English or theatre professor at the University of Ottawa. Maybe you’ve worked with or for him at Arts Court. Maybe you’ve had a show programmed by Ottawa Fringe or its curated winter festival, undercurrents

Gauthier wears a lot of hats, and thankfully took a few moments to speak with the Fulcrum to chat all things undercurrents.

In between curating the festival and trying to figure out how the heck one moves a beloved in-person performance event like undercurrents online, Gauthier’s been teaching two courses at the University of Ottawa, as well as looking further ahead to Ottawa Fringe this summer.

“It’s been a weird year of teaching for courses talking about the concept of liveness,” said Gauthier in an interview.

“Last year I had students go see Kiinalik: These Sharp Tools [at the Great Canadian Theatre Company], and this year they watched Ratatouille: The TikTok Musical. It’s not the same.” Fourth-year dramaturgy students this year will, incidentally, be expected to attend undercurrents performances online.

On a brighter note, preparation for the winter theatre festival is going well. 

“It’s a little later this year, and there’s been uncertainty about being inside Arts Court, what with the provincial shutdown,” said Gauthier.

“It’s like you’re doing something you’ve done for 10 years for the first time … it’s very, very strange.”

Last year’s undercurrents was wildly successful, with a host of sold-out shows from emerging and established artists. That’s thanks in part to the festival’s revolutionary, no-questions-asked sliding scale for ticket prices: tickets were available for as low as $5 or as much as $75 for general admission. This year, undercurrents is maintaining that same sliding scale and they’ve added a $100 option for those who have the means.

“It keeps the festival accessible — for students in particular,” said Gauthier on ticket prices.

When asked what undercurrents shows current U of O students should keep an eye out for, Gauthier suggested two: Remixed and No More Mr. Rice Guy. Both feature U of O actors and creators in their artistic teams (including Franco Pang, who we interviewed last year). 

Remixed isn’t what some might consider ‘theatre’ — it’s cool, and should be interesting for students,” said Gauthier.

All six undercurrents shows feature Ottawa-area artists, a shift from the cross-Canadian programming of previous years.

“We want to support Ottawa and the local community of artists as much as possible. We wanted to keep it local,” said Gauthier.

“We programmed this year’s undercurrents festival under a guise of uncertainty. In previous years, there were always wild cards — the Arts Court elevator, traffic around the theatre, the weather — this year it’s just a pandemic.”

This year’s totally digital festival provides a “unique opportunity for out-of-towners — undercurrents has a new national reach” — the widely acknowledged, yet unexpected plus of a global pandemic for the arts world.

You can read more about undercurrents here.