Kitchener-Waterloo feels the Impact

Kitchener-Waterloo felt vibrations as the fourth biennial Impact Theatre Festival took place in the region over the past week. From Sept. 22-27, a variety of productions took place at multiple theatre locales honoring international cultures, people, and languages.&nbsp;</p>

Referred to as Impact 15, the festival is an initiative hosted by the MT Space Theatre Group in downtown Kitchener. The productions include plays, lectures, conferences, and venues aimed at connecting traditional and mainstream artwork from around the world. The event includes productions from locations like Halifax, Toronto, Vancouver, Australia, Morocco, and even Kitchener itself.

In 2013, the last time this festival took place, Impact 13 saw over 4,000 people attend. 

Majdi Bou-Matar, founder of MT Space and artistic director of Impact, said that the attendance at the festival has been “rising steadily since 2009.” With big hopes for future years, he adds that “the audience numbers are growing and not going back.”

Each festival sees a variety of new programs. This year, one such production was the Stage & Story Market that took place Saturday at the Kitchener Market and Sunday at the Art District Gallery. This market invited artists and members of the community to share stories in a variety of forms including music, poetry, and song.

Bou-Matar believes that the festival’s impact is significant to the residents of Kitchener-Waterloo. “[Impact 15] is very important because it expresses and enhances the community’s culture,” he said, adding that that the younger population “provides energy of cultural intersection and creativity,” making the multicultural influence of the festival important to the students in the region.

One program that targeted the younger generation was the youth conference that took place at the KW Youth Theatre on Sunday.

The youth conference, and many of the other conferences, focused on technology and its influence in marginalized cultures and theatre, a key theme amongst several of the programs in the festival.

Technology was also a theme for an event called Landline, which allowed participants to share a tour of Kitchener with other audience members by sharing guided stories, memories, and secrets simultaneously through text message. This program was developed with the purpose to expose participants to the feeling of “being alone together.”

In partnership with Impact 15, the UW department of history and Aboriginal Education Centre, along with multiple other sponsors, hosted a lecture by famous playwright Tomson Highway at the Modern Languages Theatre on Sept. 24. The lecture focused on his novel A Tale of Monstrous Extravagance, which recounts the languages and communities that have shaped Highway’s upbringing.

Highway, a Cree native who was born in northern Manitoba to famous caribou hunter Joe Highway and his partner Pelagie Highway, has written several award-winning plays and novels including theatrical performances The Rez Sisters and Dry Lips Oughta Move to Kapuskasing, and novel Kiss of the Fur Queen.

Susan Roy, an assistant history professor, contacted Highway in hopes he would speak to students at the university. “[Highway] is key in invigorating indigenous literature and theatre in Canada,” she said, adding that “it is wonderful when students hear and see from the people they are reading.”

Highway’s lecture focused on a reading from his novel A Tale of Monstrous Extravagance. Common themes in his lecture included multiculturalism, gender equality, musicality, and multilingualism. In particular, he played a song he wrote in Cree that contained Brazilian jazz influences.

When asked about the influence he hopes his work has on post-secondary students, Highway said, “I love students, it is a magical time of life, a time to learn.” He added that “there is a no better time to move onto other languages besides English,” again highlighting the key topic of his lecture and novel, multilingualism.

Shawn Johnson, the events co-ordinator for the Aboriginal Education Centre at UW and host of the presentation, concluded after the presentation that “Aboriginal Peoples have so few visible role models in the media so it is important that we continue to help create spaces where people like Highway can come and engage students.”

One highlight of Highway’s lecture was his sense of humour, where multiple times in the presentation he engaged the students in laughter. “My favourite sound in the world is people laughing,” he said after his presentation.

With such a positive response, there is no doubt that Impact will grow and continue to make an impression on the Kitchener-Waterloo community.