Storefront Festival opens doors in Kingston

Kick and Push debuts festival that use empty storefronts to break through theatre barriers

Chloe Payne in the Storefront Festival’s production of Fake Nerd Girl.

This July, a series of productions took place along downtown Princess Street, using abandoned storefronts as their stages. 

The concept of storefront theatre began brewing in Toronto when struggling theatre troupes that couldn’t afford costly stages took theatre to abandoned buildings.

The Kick and Push Festival used this format from the fringe and put it at the forefront of the Kingston drama community.

Brett Christopher, artistic producer of Theatre Kingston and one of the organizers of the Storefront Festival, said the idea hit him in the middle of the night as he was brainstorming new ways to “bring innovation” to Kingston theatre. 

“Kick and Push is all about making theatre projects that are interesting and new, and bring a fresh perspective on how people experience the art”, Christopher said. “Nobody had spearheaded a fringe festival here, despite there being a lot of student work and emerging artists.”

The unique spaces offered an affordable outlet for aspiring playwrights and actors to debut, while also encouraging business flow to the recently reopened Princess Street. 

As audience members shivered  with anticipation in the dark of a Blockbuster at 226 Queen Street, the Storefront rendition of the classic Canadian play Danny, King of the Basement convincingly turned the space into the basement where homeless Danny Carter begins to build a home. 

Two hours later, Anybody Can Be Pussy Riot transformed it into a garage for an uproarious punk band.

“It’s interesting how it’s possible to adapt these spaces,” Christopher said, noting the deserted Indigo location on Princess Street had been a construction space when the festival began work on it. It became the most successful of the three venues, the third being the former XO Lounge. 

However, it wasn’t only the space that challenged the norm. The festival featured multiple productions that openly denounced traditional thought and discussed real experiences of oppression.

Fake Nerd Girl, written and starring Chloe Payne, is a proudly-nerdy, feminist one-woman comedy. It’s so approachable and well thought out that even angry nerd boys would be hard-pressed to find anything bad to say about it. 

Payne plays the character of Olive, a girl in love with nerd culture — in this case, comics, video games, and sci-fi — since she started watching Star Trek: The Next Generation in grade school. Olive goes through multiple encounters with men who harass her in online video games and question the authenticity of her love for comics. 

The script is painfully real to the experiences of women in the subculture, and Payne’s acting and comedic timing is so good, the audience was alternating between laughing and crying from minute to minute. 

The best-selling of all the Storefront productions, Anybody Can Be Pussy Riot, makes a point of not making their audience cry, but getting them angry. In a simultaneously hilarious and beautiful performance that combines scripted characters and real-life interviews, Pussy Riot was more of an experience than a show.

Rebecca Benson and Tracey Guptill play two women from the Russian feminist punk rock protest group Pussy Riot, who were arrested and persecuted for their protest performances that demanded religious freedom, LGBTQ+ rights and labelled Russian President Vladimir Putin a dictator. The duo are fabulously funny and have a great chemistry on stage. Under their makeshift masks, they make the audience laugh, but also discuss serious themes with guests like journalist Meredith Dault and Aboriginal rights activist Georgina Riel.

In between breaks, the punk rock band PELT plays accompanying live music that bursts the eardrums and Kala Seraphin amazes with interpretive dance. At the heart of it all is a comically-wrapped refusal to accept the patriarchal status quo.

Anybody Can Be Pussy Riot was one of the festival's most popular productions. 

Benson and Guptill, as well as the hilarious Anna Sudac, a guest performer, target local examples of oppression — such as Kingston’s love of Sir John A. MacDonald. 

Throughout the show, they encourage people to examine the world with a critical eye — everyone has it in them to challenge authority.

The Storefront Festival certainly brought a refreshing addition to the mid-July calendar. With both humour and heart, shows like Fake Nerd Girl and Pussy Riot showed another side of Kingston.

Pussy Riot is a little on the risqué side,” Christopher said. “A friend of mine said, ‘I didn’t think Kingston was like that.’ But we are. We’re here.”

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