Club PuSh: at the heart of art

By Sonya Reznitsky
Photo courtesy of PuSh Festival

Tim Carlson, co-curator of PuSh Festival’s creatively promiscuous little sister, speaks on its successes

A gala at the Waldorf marked the opening night for PuSh Festival, a three-week collection of dance, theatre, music, film, and multimedia performances set throughout the city. Club PuSh, its nighttime half, acts as a space for fans and artists looking for a place to hang out — Club PuSh, hosted by Performance Works on Granville Island.

“We wanted to offer PuSh attendees and artists a meeting place, provide an experimental platform, and also have a place foreign artists could feel at home,” explains Tim Carlson, who founded Theatre Conspiracy, a local theatre production company, and also co-producer and curator of Club PuSh.

“As the festival grew, it drew in more artists from out of town. We took the opportunity to also offer a space for experimentation for pieces that have less technical requirements.” Performance Works is an ideal venue for performances focused on storytelling, cabaret, improv, standup, and music.

Some shows are commissioned by the club — in 2009, it debuted a one-night show called Do You Want What I Have Got? A Craigslist Cantata, a cycle of songs based on Craigslist ads. The show was so successful that they were invited back this year with an extended performance as part of the main festival.

Another act, Trunk, marries theatre performance with live rock ‘n’ roll music in the same space. “Those are the kinds of ideas we like — smart concepts artists can try out for a few days, and if they do well, they can use the performances as a platform for a tour,” Carlson noted.

Selecting the shows is a yearlong process. Armour spends much of his time travelling the world scouting for new acts, watching other festival shows, talking to artists and producers, seeing who’s travelling with other shows, and producing exciting work that gets people talking.

Attitudes towards the club have shifted over the years. In Club PuSh’s inaugural year, people were only attending to see performers they already knew — festivalgoers didn’t understand the concept, so the crowds were smaller. Now the profile has been built and people talk about the club as much as festival itself.

“Nowadays, people head downtown to watch their show, then to Granville Island for music — they make an evening of it.” Carlson explains. “And since we’ve made a name for ourselves as an experimental platform, artists recognize our club as a place to try out new ideas, so the number of pitches we get is constantly rising.”

Social media has played a key role in growing the fan base — the club’s shows have gained new followers from friends sharing with friends and creating a buzz online. With CBC Radio 3 onboard as this year’s media sponsor, the festival will be able to reach out to the indie music crowd as well.

So how does the club stay afloat during a period begrudgingly noted for its arts budget cuts? “We got started thanks to funding from the Vancouver Cultural Olympiad in 2009,” says Carlson. “That helped us get our club off the ground and start off the first year. Nowadays, we employ a variety of avenues: we work with the B.C. Arts Council, Canada Council Grants, and the Vancouver Foundation. Wine and beer sponsorships, as well as individual donations also help out. Combined with our box-office and liquor sales, we manage to balance it out.”

Ready to get your tickets? Carlson’s top picks are Taylor Mac’s Comparison is Violence, and Charlie Demers and Ryan Beil’s Making Art Noises.