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Belfry's Spark Festival returns with eclectic lineup of in-development work, free online

ON STAGE What: SPARK Festival Where: When: Thursday through Saturday (Jan.


What: SPARK Festival
When: Thursday through Saturday (Jan. 21-23)
Admission: Free

The majority of last year’s SPARK Festival — which opened on March 8 — was pretty much lost when the threat of COVID-19 prompted a string of cancellations.

Staff at the Belfry Theatre, which produces the annual event, salvaged what they could as the pandemic was declared less than a week into the two-week run.

Organizers are still feeling the effects as they head into this week’s revamped SPARK Festival, which was moved to late January from its usual spot in early March and reduced to four days of online-only free performances.

“It has been a year of making plans and cancelling them,” said Michael Shamata, the Belfry’s artistic director. “To be honest, we weren’t even sure we were going to be able to manage to pull a SPARK festival together.”

Shamata felt it was import to ensure that many of the participants this year are from the company’s Incubator Project, which offers mentorship and opportunity to up-and-coming local artists.

The result is an eclectic lineup of in-development work, from Jo Leslie’s play about sexuality in older women (Trajectory of Desire, Thursday, 7:30 p.m.) to playwright Rick Waines’s meditation on the HIV crisis in 1980s Vancouver (HIV in My Day, Friday, 7:30 p.m.).

All offerings are free and accessible through

The festival got underway Wednesday with Uncovered — Notes from the Heart, a livestream concert from Toronto’s Musical Stage Company. Spark continues through Saturday with performances of June Yeo’s short film SHIP (Friday, 7:30 p.m.), Andrew Barrett and Impulse Theatre’s the soft spaces (Friday, 7:30 p.m.), and Collectivus Theatre’s Summer Bucket List (Saturday, 7:30 p.m.).

If Shamata had his way, audiences would be seeing these stars-in-waiting perform in person. But he learned long ago not to take anything for granted in the theatre world. He’s proud of what SPARK is offering this year, and expects the performances to engage audiences, despite the online format. “It’s not the same kind of engagement, obviously, but I do think it’s possible to caught up in the stories that are being told.”

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