HYSTERIA a multidisciplinary festival of women. Presented by Buddies in Bad Times in association with Nightwood at Buddies (12 Alexander). Opens tonight (Thursday, November 4) and runs to November 13. $10-$18, day pass $15, festival pass $50. 416-975-8555, www.buddiesinbadtimestheatre.com Rating: NNNNN
For the next 10 days, Buddies in Bad Times is where the estrogen's flowing. The second annual Hysteria Festival, sponsored by Buddies and Nightwood Theatre, promises to be a powerhouse gathering of female artists - local, national and international - from all the disciplines.
"This year we had almost 300 submissions, twice the number we received last year," says Nightwood artistic director Kelly Thornton, who's curated the fest with Buddies' Moynan King. "Like last year, we'll have about 100 core creators working during Hysteria."
The curators felt no need to reinvent the wheel, so they're again programming solo evenings, musical events and perhaps the most popular type of evening, one that blends comedy, dance, theatre and film.
"We were pleasantly surprised with the success of mixed evenings in a casual environment," admits Thornton. "People could catch a five-minute opera, then a comedy piece and afterwards a 20-minute dance piece, followed by a short film."
Being turned on to different sorts of art has worked for Jennifer Fawcett and Lisa Codrington, two playwright/performers who again participate in Hysteria.
"I tend to focus on the theatrical aspect of a script and forget about the other sorts of art I could use," admits Fawcett, who last year presented a series of walkabout scenes called The Brief History Of Hysteria.
This time around, her roaming feminist show is The Brief (& Selected) History Of Wonder Woman (November 4 and 12), which looks not just at the Lynda Carter-style action figure but also at the prehistoric statuette called the Venus of Willendorf, Roman vestal virgins, Rosie the Riveter and, finally, American soldier Jessica Lynch.
"Once you start cross-pollinating in the arts, things you never expected to see begin to emerge in your work. Last year I actually created my own installation piece in a Buddies dressing room, and it took me a while to get over being frightened by what I'd done. How dare I, I thought, enter into the installation artist's domain?
"Ultimately, though, it was liberating. I felt I had permission to explore."
Codrington, who workshopped her script Cast Iron in the earlier festival - Nightwood presents a full production next February - this time around collaborates with fellow writer/performer Marie Beath Badian on Selling Bar[badian] (November 4 and 13).
"We're both first-generation Canadians and both of us had gone on trips back home, I to Barbados and she to the Philippines," recalls Codrington. "We discovered later that our experiences had many points in common, about our parents emigrating and other family members wanting to come here."
They've created an installation piece involving two characters who are trying to move to Canada, who will attempt to convince viewers to help them with their immigration plans, for instance by hiring them as domestics.
"In our research, we've looked a lot at immigration policies and the dead ends so many women reach. The piece examines what immigrants are willing to give up of themselves and also what they hold dear in their attempts to live in Canada.
"What I saw at last year's festival has inspired the style of the new piece. I now have lots of options, risky ideas I wouldn't have thought of without the inspiration of the first Hysteria."
This year's festival won't ask audiences to choose between simultaneous shows in various parts of Buddies.
The energy, though, will be the same. After a free opening-night bash tonight that includes performance installations, there's a wealth of events. Lesbian talent show Strange Sisters (November 5) is part of the fest, with Sweden's drag group the Lion Kings on the bill, and there's also a concert by pianist Eve Egoyan (November 7).
Also look for an afternoon of performances by under-21s (November 6), a cabaret hosted by Sonja Mills (November 9), new works by Allison Rees-Cummings, Sherri Hay and d'bi. young (November 10) and an Indian martial arts class (November 13).
Want more? Check out New Yorker Elizabeth Hess's Birth Rite (November 11), which explores a Mennonite woman's struggle to break away from her religious roots. There'll be a debate on the status of women in theatre (November 13), works by various visual artists and a series of mixed-arts programs.
"I love the fact that Hysteria blows open all the walls, takes each of us out of her own artistic box," enthuses Thornton.
"This kind of event showcases different talents and as a result generates dialogue among women about their place in the cultural landscape. It's great for making forward motion happen."