Most major arts events in B.C. are celebrating a more-normal summer after having to make a few adjustments during the COVID-19 pandemic, from downsizing to relocating to outright cancelling.
While Whistler’s Flag Stop Theatre and Arts Festival was able to carry on over the past two years by limiting crowds and keeping all performances outdoors, its 11th iteration won’t mark a return to business-as-usual.
Instead, the annual festival is coming back bigger than ever.
Typically only held as a weekend-long event, Flag Stop is expanding to a five-day format and venturing beyond its lakeside home at The Point Artist-Run Centre when it kicks off next month.
This year’s theme, In Motion, is “fitting,” says The Point’s artistic director Stephen Vogler.
Flag Stop will make its first foray into Whistler Village when audiences and performers take over Rebagliati Park on Aug. 1 and 2, complete with a temporary stage, tent, food trucks and a beer garden.
Wednesday evening, Aug. 3, will see Flag Stop’s programming scattered across town as riders—or audience members, rather—head south across the valley as part of a Pop-Up Performance Bike Ride. After making a few stops along the way, a lantern boat parade across Alta Lake will signify Flag Stop’s shift back to The Point for the remainder of the festival. Entry for the first three days will be by donation.
Realizing the long-held idea to expand the festival was “quite a big undertaking” largely made possible by a series of new grants from the provincial government’s fairs, festivals and events fund, supplemented by continued support from Flag Stop’s community sponsors. explains Vogler.
“That really pushed it, because you need funding to be able to expand and hire that many more artists, and crew and technicians and everything else.”
Though the grassroots festival is typically a hyper-local affair with a sprinkle of visitors from the Lower Mainland’s arts community, the hope is that bringing Flag Stop—and with it, The Point—to a new part of town will broaden the festival’s horizons and draw in new audiences.
“We’re trying to create a real good kind of folk festival atmosphere,” in Rebagliati Park, says Vogler. “We’re known at The Point for bringing in really unique and original music and theatre acts, and so now we’re wanting to bring that out to the village and around the valley … and showcase these performances to locals and visitors alike.”
Flag Stop will begin with a reminder of whose unceded territory the festival is taking place on, courtesy of Lil’wat Nation roots-reggae group Spiritual Warriors at 6:30 p.m., before magician Travis Bernhardt steps up to entertain the crowd. Jacques Lalonde will perform a 30-minute one-man show, followed by Just Obit—a 17-minute, one-act play by Janice Carroll about a woman who stumbles across her own obituary—on the Rebagliati Park stage.
Tuesday’s festivities will begin earlier in the day, with an improv performance from Ira Pettle’s Youth Theatre, joined by Lalonde. Doors will reopen at 6 p.m. Tuesday ahead of a set from Ndidi O and her five-piece soul and R&B group, followed by a 7:45 stand-up comedy show from Erica Sigurdson, known for her frequent appearances on CBC Radio’s The Debaters. Lalonde will be back for another rendition of his one-man show before the evening concludes with an encore performance of Just Obit.
Adults can also try their hand at improv—and “learn the 22 principles of comedy”—during a workshop hosted by Lalonde at The Point on Wednesday from 2 to 4 p.m.
That will follow a kids-specific workshop from noon to 1 p.m. where Lalonde, a former Sesame Street guest star, will help aspiring artists learn to create their own stories, poems or songs. (Those interested in either workshop can register in advance through firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Vogler cited his inspiration for Wednesday’s pop-up performance bike ride as similar events he’s attended in Vancouver. “They’re really cool and a fun thing to do,” he says.
Beginning with live music at Cross Country connection, participants will set off towards Florence Petersen Park, where they’ll be treated to stand-up comedy from Emily Quereshi. Along the way they’ll also take in a performance from Pemberton company Gruff Goat Dance, a “really intriguing” piece in the stone circle performed by Lalonde and written by Lower Mainland playwright John McGie—best known for his Chair Series monologues that many Whistler art fans are already familiar with—and finally, live music from 12-piece East Vancouver horn band Balkan Shmalkan at Wayside Park in Alta Vista.
After a one-night reprieve for audiences on Thursday, Flag Stop returns to The Point’s newly renovated cabin the following evening. Friday and Saturday nights will most closely resemble Flag Stops of years past, offering festival fans the option of enjoying dinner alongside a slate of opening acts before the (metaphorical) curtain drops on the Centre’s floating stage. The stage will host the debut of five one-act plays, a collaborative effort created by Flag Stop Theatre and Squamish-based Between Shifts Theatre that features a roster of local actors, before the party moves inside. Country-roots band Carolyn Mark & the New Best Friends are scheduled to headline on Friday, while bluegrass band Dustin Bentall & the Blue Wranglers will make the trek down from Clinton, B.C. to round out the festival on Saturday night. Their set begins at 9 p.m.
“The festival that we always used to do is now sort of a wrap-up of the whole week,” Vogler explains.
Tickets for the Friday and Saturday night events are available to purchase at thepointartists.com. Adults can gain entry and dinner for $50, or $30 for just the show, while kids aged 12 and under are offered a $10 discount. Flag Stop is also recruiting more volunteers to help with this year’s festival. Email email@example.com to sign up.