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Margo MacDonald in "The Persistent Stain." Photo: Andrew Alexander.

undercurrents goes bilingual for 2023

By Matthew Guida on August 24, 2022




For more than a decade, Ottawa’s undercurrents festival—a winter festival produced by Ottawa Fringe—has offered local and visiting artists the opportunity to present original and contemporary theatre to the people of Ottawa.

In the aftermath of the pandemic, the organizers of the festival have worked diligently to not only bring it back to the public—which they did earlier this year—but also make it bigger and better than ever before. On August 9, the organizers of the 13th undercurrents festival proudly announced that the 2023 event will feature the works of both English and French-language artists!


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While there have been instances of occasional French-language shows at undercurrents, it was never formal. However, in the wake of the pandemic, the team at undercurrents decided it was time to take the festival in a whole new direction.

“It’s a different world for the arts and for theatre. It’s changed not only for artists but it’s changed for our patrons and our audiences,” says Alain Richer, the executive director for undercurrents, who took over from Patrick Gauthier in late 2021.

“And so we had the idea of how can we expand? How do we reach new and different audiences in Ottawa? And one of the very obvious things was reaching out to French artists and French audiences and inviting them into the festival,” says Richer.

Richer, who was born and raised Francophone and worked in French theatre and television in Toronto for 10 years, recognized that going bilingual would be an excellent opportunity to bring the English and French theatre communities together.

“We want to pilot this as a fully bilingual festival,” says Richer. “Meaning our marketing materials, our communications, having all of that be bilingual, and offering opportunities for English-speaking patrons to go see French shows … and vice versa, having French-speaking audiences come to see some Anglophone shows … so that it’s really bringing the two worlds together so they can explore each other’s art as well.”

Since the announcement went live, the reaction from undercurrents‘ audience has been quite promising.

“So far, it’s been really positive,” says Richer. “Not that we expected it to be negative, but there’s been more chatter than we anticipated.”

Furthermore, thanks to funding provided by the Canadian Heritage Re-engaging Audiences Fund, undercurrents is able to expand its festival and add more content.

“This funding allows the festival to grow slightly so that we’re not cutting down on one [language] for integrating the other, and we’ll be able to have lots of shows and lots of opportunities,” says Richer.

Richer thinks the changes being implemented for the upcoming festival will serve as a pilot project to determine how it will grow and expand in the years to come.

“2022 is what we call the first of a rebuilding stage, post-pandemic,” says Richer. “It will take 2023 for us to know what went well, what needs to be [improved] a little bit more, so that we can then grow the festival as a bilingual festival for years to come.”

While applications for English theatre projects are now closed, there is still time for French artists to submit projects for the 13th edition of the festival. The deadline for submissions is Friday, August 26.

The 13th undercurrents festival is scheduled to take place February 8-18, 2023 at Arts Court. Stay tuned to Apt613 for further details.

If you’re a French artist interested in submitting a project for the 2023 festival, you can apply here