One Mother of a Festival

SkirtsAfire brings women’s work to the forefront

The idea for a new play struck Nicole Moeller while attending a reading of Judith Thompson’s Palace of the End at Theatre Network in 2008. Palace of the End is a play based on the story of Lynndie England, the former United States Army reservist who was convicted, in connection, with torture and prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib prison during the U.S. occupation of Iraq in 2005.

“I was like: ‘Who is your mother, and how is she dealing with this?'” Moeller says, referring to actions of the main character. “Because right now you are the worst person in North America – you are the monster. That’s what triggered it for me.”

“It”, is Moeller’s new play The Mothers – a story about a mom coping with her son’s recent prison sentence for a violent crime – which will headline at the 2014 SkirtsAfire HerArts Festival from Feb. 26 to March 8 on Alberta Avenue.

Though Moeller isn’t a stranger to bringing scripts to fruition – she’s had two plays produced including An Almost Perfect Thing for Workshop West and Without You, for Studio Theatre – she struggled with finding a balanced portrayal of The Mothers’ protagonist when she started writing the script in 2011.

“I write very flawed characters and sometimes I feel guilty if I’m writing a female character,” Moeller says. “I want to write them in a strong light because I want to represent women in a certain way, but … they’re human beings so they’re going to be flawed.”

After much toil, and refining, The Mothers was accepted into Citadel Theatre’s Playwright Forum, which is a development program for playwrights from across the country, whereby their work is critiqued and refined with the chance of having their plays produced.

In the spring of 2012 The Mothers emerged from the Forum in a much finer form, but was not picked up for production.

“I had been working on this for so long,” Moeller says. “It was discouraging.” Though the Citadel didn’t option the production, it did catch the eye of Annette Loiselle the Artistic Producer of the festival SkirtsAfire, who immediately knew The Mothers was a perfect fit for inclusion in the event.

Loiselle founded SkirtsAfire, a 10-day multi-disciplinary festival, in 2013 in order to provide female artists with a platform to perform and produce new works in music, visual arts, theatre and dance.

“There are so few opportunities (for women’s work) to be produced,” Moeller says. “It’s invaluable.”

ECF granted $7,300 through its Community Grants Program to the SkirtsAfire Society to purchase marketing banners and flags

Though SkirtsAfire’s mandate is to focus on female work, Loiselle wants to make it clear that the festival is for everyone and not only is it important for men to see female stories; they’ll also enjoy and take away great insight from them.

“It’s about creating a universal understanding of the people in our lives whether it’s our husbands or our colleagues or our children.”

Audience development is the festival’s greatest challenge. Six hundred people attended its inaugural run in 2013 and again in 2014. To boost numbers in 2015 the company hired an outreach coordinator to approach new niche markets and, thanks to a grant from Edmonton Community Foundation (ECF), they are purchasing banners and flags to increase the festival’s visibility on the street.

“ECF is awesome,” Loiselle says.” Honestly, with a small organization like ours where we’re not able to even pay our staff appropriately, there’s no way I could think about buying flags.”

As for Moeller, “it’s an honour to be with all of these women.”