Playing to People’s Strengths

Megan Dart takes collaboration to fantastic extremes as a recipient of the Edmonton Artists’ Trust Fund

Megan Dart has written since she was a kid, with a bookshelf full of journals and an unlikely obsession with playing Hooked on Phonics like a board game. But she wasn’t sure she wanted to be a writer until her sister Beth convinced her to help out with an absurdly ambitious show she was planning for her final project in the University of Alberta’s drama program.

The Revolution featured three different sets of artists in three different locations: A group of actors performing Megan’s words were filmed, which was then broadcast to a team of musicians, who improvised a score. That score was piped in to a pair of visual artists, who created live paintings that were projected back into the theatre with the actors. Audiences could choose to watch whichever performance they wanted; Megan and Beth could barely catch their breath watching it all happen.

“There’s something brilliant in the unknown of the experiment. Our spirit was kind of, ‘Let’s just make it more impossible and more ridiculous and see where it ends up,’ Dart explains. “That’s kind of translated to all our work: there’s magic in the collaboration that happens when you create these sort of ridiculous stakes.”

Megan and Beth Dart.

If the high-wire, unconventional and immersive experience has become something of a touchstone for Catch the Keys, the theatre company Megan now runs with Beth, the other essential element of Dart’s success has been the wide-ranging community spirit. From curating NextFest’s Nite Clubs for eight years to creating and sustaining the wildly successful Dead Centre of Town events, Dart has been instrumental in bringing together artists from across disciplines, convincing them to follow her on her wild ride.

It’s the collaborative spirit — in addition to the vision and talent she brings to her own work — that made the Fringe’s Executive Director, Adam Mitchell, recommend Dart for a grant from the Edmonton Artists’ Trust Fund.

“She works to improve all the communities we all work and play in in this city every day,” Mitchell says. “She’s a natural leader, comrade and support, which is why she’s going to be one of the next cornerstone leaders of Edmonton’s cultural scene.”

© Marc J Chalifoux Photography

For her part, Dart doesn’t think of bringing the community together in unexpected ways as a choice so much as the most fun thing about theatre. Whether it’s mixing up artistic disciplines or encouraging audiences to get out of their seats and right into the show, it is the lack of boundaries to Dart’s work that keeps it so exhilarating.

True to form, she hopes to use the Trust grant to keep challenging our notions of how stories are told — and which stories are told. Her next project is an immersive musical that centres on the untold histories of Edmonton’s women. And though she’s already had to reconsider its structure due to COVID, she is excited by the experiment of finding a new way forward.

“A lot of these stories don’t make the official record — they’re histories preserved in intangible, unrepeatable ways, like in the margins of cookbooks or through family heirlooms,” she explains, saying that intimacy and uniqueness offer interesting possibilities, especially in an era when gathering in big rooms might not be the most comfortable experience anymore. “I really want to write something that has intimacy of the kitchen table, the campfire — like a concert where a friend plays for 15 people in a living room.”

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