Beyond the Red Curtain: The Kick & Push Festival

By Sara Smith

Last year, a group of strangers gathered in a small apartment bedroom, eavesdropping on an incredibly personal conversation. It was an intimate, honest, and at times uncomfortable experience, that left the observers with many issues to consider and emotions to unpack. It was also one of the most talked-about shows at the 2017 Kick & Push Festival.

“I started reading that script on the bus, and couldn’t stop once I started,” says Tricia Knowles, director of marketing for the festival. “I continued to read as I walked home from the bus stop, almost getting hit by a car in the process. The whole piece was so heavy that I needed to sit on my stoop and process it.” The show, entitled How We Are, Part 1: The Morning After, was a perfect fit for the type of innovative acts that The Kick & Push has been bringing to Kingston audiences since 2015.

Kingston Kick and Push Festival
How We Are, Part 1: The Morning After brought audiences into an intimate setting to explore sensitive topics. Photographer: Jon Nicholls

Since its inception, The Kick & Push has been known for bringing daring, award-winning theatre experiences to spaces in Kingston’s downtown core. Originally intended to provide programming for the Grand Theatre during the summer months, the fest has also expanded to surrounding venues, often incorporating site-specific elements and subject matter to create a fully immersive show.

Knowles explains that the name of the festival comes from the mission of those behind it: to challenge audiences with thought-provoking messaging, and to break down pre-existing notions of theatrical art. “It really is about kicking and pushing the boundaries of traditional theatre; there’s no fourth wall a lot of the time,” she says. Jane Kirby, general manager of the festival, explains that the broad, and often unconventional range of programming means there’s something for every taste. “It’s a really unique festival that pushes the boundaries of what theatre is: everything from puppetry, comedy, really immersive experiences, innovative combinations of live and digital art… there really is something for everybody,” she says.  

Kingston Kick and Push Festival
Flashing Lights uses innovative props to blur the line between the real and digital worlds.

Over three weeks starting on July 19, experience-seekers and theatre-lovers alike will get to choose from a roster of exciting performances held in the downtown core. Some, like Rosalynde and festival centrepiece Flashing Lights take place on a stage at The Grand Theatre, challenging convention through fascinating storytelling, concepts, and props. But others, such as Agokwe — Unplugged and the interactive production Beta’s Baby, make use of unusual spaces to bring new meaning to the “experience” aspect of the shows. For Beta’s Baby, audience members will enter a video rental store and receive a videotape, and what follows is an experience that blends escape rooms, scavenger hunts, and choose-your-own-adventure books.

Festival artistic director Liam Karry is no stranger to innovative theatre and finds that the shows tend to leave a lasting impression. “We’re providing a product that’s memorable,” he says. “If I’m going to spend my time and money on an experience, I want my mind to be blown.” In recent years, audiences have started to flock to Kingston for the festival’s lineup of buzzworthy, high calibre performances. “You want to go see some amazingly innovative stuff? You don’t have to go to Toronto or Montreal,” he says. “In fact, things are happening at this festival that you won’t see anywhere else.”

Kingston Kick and Push Festival
Audiences will be enthralled by the compelling, colourful, and award-winning Agokwe — Unplugged. Photographer: Marc J Chalifoux

While Kingston is known for its stellar artistic output, the Kick & Push organizers are excited to foster the more unconventional, experimental side of the local theatre scene. This is another way the fest is ‘kicking and pushing’ against perceptions, notes Knowles. “It’s shifting the perception that Kingston is a conservative town,” she says. Kirby agrees. “The festival is helping to put Kingston on the map, as a place where theatre, and the arts in general, are really thriving,” she says. “That’s making it a more vibrant city for people to both live in, and visit.”

Vibrant is the operative word for a festival that provides surprises at every turn. Audiences are sure to talk for weeks at the water cooler about the dazzling performances in store at The Grand. As for the site-specific, immersive productions, it’s almost impossible to prepare the uninitiated. Kirby recalls that during her experience at the immersive production Ambrose at a past Kick & Push, she encountered a most unusual cast member. “I thought I had a pretty good idea of what to expect — but boy was I surprised,” she says. “I was walking through the venue and went to open the door to a change room, and was greeted not by a performer, but a robot! Those are the kind of unique experiences that audiences can expect from this festival.” Make sure to get yourself to Kingston this July and August, to witness the shows that will surely become the stuff of future legends.

The 2018 Kick + Push Festival runs from July 19 – August 12 at locations around Kingston. Check out the full schedule and grab your tickets at