Montreal Infringement Festival Encourages Activism

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Filed under: Creative Activism

Infringement keeps things loose
Al Kratina
The Gazette
June 20, 2009

Anti-corporate art fest is constantly evolving


It seems fitting that the news conference for Montreal’s Infringement Festival is taking place at Barfly, the popular watering hole that occasionally resembles a mix between a crust-punk squat and a revolutionary headquarters.

The 11-day festival, which runs until June 28, fiercely opposes corporate influence on culture, and encourages activist art. This includes theatre, music, visual arts and everything in between – which, judging from the masked fellow seated beside me, might include Mexican wrestling or maybe a bank heist.

“Infringement is a chance to challenge any aspect of the monoculture that … you think there’s a problem with,” organizer Jason McLean says.

To the festival’s founders, this includes a certain other Montreal theatre event currently running – which in the interest of encouraging harmony, peace, smiles and unicorns in the arts community, I’ll leave nameless.

The Infringement festival began in 2004 as an alternative to what the organizers saw as increasing encroachment of commercial interests upon art.

“(Corporate culture) is imposed upon people … from advertisement to professional avenues of theatre, of music, of everything else,” co-founder Ethan Cox says. “Infringement is an opportunity for ordinary people to participate actively in a culture that’s so often disenfranchised.” Most of the performances are pay-what-you-can, and artists keep 100 per cent of the proceeds. Infringement currently has over 30 acts lined up, but artists can join at any time, and the schedule is mutable. And not only is the festival constantly evolving, it’s spreading like an activist flu, inspiring similar events in Regina, Toronto and Buffalo.

Performances, which take place around the city in venues like Barfly and Les 3 Minots as well as outside, range from Rebecca Anne Banks’s mix of folk music and spoken word to theatrical versions of ‘culture-jamming,’ a satirical twist on cultural trends. In Love Toast Text Haiku, Indiana’s Missa Coffman will paint text messages sent by audience members onto bread. Montreal band Darling Ghost will perform what they call “theatrical anti-punk,” and exhibitions by a number of local artists will explore a variety of themes. France’s Tambours Battants company do street theatre based upon audience interaction, and in Car Stories, performances will be held in the front seat of parked automobiles for three spectators at a time.

“The best way to describe it is like Alice in Wonderland,” says Car Stories producer and Infringement co-founder Donovan King. “You fall down this rabbit hole, you’re in this theatrical world, you don’t know what’s in the show and what isn’t.” This performance actually inspired the foundation of Infringement, after it was removed from that other Montreal festival in 2001. But again: unicorns and smiles.

This variety is important to the festival, which has an open-door policy for all types of performances. All artists are welcome, with only space limitations dictating admittance.
“We prioritize our space for artists who have a critical, and/or activist perspective,” McLean says. “But critical and activist can be defined in a number of ways. … As long as the artist sees that they’re making a difference, that they’re expressing themselves, that they’re saying what they want to say, that’s fine.” For more information about the festival, which runs until June 28, call 514-699-FEST (3378), or visit