As artistic and executive director of the PuSh International Performing Arts Festival, Norman Armour curates its smart, edgy line-up, leads the staff and oversees the budget, including raising funds. Armour co-founded PuSh with the producer and director Katrina Dunn 14 years ago because both were interested in presenting pioneering work from elsewhere in Canada and around the world. The duo felt that bringing in these visionary artists would enlighten both local artists and audiences and make Vancouver a better city.
It’s been a wild ride propelling a performance festival that prefers to cast aside genre, medium and convention, but if anyone can keep it on track, Armour, a director, actor and former semi-pro Frisbee player, can. Attendance now reaches upward of 25,000, and its budget has increased to approximately $2 million. Armour is known for creating savvy collaborations — with media, financial institutions, venues and more (have you tasted this year’s official beer yet?). And, of course, every festival guarantees some mind-blowing performances. Who can forget Vancouver’s Holy Body Tattoo dance company rocking out to Montreal’s Godspeed! You Black Emperor (2016) or the Warhol-inspired Kitchen from Berlin’s Gob Squad (2014) or Best/Worst Play by Vancouver’s Chop Theatre (2012)?
And among this year’s 28 performances from 11 countries, there is much to anticipate, including the Oscar-winning film Birdman, accompanied live by the drumming god Antonio Sánchez, and King Arthur’s Night by Vancouver’s Neworld Theatre. (For more Push Festival highlights, see this week’s What’s On).
Let’s get to know the visionary behind all the fun. Over to you, Norman Armour.
Any performing trends you're perceiving these days? Community engaged work; a discipline restlessness and promiscuity; a redefinition of what “live” might mean in an age of increasingly digital existence. An excited determination to position as central what is too often thought to be marginal. Question, question, question.
What do you look for in a great show? Immediacy: An acute awareness of the live moment. Something at stake—on both sides of the proscenium (if, in fact, there even is one).
How do you discover the performers you book at PuSh Festival? I see the work and experience it first hand. Barring that, I have an extensive and rewarding network of trusted festival directors, curators and artists who are a fantastic source for intel, recommendations and advice.
What are the major issues facing the PuSh Festival? Undercapitalization. As with any other sector. If you nurture a highly respected brand, possess a beloved and much-desired product, know your primary market inside out, benefit from community oversight, undertake ongoing strategic planning, develop a solid business plan, carve out a sizable market share, practice financial probity and maintain a healthy organizational culture, but do not have access to the requisite financial resources to realize your company’s full potential, it would be referred to as “undercapitalization.” Plain and simple.
What makes you good at your job? Ha. I’ll leave it to others to say.
What makes Vancouver the right place for the PuSh Festival? Its people.
What is the most memorable show you’ve ever seen and why? Bloody Mess from Sheffield-based Forced Entertainment. A celebration of the troupe’s celebrated 20-year history. Breathtaking. They played out every trick, every device, and every theatrical convention they had made use of over the years. Intensely moving, deeply political, and highly, highly theatrical. A riveting—and seemingly improvised—two hours and 46 minutes (as noted in the program) of teasingly provocative and daring theatre. I have a photographic print of the show’s cluttered stage design—a literal bloody mess.
What’s your dream job? Driving Formula One.
What do you do when you are not PuShing? Watch films and binge on TV shows. Without question, we are in the midst of the second golden age of television.
Do you think the arts should be publicly funded? Why or why not? Road construction is; affordable housing is; schools are; hospitals are… Next question, please.
PuSh partners with more than 70 different organizations. Name a new partner or collaborator you’d most like to be associated with the festival. Sorry, won’t pick favourites on this. Our city has one of the most generous and collaboratively inclined arts communities to be found anywhere in the world. It would be an aberration if we weren’t partnering as much as we do.
Which living person do you most admire? My mother. I have to go with her. She passed away over the summer, but lives with me still.
What is your greatest extravagance? An Old Fashioned cocktail.
What do you consider the most overrated virtue? Modesty.
What is the quality you most like in a person? Gentleness.
What talent would you most like to have? Tap dancing.
If you were to die and come back as another person or thing, what would it be? Cary Grant
Favourite films? The American Friend. Central Station. Kasper Hauser. Save the Tiger. Let There Be Blood. A Serious Man. A Singular Man. Wings of Desire.
Favourite place in Vancouver? Black Lodge (on Kingsway).
Latest thing you geeked out about? Demar DeRozan of the Toronto Raptors.
What do you most enjoy doing for others? Paying for dinner and drinks.
Want to play Frisbee? Ha! My spot was down on Kits Beach, where the change rooms are now. Back in the late ’70s there used to be a big tree and a sandbox, and a whole community of freestylers. We’d face the ocean and play into the wind. It’s why I initially came out to the West Coast.