The evolution of the North Island Festival of Performing Arts during its 38-year history is a testament to its success.
The inaugural NIFPA was held in 1978, known then as the North Island Festival of Music, and was strictly a piano festival, with 204 entries.
Two years later, the festival had already tripled in size. It more than doubled in piano entries alone, and had added dance, strings, vocal and accordion divisions to the event.
This year’s edition will have more than 1,100 entries, in eight categories.
In its nearly four decade run, the festival has added dance, fiddle, speech arts, strings guitar, vocal and musical theatre to the piano division.
Piano is still a strong category, although dance has overtaken it as the most popular division of the festival.
Beverly Chalk, who has been president of NIFPA since 2007, said although there is an adjudication process throughout the festival, it’s more than simply a competition.
“We don’t just focus on the competition,” she said. “We want the kids to be in the audience, watching. We create room in the audience for them to come back after their performances. The adjudicator actually speaks to them with each session. They don’t just get written feedback and marks. That is the marked difference between us and many others out there. That is why it is called a festival, and not just a competition.
“We want every child to get on that stage and have the experience. For some, it may be the only experience they ever have on stage. So it’s not just about getting the marks. We really go out of our way to support the child having that spotlight on them for a moment, and having it be a good experience.”
That said, there is a competitive angle and purpose.
The NIFPA is technically a qualifying event for provincials.
“We are a member of Performing Arts BC,” said Chalk. “That is where we funnel the kids through (for provincial competition), who then go on to nationals, although the nationwide competition is for (performing) music only. We are the only province that holds a provincial dance competition, and I believe speech arts is the same.
“So every discipline that we have, except for fiddle, we send representatives from this event to the provincials.”
(Fiddle does not have a provincial championship.)
Fort St. John will host the Performing Arts BC provincial festival this year, from May 31-June 4.
This year’s NIFPA runs in two venues: the Old Church Theatre (755 Harmstrom) from Feb. 4-17, and at the Sid Williams Theatre from Feb. 18-27.
For a detailed schedule, go to the festival website (nifpa.org) and select “festival calendar” from the drop down menu on the “festival” key.
Admission into the festival is by donation, with a suggested minimum of $3 per session.
The festival will wrap up the following weekend, with a series of showcase performances.
The Festival Variety Showcase (7 p.m. March 4) features a variety of all disciplines chosen by the adjudicators for their achievement and entertainment value.
The Dance Gala (7 p.m. March 5) is specific to dance, with adjudicator-chosen performances also, creating a spectacular show for the public.
Tickets (for either show) are $20 and are available at the Sid Williams Box office or online at their website (sidwilliamstheatre.com).
The third showcase is the Provincial Rep Showcase, on Saturday, March 5 at 1 p.m. at the Sid. The participants chosen to represent NIFPA at Provincials will be presented. Admission for this show is by donation.
There were eight festivals between 1978 and 2005. In 2009, the NIFPA become an annual event. It has drawn in excess of 1,000 competitors consistently since 1995, and the bursary and award total has risen from $2,365 in 1984 to at least $10,000 in each of the past five years.
With an event of this magnitude, there is a substantial need for volunteers.
“We have to have eight volunteers per session at the Sid Williams, and on a full day, we have eight sessions in a day. So eight volunteers, eight sessions, that’s 64 volunteer slots per day, at the Sid,” said Chalk. “Some people will do a couple of slots, but it is quite intensive.”
To view the volunteer spots available and to sign up, go to bit.ly/1ThdhR1
An email address is all that is needed to sign up.