In the House Festival organizer Myriam Steinberg. (photo from Myriam Steinberg)
“I fell into this career by accident,” In the House Festival organizer Myriam Steinberg told the Jewish Independent in an interview about the festival, which starts its 2014 season with a production at Vancouver FanClub on weekends to the end of April, a May 8 fundraiser and the festival itself June 6-8.
Before her lucky “accident,” Steinberg tried a few professional directions. After high school, she did photography, she studied English and humanities at university, and also worked in the functional arts, but nothing clicked.
“In 2003, my friend Daniel Maté came up with the idea of putting up shows in people’s living rooms,” said Steinberg. “He called it ‘In the House Festival’ and asked me to help. I did, and loved it. I had to learn a lot. At that time, I didn’t know anything about cultural life in Vancouver. Next year, he did something else, and the festival didn’t happen, and later he moved to New York. I wanted to continue with the festival so, in 2005, I took over. Since then, I’ve organized this annual event by myself.”
This year marks the 10th festival Steinberg has created as a solo entrepreneur. According to the website, since its inception, In the House has produced more than 300 shows in 70 genres and hired about 600 different acts. All the festival performances showcase local actors and musicians.
Steinberg also produces other shows for corporate and private clients, like dinner theatre or the Haunted House in October. “But we don’t do skulls, vampires and witches,” she said. Instead, they employ original themes: Greek mythology, fairies or Atlantis. Every year is dedicated to a different theme.
“Our signature event remains In the House Festival on the first weekend of June,” she explained. “The shows all take place in people’s living rooms or backyards. People donate their spaces for the shows.”
Some of the space donors/ house owners are Steinberg’s personal friends, while others she has found while walking her neighborhood around Commercial Drive. “I would see a large house during a garage sale and introduce myself to the owners, ask them if they would want to participate. Many said yes, and they liked it. We have a 90 percent repeat rate for our host houses.”
The free performance venues enable Steinberg to keep ticket prices low and pay the actors from the ticket sales, although she didn’t say anything about getting paid herself. For her, In the House is much more about community than profit, and it is registered under the umbrella of the nonprofit society Arts in Action.
“I create connections,” she said. “Everyone needs a little ‘Wow!’ in their lives, and performing arts are the key. Whether you’re in the audience, a performer or a host, you walk away from the show with a feeling of magic.”
Steinberg conceives that magic, nurtures it and enhances it. “Over the years, many performers became my friends. I invite them to my personal gatherings, introduce them to each other. New and exciting projects are often born this way…. Actors love the festival. For them, it is a good platform to try new material. I always mix new and known names in every performance. This year, we’ll have 19 different shows in 13 houses with over 80 performers.”
Shows in 2014 will include jazz and classical music, burlesque and puppets, stand-up comedy, circus and much, much more. To organize such complex and versatile events with so many participants, Steinberg needs not only lots of imagination but also the ability to multitask and a deep well of flexibility. “Things always go wrong,” she admitted with a smile. “You have to be able to roll with the punches, to always have a Plan B and come up with solutions quickly. People skills are a must, and being pig-headed helps. You have to be stubborn, never give up. Vancouver is a slow city, arts-wise.”
Despite the challenges, Steinberg believes that the rewards far outweigh any difficulties. “I’m surrounded by amazing, innovative people, both performers and audiences,” she said. “During the shows, I like to watch the public. I see people smile, see memories created. I love having kids in the public, and almost all the shows are children-friendly. This year, only one show – burlesque – is adults-only.”
Steinberg herself never performs in her shows, with one exception – one year, she danced Cuban salsa. “It’s too much for me,” she said, laughing. “But I do everything else. I come up with themes for the shows, find performers and venues, organize equipment and décor, sometimes make props. I update our website, engage in social media, write the newsletter, do the accounting and stage managing. I set up the shows and tear them down afterwards. And, of course, fundraising. It’s always a challenge to find sponsors. I must be a little bit crazy to keep doing all that but I can’t think of anything else I want to do.”
Not that there’s time for her to think of anything else. Until the end of April at Vancouver FanClub (Friday through Sunday, 8:30 p.m.), In the House’s Space Cruise explores existential questions like, “Where is the Final Frontier? What happened to Elvis?” with interactive games, “circus, burlesque, comedy and music.” And, at Fox Cabaret on May 8, 7 p.m., is Carnival for the Festival, an In the House fundraiser.
“People should expect to dance lots, hear some fabulous music and be entertained by roving stiltwalkers,” said Steinberg about the New Orleans-themed event. “There will also be chocolate fountains and a silent auction. The fundraiser is raising money to help pay for performer fees and equipment for the 11th Annual In the House Festival.”
The breadth of the festival – the aforementioned 80-plus performers this year – “allows us to provide a perfect avenue for a cross-cultural, interdisciplinary experience that audiences wouldn’t get anywhere else,” she added. “Coming to the fundraiser and/or donating to the In the House Festival allows us to maintain a high calibre of performance and enables us to keep building audiences for deserving performers. A city that is vibrant, with solid community and a strong cultural foundation, is crucial to living in a happy, interesting and inspiring place.”
Tickets for Carnival for the Festival are $40 (includes a cocktail) and are available at inthehousefestival.com, 604-874-9325 or [email protected]. Information about In the House Festival, June 6-8, can also be found on the website.
Olga Livshin is a Vancouver freelance writer. She can be reached at [email protected].