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Edmonton Poetry Festival | Edify.

Since “stumbling” into Edmonton’s theatre scene in his early 20s, Steve Pirot has gained a wealth of experience on and off the city’s stages, writing, directing and acting, as well as building relationships and learning the business of theatre among its administrative shadows. But over the last few years, he’s become more involved in Edmonton’s spoken-word poetry scene, and he’s found one major difference.

“The microphone,” says Pirot, the Edmonton Poetry Festival’s new executive director. “In many ways, I think that spoken-word poetry shares more in common with microphone-oriented performances, like stand-up comedy, or even music. No fourth wall is being constructed, you’re just standing there, alone, facing an audience and talking right at them. When I first went up to do some open mic events, it was mostly about learning how to work a microphone, because it was a performance muscle I had never worked out.”

The spoken-word artists at this year’s Edmonton Poetry Festival have worked out their mic muscles over many years, and most of them completed their literary reps in or around Edmonton. The festival, which started in 2006, has historically brought in national and international performers. But this year, organizers have doubled down on showcasing local talent — including the festival’s founder, Alice Major, and Dwennimmen (aka Shima Robinson). It’s something Pirot, who became executive director in March, wants to triple down on going forward.

“We’re certainly not opposed to out-of-town artists, but, especially in an art form like poetry, you’re more likely to get traction with local audiences if you’re working with local artists,” he explains. “I might be excited about a particular poet that’s coming out of Halifax, but I’m a specialist. I think it’s more exciting for a typical Edmonton audience to know that there’s an event happening that features their friends and neighbours rather than some cat that they’ve never heard of before.”

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