Vancouver Fringe Festival: What is What Lab?

As part of the celebrations prepared for the 35th Vancouver Fringe Festival (VFF) from September 5-15, the Vancouver Fringe Theatre Society is providing artists with a new safe space to take risks—⁠What Lab.

Tucked away on Pandora Street, surrounded by breweries, East Vancouver’s new DIY space is an artist-run organization dedicated to providing resources for art-curious communities.

Director Jarin Schexnider hopes What Lab will foster a spirit of newness and sharing. 

“I think you can feel that as soon as you walk through the doors of What Lab; it’s in the walls,” says Schexnider. Seated on a sarape-covered couch, her voice echoes throughout the empty space. 

Born in Louisiana, Schexnider obtained a theatre degree in Vermont, where she fell in love with the process of writing and directing. Relationship love brought her to Vancouver, where she believes her work in arts administration and facilitation creates safe waters for artists to jump into. 

Since opening its doors in 2018, What Lab has hosted a variety of residencies, music and zines series, artistic workshops like Schexnider’s own July Project, dance and arts programming, and a holiday market for artists who felt marginalized from other craft festivals. 

Schexnider says she’s never tried to pigeon hole what kind of space she’s created.

“As a business owner, I’m trying to let the communities within my space have impact in the shaping of What Lab.” 

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That’s why she says it was a no-brainer to offer What Lab as a venue for this year’s VFF.  During the festival, What Lab will present the work of four female-identifying artists, with each piece using a unique quality of playfulness to promote powerful themes. 

My Name is SUMIKO by Jane Fukumura uses clowning and kawaii to explore Japanese-Canadian cultural identities. Mental health and health care systems are explored through tadpole. : the last episode by Eddy van Wyk, while Dusty Productions’ (Tricia Trinh) Red Glimmer is a sci-fi dramedy that focuses on the female experience of pain, told through an inter-dimensional science experiment.

Schexnider’s own show, You Can Too, will also be performed at What Lab during VFF. Through the guise of self-help scams and jazzercise routines, Schexnider says she created You Can Too  to explore self care, religion and death. Each audience member will be given individual cassette tapes, allowing them to listen to multiple tracks and streams. 

“No one person, though, will hear both those tracks at the same time,” Schexnider says. “But within the space, within the shared experience of the audience, they hold that juxtaposition and carry it with them throughout the show.”

 In all of the four VFF works at What Lab, Schexnider notes that there’s an interesting balance of pain and joy being presented. 

“I feel my inspiration comes from keeping the darkness out. For me, the whole reason for existing is to create, to feel, to share, to experience,” says Schexnider, adding that this can be through making her own work or lifting up the work of others. “If I’m not doing one of those three things, I feel like a wanderer – I start to ask what I’m doing with my life as it races forward.” 

To learn more about the works being presented at What Lab for the Vancouver Fringe Fest, visit www.whatlab.ca. For ticket purchases and to view the complete 2019 VFF lineup, head to www.vancouverfringe.com.