Cold connections: This Broadway Theatre festival aims to thaw out your winter blues

By in Culture/Features

If you’re like some of the people who live in residence, you may spend most of your time indoors during the cold months. The Broadway Theatre hopes to change this with the 2018 Winterruption festival.

The Broadway Theatre / Supplied

Starting on Jan. 18, the Broadway Theatre will present the third installment of the Winterruption festival. Consisting of 23 shows over the span of four days, in nine venues across Saskatoon, the Winterruption festival hopes to get Saskatonians out of their houses, without claiming to cure them of their seasonal ailments.

Though Winterruption’s central focus is on music — boasting an impressive musical roster that features Partner, Lindi Ortega, Mo Kenney, Close Talker and Chad VanGaalen, to name a few — there are plenty of other events to get excited about. For those who perhaps don’t enjoy concerts — who am I to judge? — the festival also includes a podcast recording, storytelling opportunities, book readings and even theatre on the river trail.

Aryn Otterbein, operations manager at the Broadway Theatre and one of five core co-ordinators for this year’s Winterruption, spoke to the Sheaf about the festival, its organization and the reasons why winter needs to be interrupted in Saskatoon. For Otterbein, Winterruption provides an avenue for community and connectivity during a season that otherwise may be isolating.

“You know how, after December, everyone complains about January, because there is nothing to look forward to? Well, we’re a winter city, and we don’t think that, just because it’s cold out, … people need to stop doing things. We decided that people need something to look forward to, so they can get out and participate in Saskatoon’s winter culture,” Otterbein said.

Such a motive is fitting for Saskatoon’s 100 per cent community-owned theatre. Under the guidance of the Broadway Theatre’s executive and artistic director Kirby Wirchenko, Winterruption is a community effort that is produced with the support of the Regina Folk Festival, venues across the city, an array of public funders and over 70 volunteers.

If the growth from last year’s Winterruption to this year’s festival is any indication, the Broadway Theatre knows how to get people to maintain a sense of community even in the harshest of months. In fact, this year sees the festival expanding its outdoor events.

One such expansion is the product of a partnership between Wanuskewin Heritage Park, Saskatoon Public Schools and the Broadway Theatre, wherein the groups have set up a tipi in the École Victoria School yard for the storytelling component of the festival. Otterbein considers this one of the most significant parts of this year’s Winterruption.

“It’s meant to be a learning tool for students throughout the year, as well as a storytelling stage for the festival,” Otterbein said. “We will have 50 per cent Indigenous storytellers, and also 50 per cent new Canadians telling stories. It’s our act of reconciliation as a community theatre, in recognizing that we are living on Treaty 6 Territory.”

“I hope people are doing [art], because it’s fun… Art is a good language for people to learn how to speak, and to extend themselves and try [to] see things from another person’s perspective.”
— Chad VanGaalen, musician

Understanding that January doesn’t have the most hospitable weather, Otterbein reveals the lengths that the Broadway Theatre is going to in order to make sure this year’s festival is enjoyable. On top of having nine indoor venues, fire barrels will be placed on closed streets along Broadway Avenue, with a fire inside the storytelling tipi as well.

What’s more, festival volunteers will be walking around the Broadway area handing out free Starbucks coffee, tea from Wanuskewin and hot chocolate, ensuring that you stay warm while you explore the free parts of the festival. However, Otterbein reveals that, if it gets cold enough for the buses stop running, so too will the outdoor activities cease.

While this year sees Winterruption increase its free activities, most of the concerts require tickets. As the Broadway Theatre is fully community-owned and operated, Otterbein confirms that the money gained from the event will go back into the community — through Winterruption itself.

“It’s going to allow us to continue to do the festival. The funds from Winterruption go back into Winterruption, so … we can keep building it and keep making it be something people can look forward to,” Otterbein said.

Regarding the success of Winterruption, the proof is in the pudding. Now in its third year, the festival is clearly something that’s desired by the community, so perhaps this is a model that other winter initiatives should also follow. For Calgary musician Chad VanGaalen, festivals like Winterruption are excellent initiatives to help people get through the winter. Appearing at Amigos Cantina on Jan. 20, VanGaalen couldn’t be a better fit for the festival. His latest record, Light Information, considers at length the importance of connections and how alone we are, despite our endless technological connectivity.

“I think it’s great. Get out and about, hang out… I like it. [Saskatoon’s] a beautiful place with lots of beautiful people,” VanGaalen said. “I love Amigos, I love eating there, [and] I love playing there. I’d be excited to go out and check out some shows. As far as Winterrupting things, it’s a good idea. You do get holed [up] a little bit.”

VanGaalen believes that art is an important way to foster connections, and he thinks that art can be found anywhere.

“It’s all art to me. You could get a bunch of kids out tobogganing, and people would call it art. Drip a bunch of food [colouring] behind your sled, and by the end of the night, the hill would be crazy stripy. You don’t have to do much,” VanGaalen said.

For VanGaalen, an individual’s enjoyment of artistic endeavours is what make festivals like Winterruption worthwhile.

“I hope people are doing [art], because it’s fun… Art is a good language for people to learn how to speak, and to extend themselves and try [to] see things from another person’s perspective. Maybe they’ll get inspired by it. That’s what I use it for. When I see good art that inspires me, it lightens my step a little bit,” VanGaalen said.

Otterbein seems to agree with VanGaalen’s thoughts on the positive properties of art, but she frames it in a more communal sense.

“The arts are incredibly important in a community and to the culture of a city. Often, they are undervalued, and [Winterruption] is kind of a unique way for us to bring the things we find exciting to the community — like bands that don’t normally come here and artists that wouldn’t normally come through Saskatoon,” Otterbein said.

For Otterbein, the art that Winterruption showcases allows the community to coalesce in unique and meaningful ways.

“[Winterruption is] an exciting thing to put on. Art, culture and music are things that the community centres itself around,” Otterbein said. “People can bond over these things — they foster a togetherness in a time that is otherwise isolating.”

Both Otterbein and VanGaalen make persuasive cases. It’s hard to disagree that Winterruption may work better than, say, a skating rink to help people get through the winter.

To find Winterruption’s lineup, ticket prices, schedule and more, head over to or visit their Facebook page.

Tanner Bayne / Culture Editor