Sara Graham is the new Executive Director of Halifax Fringe Festival.
Sara Graham is the new Executive Director of Halifax Fringe Festival.

Sara Graham announced as new Executive Director of Halifax Fringe Festival

Graham, an accessibility activist, takes over from longtime fest helm Lee-Anne Poole on August 11.

Things are busy these days at Halifax Fringe HQ, as the  unjuried and uncensored theatre festival gets ready for its 33rd annual event. While curtain time isn’t until September 1 (the fest’s 2022 dates are Sept 1-11), a new star has already emerged in the form of Fringe’s new executive director, Sara Graham.

Taking over from longtime festival head Lee-Anne Poole, Graham has been making a name for herself in Halifax’s theatre scene in recent years for her accessibility consultant work, which has helped the likes of Eastern Front Theatre create more inclusive live art. A self-identified deaf and disabled person, Graham met with The Coast via Zoom to discuss her new position and what radically inclusive theatre looks like.

The Coast: How does it feel to be stepping into this new role, especially where Fringe is such a significant Halifax festival?

Sara Graham:
It's an overwhelming amount of joy. And overwhelming is also the right word: Like, when you talk about significance in Halifax, the Fringe is such an important part of accessibility work—and accessibility work is something I've really focused on in the last five years.

It feels like there is a tidal wave of change in the arts right now, as many festivals, galleries and other cultural sector spaces see longtime leaders vacate their positions and new blood comes in. How does it feel to be part of this shifting of the landscape in Halifax?

I think it's really exciting. And I think what it means for Halifax art is that Halifax art is getting a very new face to it. I'm calling what we're going into in Halifax—and you'll see it in a lot of theatre companies right now—the Accessible Renaissance: So, new faces coming into positions within institutions. And the way to change institutions is through positions of power and understanding how power dynamics work—and then creating accessibility and inclusion and diversity within them.

So, I think we're really moving into that Renaissance period of new, disabled people taking on roles that traditionally have been exclusionary. Or it's it's a new person taking on a role that traditionally wasn't built in that way to exist. And I think that the art world in Halifax is gonna see a new face to it and new life to it.

Prior to your new role at Fringe, you've been making a name for yourself in Halifax theatre with your advocacy work and consulting work. Why is this work important, and how will it impact your tenure at Fringe?

The access consulting and advocacy, I think it really lend its hand into the Fringe, which is already in that direction of work. So, if 50 percent of the spots prioritizing equity-seeking artists is already looking at that inclusionary aspect of our development and 100 percent of applicants who have identified as equity seeking artists have gotten a spot in the Fringe Festival: I think that's the direction that I want to steer the Fringe into.

And now the question we're going into the executive director role is like, 'Okay, we have these artists here. What if they want to see a show? Is it accessible for them to go see that show at this time?' From venue booking to audience inclusion, the question is: How do we make the festival fully accessible—for those creating and consuming within it?

When researching you before our chat, I was able to find lots of information about your consultancy work but not a lot about your own theatre background. What can you tell us about that?

I quit theatre as a teen. It a world that  didn't exist for me and it didn't have established protocol for me to exist within it [due to how inaccessible it was].

It's funny, I wrote a welcome letter and I say: 'You know, I'm welcoming everyone into the Fringe with this letter, but it's funny because the Fringe is also welcoming me, not just into this new position—but also back into theatre and back into art.'

I feel really excited to be to be welcomed back into the theatre world in such a  joyful way.


This Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.

About The Author

Morgan Mullin

Morgan is the Arts & Entertainment Editor at The Coast, where she writes about everything from what to see and do around Halifax to profiles of the city’s creative class to larger cultural pieces. She’s been with The Coast since 2016.

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