Remembering Gene Dowling

The Faculty of Fine Arts mourns the passing of an inspirational teacher, invaluable colleague and dear friend: School of Music professor Eugene Dowling. Following a 2013 diagnosis of prostate cancer, Dowling passed away at his home on June 30 with his family and close friends at hand.

edowling_x200“Gene was a wonderful teacher, talented performer and delightful colleague and friend,” says Acting Dean of Fine Arts and former School of Music Director Susan Lewis. “He showed incredible generosity and thoughtfulness towards his students and helped make the School of Music a great place to be. He is sorely missed.”

An inspirational mentor to more than one generation of students, Gene Dowling worked in the School of Music for 39 years before retiring as a Teaching Professor in 2014, but he was perhaps best known locally for his 35 years leading the annual Tuba Christmas ensemble which raised thousands of dollars for local charities. “He was a devoted and insightful instructor, often offering extra hours of teaching and mentoring to his students,” recalls fellow professor and School of Music Acting Director Harald Krebs. “The many successes of his students worldwide honour his legacy. He will be sorely missed by the many in whose lives he made a difference.”

A young Eugene Dowling shows his brass

A young Eugene Dowling shows his brass

Raised as a Michigan farmboy, he intitially took up the tuba at the prodding of his sixth grade school band teacher—but Dowling’s professional career really began in Chicago, where he was a student of the legendary pedagogue Arnold Jacobs, tubist with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. He joined the School of Music faculty in 1976, where he taught low brass and aural skills, conducted the Wind Symphony (in 2010 and 2013-14) and made significant contributions as both the School’s graduate advisor and Music Education advisor. “Over the decades, Gene maintained a strong studio in tuba and euphonium and taught an impressive range of courses, including musicianship, music appreciation, theory and Symphonic Winds,” notes Lewis.

Dowling leading his final TubaChristmas event in 2014

Dowling leading his final TubaChristmas event in 2014

But in addition to his teaching duties, Dowling was also a very active performer: for 25 of his 39 years at UVic, he was Principal Tubist with the Victoria Symphony, as well as an internationally known soloist. He was also nominated for a Juno Award for his first recording, The English Tuba (Fanfare/Pro Arte), featuring Ralph Vaughan Williams’s “Tuba Concerto” with the London Symphony Orchestra, which received favourable reviews and radio play throughout North America and was recently re-released. A recent CD features Dowling performing with Stephen Brown and the Bastion Band, and he even played in bands for the surprising likes of Sarah Mclachlan and the Moody Blues. “His recitals, always featuring a wide spectrum of music, were a joy to attend,” says Krebs.

In this Times Colonist memorial of his life and legacy, fellow trombonist and School of Music instructor Scott MacInnes credits Dowling with helping him get hired at UVic a decade ago . . . at the tender age of 24. “If he saw someone who he thought had a love of music, teaching ability or ability to play, he definitely went out of his way to make sure they had every opportunity possible,” recalled MacInnes, who played with Dowling in the Pinnacle Brass Quintet.

Gene Dowling takes a bow at his final School of Music concert, alongside accompanist Charlotte Hale (photo: Robert Davy)

Gene Dowling takes a bow at his final School of Music concert, alongside accompanist Charlotte Hale (photo: Robert Davy)

But if there’s a natural successor to Dowling’s legacy, it’s his former student and Faculty of Fine Arts Distinguished Alumni Paul Beauchesne. Beauchesne succeeded Dowling as principal tubist with the Victoria Symphony, will continue to organize Tuba Christmas and will now be teaching at the School of Music this fall. “He was really dedicated to sharing his musical gifts with people around him,” Beauchesne told the Times Colonist.

Always concerned with the future and well-being of students, Dowling recently established a scholarship for the benefit of low brass students at the School of Music. True to form, he even appeared at a concert supporting the Eugene Dowling Scholarship—just two days before his death, despite having to travel to and from the concert by ambulance. A donation to this scholarship would be an appropriate way for anyone to remember him.

“He was widely recognized as a dedicated teacher and advisor,” concludes Lewis. “We will miss Gene’s expertise, good humour, and collegial nature.”

Appropriately enough, we’ll give the last word to Gene Dowling himself. “It’s a hard way to make a living,” told the Times Colonist back in 2012, “but it’s a glorious way to be involved in music.”

A public memorial for Eugene Dowling is planned for 1pm Saturday, September 26, at St. John the Divine. All are welcome.

Benjamin Butterfield wins Craigdarroch Award

Performer, artistic collaborator and educator—Benjamin Butterfield continues to make an indelible impression on the future of Canadian singers and on audiences worldwide. He is a tenor of international renown, with a repertoire ranging from baroque to classical to contemporary. This much-loved School of Music professor is now the 2015 winner of UVic’s Craigdarroch Award for Excellence in Artistic Expression.

Benjamin Butterfield (UVic Photo Services)

Benjamin Butterfield (UVic Photo Services)

Benjamin Butterfield is an outstanding performer, artistic collaborator, and educator, whose body of artistic work and song serves as a link to a greater sense and understanding of one’s self, others, and the world around us,” says Dr. Susan Lewis, Acting Dean of Fine Arts. “The measure of Professor Butterfield’s impact on the musical world can truly be found in how he applies his talent and expertise to the training of a new generation of singers at the School of Music. He makes the difference for young singers, providing both inspiration and sound teaching to prepare them for the world stage.”

Butterfield’s artistic knowledge and production experience is broad, versatile and widely recognized by peers, critics and audiences for its quality and impact. He has performed with the world’s top musicians and conductors, and is highly sought-after as a teacher who transforms young singers into emerging professional artists. Many of his students have gone on to give performances with major opera companies and symphonies throughout North America.

“This award clarifies the value that the University of Victoria places on the arts by acknowledging artistic expression as a point of recognition amongst it’s community members,” says Butterfield. “To be included with scientists, scholars, historians, technicians and health professionals sends a valuable message that the whole is made stronger by the sum of it’s parts. This award also helps me clarify for myself the importance of continuing to grow and learn as a singer, educator and human being.”

Butterfield, dressed for success on the stage

Butterfield, dressed for success on the stage

As an example of how busy Butterfield is during his off-campus hours, he is performing at two prestigious music events this summer alone: the Ukrainian Art Song project—which will find Butterfield at the Glenn Gould Studio this July recording alongside the acclaimed likes of fellow Canadian vocalists Russell Braun, Virginia Hatfield, Andrea Ludwig, Krisztina Szabó, Monica Whicher and Pavlo Hunka as part of the overall project to record 1,000 Ukrainian art songs by 26 composers as an extraordinary musical legacy to the world—and at Vermont’s famous Yellow Barn Concerts, which presents 23 concerts between July 10 and August 8.

“Music binds, educates and serves—the human voice is common to us all and is at the very core of our collective abilities, story telling and passions. Music can heal and rally, console and inspire. It is a reflecting pool for our common struggles and joys,” says Butterfeld. “Our world today is full of seemingly insurmountable obstacles and conflicts presenting a complicated and challenging future. There has never been a better time to sing. It helps one find the strength of character to be inspired, find solace and understanding and to know our responsibilities towards this world. As a performing artist, how do I inspire others to better appreciate the world around us? By singing about it.”

Butterfield teaching one of his students

Butterfield teaching one of his students

And, considering the range of students he’s had over the years, what kind of impact does Butterfield see UVic graduates having on the world? “An old sailor once said, ‘There are two kinds of people in this world: those who have hit a coral reef, and those who are going to hit a coral reef.’ UVic grads know that true success comes from developing the strength of mind to negotiate and manage failure; they are taught to deal with life’s inevitable ups and downs through UVic’s faculty, staff, facilities and location,” he says.

“They become committed, thoughtful and interested contributors to our society rather than focusing on self serving ventures. Our music grads in particular achieve this through learning to communicate through their music, developing their point of view and by taking chances every day. Their impact on the world is simple: they make music.”

Butterfield joins the likes of previous Craigdarroch Award winners Harald Krebs, Lorna Crozier and Marcus Milwright. The Craigdarroch Research Awards were established in 2003 to recognize outstanding research-focused and creative contributions at UVic, and were named for Craigdarroch Castle—home to UVic’s predecessor institution, Victoria College (1921-1946).

You can view Craigdarroch winners’ “Faces of UVic Research” videos here.

26 film award nominations for Writing alumni, faculty

Need proof of the impact of the Department of Writing‘s film production courses? Just look to the 2015 Leo Award nominations, where films by Writing faculty and alumni received a combined 26 nominations—a staggering number for a university that doesn’t technically have a film production program.

Bradley on the set of Two 4 One  (photo: Arnold Lim)

Bradley on the set of Two 4 One (photo: Arnold Lim)

Clearly, the Writing department is punching above its weight when it comes to film futures, but this year’s list of nominees is no exception—as evidenced by past Leo nominations and the department’s 2011 win for  Best Web Series Award for Freshman’s Wharf.

What’s the secret to their success? “Film is just a development of the Writing department’s already well-known streams: fiction, poetry, creative non-fiction and drama,” says film professor Maureen Bradley. “I don’t know anywhere else in the country where this is happening. There are good student films being made, but they’re not being driven by faculty [led-courses].”

Students shooting Freshman's Wharf on campus

Students shooting Freshman’s Wharf on campus

Bradley has spent the past five years building up the technical equipment and supporting talent to create professional-looking 10-minute short student films. “Drama and film are really an applied form of learning,” she explains. “A screenplay and a play are not final products, and they’re always open to interpretation. Students need to see how hard it is to make a film, how to adjust the writing as the film is made, how to write with a budget in mind.”

With no other Vancouver Island college or university offering film production classes, Bradley feels UVic’s Writing department is uniquely situated to help fill a gap both locally and nationally. “I think we have the best [student] screenwriters in Canada here, and I have a lot of experience in the other centres,” she says. “This is a unique situation where the production comes through the writing first. I’ve seen beautiful films at student screenings across Canada, but the story is usually lacking—so it’s really exciting to see story and surface come together here. Why make a film if there’s no heart to it?”

This year’s Leo nominees with ties to the Writing department include:

Blackfly

Blackfly

• Alumnus Jason Bourque‘s feature film Blackfly leads the pack with nominations for 10 awards, including best motion picture, direction & screenwriting

• Professor Maureen Bradley‘s feature film Two 4 One (produced by Fine Arts Digital Media Technician Daniel Hogg) is nominated for six awards, also including best motion picture, direction & screenwriting—and costumes, which were created by Theatre grad Kat Jeffery

Gord's Brother

Gord’s Brother

• The short film Gord’s Brother—created by the busy alumni team of Daniel Hogg (producer), Jeremy Lutter (director) & Ben Rollo (writer)—received four nominations

• Alumni Kate Bateman & Matt Hamilton‘s web series The Actress Diaries received four nominations

Godhead

Godhead

• Recent MFA grad Connor Gaston‘s student film Godhead received 2 nominations

A project of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences Foundation of British Columbia since 1999, the Leo Awards are an annual celebration of excellence in BC’s film & television scene.

The awards will be presented over three evenings  in Vancouver, depending on program: June 6 at the Westin Bayshore and June 13 & 14 at the Hotel Vancouver.

Good news for Gaston

It’s been a busy spring for new Writing MFA Connor Gaston—who certainly hasn’t waited until graduation to start making a name for himself.

Connor Gaston

Connor Gaston

The talented director-on-the-rise has been touring film festivals with ‘Til Death—the latest short film to emerge from Writing professor Maureen Bradley‘s Writing 420 film production class, for which she was also Executive Producer—which recently beat out all the big American universities to win “Best College Short” at the 2014 Phoenix Film Festival in April. That makes four prizes so far for ’Til Death, which continues to attract attention wherever it screens.

In fact, Gaston is off to the Cannes Film Festival in May with ‘Til Death, where it will be screening as part of Telefilm Canada’s annual Not Short on Talent short film presentation. For those keeping track, this is two years in a row that Writing alumni have been represented at the Telefilm pavilion: last year, it was Daniel Hogg and Jeremy Lutter were on the red carpet with their short film, Floodplain—based on a short story by fellow Writing grad D.W. Wilson. (Floodplain will also be screening in June at the Niagara Integrated Film Festival as part of the “Canada’s Not Short on Talent” Cannes short film compilation, as selected by renowned Cannes programmer Danny Lennon—the only BC film being shown.)

A scene from 'Til Death

A scene from ‘Til Death

But it doesn’t stop there—‘Til Death was also recently nominated for a Leo Award, which honour the best in British Columbia film and television production. This is the second Leo nomination for a Writing 420 project: the campus-created 10-part series Freshman’s Wharf won Best Web Series back in 2010. This year’s nomination is for Best Student Project.

Gaston is also nominated for one of Monday Magazine‘s annual M Awards—in fact, in the “Top Filmmaker” category, he’s nominated alongside fellow alumnus Jeremy Lutter (Floodplain) and Writing professor Maureen Bradley (Two 4 One). Talk about knowing the competition! (Voting closes May 30, click here to offer your vote.)

Finally, and perhaps most excitingly, Connor Gaston’s feature film project The Devout is a finalist for Telefilm Canada 2014-2015 Micro-Budget Production Program. Gaston’s The Devout was selected by local independent film society CineVic for recommendation to the program, alongside—surprise!—Jeremy Lutter, who also successfully applied through the National Screen Institute. (In fact, the only two selections from British Columbia are Lutter and Gaston, both Victoria-based CineVic member directors!)

The Micro-Budget Production Program supports new filmmakers seeking to produce their first feature-length films, with an emphasis on the use of digital platforms for distribution and marketing. Candidates for this year’s program were recommended to Telefilm through a network of 32 institutional partners from the film education and training community across Canada.

Both Gaston and Lutter screened work at CineVic’s Short Circuit event in early May, an annual celebration of Pacific Northwest Short Film.

Recent Fine Arts media roundup

Whatever the season, our Fine Arts faculty always seem to be in the media. The only trick is keeping up with it all!

EdgeKicking off 2014, History in Art’s Victoria Wyatt was announced as a contributor to the influential Edge blog. For those not familiar with Edge, it’s an ongoing conversation of intellectual adventure. As they say on the Edge website, To arrive at the edge of the world’s knowledge, seek out the most complex and sophisticated minds, put them in a room together, and have them ask each other the questions they are asking themselves.

The 2014 Edge question was, “What scientific idea is ready for retirement?” and it’s a bit  unusual for a History in Art professor to be asked to contribute to the conversation. But Victoria Wyatt was more than game for it, weighing in with her idea that “it’s time for the rocket scientist to retire.” She’s not talking about the folks at NASA, mind you, but that tired old cliche, “It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to . . . ” Read Wyatt’s engaging short essay here. All the responses are compiled in one really long list, so if you want to find hers quickly, just search for “Wyatt”.

The online Edge salon is, as they put it, “a living document of millions of words charting the Edge conversation over the past 15 years wherever it has gone.” In the words of the novelist Ian McEwan, Edge.org offers “open-minded, free ranging, intellectually playful . . . an unadorned pleasure in curiosity, a collective expression of wonder at the living and inanimate world . . . an ongoing and thrilling colloquium.”

JMPS_new_covIn other History in Art news, Allan Antliff recently edited a special issue of The Journal of Modern Periodical Studies focusing on “Anarchist Modernism in Print” (Volume 4, Number 2, 2013). As Antliff says in his introduction, “This issue of the Journal of Modern Periodical Studies examines political engagements with modernism in journals where productive comingling gave rise to new modes of anarchism contiguous with modernism, while modernism itself was propelled in new directions. In this instance we have a critical/creative nexus . . . keyed to values profoundly at odds with modernity, including its ‘socialist’ guise. Anarchism’s modernisms grapple with such issues as power relations, sexual difference, colonialism, and the economics of art—to name a few—with revolutionary intent.” Read more about Antliff’s issue here.

Allan Antliff's latest book, Joseph Beuys (Phaidon Focus)

Allan Antliff’s latest book, Joseph Beuys (Phaidon Focus)

Antliff also has a soon to be released new book about sculptor, painter, draughtsman, teacher, theorist and political activist Joseph Beuys. Simply titled Joseph Beuys, the 144-page book from Phaidon Focus is part of a groundbreaking new series that offers accessible, enjoyable and thought-provoking books on the visual arts. Described as “An enigmatic figure whose complex imagination drew on his research across a wide range of themes . . . Beuys strove to establish a truly democratic approach towards artistic creativity, and prove that modern art need not be confined to the museum or the gallery.”

Phaidon notes, “As Antliff effectively demonstrates, the ecological and political issues that informed much of Beuys’s art can be considered as relevant today as they were in his own lifetime.” You can read more about the art and life of Joseph Beuys in this article and this one. The book will be released on March 23.

A happy—and no doubt relieved—Carolyn Butler Palmer watches as the big button blanket is raised in First Peoples House (UVic Photo Services)

A happy—and no doubt relieved—Carolyn Butler Palmer watches as the big button blanket is raised in First Peoples House (UVic Photo Services)

Still in History in Art, Carolyn Butler Palmer‘s Big Button Blanket project—which earned all sorts of media attention during its fall 2013 creation—continued to make headlines with its 2014 public debut. Times Colonist art writer Robert Amos called the blanket’s exhibit at Legacy Gallery Downtown‘s Adasla: The Movement of Hands (continuing through to April 25) a “stimulating and multi-faceted show” in his review. Following the blanket’s debut at the opening of the Diversity Research Forum, UVic’s Ring newspaper previewed the upcoming performance by blanket co-creator Peter Morin and former Department of Visual Arts Audain Professor Rebecca Belmore in this article, and the Times Colonist also ran this article previewing the February 22 performance, summarizing the history of the button blanket and this blanket’s specific intention.

Peter Morin observes the big button blanket after it has been raised in First Peoples House (UVic Photo Services)

Peter Morin observes the big button blanket after it has been raised in First Peoples House (UVic Photo Services)

Local visual arts writer Robert Amos also ran this Times Colonist article about Adasla, describing it as a “stimulating and multi-faceted show.” The exhibit was also featured in the February/March issue of Preview: The Gallery Guide magazine, was written up in this article for the UVic student newspaper Martlet and appeared in the Victoria News article, “Big Art Emerges From A Big Blanket.”

Shifting to the Department of Theatre, professor emeritus  Juliana Saxton was the focus of this March 7 Montreal Gazette op-ed by Andrea Courey about life-long learning. At 80, Saxton certainly knows how to walk the talk! (“When asked to comment on the fun of still ‘coming to class,’ Saxton said she had no time to talk. She was off to teach a class! Bingo. I smiled and remembered the old adage: If you want to learn something, teach it. And if you can, keep learning.”)

Some of the cast of Unity (1918), on to March 22 at Phoenix Theatre (photo by David Lowes)

Some of the cast of Unity (1918), on to March 22 at Phoenix Theatre (photo by David Lowes)

Phoenix Theatre’s last production of the year—the award-winning Unity (1918), written and directed by Department of Writing professor Kevin Kerr—picked up a great deal of media attention in advance of its March 13 opening. The Times Colonist, CTV VI and CFUV’s U in the Ring all featured previews of the production, and the reviews coming in have all been outstanding (“Who knew a play about the flu could be so moving?” writes the Times Colonist). Click to this separate post to read a roundup of the press surrounding Unity (1918).

School of Music instructor Colleen Eccleston was a guest on CFAX 1070’s “Cafe Victoria with Bruce Williams” show (unfortunately not archived online). Eccleston spoke about the recent anniversary of the Beatles appearing on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1964, and the impact they have had since that day 50 years ago. Music’s Wendell Clanton was also featured on CFAX 1070 in February (but also not archived); both he and members of the UVic Vocal Jazz Ensemble were interviewed about their Singing Valentines fundraiser.

12tet-frontThe UVic Wind Symphony and the Naden Band appeared on Shaw TV’s Go Island South show in advance of their Naden Scholarship fundraiser concert on February 7. Also in the brass department, congratulations go out once more to School of Music professor emeritus Ian McDougall on his latest Juno Award nomination! His album The Ian McDougall 12tet LIVE is nominated for “Traditional Jazz Album of the Year.” The winners will be announced on the March 30 broadcast from Winnipeg.

The School of Music’s new live streaming initiative also sparked this Times Colonist article about the pros and cons of digital content when it comes to audience impact. Concert Manager Kristy Farkas was interviewed, saying “she knows of no evidence suggesting that this program compromises attendance at UVic concerts.” The TC’s Kevin Bazzana quoted Farkas on how technology is “broadening our reach with the community” by allowing a student’s family in another city to watch a graduating recital, for example.

Sandra Meigs' "The Basement Panoramas"

Sandra Meigs’ “The Basement Panoramas”

Over in Visual Arts, the Toronto exhibit of Sandra Meigs‘ new series of paintings The Basement Panoramas got a great full-page review in the Toronto Star, which called it “perhaps the most potent work of Meigs’ career.” As anyone who saw the show when it appeared locally at Open Space back in November 2013 will recall, these are really, really big paintings—so large the Toronto exhibit was split between two galleries!

Daniel Laskarin at Deluge

Daniel Laskarin at Deluge

Current Visual Arts chair Daniel Laskarin had his fourth exhibition at downtown’s Deluge Contemporary Art from January 31 to March 8. In fallen and found, Laskarin returned to a decades-old preoccupation with the role of the sculptor as matterist in this solo exhibit, and you can hear him discuss the work in this video interview from ExhibitVic website.

WainoAnd the timing was perfect for Carol Wainio’s March 12 appearance as the latest in the long-running Department of Visual Arts VIsiting Artist series. Wainio had just been announced one of the recipients of the 2014 Governor General’s Awards for Visual & Media Arts on March 4, alongside Visual Arts alumnus Kim Adams. Wainio’s talk was teased by an advance photo in the local Victoria News listings.
Finally, in the Department of Writing, Joan MacLeod‘s latest play The Valley opened in Winnipeg recently, earning her this Winnipeg Free Press article: “Over almost three decades, the Victoria-based MacLeod has won a shelf full of awards for her plays, including the 2011 Siminovitch Prize, Canada’s richest theatre award. She is taken aback by the news that anyone thinks of her as a groundbreaking dramatist. ‘That’s extremely flattering and shocking,’ MacLeod says from her office at the University of Victoria, where she teaches. ‘When I sit down to write, I never feel like a master playwright. It’s nice to hear people think that. I’m blushing.'”
BCB-Feb2014-Cover_5_2Fellow Writing professor and Technology & Society program director David Leach wrote a great piece for BC Business magazine’s special all-TED issue in February. “Over the past 30 years, the annual Technology, Entertainment and Design conference has grown into a media juggernaut, fuelled by “ideas worth spreading” (as its tag line promises) and the most effective marketing on the social web,” writes Leach. “Today, this brand without borders aspires to reprogram our entire global operating system for the greater good.”

And the 2014 Southam Lecturer, Tom Hawthorn, popped up in the news a few times recently—not surprisingly, given that his Southam course focuses on sports journalism, and we’ve just come through a flurry of coverage on both the Super Bowl and the Winter Olympics. While it’s no longer archived, Hawthorn spoke to CBC All Points West host Jo-Ann Roberts—also a former Southam Lecturer herself—about his January 29 public Southam Lecture titled, “In Defence of Sports Writing (Not All of it, Just the Good Stuff)”.

HawthornHawthorn also spoke about the importance of UVic’s new Centre for Athletics, Recreation and Special Abilities (CARSA) in this article for the CARSA website: “When it comes to training facilities, there’s no question: CARSA will attract a very high level of athlete,” he says. “You’re going to attract people who want to succeed in athletics—that will definitely be weighed in their decision of where they’re going to do their studies—and you’ll have more people dedicated to success at that elite level.”

Cleve Dheensaw, sports writer for the Times Colonist, also talked to Hawthorn ahead of his lecture in this article. “Even people who don’t follow sports should read the sports pages because sport tells us a lot about ourselves as a society,” he says. (Plus, who wouldn’t want to take a class where your homework is watching the Super Bowl?) And Hawthorn talked about the likelihood of queer activism at the Olympics in this Victoria News article. “I fully anticipate that some athletes will make a display of solidarity with gay people in the community of Russia,” he said.

Unity (1918) is history in the making

Kevin Kerr is coming full circle. Back in 2002, the noted playwright received the Governor General’s Literary Award for Unity (1918); now a professor in the Department of Writing, Kerr is directing his first show for Phoenix Theatre this month—and it’s Unity (1918), a play that is regularly studied in first-year theatre classes. More significantly, however, it’s the first time he’s ever directed it.

Kevin Kerr on the set of Phoenix's Unity (!918), opening March 13 (photo: Adrienne Holierhoek)

Kevin Kerr on the set of Phoenix’s Unity (!918), opening March 13 (photo: Adrienne Holierhoek)

Set during the final few weeks of World War I, Unity (1918) is a touching and darkly comic tale about the fear and desire sparked by the convergence of the Spanish Flu pandemic and a returning soldier in the small town of Unity—a real town in Saskatchewan. But while this critically lauded play has been mounted repeatedly across Canada over the past decade, Kerr—an accomplished director himself—has never had the opportunity to tackle it before.

“I never really thought of directing it,” he says of Unity, which he’s also adapting for the screen. “There was always another director interested in doing it.” But after Kerr was hired by the Writing department in 2012, Phoenix offered him the chance to direct a mainstage show—and they were already considering Unity. “It was such a generous welcome to the Faculty of Fine Arts,” he says. “Granted, I felt a little funny about directing, as my relationship to it had always been from a writing perspective. And since I’d seen a lot of the other productions, I felt a little intimidated—how do I let go of those other shows, and shake up my own expectations of what the script is?”

Kate Braidwood and Zachary Stevenson in Theatre SKAM's 2002 production

Kate Braidwood and Zachary Stevenson in Theatre SKAM’s 2004 production

A good question for any writer tackling his own material. “Sometimes I say to myself, ‘What was I thinking when I wrote that?’,” he laughs. “But overall, I’m enjoying the process of trying to figure it out again, instead of creating it new.”

This is also only the second time Unity has been performed in Victoria; the first was Theatre SKAM’s 2004 production featuring eight Phoenix alumni in both cast and creative roles. (For Phoenix fans, here’s the impressive list, which almost reads like a “who’s who” of current theatre: Kate Braidwood, Annette Dreeshen, Amiel Gladstone, Lucas Myers, Megan Newton, Matthew Payne, Zachary Stevenson and Jennifer Swan.)

Listen to this podcast of Kevin Kerr’s March 14 preshow lecture about Unity (1918).

Tear The Curtain! at Vancouver's Arts Club

Tear The Curtain! at Vancouver’s Arts Club

Kerr co-founded and is now an artistic associate of Vancouver’s Electric Company Theatre—a collaborative company that specializes in “spectacular physical and visual imagery, cinematic vocabulary, and the quest for authentic connection in an accelerated culture.” He has earned accolades for his Electric Company productions (including the likes of Brilliant!The Score, and Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands) and for his skill in conceiving plays that push the boundaries of theatre itself. But how does he square recent work like the acclaimed film/theatre hybrid Tear The Curtain! with an early show like Unity?

“This is my ‘straightest’ play, so it lends itself to a particular style of direction,” he admits. “It’s not quite the process I’m most familiar with—usually, with Electric Company, we create and build a show collaboratively—but I’m finding it really satisfying to work in a more traditional model.” But, he hints, we can still expect a few surprises with the upcoming Phoenix production. “It’s going to have some great physical elements that give us both the strength and scope of the Prairies, but still play with a sense of intimacy.”

Clearly, Kerr is enjoying the process of returning to an earlier work in a whole new role. “For me, it’s the balance between finding the authenticity and naturalism in the acting, but still allowing the piece to have the necessary theatricality to really embrace what theatre does—to activate our imaginations and let us be participants in an image world that’s not as literal or singular as a photograph,” he says. “It’s fun to find those parts in the play.”

Unity (1918) runs March 13-22 at UVic’s Phoenix Theatre. Call 250-721-8000 or click here for tickets.

Adasla performance on February 22

Now that the exhibit Adasla: The Movement of Hands is open at the Legacy Downtown and the Big Button Blanket has had its inaugural dance at the opening ceremonies of UVic’s annual Diversity Research Forum at First People’s House, the focus now shifts to the next performance on February 22.

The button blanket receiving its inaugural dance at UVic's First Peoples House (Photo Services)

The button blanket receiving its inaugural dance at UVic’s First Peoples House (Photo Services)

Featuring a special contemporary performance collaboration between Governor General’s Award winning performance artist Rebecca Belmore—a former Audain professor for the Department of Visual Arts—and blanket co-creator, Tahtan Nation artist Peter Morin, this remarkable experience will begin at 2pm on Saturday, February 22, at Legacy Downtown, 630 Yates. All are welcome to witness this free event.

The Times Colonist ran this article previewing the February 22 performance, summarizing the history of the button blanket and this blanket’s specific intention.

We talked to Morin recently about his upcoming performance with Belmore. “Button blankets are used as teaching tools—younger artists get told its story, how it was made, what it was made with, who made it, the importance and significance of it in relation to the larger community—so our collaboration will be about acknowledging the blanket as a metaphor for indigenous knowledge practices,” he explains. “Her art has fundamentally changed how I see the world. A lot of my practice is about the places where indigenous and western knowledge intersect or collide, so it’s exciting we can work together on this.”

Peter Morin & the button blanket (photo: Michael Glendale)

Peter Morin & the button blanket (photo: Michael Glendale)

Morin doesn’t hesistate when asked about the idea behind the project. “I want people to understand and think differently about button blankets. This is an this art form that has been practiced for more than 150 years over a large geographic region. They are just as beautiful and significant as totem poles—and, in fact, I wanted to make a button blanket the size of a totem pole so people can see them better. It’s an invitation to see this art form differently.”

Morin, who recently returned to Victoria as the keynote speaker for the annual History in Art graduate student symposium Visual Impetus, is now with the Visual Arts faculty at Manitoba’s Brandon University.

Student Ali Bosworth Rumm sews buttons onto the Big Button Blanket (photo: Michael Glendale, Martlet)

Student Ali Bosworth Rumm sews buttons onto the Big Button Blanket (photo: Michael Glendale)

An ambitious collaborative project between Morin, History in Art professor Carolyn Butler Palmer, local indigenous blanket makers and HIA students, there has been a great deal of media coverage about both the exhibit and the blanket itself. CBC Radio’s All Points West featured this interview with Morin and host Jo-Ann Roberts (scroll down to the January 7 entry). Local visual arts writer Robert Amos also ran this Times Colonist article about Adasla, describing it as a “stimulating and multi-faceted show.” The exhibit is also featured in the February/March issue of Preview: The Gallery Guide magazine, was written up in this article for the UVic student newspaper Martlet and Morin is featured in this interview for the February issue of the UVic newspaper The Ring.

Legacy’s Justine Drummond (left) & Caroline Riedel with a small slice of the world’s biggest button blanket (photo: Edward Hill/Vic News)

Legacy’s Justine Drummond (left) & Caroline Riedel with a small slice of the world’s biggest button blanket (photo: Edward Hill, Vic News)

The Victoria News also ran the article, “Big Art Emerges From A Big Blanket,” focusing on how the 300-pound blanket will be a logistical challenge for the Legacy Gallery. “It’s easily the biggest art object we’ve received or displayed here,” Caroline Riedel told reporter Edward Hill. “The sheer weight and logistics to hang an object of this size is a challenge. The buttons are extremely fragile.” Riedel also explains how they had to enlist Royal B.C. Museum exhibit designer Allan Graves to design a scaffolding for the blanket.  “It’s a new challenge with the installation, but it opens up new ways to think about this as an art form,” she says.

Hill also explained how Morin designed the blanket to represent the headwaters of northwestern B.C.’s Klappan River, a sacred place for the Tahltan First Nation, and Tsartlip artist Barrie Sam contributed the design at the centre of the blanket.

For both Morin and Butler Palmer, the exhibit Adaslā—a Tahltan word referring to the act of creation—hinges on the lack of general knowledge surrounding button blankets. “It’s a textile art form, and that’s often associated with women, and textile arts have been suppressed in their recognition in art history, as has indigenous art forms,” explains Butler Palmer. “Even if they are recognized, they’re often configured more as ‘craft’ than art. So we’re challenging both the absence and suppositions of button blankets as an art.”

You can keep up to date with the Big Button Blanket Project via their Facebook page, and the project’s own blog.

Adasla: The Movement of Hands continues to April 25 at Legacy Downtown, 630 Yates. The gallery is open noon to 4 p.m., Wednesdays to Saturdays.

Going for the gold . . . in art?

Who says you’re never too old to compete in the Olympics? Just ask John Copley—he was 73 when he won a Silver Medal in the 1948 London Olympics. A septugenarian shotputter, perhaps? A sailor still in his prime? Nope—Copley won Silver for art in the “Mixed Paintings, Engraving and Etchings” category.

Olympic medal winner John Copely and his wife, Ethel

Olympic medal winner John Copely and his wife, Ethel

As CBC Radio’s Under the Influence marketing show host Terry O’Reilly notes in his latest entertaining episode, “Marketing the Olympics”, art was included as a competitive category in the Olympic Games between 1912 and 1948. Modern Olympics founder Pierre de Courbertin wanted Olympic athletes to compete in both body and mind, so the Olympics included medal categories for literature, music, painting, sculpture and architecture.

Each piece of art had to have a sport theme (Copley picked up the Silver for his painting “Polo Players”) and, by 1928, Olympic officials were judging over a thousand entries in Painting and Sculpture alone. No big surprise, considering the artists didn’t have to create new works under the gun, they simply had to enter previously unseen works.

See a complete list of all previous winners here. Music, Literature and Painting are each subdivided into four categories, Sculpture three and Architecture two—who knew you could once win a medal for designing a ski jump, pool or stadium?

The-Forgotten-Olympic-Art-Competitions-Stanton-Richard-EB9781412242691According to the Smithsonian.com article “When the Olympics Gave Out Medals for Art”, Olympic judges handed over 151 arts-focused medals over the years . . . not that anyone really remembers. As Richard Stanton, author of The Forgotten Olympic Art Competitions, told Smithsonian.com writer Joseph Stromberg, “Everyone that I’ve ever spoken to about it has been surprised. I first found out about it reading a history book, when I came across a little comment about Olympic art competitions, and I just said, ‘what competitions?’”

When he was rebooting the Olympics, de Courbertin was adamant that the arts be included in the modern Olympics. “There is only one difference between our Olympiads and plain sporting championships,” Stanton quotes de Courbetin as saying, “and it is precisely the contests of art as they existed in the Olympiads of Ancient Greece, where sport exhibitions walked in equality with artistic exhibitions.”

Yet despite de Courbetin’s efforts, the artistic side of the Olympics remained a quirky sidenote to greater Olympic glory. As the Smithsonian’s Stromberg notes, categories were fractured, medals were inconsistent and prominent artists never really entered. It all ended in 1952, and the artistic medals were officially struck from the Olympic record.

210612-sport-art-02The news isn’t all bad, however—for the past decade the International Olympic Committee has held an official “Sport and Art Contest” on the build-up to the Summer Games. No medals, alas, but there is a cash prize for three winners in each category (sculptures and graphic works), and the winning pieces are displayed in conjunction with the Summer Games. Winners of the 2012 prize in graphic works—selected from 86 entries—include (from left) “In Cerca Dell’ Armonia” by Italy’s Volha Piashko (mixed media, collage) in first, “Excellence Rising” by Romania’s Luisa Balaban (paper, ink, watercolour, pastel) in second, and “Hope” by Portugal’s Isabel de Cunha Lima (acrylic on canvas) in third.

210612-sport-art-01Sculpture winners were the USA’s Martin O. Linson’s “Omnipotent Triumph” (bronze) in first, Georgia’s Levan Vardosanidze’s “Olympic Hymn” (bronze, brass, marble, wood) in second, and Spain’s Fernando Serrano Munoz’s “The Cycling Woman” (sapeli wood carving treated with wax, rusty iron support) in third.

Interested in participating in the upcoming 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro? Entries are welcome from any country with a participating National Olympic Committee. Check out the 2012 entry form here.

Meet Michael Whitfield, 2014’s Distinguished Alumni

It’s hard to think of a more deserving person to be named Distinguished Alumni than Michael Whitfield. Not only is Whitfield (BA, 1967) a veteran lighting designer with an enviable career illuminating professional stages across North America, but he literally got in on the ground floor of UVic’s Theatre department back in the early ‘60s.

Michael Whitfield at UVic's Distinguished Alumni Awards

Michael Whitfield at UVic’s Distinguished Alumni Awards night, Feb 5 2014 (Photo Services)

“I started in Sciences in the fall of ‘62, and you were supposed to take an elective in arts,” Whitfield recalls. His mother, who was then working as a stenographer in UVic’s English department, mentioned that a new theatre course was being developed. “So I took the course and got hooked. It was like a smorgasbord of everything to do with theatre—including painting the floor,” he says with a chuckle. “I abandoned the whole Science program and switched over to arts.”

Whitfield quickly began to shine as the primary lighting design student because, as he puts it, “I could plug two lights together without blowing the place up—I think it was because of my science background.”

Whitfield's lighting design for Madama Butterfly (Canadian Opera Company, 1990)

Whitfield’s lighting design for Madama Butterfly (Canadian Opera Company, 1990)

Now an internationally acclaimed lighting designer with over four decades at the likes of the Stratford Festival, Shaw Festival, Canadian Opera Company  and San Diego Opera under his belt, Whitfield has also taught at the likes of the National Theatre School, York University, the University of Windsor, the University of Illinois and Carnegie Mellon University Pittsburgh. Now he’s back here at UVic, where he has been a sessional instructor with the Department of Theatre for a number of years.

Given his extensive background, Whitfield is clearly one of Canada’s most versatile and experienced lighting designers, and says he feels honoured to be named a Distinguished Alumni for the Faculty of Fine Arts.

“It’s a wonderful sense of coming full circle,” he says. “Thinking back on it, it was an amazing time on campus at the point I was in the program. In a strange way, had it not been that kind of flying-by-the-seat of your pants period, I probably would’ve chosen a different path—but the chemistry of that time was ideal for the things I liked to do. It was all about the highly inventive use of whatever you had.”

Long Day’s Journey Into Night (Stratford Festival, 1980)

Long Day’s Journey Into Night (Stratford Festival, 1980)

That inventive perspective has fuelled Whitfield’s career, both at Stratford—where, for over 25 years, he was Resident Lighting Designer for over 100 productions on Stratford’s three stages, as well as acting as consultant on major upgrades to the lighting rigs for the two lead theatres—and as a freelancer.

“It’s really been a fascinating career,” he says. “I’m lucky because a lot of people get into a job and think they’re set, only to have it end and wonder where they go next—but that was my entire career as a freelancer, moving from one production and one theatre to another. And that goes right back to my time at UVic—it was that whole seat-of-your-pants thing. It wasn’t always a case of a lot of planning, it was just getting things done.”

Among the hundreds of shows he’s lit, one memory still makes him chuckle—lighting Keanu Reeves in the lead role for the famed 1995 production of The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark at Winnipeg’s Manitoba Theatre Centre . . . mounted just six months after Speed thrust Reeves to the top of the Hollywood A-list.

Keanu Reeves & Lissa Repo-Martell (as Ophelia) in 1995's Hamlet  (photo: Bruce Monk)

Keanu Reeves & Lissa Repo-Martell (as Ophelia) in 1995’s Hamlet (photo: Bruce Monk)

“He was extremely athletic and did a really great job,” he recalls. “The sword fights were some of the best I’ve ever seen on stage. And you could have heard a pin drop during the shows—the kids were hanging on his every word.”

But it isn’t the memory of Reeves’ performance that makes him laugh; it was the fact that they had a complete lighting failure days before the production opened. “On the break between the tech rehearsal and the first dress rehearsal, the lighting board literally collapsed; everything disappeared,” he recalls. “And we still had to get that show open in three days. It was one of those best-laid-plans situations—but you couldn’t just say, ‘Oh well, it’s not going to work.’ You had to find a solution.”

Now that he’s retired and back teaching as a sessional at UVic, how does he feel about how the Theatre department has developed? “Considering it began with one course, it has now become a well-established program covering a wide range of topics,” he says. “There aren’t many places that offer the diversity of spaces that the Phoenix has—a thrust stage, a proscenium stage, and a black box. I think that’s one of the attractions . . . . the building itself is a little gem. I’ve ranged fairly widely over the theatre training world, and haven’t seen its equal.”

Pagliacci (San Diego Opera, 2008)

Pagliacci (San Diego Opera, 2008)

Considering the vast advances in stage technology that have occurred during his career (computerized lighting boards, the introduction of moving and LED lights, for example), what’s the key to successful lighting instruction? “I try to stress the fact that it’s your imagination that makes the difference,” he says. “You have to be able visualize something in order to accomplish it. Sure, it’s easier to do in a well-developed theatre complex like we have here, but you’re going to get out there, be given 15 lamps and told that you’re going to light Pericles—so you better have your imagination cranked up.”

Whitfield back where it all began

Whitfield back where it all began

Whitfield pauses, and offers one of his beaming Santa Claus smiles. “There are no answers, there’s no magic bullet,” he says. “You have to find solutions by thinking on your feet—that’s what’s going to help you work in the theatre, not necessarily a highly developed skill set.”

Great advice from a well-deserved Distinguished Alumni.

Edugyan & Price at Russell’s

Good news for local literature lovers—not only is Russell’s Books expanding again, but they’re also kicking off a new reading series! In an age where independent bookstores seem to be vanishing faster than space in newspapers for book reviews, it’s great to see a local outfit like Russell’s breaking new ground.

Edugyan & Price

Edugyan & Price

As part of their latest expansion, Russell’s Books is now opening Russell’s Vintage, which collects all their antiquarian books in one handy spot—the former Fort Café location, downstairs at 742 Fort Street. Better still, Russell’s Vintage will also offer a stage which will host a new reading series. This week, the series kicks off with multiple award-winning author Esi Edugyan (Half-Blood Blues) and local poet and novelist Steven Price (Into That Darkness), plus poet Marita Daschsel, at 7pm Tuesday, May 14.

Books x 2Like Lorna Crozier and Patrick Lane for the next generation, the husband-and-wife team of Edugyan and Price both hail from the Writing program and have both taught for the Writing department. (They’ve even been nominated for the same award at the same time.) Come on out and support them on Tuesday night . . . after you vote. And you are going to vote, right?