Funny writing secrets revealed

There’s nothing funny about being a writer—although a good writer can make anything seem funny. Just ask Mark Leiren-Young.

Mark Leiren-Young is the latest Southam Lecturer

Mark Leiren-Young is the latest Southam Lecturer

An award-winning author, journalist, playwright, screenwriter and University of Victoria alumnus, Leiren-Young will be focusing on humour writing in his role as the UVic’s 2014 Harvey Stevenson Southam Lecturer in Journalism and Nonfiction. As the first UVic alumnus to hold the Southam position, he will also be teaching in the very Department of Writing from which he graduated—With Distinction—in 1985.

”I’m honoured and thrilled to be returning to UVic,” says Leiren-Young. “Several friends I’m still in touch with from my UVic days have responded to the news by bursting into the theme song from Welcome Back Kotter.”

Leiren-Young is the author of two comic memoirs, Free Magic Secrets Revealed and Never Shoot A Stampede Queen: A Rookie Reporter in the Cariboo. In addition to two other nonfiction books and a number of plays which have been produced throughout North America, Europe and Australia, the Vancouver-based Leiren-Young is also a well-known satirist, half of the comedy duo Local Anxiety and the writer/director of the film The Green Chain. As a journalist, he has written for TIME, Maclean’s, The Hollywood Reporter, Utne Reader and most of Canada’s daily newspapers, and is a regular contributor to The Vancouver Sun, TheTyee, The Georgia Straight and The Walrus. He has also written over a hundred hours of television dramas, documentaries and animated shows.

stampedeHis biggest success, however, may well be Never Shoot A Stampede Queen, which won the 2009 Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour. A memoir of his first year working as a journalist at the Williams Lake Tribune, Stampede Queen is being adapted for both film and television and has had two stage productions so far—one of which starred Zachary Stevenson and was directed by TJ Dawe, both fellow UVic Fine Arts alumni. “Stampede Queen pretty much kicks off with me leaving UVic and getting my BFA—recognized in better restaurants worldwide as a ‘waiter’s degree’,” Leiren-Young quips.

His humour-writing course and October public lecture—You Can’t Say That! Comedy, Censorship & Sensitivity—will incorporate not only his own experiences, but also a critical examination of what is funny in the 21st century.

FREEMAGIC_cover“It’s a fascinating time to talk about humour, comedy and media,” say Leiren-Young. “We’re living in an age where some comedians are taking facts more seriously than some journalists. When surveys used to report that young people were getting their news from late-night comedy, the implication was that this was a bad thing; today it means they’re better informed than people watching cable news. Comedians know how to deliver a punchline, but we may be laughing at the wrong media figures.”

Leiren-Young is the eighth person to hold the prestigious Southam lectureship, following freelance journalist Tom Hawthorn, Jo-Ann Roberts (CBC’s All Points West), Charles Campbell (Georgia Straight), Sandra Martin (Globe and Mail), Jody Paterson (Times Colonist) and authors Richard Wagamese and Terry Glavin.

The annual Harvey Stevenson Southam lectureship is made possible by a significant gift from one of the country’s leading publishing families. Harvey Southam, a UVic alumnus and journalist, was heir to his family’s publishing empire when he died suddenly in 1991.

Fringe Festival—or Phoenix Festival?

It seems with each passing year, more and more Phoenix Theatre students and alumni are showing up in the annual Victoria Fringe Festival—and this year’s no different. For those who want to bat for the home team, here’s a quick list to those Phoenixers who are acting, writing, directing, designing or managing backstage at the Fringe.

Remember, these are only shows featuring Phoenix students or alumni—there are plenty of other great shows in the Fringe well worth checking out!

I, Claudia
High Wire Theatre

Directed by Joanne James, featuring Nikki Bell, Stage Manager Meaghan Danforth

A one-woman show written by Canadian playwright Kristen Thomson, I, Claudia explores the world of a 12 year old girl struggling through the life of a misfit adolescent. Detailed through the perspective of 4 different characters, including Claudia herself, the script is full of charm, wit, and moments of raw truth outlining the experience of simply “growing up.”

Improv on Trial
Singles Awareness Theatre Company

Written/Created by: Amy Culliford & Blair Moro, featuring Logan Mitev, Hayley McCurdy, Sean Dyer, Markus Spodzieja, Amy Culliford and Blair Moro, with marketing photo by Kate Loomer.

A completely improvised court case in the historic Maritime Museum’s court room. Each night will have a celebrity judge running the court (check the posters around the Fringe to see who our celebrity judges will be).

Kitt & Jane: An Interactive Survival Guide to the Near-Post-Apocalyptic Future
SNAFU
Written/Created by Kathleen Greenfield, Ingrid Hansen with lighting design by Michael Franzmann

From creators of Little Orange Man comes this encore engagement of Kitt & Jane. Two socially-awkward 14-year-olds hijack their school assembly: the apocalypse will occur in five years, and they’re here to train you to survive. A poignant exploration of the world today’s youth are inheriting and what they’re prepared to do about it.

Medicine
BIG SANDWICH PRODUCTIONS
Written/Created by: TJ Dawe

Fringe road dog TJ Dawe (Lucky 9, The Slipknot) returns, with a story about a retreat led by Dr. Gabor Mate, involving the shamanic plant medicine ayahuasca . . . in Victoria. “Probably the best show he has ever brought us” – Edmonton Sun “Cathartic and never less than fascinating” – Now Magazine, Toronto “5 stars – storytelling at its best” – CBC Manitoba

Rope of Sand
WORKINGCLASSTHEATRE
Written/Created by Tristan Bacon (and Alyssa Kostello) featuring Nicholas Yee, Kaeden Derkson, Joanne James, Chase Heibert

Tear gas. Rubber bullets. Revolution. Against the backdrop of Egyptian violence in January 2011, Tracey Stoddard struggles against the age old question of financial security versus following your heart. Fast-paced and dream-like, Rope of Sand takes us on a whirlwind journey from the slick, wet streets of Vancouver to the scorching, arid desert in Egypt.

Tatterhood
KERPLODING THEATRE
Written/Created by Molison Farmer, featuring Kaeden Derksen, Kathleen O Reilly. Designed by Chelsea Graham and Halley Fulford. Stage Management and lights by Imogen Wilson (with music by UVIC music student Simon Dawkin)

Meet Tatterhood: a scraggly goat-riding wild child who must use her gumption to save her sweet and angelic sister from a hoard of trolls! Pick of the Fringe winner Kerploding Theatre brings this age-old folk tale to life with puppetry, live original music, and choreography. “The show delighted everyone in the audience… people young and old.” – Martlet
The Hatter
SPIRED THEATRE
Written/Created by: Andrew Wade

The Hatter is the story of a man trying desperately to get home. (It is also a tea party!) The Hatter has lost his madness, and now he needs your help. Come join in this performance jammed with storytelling, a song, emotional problems, and a chance to be the Jabberwock. With free tea! “4½ stars!” – Saskatoon StarPhoenix

The Princess Rescue Force
NEW BLOOD THEATRE
Written/Created by Robin Gadsby, directed by Kieran Wilson. Design by Chelsea Graham and Simon Farrow. Stage Manager Becca Jorgenson.

Damsels, distress no more. The Princess Rescue Force is here!! Two young recruits set out to earn their tights within this prestigious company of men . . . only to discover that “happily ever after” is hard to find. Dragons have to be slain on the inside; love at first sight makes you question your sexuality; and kissing sleeping beauties is a criminal offense.

The Middle of Everywhere
WONDERHEADS
Written/created by Kate Braidwood (and Andrew Phoenix)

Two strangers. One bus stop. Infinite destinations. WONDERHEADS return with their larger than life masks and a story that bends time and space in a journey of epic proportions! 8-time Best of Fest Winners and creators of Fringe hits Grim & Fischer and Loon: “5 stars—pure magic.” – CBC “5 stars—wonderful, original, beautiful fun.” – Calgary Herald

The New Conformity
IMPLIED INTUITION
Written/Created by: Sean Brossard. Stage Manager Nic Beamish.

The New Conformity is a juggling show displaying contemporary exploration of the ever-evolving conformist trends through juggling. The four-man show entails an entertaining and exciting 45 minutes full of throws, pancakes, rolls, and much more. The story is carefully drawn through the eyes of the characters and their individual reaction to change.

The Rise of Basement Boy
SHANEBOB PRODUCTIONS
Written/Created Markus Spodzieja (and UVic Writing grad Shane Campbell). Featuring Hayley Mccurdy, Jenson Kerr, Francis Melling and Markus Spodzieja. Lighting design by Erin Osborne. Marketing photo by Kate Loomer.

What happens when a nerdy recluse meets the pizza-girl of his dreams? In this musical comedy Archibald Clarkson must brave the real world for the first time or face losing the game of love before he even presses start. It’s going to be an hour of laugher, lyricism, and live action role-playing.

The Stephen Harper Play
THEATRE THEATRE • VICTORIA
Written/Created by Ian Simms featuring Tyler Fowler, Laura Ramoso, LJ Tressider, Elliot Lupini
Francis Melling, Haley Garnett and Ian Simms. Designs by Shayna Ward and Erin Osborne. Stage Manager Jaymee Sidel.

Ever wonder what Stephen Harper does off-camera? We do . . . but we’ll never find that out, so instead we made this play. The Stephen Harper Play re-imagines the scandals and diplomatic decisions of our Prime Minister with some of the most out-there (literally, in the arctic) explanations ever. A lampoon on the man-in-charge as well as our own political ignorance that begs us to answer the question: how well do we know our leader?

Young Frankenstein
St. Michaels University School • VICTORIA
Directed by Cam Culham

Join in on monstrous mania in this contemporary tongue-in-cheek parody of the horror film genre, especially the Mary Shelley classic itself! This is family friendly fun, filled with plenty of lively show tunes, performed by a dynamic company of local teen performers. A musical retelling of the 1974 film classic!

POST-FRINGE:

Peter N’ Chris and the
KINDA OK CORRRAL
PETER N’ CHRIS
ONE NIGHT ONLY!
September 5, 2014
Metro Studio
Written/Created and performed by Chris Wilson and Peter Carlone
Phoenix alumni, dynamic comedy duo, Canadian Comedy Award-winners Peter N’ Chris return to Victoria to perform their newest hit show, where they continue to send up pop culture—this time taking on the classic western!

What is The F Word?

Let’s say right off the top that The F Word is not what you think. Not only is the “F” in question actually “friend”, but The F Word itself is a new movie starring Daniel Radcliffe—yep, he of Harry Potter fame.

poster+The+F+Word+CanadaBut the Fine Arts connection? The F Word is actually the brainchild of a pair of Phoenix Theatre alumni—solo performance guru TJ Dawe and now-Hamilton based actor Michael Rinaldi.

While they didn’t write the screenplay for The F Word, it is based on the 2003 play Toothpaste and Cigars co-written by Dawe and Rinaldi. A romantic comedy about unrequited love, Toothpaste and Cigars was first produced as a 15-minute playlet and was later expanded into a full-length play that toured across Canada.

A tale of unrequited love, The F Word follows Wallace (Radcliffe), a med-school dropout who falls for Chantry, an animator played by American actress Zoe Kazan. Upon meeting, the two develop an immediate connection. But because Chantry has a live-in boyfriend, they become best friends instead.

“I thought they were really true to the spirit of the original,” Dawe told Michael Reid of the local Times Colonist newspaper in this article. “For it to be made at all, and as  Canadian film, is a miracle.”

“I thought they were really true to the spirit of the original,” – See more at: http://www.timescolonist.com/university-of-victoria-grads-play-inspires-hollywood-film-1.1324032#sthash.c98DT5Nq.dpuf

“I loved the movie,” said Dawe. “For it to be made at all, and as a Canadian film, is a miracle.”

“I thought they were really true to the spirit of the original,”

- See more at: http://www.timescolonist.com/university-of-victoria-grads-play-inspires-hollywood-film-1.1324032#sthash.c98DT5Nq.dpuf

Michael Rinaldi

Michael Rinaldi

For his part, Rinaldi has kind words for the film’s star, describing Radcliffe in this CBC article as “funny and humble,” saying he’s “perfect” for the role of Wallace—which was originally the part Rinaldi played in Toothpaste and Cigars.

“I had been told…that he’s really self-effacing,” Rinaldi told the CBC. “That’s still my default and that’s how the character was written—to be really self-deprecating and undercutting himself all the time.”

It’s been a 10-year journey for the transformation of Toothpaste and Cigars into The F Word, now directed by Calgary-raised director Michael Dowse, whose credits include the rock & roll mockumentary FUBAR and hilarious DJ lifestyle spoof, It’s All Gone Pete Tong.

TJ Dawe

TJ Dawe

Dawes & Rinaldi were approached with a development deal for their script in 2007, which started a bit of a “will it or won’t it” roller coaster ride for the project. In 2008, the script started generating Hollywood buzz with indie-film biggie Fox Searchlight picking it up and, in 2010, enlisting actor Casey Affleck for the lead role. Cue the typical Hollywood scenario, however, as Searchlight dropped Affleck and then pulled out of the project themselves.

Radcliffe and Kazan in The F Word

Radcliffe and Kazan in The F Word

But then it morphed back into a Canadian project, with Dowse as director and Daniel Radcliffe onboard. “Suddenly, with a star like that, there’s all this interest in distribution,” Rinaldi told CBC. “I guess that’s how it works.”

Beyond their initial work expanding the world of the play with screenwriter Elan Mastai, Rinaldi and Dawes had little creative input on the film project. They did get to visit the set and meet Radcliffe in September 2012, however, before The F Word debuted to strong reviews at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival.

what_if_movie_posterNow it opens across Canada on Friday, August 22—although it will be opening under a different name in the United States where, surprisingly, having any “F” word seems to be an issue. The film is being called What If? in America.

Here in Victoria, the timing is good for the film’s release—as TJ Dawe is back in town with his most recent 5-star solo show Medicine at the Victoria Fringe Festival. Medicine, a story about a retreat led by Dr. Gabor Mate and involving the shamanic plant medicine ayahuasca, runs August 25 to 31 at Langham Court Theatre.

So, if you’re one of the people who can say “I saw it when it was just Toothpaste and Cigars“, you can have a Dawes double-bill with the movie and his Fringe show.

Interesting side-note: Dawes also directed and dramaturged fellow Fine Arts alumnus Mark Leiren-Young award-winning memoir Never Shoot a Stampede Queen into a solo show starring another Phoenix alum, Zachary Stevenson.

Gone but never forgotten

At some point in all of our lives, we all encounter a teacher who has a huge influence on us—could be the person in elementary school who first introduced us to art, the one in middle school who gave us our first instrument to play, or that unforgettable high school teacher who said yes, you really can make a living as an actor. For many, however, it isn’t until university the distinction between teacher and mentor is fully realized, with that one pivotal prof who opens the door to a wider world and helps us find our place in it. Longtime and much-loved Faculty of Fine Arts instructor Brian Hendricks was just such a teacher, and it is with heavy heart that we acknowledge his passing on August 11 at the age of 57.

The late Brian Hendricks, in a clip from The Beauty of Certainty

The late Brian Hendricks, in a clip from The Beauty of Certainty

A graduate of UVic’s Creative Writing program himself (he won the Petch Prize on his graduation with a BA in 1979), Brian taught at UVic as a Continuing Sessional from 1992 to 2011 for not only the Department of Writing and the Faculty of Fine Arts but also the Department of Germanic & Slavic Studies. His “signature” class was Writing 412 (one Writing staffer noted it was, “absolutely his class”), which offered a rotating looking at different film topics each semester—like Film on the Future or The Mythology of Hollywood—plus influential directors like Alfred Hitchcock and David Lynch. One of his most popular courses was Film on the Mythological Journey, which was based on the archetypal work of Joseph Campbell.

Brian at Brick Blair's wedding

Brian at Brick Blair’s wedding

As was noted by Brick Blair on Brian’s own Facebook page where his passing was announced, “Hendricks taught 12,000 students in over 180 courses and 2,000 classes. He marked 20,000 essays, oversaw 100 film festivals, and watched 5,000 other short films and assignments from his students. I was one of those students. He changed the course of my life. He became a friend, and then a brother. He was me, a decade ahead. And now he is gone. The deafening finality of that is ridiculous. I’ve done a little to try to show other people who Brian was, but Brian left himself in each of those 12,000 students. You know who you are are.”

That’s typical of the kind of praise and memories Brian engendered in his students. Do take the time to visit this page to read some of the memories and see some of the pictures that are being posted.

“Hundreds of former students have posted notes of appreciation online for the beloved curly-haired redhead whose passion for philosophy and cinema was matched by his enthusiasm for golf, hockey, photography, skiing, barroom banter and Sophie, his cherished shih-tzu,” wrote Michael Reid of the local Times Colonist newspaper in this memorial piece published on August 15.

Hendricks2Brian had been battling cancer, which was—not surprisingly, given his cinematic passion—being documented on the website The Beauty of Certainty. “I went out to the backyard and took a deep breath and felt this ridiculous sense of peace that I hadn’t felt since I was a child,” he wrote on the site. “From this moment forward, all I had to accomplish out of the seven hundred things that typically come into my mind every day is stay alive. Of course that feeling is illusive. You can’t stay in that zone forever. But, it gave me a sense of being present that does stay with me everyday. And I realized that I was well-armed for this. I had written about the beauty of uncertainty, about how it prepares us to face life in the face of death. I had written about Carl Jung and his statement that most people spend the first half of their lives afraid to live and the second half of their lives afraid to die.”

“Brian was one of the friendliest and most upbeat people you’d ever meet,” says longtime Writing department colleague Bill Gaston. “His students loved him, and many remained his friends. Like so many Canadian artists, he was also a regular guy. We’d bump into each other and talk hockey, beer, and our kids. Then guffaw about some weird Polish film we’d both seen. Here at UVic his presence is greatly missed.”

“Brian had a generous spirit with his students and always maintained an innocent exuberance about creativity, his own and others’,” agrees Lynne Van Luven, Acting Dean of Fine Arts and another longtime departmental colleague.

Brian with Dallas and Dylan Hendricks

Brian with Dallas and Dylan Hendricks

News of Brian’s passing coincided with the death of Robin Williams, prompting this article by former student Feet Banks on the Whistler Pique website. “Another film legend left us this week, albeit a much lesser known one,” writes Banks. “University of Victoria writing and film professor Brian Hendricks succumbed to cancer after a remarkable career . . . A film theory master who lectured on everything from pre-Perestroika Russian cinema to the cultural genius of the Coen Brothers, Hendricks was also an early champion of digital filmmaking.” Among his former students, Banks notes, are the likes of “Dave Mossop and the masterful crew at Sherpas Cinema, gonzo journalist Mikey Nixon, and Shawn Dogimont—the Whistler kid who started the internationally acclaimed Hobo Magazine under Brian’s mentorship.” (In 2002, Brian was appointed Senior Editor of Hobo, a Vancouver-based travel, culture, and literary publication.)

Banks continues: “Other students from his classes created their own publishing houses or wrote novels that got shortlisted for the Governor General’s Award for Fiction. And that was the thing about Brian Hendricks — he explained the fundamentals and helped sharpen the tools, but his greatest lesson was always ‘Follow your Bliss.’ He will be missed, remembered and championed for years by all who knew him but his legacy lives on and continues to create masterpieces.”

Brian wrote many scripts for film, television and corporate, businesses, as well as government videos. He worked as a freelance screenwriter, script consultant and editor, film judge, and critic.

A familiar scene for former students: Brian in his creativity-crammed office

A familiar scene for former students: Brian in his creativity-crammed office

You can get a sense of his style in this video posted by former student Sally Jane Davidson. Titled “A Lesson in Following Your Bliss,” it features interviews with Brian, many students and some great footage from one of his classes.

Brian, you will be missed but your legacy will continue to inspire former students and colleagues alike.

Eliza Robertson book launch

Rising Canadian literary darling and one of the Writing department’s most amazing recent undergrads, Eliza Robertson will be launching her debut short story collection Wallflowers in Victoria on Thursday, August 21.

wallflowersDescribed by publisher Penguin as “quirky and masterful, Wallflowers is a bouquet of unconventional delights from a powerful new voice.” And if that seems like high praise, consider that Robertson was also named to National Post‘s list of “The 25 most anticipated (Canadian) books of 2014.”

More from Penguin: “Robertson has created a cast of unique and wholly engaging characters. Here there are swindlers and innocents, unlikely heroes and gritty survivors; they teach us how to trap hummingbirds, relinquish dreams gracefully, and feed raccoons without getting bitten . . . . Robertson smashes stereotypes even as she shows us remarkable new ways of experiencing the world—and of relating to our fellow human beings.”

Born in Vancouver, Robertson was a clear standout here in the Writing department. Already a talent to watch before she graduated in 2011, Robertson picked up The Malahat Review’s 2009 Far Horizons Award, won the 2010 PRISM International fiction contest, was shortlisted for 2010’s acclaimed Journey Prize, and was also one of the student creators of the 2011 Leo Award-winning web series, Freshman’s Wharf. Not bad considering her original major was political science and she didn’t even transfer to creative writing until her third year at UVic.

RobertsonShe then went on to pursue her MA in Prose Fiction at the University of East Anglia, where she received the Man Booker Scholarship and the Curtis Brown Prize for best writer. In 2013, she won the Commonwealth Short Story Prize and was a finalist for the Journey Prize and the CBC Short Story Prize.

Check out this quirky interview with Robertson on the 49th Shelf site.

Eliza Robertson launches Wallflowers at 6pm, Thursday August 21, at Smiths Pub, 777 Courtney Street. Come for the reading, stay for the beer—and take home a great new book! Find her on Twitter at @ElizaRoberts0n.

 

 

Back to the future

It’s the typical sessional’s dilemma—what to do with all that course material you so painstakingly prepared once your course is over?

A crash course on time travel

A crash course on time travel

Longtime sessional instructor and Fine Arts communication honcho John Threlfall found a solution: he’s flipped the viewing list from his summer Fine Arts popular culture elective “It’s About Time: Time Travel in Popular Culture” into the summer recommended viewing wall at stalwart Cook Street Village video store Pic A Flic.

With a selection of 42 films and television shows in a variety of genres offering a romp across the time-space continuum, word is the wall has been quite popular with Pic A Flic’s loyal customer base. (And we’re sure it’s just a coincidence that the Victoria Film Festival‘s annual Free B-Film Festival kicked off on August 1st with the campy time-travel classic Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure.)

TardisIn fact, this is the second time that Threlfall has been a guest programmer for Pic A Flic: to mark the 50th anniversary of the James Bond film franchise in 2012, he assembled a selection of films that never would have been made without the influence of Bond. (Think The Incredibles, the Bourne series, the hilarious French series OSS-117, etcetera.)

Indeed, one of the reasons Pic A Flic has managed to survive in the digital direct era is not only because of their knowledgeable staff and fantastic selection, but also because of their relationship with their loyal customer base. Much like a favourite independent book store or record shop, it’s important for film fans to help keep Pic A Flic afloat.

But if you don’t have the time (ha!) to rent a movie right now, here’s the master list for future reference:

What's on your summer viewing list?

What’s on your summer viewing list?

The Twilight Zone: “Walking Distance”, Hot Tub Time Machine, The Time Machine (1959), The Time Machine (2002), Time After Time, Warehouse 13: “Time Will Tell”, Back to the Future (1, 2, 3),Frequency, Meet the Robinsons, Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, Timeline, Army of Darkness, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, La Jetee, 12 Monkeys,Peggy Sue Got Married, Star Trek: “The City on the Edge of Forever”, Heroes, Life on Mars, Donnie Darko, Les Visiteurs, Just Visiting, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, Triangle, Slaughterhouse Five, Timecrimes, Safety Not Guaranteed, Source Code, Primer, About Time, The Prince of Persia: Sands of Time, Black Adder: Back and Forth, Quantum Leap: “The Color of Truth”, Being Erica, Southland Tales, Time Bandits, The Navigator, Fringe: “White Tulip”, The Terminator (1, 2, 3, 4), Free Birds, The Time Tunnel, Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, Cosmos, A Brief History of Time, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, Kate & Leopold, Star Trek: The Next Generation “All Good Things”, The Simpsons “Time and Punishment”, Doctor Who: “The Doctor’s Wife”, Next, Source Code

Threlfall’s time-travel selections were up throughout July and will likely be on view until mid-August. If you’re a time travel fan, be sure to pop down to Pic A Flic at 328 Cook Street and peruse the selection.

 

Last week for Heaven

If you haven’t been to Heaven yet, you’ve still got time. No need to bother St. Peter, however—simply pop into the Legacy Art Gallery Downtown for the final week of the  exhibit Windows Into Heaven: Religious Icons from the Permanent Collection.

Co-curator Regan Shrumm explains the significance of some of the icons

Co-curator Regan Shrumm explains the significance of some of the icons

Running through to Saturday, August 9, Windows Into Heaven is a result of the graduate research of History in Art MFA and exhibit co-curator Regan Shrumm.

Featuring Christian Orthodox icons and crucifixes from the permanent collection of the Legacy Gallery, this exhibition examines religious, historical, and cultural meanings past and present. “A lot of people don’t know what icons are or what they’re used for,” says Shrumm, who originally started exploring the Legacy’s collection for the Jamie Cassels Undergraduate Research Award in 2012.

Frequent readers of this blog may well remember Shrumm’s name as the winner of the 2013 Victoria Medal—awarded annually to the student with the highest GPA in the Faculty of Fine Arts. Describing her as “a remarkable student” with “a lively, vibrant spark,” History in Art chair Dr. Catherine Harding noted Shrumm “made these precious items come alive through her focus on their materiality and their special relationship to other artistic traditions, such as the close visual connections between Greek Byzantine and Russian religious culture.”

Eva Baboula speaks to a packed house at the curator's talk in April

Eva Baboula speaks to a packed house at the curator’s talk in April

Windows Into Heaven is co-curated HIA professor and recently appointed Associate Dean of Fine Arts, Dr. Evanthia Baboula, who also led Shrumm’s directed studies course which led to the creation of this popular exhibit. Over a hundred people turned out for the curator’s talk and tour back in April, showing the continuing interest in this kind of religious iconography.

Just a few of the icons on display

Just a few of the icons on display

The 18th and 19th century icons—created from egg tempera, enamel and silver metalwork—are from the eastern Christian tradition and show how religious imagery maintained a central role in orthodox Christianity. Many of the icons are from the donated collection of Dr. Bruce and Mrs. Dorothy Brown.

Icons were venerated in churches, private homes or during a journey to provide protection to body and spirit. Images of saints, Christ and the Virgin that date back to the Byzantine tradition, the medieval empire of Constantinople, are also a concrete remnant of how the religious communities of imperial Russia built on these traditions to create a recognizable, yet distinctive and lively art.

Viewers at the exhibit

Viewers at the exhibit

“The icons in this exhibition are similar in age and importance to others found in major galleries and museums worldwide, including the Metropolitan Museum, the British Museum, and the Ashmolean,” says Baboula.

Windows Into Heaven must close on August 9 at the Legacy Art Gallery Downtown, 630 Yates. Admission is free and the gallery is open 9am to 4pm Wednesday to Saturday.

Sounds like art

Most artists aren’t very pleased when their work receives a chilly reception. But when Visual Arts professor Paul Walde created a four-movement orchestral requiem for an audience of one—the Farnham glacier in the Kootenays—he was expecting to get the cold shoulder.

Paul Walde recording on Farnham Glacier (photo: Pat Morrow)

Paul Walde recording on Farnham Glacier (photo: Pat Morrow)

Accompanied by a 70-person choir and orchestra, Walde and a film crew trekked up the icefield in July 2013 to bring awareness to melting glaciers in general, and to the Jumbo and Farnham glaciers in particular. The glacier area is the site of a controversial resort development.

While composing music for a glacier may seem a bit odd, it’s simply part of Walde’s wider practice as an artist exploring the boundaries between sound, landscape and art.

“Is listening a natural act? Is perception a cultural act? What does it mean to overlay something completely natural with something overtly cultural?” asks Walde. “Those are the kind of questions I deal with.”

As an artist, Walde believes the combination of visual material with natural sounds allows for a different kind of listening experience. “If you can convince your brain that what you’re hearing is music, you’re going to listen to those sounds very differently,” he says.

Growing up in northern Ontario, Walde was influenced by his experiences with nature and landscape art. “On a larger scale, Canadian identity has always been wrapped up in landscape,” he says. “But I have a strong interest in science, and a lot of science is centered on the investigation of the natural world and how it works.

“Then there’s the larger socio-political dimension of climate change—if you consider the environment somehow integral to our Canadian identity, what does it mean when it’s threatened?”

Paul Walde (photo: Times Colonist)

Falling pine needles bring a piano to life (photo: Times Colonist)

As an acclaimed intermedia artist, Walde has fused his passion for nature and art by transforming mushroom spores, flitting moths, falling pine needles, beaver-gnawed trees and improvised soundscapes into numerous gallery pieces over the years—including Requiem for a Glacier.

Originally commissioned by the Langham Cultural Centre in Kaslo, Requiem received international media attention. Conducted by UVic Symphony director Ajtony Csaba, the performance was filmed as the basis for a video installation.

The soundtrack also incorporates field recordings taken on top of (and beneath) the glacier’s ice field. “The natural resonances of the glacial sounds almost elicit another melody,” he says.

The volunteer orchestra on the glacier (photo: Pat Morrow)

The volunteer orchestra on the glacier (photo: Pat Morrow)

The final 9 x 32-foot, 40-minute projected video installation—which also includes material recounting the history of the glacier, the advent of electricity and climate change, and the government’s announcement of a year-round resort community in the Jumbo Glacier area (which Walde translated into Latin and used as the choral parts in his Requiem) has already appeared in two Kootenay-region galleries.

As the proposed $1-billion Jumbo Glacier Resort continues to generate controversy, Requiem for a Glacier has created new awareness about the issues of global warming and the development of wild spaces. “I offer information and allow people to draw their own conclusions,” he explains. “The video isn’t simply a documentation of the performance. I didn’t want to make a music video, I wanted to make a unique art work which operated more like a painting.”

As always, Walde leaves it to his audience to discover the impact of the art.

Walde's "Interdeterminacy" offers art from mushroom spores

Walde’s “Interdeterminacy” offers art from mushroom spores

“I love leaving a gallery and seeing information in ways I never noticed before,” he says. “That’s one of the great experiences you can have with any art form—literature, theatre, film, visual art—the artist gives you a lens to understand the world.”

Walde is the new chair of UVic’s Visual Arts department and an old hand at engaging students in the contemporary creative process. “I try to convince them that their first idea isn’t always their best idea,” he says. “Consider that first idea an initial impulse and see where else it can go.”

He’s also excited by new opportunities in the art world. “There are great opportunities in technology,” he says. “We’re also seeing the development of an art market that’s unprecedented; it’s enormous compared to what it used to be. Really, it’s a great time to be an artist.”

Requiem for a Glacier runs September 11 to November 1 at the Evergreen Cultural Centre in Coquitlam, then at Laval University Art Gallery in Quebec City until the end of December.

This piece originally ran as part of the KnowlEDGE UVic Research series.

Biró’s Mediterranean voice

School of Music professor and internationally recognized composer Dániel Péter Biró will be spending the 2014/15 academic-year at Harvard University’s Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, thanks to the prestigious Fellowship he recently received—a first for the University of Victoria. But he is also currently engaged with his latest round of international projects as well.

Dániel Péter Biró

Dániel Péter Biró

Biró’s new composition Al Ken Kara (That Is Why It Was Called) will be performed on July 26 at the Teatro Fondamenta Nuove in Venice, Italy. It was originally composed as part of the film project Mediterranean Voices, which premiered in February 2014 at the Eclat Festival in Stuttgart, Germany. Biró was one of 12 international composers invited to participate in the ambitious undertaking.

“It’s a project that incorporates video, architecture and music,” he explains. “There are six rooms, so in between pieces they go to these rooms where there are 12 video screens. The video artist traveled for eight months through 12 countries shooting different themes.”

Take a few minutes to watch and listen to the video of the premiere of Biró’s composition Al Ken Kara Kara as part of the Mediterranean Voices project.

Biró in Tunisia

Biró in Tunisia

Mediterranean Voices explores themes like “public places” (religious buildings, demonstrations) and “borders” (both political and physical). Biró himself traveled to Tunisia in December 2013, where he visited the ancient El Ghriba synagogue in Djerba, an island where the oldest Jewish community outside of Jerusalem has existed for 2,500 years.

Click here to listen imam Slah Ben Daoued’s amazing recitation.

“My piece dealt with the problem of language in the Mediterranean. It’s based on the Tower of Babel, is written for seven voice and uses 36 languages,” he says. “It was quite intense at times in Tunisia due to the tense political atmosphere. We witnessed a major demonstration just in front of our hotel.”

Biró also just returned from Istanbul in June, where he was participating in the Fourth International Workshop on Folk Music Analysis at Bogazici University. The conference dealt with computational ethnomusicology, the study of indigenous musical cultures using cutting-edge technology.

When asked how he gets involved with so many global projects, Biró chuckles. “People actually know about Victoria through our contemporary music scene,” he explains. “Last year I was in Vienna and just met someone by chance on the street and they said, ‘Oh, you run the SALT New Music Festival.’ So people know Victoria is a place for contemporary music composers. There’s a long history of this also—Victoria has always been known as kind of a weird place, a place for experimentation. Our students also go out into the world and they continue, and come back here.“

Biró and students

Biró and students

Biró feels the School of Music‘s alumni also enhance our reputation. “We just had our interviews with potential student composers and we asked them why they came here to Victoria and a number of them said, ‘I met this former student who said I should come here.’ So our students in the world are spreading the word that this is a place where students can develop a voice, experiment and do things.”

Ultimately, Biró sees the School of Music—and the Faculty of Fine Arts as a whole—as something of an incubator. “It’s small enough and lively enough that people are able to develop things here and not get too distracted,” he says. “That’s also a strength we have in our program too—a lot of people go to McGill or other large schools and they say it’s really a factory out there. But we’re not a factory; we’re small and personal and that’s necessary for not only acquiring skills but for incubating material.”

Theatre grad already in good company

It’s safe to say few students would be proud of being called a scam artist, but Department of Theatre graduate Max Johnson’s pride comes from the spelling. Johnson, who has been working for local professional theatrical company Theatre SKAM since 2011 (whose associates are charmingly dubbed “SKAM artists”), is graduating with a double major in Writing and Theatre. But it’s the practical experience he learned at Phoenix Theatre that has made him such a valued member of SKAM’s team.

Max Johnson (photo: Pamela Bethel)

Max Johnson (photo: Pamela Bethel)

As with many students in the Faculty of Fine Arts, Johnson didn’t wait until graduation to put his experiential learning to work. He was hired into a part-time position as the Administrative and Communications Assistant for Theatre SKAM while only in his second year.

“Theatre is a department where you absolutely get out of it what you put in,” says Johnson. “My entire time at university was spent stepping sideways into things that would lead me places I never expected—which is how I got into marketing and Theatre SKAM in the first place.”

Daniel MacIvor (seated, left) with the cast & director of Inside (photo: Travis Bower)

Daniel MacIvor (seated, left) with the cast & director of Inside (photo: Travis Bower)

Even though marketing and communications wasn’t his first choice as a specialization, that’s where he was placed in his second year. “They needed someone with writing experience—and I was part of a group where I needed to solve a lot of crises,” he recalls.

One of those crises? Helping to market Phoenix Theatre’s 2011 production of Inside, a world premiere by Daniel MacIvor, one of Canada’s leading theatre artists. But when Johnson’s communications team of three lost two members due to illness and the Tohoku earthquake (“one of my group was an exchange student from Japan, so she was out of the picture making sure her family was okay”), he soon found himself as a solo act. “It was a crash course on marketing, publicity, photography and media relations,” he says. “It definitely acclimated me to the whole trial-by-fire scenario.”

Johnson at Theatre SKAM HQ

Johnson at Theatre SKAM HQ

No surprise, then that Theatre SKAM thought Johnson would be a good fit when they found themselves in a similar situation: just as SKAM was beginning to plan a tour of their show Cariboo Buckaroo, a medical crisis and an unexpected resignation left them bust in the dust. “To say Theatre SKAM was desperate for good help would be entirely accurate,” recalls alumnus Matthew Payne, SKAM’s Artistic Producer. Payne contacted Adrienne Holierhoek, Marketing & Communications Manager for the Department of Theatre, who recommended Johnson; as a Phoenix grad, Payne well knew the potential Theatre students had for putting learning into action. “I just wished a tour in Max’s general direction and somehow he pulled it off—a three-week tour in rural B.C. A true SKAM artist was born.”

While it sounds funny now, Johnson recalls it as being anything but. “I had never planned a tour before, but suddenly I was the sole person responsible for finding venues,” he says. “Then while the show was on tour, I was the only person left in the office. But it turned out to be a very harmonious fit—I got the vibe of the company very quickly.” While he started as a tour coordinator, Johnson is now SKAM’s full-time Administrative Assistant, and soon to be Artistic Associate.

Johnson dressed for success at SKAM's Bike Ride

Johnson dressed for success at SKAM’s Bike Ride

Given the current drumbeat of practical employability, does Johnson ever worry about pursuing a career in the arts? “I took a couple years off after high school to try and come up with something more practical than the arts, but I couldn’t think of anything I wanted to study outside of that,” he admits. “I could have become an electrician, but that’s not where my skills lay.”

Ultimately, says Johnson, studying Theatre at UVic revealed his true passion. “I wanted to better myself, and I’m a better person now for having come here. I understand the need to be practical, but we clearly want to live in a society that values creativity. That needs to be encouraged.”

Theatre SKAM’s annual Bike Ride mini-theatre festival runs along the Galloping Goose trail July 12-13 & 19-20. Full details here, and be sure to say hi to Max.