Top 10 Fine Arts stories for 2014

2014 sees the end of another busy year here at the Faculty of Fine Arts, where there was always something afoot. Five departments and hundreds of annual concerts, theatrical productions, readings, exhibits and lectures by visiting artists, academics and professionals means Fine Arts is always one of the busiest faculties on campus when it comes to community engagement. Here’s a quick wrap-up featuring some—but certainly not all—of the leading Fine Arts stories of the year.

“Hear us roar!”

UVic President Jamie Cassels and Vikes mascot Thunder present Rally Song winner Colleen Eccleston with her iPad  (photo: Armando Turo)

UVic President Jamie Cassels and Vikes mascot Thunder present Rally Song winner Colleen Eccleston with her iPad (photo: Armando Turo)

To the cheers of a tight game and the applause of a packed house, the winner of the School of Music / Vikes Nation Rally Song Contest was decided at the Vikes men’s basketball game way back on January 10—and first prize went to the School of Music’s own songwriting instructor Colleen Eccleston. With 18 submissions from across campus—including entries by students, faculty and administration alike—the top three finalists were performed live at half-time by fourth-year Music student Josh Lovell. Eccleston picked up a brand new iPad for her winning song, “Vikes Nation” (“We are Vikes Nation, hear us roar!”) as chosen by judges UVic President Jamie Cassels, Director of Athletics and Recreation Clint Hamilton, Director of School of Music Dr. Susan Lewis Hammond and varsity athlete Kyle Irvine. Attendees now hear a recorded version of Lovell’s rendition before the starting lineups of each Vikes home game.

On the button blanket

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)

It may have been nicknamed “the big button blanket project” by Art History & Visual Studies, but the creation and subsequent exhibit of Adasla: The Movement of Hands at the Legacy Galley garnered a great deal of attention in the community and the media. Both the blanket’s inaugural dance at the opening ceremonies of UVic’s annual Diversity Research Forum in February at First People’s House and the accompanying exhibit—featuring a special contemporary performance collaboration between Governor General’s Award-winning performance artist Rebecca Belmore, former Audain professor for the Department of Visual Arts, and blanket co-creator, Tahtan Nation artist Peter Morin—represented one of the strongest examples of community engagement of the year.

A name you can trust

Chancellor-designate Shelagh Rogers meets the media. Credit: UVic Photo Services

Chancellor-designate Shelagh Rogers meets the media. Credit: UVic Photo Services

It was the kind of news that would warm the heart of any arts supporter when famed CBC Radio host Shelagh Rogers was named the University of Victoria’s 11th Chancellor in May. “To speak in a very non-chancellorian way, I’m thrilled out of my bean,” Rogers said at the time. “I feel like over the last little while I’ve been dating UVic—I’m glad now to be in a relationship with you.” Nominated by Fine Arts Dean Dr. Sarah Blackstone and Associate Dean Dr. Lynne Van Luven, Rogers’ term begins in January 2015. “As UVic’s chancellor, Shelagh Rogers will enhance the excellence of our university,” said Blackstone. “She will bring tremendous energy and great insight to her new role. Her national reputation as an advocate for Canadian arts and culture will serve the university well. UVic could not ask for a better ambassador as we build on our reputation for excellence in teaching, research, and community engagement.”

Getting an A in Queen B

Melissa Avdeeff

Melissa Avdeeff

There’s nothing like a little controversy to spark interest in a course, as School of Music instructor Melissa Avdeeff discovered when word broke in July that she’d be teaching a course on the music of Beyoncé at UVic, resulting in some less than positive comments (“I think I just gave up on Western culture!” “Truly a waste of education and money!”). It didn’t take long for media outlets ranging from the CBC, CTV and Macleans to the Globe and Mail and the Huffington Post to jump on the Beyoncé bandwagon. “I don’t see studying popular culture as any less academically or socially relevant than studying other forms of musicology like historical musicology or music theory,” Avdeef told the Globe. “It’s important to have these courses. They get people thinking more critically about how they are engaging with media.”

Art on view

"Hit for the sculpture!" Stillwell's piece in context of the baseball diamond

“Hit for the sculpture!” Stillwell’s piece as it appears from the baseball diamond

It was a busy year for professors in the Department of Visual Arts, with a number of exhibits and new sculptures being unveiled. Both Jennifer Stillwell and Robert Youds debuted new pieces of public art—Stillwell’s High Five began reaching for the sky in Winnipeg back in August and Youds’ For Everyone a Sunset was unveiled at the Vancouver Art Gallery’s Offsite in October—while departmental chair Paul Walde‘s Requiem For A Glacier installation appeared in Nelson in January, was written up in a  Times Colonist UVic Research feature in July, ran from September to November at the Evergreen Cultural Centre in Coquitlam, then ran at Laval University Art Gallery in Quebec City until the end of December. Meanwhile, photographer Vikky Alexander opened two photography exhibitions this fall—a show of new work Theatergarden Bestiarium in Los Angeles and the retrospective The Temptation of St Anthony in Vancouver—and will have two more shows opening in early 2015 in both Calgary and Montreal.

All for Two 4 One

Bradley considering a shot on set  (photo: Arnold Lim)

Bradley considering a shot on set (photo: Arnold Lim)

Department of Writing professor Maureen Bradley‘s locally lensed debut feature film, Two 4 One, had  its world premiere at the 2014 Calgary International Film Festival in September, before moving on to its BC premiere at the Vancouver International Film Festival in October, and the Eastern Canada premiere at Montréal’s Image + Nation Film Festival in November.
Coming up in February 2015, it will be the opening gala film at the Available Light Film Festival in the Yukon and local audiences will be able to see the film—described as Canada’s first transgendered romantic comedy—as part of the Victoria Film Festival, also in February. Two 4 One is written and directed by Bradley and produced by digital media staffer Daniel Hogg.

The best exotic intergenerational theatre company

Theatre PhD Matthew Gusul (centre) at the field school in India

Theatre PhD Matthew Gusul (centre) at the field school in India

Department of Theatre PhD candidate Matthew Gusul attracted attention with his field school to India in October. Gusul and 13 undergraduates spent two months in the Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry regions to create the country’s first intergenerational theatre company. By positively highlighting the life experiences of residents at the Tamaraikulam Elders’ Village and the students of the Isha Vidhya Matriculation School, Gusul and his students worked with a team of Indian directors to encourage these seniors and rural youth to perform their own stories, develop strong community relations and create new lines of dialogue across generations. Stay tuned for an update on their efforts, coming the first week of January.

World War I history mystery

Marcus Milwright with JM's diaries

Marcus Milwright with JM’s diaries

When Art History and Visual Studies professor Marcus Milwright began planning his November exhibit The Arts of World War I, he had no idea that his use of a two-volume leather diary set featuring illustrations of life during the Great War—signed only by the initials “JM”—would generate so much publicity. But Milwright’s search for JM’s identity sparked a flurry of international media attention, which you can read about here. The Arts of World War I continues to March 2, 2015, in the McPherson Library’s Legacy Maltwood Gallery, and will be a featured part of UVic’s IdeaFest in March.

National honours

Arleen Paré accepts her award from the Governor General

Arleen Paré accepts her award from the Governor General

The Faculty of Fine Arts was remarkably well-represented in national awards this year, thanks to the nomination of five Fine Arts faculty and alumni in the 2014 Governor General’s Literary Awards—Writing professor Bill Gaston, Writing alumni Garth Martens & Arno Kopecky, and Department of Theatre aluma & playwright Janet Munsil, as well as eventual Poetry winner and Writing alumna Arleen Paré. But there was also Writing professor Tim Lilburn‘s induction as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, retired Writing professor Patrick Lane receiving the Order of Canada and Department of Visual Arts student Kim Adams winning the 2014 Governor-General’s Award in Visual and Media Arts. “Having so many areas of the Faculty of Fine Arts recognized illustrates the strength and vibrancy of fine arts at the University of Victoria in particular and in British Columbia generally,” says Dr. Lynne Van Luven, Acting Dean of Fine Arts. “Such achievements are all the more impressive given budget cuts for fine arts programs overall.” Add to that new books by Writing professors Lee Henderson (The Road Narrows As You Go), Bill Gaston (Juliet Was a Surprise) and Kevin Kerr (Tear The Curtain).

Fine Arts can be a picnic

Evocative 1940s costumes made Picnic a winner in the Spotlight Awards (photo: David Lowes)

Evocative 1940s costumes made Picnic a winner in the Spotlight Awards (photo: David Lowes)

Finally, Phoenix Theatre rounded out another busy year of productions in the Department of Theatre with their 1970s revamp of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, directed by professor Fran Gebhard, which followed their latest Spotlight on Alumni production The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe—which was so popular that it had to be held over! Both their spring productions—Picnic (directed by professor Peter McGuire) and Unity (1918) (written and directed by Writing professor Kevin Kerr)—were well-received and recently earned nominations and a win for Best Costumes in Victoria’s annual Critic’s Choice Spotlight Awards.

Here’s looking forward to an equally busy 2015!

The temptations of Vikky Alexander

It’s been a busy fall for Department of Visual Arts professor and acclaimed photographer Vikky Alexander. In addition to her busy teaching schedule, she just opened the second of two recent photography exhibitions and will have two more shows opening in early 2015.

From Vikky Alexander's "The Temptation of St Anthony"

From Vikky Alexander’s “The Temptation of St Anthony”

Currently running at The Apartment Gallery in Vancouver is the retrospective exhibition, The Temptation of St Anthony. Appropriated from 1980s fashion photography, these pivotal historic works by Alexander are arranged as near religious diptychs and triptychs, offering classic postmodern takes on objectification and temptation.

Described by pioneering Vancouver artist and writer Ian Wallace as “an expression of the imaginary, wherein fantasies of hope and utopia are acted out in the daydreams that call reality into question . . . . Alexander’s work projects the raw indulgence that exists on the inside of these fantasies, heightening our apprehension and anxieties of them from within.”

From Vikky Alexander's "The Temptation of St Anthony"

From Vikky Alexander’s “The Temptation of St Anthony”

“These are collective fantasies and are linked to popular taste for images that transcend the everyday,” says Wallace. “The images of extreme beauty, which are ubiquitous in commodity culture, function as a cult of escape from the everyday.”

The Temptation of St Anthony runs until January 24 at Vancouver’s The Apartment Gallery, 119B East Pender. The gallery is open noon-5pm Saturdays, or by appointment via email info@theapt.ca or by calling 604-336-4046.

Coming up next is a solo exhibit of new work at Calgary’s TrépanierBaer Gallery (opening January 31, 2015) and a project in Montreal coming in February 2015.

Vikky Alexander, snapped in Paris

Vikky Alexander, snapped in Paris

Working as a photographer, sculptor, collagist and installation artist, Vikky Alexander is a leading practitioner in the field of photo-conceptualism. Her work explores the relationship between art, architecture, and nature, and in particular the modernist tendency for incorporating landscapes into buildings and the notion of domestic utopia. She is interested in how nature is experienced in a consumer society, which she investigates in her photographs of artificial environments as well as her use of mass-produced decorator materials such as wood veneers, wallpaper murals of landscapes, and mirrors.

Alexander has long established herself as an important voice in contemporary photography, and her work is also part of the permanent collection in The National Gallery. Over the past 30 years, her solo exhibitions have been seen in Los Angeles, New York City, Bern, Vancouver, Toronto, Windsor, Ottawa and Wellington, as well as the National Gallery of Canada. And her work has been included group exhibitions at the likes of London’s Barbican Art Gallery, New York’s Whitney Museum of American Art and Dia Art Foundation, the Yokohama Civic Art Gallery, the Taipei Fine Arts Museum, and the Seattle Art Museum.

You can glean some insights into her work in this 2013 interview with Vancouver’s online Here and Elsewhere magazine.

Alexander_promoHer fall 2014 exhibit at the Wilding Cran Gallery in Los Angeles—titled Theatergarden Bestiarium—focused on a series of photo-collages featuring cutout images of animals from a toy catalogue overlaid onto a photo of a historical site, sans people. As the Huffington-Post noted in this review, “The flat-footed austerity of the collages’ artistic construction stands in diametric contrast to the opulence of each depicted site; suspended in this dialectic is a multiplicity of meanings.”

Vikky Alexander, "Cheetah and Pavilion at Sans Souci," 2013

Vikky Alexander, “Cheetah and Pavilion at Sans Souci,” 2013

Alexander’s photos highlight the improbability of the fabricated scenes, with intentionally less-than-seamless construction of each collage—the animals, for example, cast neither shadow nor reflection. “In using source materials from toy catalogs and postcards from her own travels, Alexander invokes the persona of an eccentric preoccupied with the creation of a fantastic world analogous to Huguette Clark’s dollhouses, William Randolph Hearst’s menagerie, or the fictional character Jean des Esseintes’ idiosyncratic interiors in the 1884 novel Against Nature,” writes Annabel Osberg in the Huffington-Post.

Vikky Alexander, "Bengal Tiger in Large Drawing Room," 2013

Vikky Alexander, “Bengal Tiger in Large Drawing Room,” 2013

“The luxurious sensibility of Alexander’s grand interiors and gardens further reinforces such a persona. However, Alexander creates her worlds not for entertainment, but to show the dichotomy between the consumption that accompanies humans’ extreme affluence and the comparatively modest use of resources by animals, to whom wealth means little except insofar as it contributes to humans’ power over them. The more complex and affluent our societies become, the more we dominate the earth, annexing land and forcing other creatures to either adapt to artificial conditions or withdraw into ever-shrinking natural habitats.”

Osberg concludes with the thought that “Alexander’s show is a two-dimensional simulation of a zoo or museum that, rather than proffering specific instructive facts about animals or history, exhibits the spuriousness of common representations and treatments of them.”

Prior to Theatergarden Bestiarium, Alexander was one of 12 artists selected for a summer 2014 group exhibition at the Wilding Cran Gallery.

Running with honours

Fourth year Department of Writing student Grace Annear was recently announced as the only Faculty of Fine Arts student named to the 2014 University of Victoria Vikes Honour Roll. Annear specializes in cross-country running and track, and was one of 69 student-athletes honoured at the November 19 event at the University Club.

4th year Writing student Grace Annear has been named to the  Vikes Honour Roll

4th year Writing student Grace Annear has been named to the Vikes Honour Roll

“I was recruited out of high school, but I came to UVic because of the Writing program and the varsity athletics,” says Annear.

Student-athletes can only earn a place on the Vikes Honour Roll by achieving a minimum of a 6.6 GPA (80%) during the school year, while training and competing at the highest level of sport. This is Annear’s third year being named to the Honour Roll—and, since she is also a Canadian Interuniversity Sport athlete, she was awarded a CIS Academic All-Canadian Certificate signed by His Excellency, the Right Honorable David Johnston, Governor General of Canada.

“It’s a lot of work,” she admits. “I have to be really focused with my time management—and my time management skills have increased dramatically, especially as the word counts increase in my upper-level courses. As an athlete, you’re used to doing a lot of homework on Friday and Saturday nights, so I don’t have as much of a social life as most university students might have. I guess my training is my social life.”

But while running may be the athletic passion of this Hampton, New Brunswick native—her athletic achievements include Canada West First Team All-Star, CIS First Team All-Canadian and a trio of gold-medal wins for both 400- and 800-meter races—Annear’s writing focus is clearly set on fiction. “Ian McEwan’s Atonement was the book that made me want to be a writer,” she says. “I read it when I was 13 and it was my first real ‘adult’ book. Before that I was reading things like Twilight, but Atonement was my immediate launching point into the world of real literature.”

Annear with Acting Dean of Fine Arts, Dr Lynne Van Luven at the Honour Roll luncheon (photo: Armando Tura, APShutter.com)

Annear with Acting Dean of Fine Arts, Dr Lynne Van Luven at the Honour Roll luncheon (photo: Armando Tura, APShutter.com)

Annear sees a lot of parallels between her athletic and creative pursuits. “Being a distance runner is like being a writer—you have to be completely self-motivated,” she explains. “With running, it’s all about what you can do within yourself and then bring to the table on race day; with writing, it’s about how much you can pound out a good story. You don’t rely on anyone else, it’s just what you can do. If you’re motivated, and you want it bad enough, you can achieve in both areas.”

And has her running crossed over onto the page yet? “Every time I have a new professor, they ask, ‘Oh, have you written about running?’” she says with a laugh. “And I have—for every single prof—so now I’m trying to write other stuff.”

Annear says there is definitely a running/writing niche, but it’s not one to which she’s particularly drawn. “A lot of time it’s about marathoners and the self-reflection and peace and flow that comes with running—which is kind of true, but it’s very different than being a track athlete,” she says. “That’s a lot more intense, a lot more about launching yourself into the mind-numbingness of pain, to postpone that eternal struggle while you’re slogging through it.”

once a runnerShe can only point to one book that parallels her own experiences. “There is an iconic book called Once A Runner by John L. Parker Jr., which is basically about an American university miler during the 1960s, so it has a lot of historical context—but it’s more about what every college runner wants, this journey we all undergo. It’s the only book I’ve ever read that has captured what it actually feels like to be in a race, to undergo months and months of long training.”

This year marks the 10th annual Vikes Honour Roll Luncheon, but only the second time an associated $500 Vikes Honour Roll Award has been associated to each award, thanks to the generous support of UVic and the on-campus partnership between Nike, T. Litzen Sports and the UVic Bookstore.

In 2013-14, a record 2,863 CIS student-athletes across Canada achieved the prestigious Academic All-Canadian status, eclipsing the previous mark of 2,695 set a year ago.

Writing alumna Arleen Paré wins Governor General’s Award

Department of Writing alumna Arleen Paré has been announced as the winner of the 2014 Governor General’s Literary Award for Poetry for her newest book, Lake of Two Mountains (Brick Books). On top of national recognition and a trip to Ottawa’s Rideau Hall to receive the award on November 26 from His Excellency the Right Honourable David Johnston, Governor General of Canada, Paré also receives a cash prize of $25,000.

Arleen Paré accepts her award from the Governor General

Arleen Paré accepts her award from the Governor General

“We are all thrilled with this national recognition for Arleen’s unique poetic vision and her commitment to the craft of writing,” says Writing chair David Leach. “The fact that the Writing department had four nominees this year for Governor General’s Awards—three alumni and a faculty member—emphasizes how UVic is an incubator of literary excellence in Canada.”

The other Faculty of Fine Arts representatives nominated include Department of Writing professor Bill Gaston, Writing alumni  Garth Martens (BFA and MFA) and Arno Kopecky (Harvey Southam diploma grad), plus Department of Theatre aluma and playwright Janet Munsil—each of whom will receive $1,000. In all, Fine Arts had five out of 18 nominees in the Fiction/Poetry/Non-fiction/Drama categories of this year’s awards.

“Having so many areas of the Faculty of Fine Arts—poetry, with Arleen’s win; poetry again with Garth’s nomination; fiction with Bill Gaston’s and drama with Janet Munsil’s— illustrates the strength and vibrancy of fine arts at the University of Victoria in particular and in British Columbia generally,” says Dr. Lynne Van Luven, Acting Dean of Fine Arts. “Such achievements are all the more impressive given budget cuts for fine arts programs overall.  Wonderful news all around!”

"A poem of sustained beauty”—jury comment

“A poem of sustained beauty”—jury comment

The jury praised Lake of Two Mountains as being “a poem of sustained beauty, an almost monastic meditation on the overlapping centres of human and natural reality. Whether she is describing the Oka Crisis, bullfrogs, sunbeams or religion, ‘anything that passes through [this shape-shifting landscape] is transformed,’ including the reader.”

Paré’s first book, Paper Trail, won the City of Victoria Butler Book Prize and was shortlisted for BC Books Dorothy Livesay Prize in Poetry. She has also written the novel, Leaving Now (Caitlin Press, 2012). Her fourth book, a collection of poetry titled Face in the Funeral Car,, is forthcoming from Caitlin Press in fall 2015. Her writing has also appeared in numerous literary journals and anthologies in Canada.

Department of Writing poetry professor—and fellow Governor General’s Literary Award winner—Tim Lilburn fondly recalls Paré’s time as both an undergrad and graduate student, working on early drafts of what would become her now award-winning poetry collection. “I remember working on some of those poems with her in workshop, and I think that’s where the idea for this book started,” says Lilburn. “Lake of Two Mountains is essentially her thesis that she’s added onto.”

Fellow GG nominated poets Kevin Paul (left), Melanie Siebert & Garth Martens

Fellow GG nominated poets Kevin Paul (left), Melanie Siebert & Garth Martens

Lilburn is also quick to point out the success of the Department of Writing’s MFA program. “We’ve had uncanny success in terms of the Governor General’s Awards since we started the MFA program in 2008,” he says. “We’ve had four GG nominations—Melanie Siebert, Kevin Paul, Garth Martens and Arleen Paré—and now one winner. All have been poets, and all four of them were undergrads, too.”

Lake of Two Mountains is a praise poem in 45 parts that contemplates landscape and memory, officially described as “a portrait of a lake, of a relationship to a lake, of a network of relationships around a lake. It maps, probes and applauds the riparian region of central Canadian geography that lies between the Ottawa and the St. Lawrence Rivers. The poems portray this territory, its contested human presences and natural history: the 1990 Oka Crisis, Pleistocene shifts and dislocations, the feather-shaped Ile Cadieux, a Trappist monastery on the lake’s northern shore. As we are drawn into experience of the lake and its environs, we also enter an intricate interleaving of landscape and memory, a reflection on how a place comes to inhabit us even as we inhabit it.”

Arleen6Retired Writing professor Patrick Lane lauded Paré’s poems as being “monastic prayers of forgiveness, intense simplicities that praise all we have lost, all we have left. She is a gift the world has given us. Read her and then in deep quiet read her again.”

Originally from Montreal, the 68-year-old Paré lived for many years in Vancouver, where she worked as a social worker. She is currently the director of Victoria’s Cool Aid Society, which works to end homelessness in the Capital Region.

She told the local Times Colonist newspaper in this interview that she was “amazed” to learn of her win. “It was actually shocking in that way you find yourself at the end of a parachute or something,” she said. “I felt weightless.” When asked what she’ll do with the prize money, Paré said she’ll use it to buy a heat pump for her cottage on Mayne Island.

“I love using language and trying to make it sparkle off the page,” Paré says in this Victoria News interview. “I love trying to use the right word in the right place. This is the puzzle that I work with all the time, and I enjoy that challenge very much.”
Paré will also join in a public reading with the other English-language winners at the Canada Council in Ottawa on November 26.

Five for Fine Arts in Long Service Awards

Patricia Kostek with Chancellor Murray Farmer at the Long Service Awards (Photo Services)

Patricia Kostek with Chancellor Murray Farmer at the Long Service Awards (Photo Services)

The annual Long Service Awards were once again held in October, and Fine Arts was well-represented among the faculty and employees being honoured for 25 years or more at UVic.

This year, congratulations go out to five Long Service Recognition recipients in Fine Arts. From faculty, recognitions went out to Visual Arts professor and alumnus Robert Youds, School of Music professor Patricia Kostek and Art History & Visual Studies professor Victoria Wyatt, each clocking in at 25 years—and seen here with outgoing Chancellor Murray Farmer.

For staff, Visual Arts building caretaker Cheryl Crooks—previous winner of the President’s Distinguished Award for Excellence in Service—celebrates 25 years, and the School of Music’s Anthony Booker clocks in with an impressive 30 years under his belt as the accompanist for the UVic Chorus.

Victoria Wyatt (Photo Services)

Victoria Wyatt (Photo Services)

“You are the backbone of this university,” said Chancellor Farmer at the event. “It is your talent, hard work and dedication that make UVic’s accomplishments possible . . . that is what sets UVic apart: great people, people like you. On behalf of President Cassels and myself, I extend our deep gratitude for your years of service. We are all fortunate to be part of a university that has such caring, committed and enthusiastic faculty and staff. You have made UVic what it is today.”

“‘All the changes they must have seen,’ I was thinking as I attended the recent long-service awards,” noted Acting Dean Dr. Lynne Van Luven. “Twenty-five years, 30 years, all dedicated to one employer. The University of Victoria is a good place to work, and we attract good people. I’d like to say congratulations on your perseverance and dedication to all the Fine Arts staff and faculty who have served us all these years. Our campus is a better place because of you.”

Cheryl Crooks (Photo Services)

Cheryl Crooks (Photo Services)

First held in 1988 to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the university, the awards have been presented each year since then, with the university president presenting each recipient with a special gift or silver pin crafted for the occasion. The event was expanded in 1999 to recognize long service beyond 25 years, in increments of five years.

Dreamy reviews for Phoenix’s Dream

Media coverage of Phoenix’s new production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream has been brisk, with both previews and reviews praising director and Department of Theatre professor Fran Gebhard‘s 1970s revamp of Shakespeare’s much-loved romantic comedy fantasy.

Gebhard talks about her New York experiences that influenced her revisioning of the play in this Times Colonist preview article. She also spoke with the Oak Bay News, explaining that, “We’ve all seen traditional productions of it. I just started listening to the music of the ’70s [and] the idea that rather than being fairies, I would think of those gals as sisters in a white which coven.”

"Dream" director Fran Gebhard on CTV

“Dream” director Fran Gebhard on CTV

Gebhard also has a conversation with Fine Arts alumnus and CTV Vancouver Island A&E mainstay Adam Sawatsky in this video, talking about the various music themes for each group of characters in the play. (Starts at the 3:00 mark.)

And, based on the reviews so far, it looks like Gebhard has mounted another strong production to follow up her award-winning 2013 staging of You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown.

TC review“Shakespeare in NY rocks!” exclaims this Times Colonist review, which goes on to describe the play as “an energetic, music-stuffed romp . . . smartly directed by Fran Gebhard . . . in this show, music—mostly rock, jazz and pop—is almost a character unto itself . . . used cleverly to accentuate characters and themes rather than serving as aural wallpaper.”

Monica Prendergast of CBC Radio’s On The Island also offered this enthusiastic review, noting that it would make a great introduction to Shakespeare for young audiences. And in this review local arts blogger Janis Lacouvee said, “Once again the University of Victoria theatre department spares no effort in bringing an extraordinary spectacle to the stage . . . you won’t go wrong with this production.”

Cheers to good reviews of  Phoenix's Dream (photo David Lowes)

Cheers to good reviews of Phoenix’s Dream (photo David Lowes)

The Marble Theatre Review declares Gebard’s Dream to be “the best play I’ve seen come out of the Phoenix in a decade . . . the choice to set the play in 1978 New York City amidst the contrasting bands of Oberon’s punks and Titania’s hippies was a conceit so beautiful that I refused to believe it could work. Until it did, over and over, until the applause was done.”

Camosun College’s Nexus newspaper came out saying, “The Bard would be proud” and declaring Dream a “big win . . . [which] should appeal to Shakespeare novices and stalwarts alike. Strong performances, excellent costumes, and a few surprising and delightful musical numbers make for terrific theatre.”

A Midsummer Night’s Dream runs to November 22 at Phoenix Theatre. Evening performances run 8pm Tuesday to Saturday, with a 2pm matinee on Saturday, November 22. The Phoenix Box Office is currently open for single ticket sales, and three-play subscription packages are still available for just $36!

Shakespeare goes punk

Fran GebhardDepartment of Theatre professor and director of the new Phoenix production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, remembers New York City in 1978: the Ramones were rocking CBGB’s nightclub in Greenwich Village and the flower-power generation was on its way out, being pushed into the past by a new punk attitude. New York was changing: the music, the fashion, the underground culture . . . it was one amazing summer to be there.

Phoenix Theatre's A Midsummer Night's Dream (photo David Lowes)

Phoenix Theatre’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream (photo David Lowes)

All these memories turned into inspiration when Gebhard began researching her Dream. “Our students in the Department of Theatre were really looking forward to working on this show,” says Gebhard. “My challenge was to find a way to recontextualize Shakespeare’s centuries-old romantic comedy into an environment that would be fun and challenging for all the actors and designers involved.” And New York circa 1978 fit the bill perfectly.

“When I first started thinking about Hermia [Shakespeare’s feisty and defiant female character, one of the four young lovers in Dream], she seemed like a feminist woman right out of the late ’70s,” says Gebhard. “We had just passed the Charter of Human Rights in Canada, and everywhere there was a new wave of ‘women’s lib.’ I thought of my own adventurous trip with my sister to NYC in 1978 and it was all a great fit with Shakespeare’s story.” Hear more of Gebhard’s insights in this podcast of her pre-show lecture, along with fourth-year student and Dream costume designer Dallas Ashby.

Get back to the '70s with Phoenix's Dream (photo David Lowes)

Get back to the ’70s with Phoenix’s Dream (photo David Lowes)

Referencing many prominent areas of NYC, Gebhard’s Dream sees the two pairs of lovers—Hermia and Lysander, Helena and Demetrius—as preppie socialites from Park Avenue who elope into the woods of Central Park. Here they find themselves at the mercy of powerful forces . . . and their own ridiculous passions. Where fairies reign in Shakespeare’s original forest, Gebhard’s Titania is now a gypsy queen with a hippie coven and Oberon a rebel king with a punk gang.

“In the late ’70s, the 700 acres of Central Park could be dangerous to some, but enticingly exciting to others,” recalls Gebhard. “I thought, here was an environment where Titania, Oberon and the lovers, fleeing the tyranny of conservative parental rules, could all believably coexist—and collide—throughout one bewitching evening.”

A glimpse of Allan Stichbury's set for Phoenix's Dream (photo David Lowes)

A glimpse of Allan Stichbury’s set for Phoenix’s Dream (photo David Lowes)

Theatre design professor Allan Stichbury creates an abstract version of the park on the Phoenix’s Chief Dan George Theatre, complete with rolling grass, manhole covers and a graffiti wall which will be tagged with spray paint live during the show. Lighting designs by Theatre students Imogen Wilson and Clare Mathison will light up NYC’s historic skyline and help create the illusion that the audience is dreaming through the night.

Of course, the late ’70s also marked some amazing fashion trends. Fourth-year student Dallas Ashby was excited to research and design the costumes for the many divergent but co-existing styles of the time—especially the hippies and punkers. “The fashion of this time really spoke to me,” says Ashby, both a mature student and mom. “In high school my personal style was an amalgamation of both hippie and punk . . . well, a 1990’s West-coast version. It was a satisfying challenge to research the East coast ’70s approach to a style that I found nostalgic.”

Some of Dallas Ashby's costume designs for Phoenix's Dream (photo David Lowes)

Some of Dallas Ashby’s costume designs for Phoenix’s Dream (photo David Lowes)

But her vision for Dream encompasses more than just the hippies and punkers. For characters like the four lovers, she drew inspiration from New York’s more conservative, tennis-playing socialites; and for Hippolyta, Theseus’ wife-to-be, Ashby looked towards the high glam fashionistas of Studio 54. Be sure to check out her costume designs on Pintrest.

And then there’s the music. Third-year student Kieran MacNaughton‘s sound design takes us through from the feel-good likes of The Turtles’ “Happy Together” and James Taylor’s “Fire and Rain” to disco like the Village People’s “YMCA” and early punk with The Ramones’ “I Wanna Be Sedated.”

“It’s been great introducing this music to the students,” says Gebhard. “Many of the songs were previously unknown to this generation, but the rest of us will be singing along!”

Adrienne Holierhoek

Phoenix_DreamA Midsummer Night’s Dream runs November 6-22 at Phoenix Theatre. Evening performances run 8pm Tuesday to Saturday, with a 2pm matinee on Saturday, November 22.  There will be a special Friday Lecture Series at 7pm November 7 featuring director Fran Gebhard and costume designer Dallas Ashby discussing the process of recreating New York in the late 1970s. The Phoenix Box Office is currently open for single ticket sales, and three-play subscription packages are still available for just $36!

 

Write on at Writers Fest

A thousand words simply wouldn’t be enough to describe the picture of literary luminaries gathering for the annual Victoria Writers Festival—and, not surprisingly, our own Department of Writing will be well-represented at the event. More than just faculty, however, the Writers Fest also features a number of alumni and sessional instructors as well—18 in all!

writers-festRunning Thursday, November 6, to Saturday, November 8, at Oak Bay United (near the intersection of Foul Bay Road and Oak Bay Avenue), the Victoria Writers Festival offers 10 events and seven workshops, including three evening gala readings, six panel discussions, and the annual Carol Shields Lecture.

GG finalist Bill Gaston  (photo Jen Steele)

GG finalist Bill Gaston
(photo Jen Steele)

Foremost among the participants is current Governor General’s Literary Award nominee and senior faculty member Bill Gaston, alongside fellow faculty members Lee Henderson, Kevin Kerr and Joan MacLeod.

Alumni participants include two more 2014 Governor General’s Literary Award nominees—poets Arleen Paré and Garth Martens—as well as noted novelist Aislinn Hunter, recently published author Aaron Shephard, poets Anne-Marie Turza, Kayla Czaga and Gillian Wigmore, queer writer Ali Blythe, playwright Dave Brock and writer Eve Joseph. Fine Arts alumna playwright Janet Munsil—also nominated for a 2014 Governor General’s Literary Award—will be there as well.

Our participating sessional instructors include Giller Prize-nominated author John Gould, Marita Daschel (former Centre for Studies in Religion and Society Artist-in-Residence), and 2013 Southam Lecturer and acclaimed CBC broadcaster Jo-Ann Roberts.

There’s plenty to hear, and think about, so be sure to check out the list of events.

Alumna & book prize sponsor Aislinn Hunter

Alumna & book prize sponsor Aislinn Hunter

And in other Writers Fest news, congratulations go out to to Department of Writing student Meghan Casey, who was recently announced as the winner of the 2014 Books Matter Prize. The one-time prize for UVic students—sponsored by alumna Aislinn Hunter, with support from Munro’s Books and the Victoria Writers Festival—offers a $500 gift certificate for Munro’s Books. Students were asked to submit an essay about a book that has made a difference to their writing life, and Casey’s submission—which starts with a distracted bathtub reading of Tim O’Brien’s short story The Things They Carried—caught Hunter’s attention.

Better still, Hunter was so impressed by fellow Writing student Claire Horwood‘s submission about Marina Keegan’s The Opposite of Loneliness, that she created a “runner-up” prize of $100 and a place in her masters fiction workshop, Whatever Happens, Remember That Your Voice Is Unique, which she will give at the festival on November 8.

You can read Casey and Horwood’s winning pieces here.

Honourable Mentions go out to third-year Writing student Cara Marks (inspired by Tom Wolfe’s The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test), second-year student Sam Dodd (Richard Ford’s Independence Day), and first-year Writing students Sarah Hughes (John Vaillant’s The Golden Spruce); and Emma Carter (Charles Bukowski’s Fear is a Dog from Hell).

Visual Arts profs create new public art

Two recent new public art pieces have been installed by Visual Arts faculty members in different locations across Canada: For Everyone a Sunset by Robert Youds was just unveiled at the Vancouver Art Gallery, while High Five by Jennifer Stillwell is now reaching for the sky in Winnipeg.

Jennifer Stillwell's "High Five" sculpture in Winnipeg

Jennifer Stillwell’s “High Five” sculpture in Winnipeg

Stillwell’s large-scale, site-specific commission High Five was recently installed on Waterfront Drive over the left field wall of Winnipeg’s baseball park. Standing 25 feet tall, seven feet wide and six inches deep—but designed to offer a bit of an optical illusion—High Five was designed to resemble either wings, fins in formation, an abstracted human hand . . . or even a baseball glove.

“I wanted to create an artwork where image and meaning are not fixed but flexible with changes in perspective and movement,” says Stillwell. “Even though the size of each the pieces are the same, I worked with the slope in order to create the shape of a human hand from a distance.”

"Hit for the sculpture!" Stillwell's piece in context of the baseball diamond

“Hit for the sculpture!” Stillwell’s piece in context of the baseball diamond

As for the “targets” on the sculpture, the artist says they have multiple meanings: abstract fingerprints, roundels on an airplane wing, archery targets, advertising graphics and, of course, actual targets. “They playfully address the baseball diamond and the home run potential of hitting the art,” she says. “A baseball player even hit one of the sculptures during batting practice!”

Installing "High Five"

Installing “High Five”

Talking to Winnipeg CBC in this piece, Stillwell explains that her pieces never have just one meaning.  “With my work I tend to try to play around with images and meaning and just trying to allow people to interpret it in more than one direction.” She also received coverage in this Winnipeg cultural blog for the artwork which was originally commissioned as part of the redevelopment of Winnipeg’s Waterfront Drive; the project has been managed by the Winnipeg Arts Council on behalf of the City of Winnipeg.

Meanwhile, veteran Visual Arts professor Robert Youds just opened his latest piece of public art—a light installation commissioned by the Vancouver Art Gallery for their Offsite location on West Georgia Street (between Thurlow & Bute).

Rob Youds' new art installation in Vancouver (photo: Diana Freundl)

Rob Youds’ new art installation in Vancouver (photo: Diana Freundl)

As the VAG explains, “For Everyone a Sunset draws upon the architectural vernacular of downtown Vancouver [and] references the urban surroundings by using their associated materials—aluminium framework, salvaged glass, LED lighting—to construct a sculptural query that creates a space for audiences to contemplate the urban experience.”

The piece will be on view until March 30, 2015, at the base of Vancouver’s vaunted Shangri La Hotel.

The original concept sketch envisioning "For Everyone A Sunset"

The original concept sketch envisioning “For Everyone A Sunset”

Existing in the space between architecture and design, uniformity and variety, For Everyone a Sunset highlights the intersection of built and natural environments. It measures 30 feet long by 12 feet high and 10 feet wide.

“Shifting tonality as it moves through laminate coloured glass, the light in Youds’ work captures our gaze and holds it suspended, suggesting a plenitude of possibilities amidst the

Constructing the piece

Constructing the piece

regularity of the urban grid,” says VAG assistant curator Diana Freundl.

As part of the commission, Youds also gave an artist’s talk on October 25, addressing the range of materials generally in his work and specifically with this  installation. VAG’s Offsite is funded by the City of Vancouver through the Public Art Program.

Education, Bangkok-style

From November 3 to 9, UVic will be celebrating International Education Week. Showcasing the significant contribution international education makes to our social, economic, and cultural well-being, IEW also supports Canada’s ongoing efforts to engage on the international stage.

Like to travel? Check out our exchange with Bangkok U (photo: Allan Stichbury)

Like to travel? Check out our exchange with Bangkok U (photo: Allan Stichbury)

Fine Arts will, of course, be participating in IEW. The Department of Theatre will be offering a panel discussion about their current student exchange between Bangkok University and Phoenix Theatre which was announced last year.

“There’s actually a lot of synchronicity between us,” Theatre professor Allan Stichbury said at the time. “Both departments are similar in size and have similar goals and objectives, balancing a sophisticated academic program alongside a very active production program—and both departments have very active Applied Theatre programs. The three prongs we have are the same as what they’ve got, which is actually remarkably rare.”

Learn more about Theatre’s student exchange with Bangkok University at the IEW panel discussion running from 12:30pm -1:30pm Wednesday, November 5, in Phoenix’s Roger Bishop Theatre.

IEW is packed full of information about international opportunities, and affords the chance to hear stories of international experiences and meet some of UVic’s international students and researchers from around the globe. Click here to read the full list of events—including info sessions about work & study abroad programs, film screenings, other panel discussions and more.

Theatre PhD Matthew Gusul (centre) at the field school in India

Theatre PhD Matthew Gusul (centre) at the field school in India

And you can find out more about Theatre’s other international initiatives by reading about PhD candidate Matthew Gusul, who is currently busy over in India running his intergenerational field school with 13 undergrads. (Be sure to watch this fun slide show of their first few weeks in India.)

Paphavee (Poe) Linkul, former UVic student and Bangkok University professor, with Allan Stichbury

Paphavee (Poe) Linkul, former UVic student and Bangkok University professor, with Allan Stichbury

The Department of Theatre’s exchange with Bangkok University was actually initiated by Theatre MFA and current Bangkok U faculty member Paphavee (Poe) Linkul. Intended to be a step towards internationalizing their university, Stichbury says, “This is not intended to remain simply an agreement between our Theatre department and their Performing Arts department; it’s intended to grow into a real relationship with Bangkok University.”

As the world gets smaller, UVic’s place in it keeps growing.