Graham McMonagle has designs on the future

While the majority of Department of Theatre graduate students are working professionals looking to further their academic credentials, Graham McMonagle is truly exceptional. A professional dancer for 20 years and the co-founder of Victoria’s Canadian Pacific Ballet company, which operated locally from 2007 to 2014, McMonagle lacked any pre-existing Bachelorate degree—which means he had to be granted “exceptional entry” status by both UVic’s Graduate Studies and Senate.

Graham McMonagle with one of his Wild Honey designs

Graham McMonagle with one of his Wild Honey designs

But a hearty recommendation from Theatre professor and Royal Society Fellow Mary Kerr, together with four years experience working as a cutter in UVic’s costume shop alongside instructor and head of wardrobe Karla Stout, paved the way for McMonagle’s current work designing costumes for the latest mainstage production, Wild Honey, running February 11-20 at the Phoenix Theatre.

“I knew getting my MFA would be challenging visually and mentally for me,” says the soft-spoken but quick-witted McMonagle. “Design has been a lateral stream with dancing my whole life and, as I come to the end of my dancing age, this is as much a moment to begin anew as it is to wind something up.”

McMonagle, whose professional design credits are many and numerous, studied at the Royal Winnipeg Ballet and apprenticed in the National Ballet of Canada’s costume department, as well as serving as Resident Designer at Columbus Dance Theatre. “Design plays a huge role in theatre, especially dance theatre,” he says. “Design is half of dramaturgy, and I’m really stimulated by that.”

His skills are being put to the test with Wild Honey, a comedic rewrite of Anton Chekhov’s first unpublished play, as adapted by British playwright Michael Frayn (Noises Off). Heavy on love triangles and the kind of country estate-entanglements for which Chekov is known, McMonagle says his designs are less “slavish historicism” and more “anachronistic hybrid” of the kind of “dirty luxury” director and Theatre professor Peter McGuire is bringing to the stage.

Wild Honey director Peter McGuire

Wild Honey director Peter McGuire

McGuire himself is yet another theatre professional who sought to enhance his career by earning an MFA at UVic in the late ’90s. “I walked away from a very lucrative career in Ontario to come back here,” says McGuire. “For me, it was the right thing to do. It was both a reinvention and a renewal of spirit.” Not only did his MFA further his career, but it also sparked a love of teaching evident in his latest production.

Wild Honey has always been on my list of shows to direct,” he says. “It’s a great fit for all of our students and has great design options for set, lighting, sound and costumes. A show like this really speaks volumes about the opportunities for students in the Theatre department.”

“I’m excited to be working with Peter, and to be working on this play,” says McMonagle, as he flips through colourful sketches of his costume designs. “There are multiple ways to draw an audience into a narrative: Peter wanted to use 1900 as an anchor, but his visual association with the principal actor was more the shirtless, greasy-haired, 1970s Keith Richards.”

Platonov (Jack Hayes) and Anna (Arielle Permack) in Wild Honey, at UVic's Phoenix Theatre until Feb 20 (Photo: David Lowes)

Platonov (Jack Hayes) and Anna (Arielle Permack) in Wild Honey, at UVic’s Phoenix Theatre until Feb 20 (Photo: David Lowes)

As a result, expect the 15-person cast to be sporting a mix of “skirts and jeans, rubber boots and overalls, caps and traditional dresses . . . in a way, we’ve created our own 1900-by-way-of-1970 Russian country look. It’s beautiful, because both of those periods were about landed people who were becoming lost from their anchored place and experiencing disintegration, substance use, and a kind of disaffected glamour. ”

McGuire can’t emphasize enough the importance of costume design. “A good actor will look at a good costume design and really see their character—they may have read the script and been thinking about their role, but will look at the sketch and understand their character so much more. Costumes really help to tell the story.”

McMonagle clearly enjoys the challenge of costuming, creating something that’s as relevant for the actor’s process as it is for the audience’s enjoyment. “There’s a balance to be drawn between how directly we reveal something to the audience: if I help the actor to reveal their role, I am in fact revealing something to the audience—but if it impedes the actor, then I’m diminishing their role.”

Fine Arts a big part of Victoria Film Festival

If it’s February, it must be time for the Victoria Film Festival! This year, in addition to the usual lineup of great feature and short films running February 5-14—including a number by Fine Arts faculty and alumni—the VFF is offering special free attendance for Fine Arts students to their annual Springboad film industry event, running Feb 5-7 at the Vic Theatre (details below). This is especially of note for anyone interested in film studies, film production, acting, producing, screenwriting or media studies in general. Students simply have to RSVP by Monday, February 1, to director@victoriafilmfestival.com.

VFF The DevoutOne highlight of the nearly 70 feature films screening this year is The Devout, the feature film debut by Department of Writing MFA alumnus Connor Gaston, produced by fellow Fine Arts alumni  Amanda Verhagen (Theatre) and Daniel Hogg (Writing), with costume design by Kendra Terpenning (Theatre). Gaston attracted a good deal of attention at past film festivals near and far with his award-winning short film ’Til Death, the latest short to emerge from Writing professor Maureen Bradley‘s Writing 420 film production class. The Devout screens 7:15pm February 11 and 1pm February 13 at the downtown Odeon, with Gaston and cast members doing post-film Q&As at both screenings.

Other highlights with links back to Fine Arts include Reset, a short film about a female android discovering she has feelings for her owner, directed by Writing grad Jeremy Lutter (a frequent VFF face with the likes of Gord’s Brother), written by Writing grad Ryan Bright (screenwriter of ’Til Death) and produced by UVic Gustavson School of Business grad Jocelyn Russell. It shows at 8:45pm Feb 7 at The Vic Theatre as part of the “Techlandia” shorts program.

No Breath Play

No Breath Play

The short film No Breath Play is chock full of Writing alumni, being written and directed by Stacey Ashworth, starring Julia Dillon-Davis, featuring camera work by director of photography Scott Amos, produced by Kelly Conlin and executive produced by Daniel Hogg. No Breath Play takes a look at what happens when a reclusive young woman explores BDSM, only to be mistakenly left bound and alone at home. This one screens at 4pm on Feb 7 at The Vic Theatre as part of the “Risky Plays, Risky Places” shorts program.

There’s also a special CineVic retrospective happening at the festival, 6:30pm Sunday Feb 7 at the Odeon on Yates. Celebrating the 25th anniversary of the local filmmakers society, over half the 15 short films on view feature the work of Fine Arts alumni:

  • Wolfgang Ball, Marjorie Celona (BFA, Writing)
  • Godhead, Conner Gaston (BFA & MFA, Writing)
  • Bark to the Land, David Geiss (MFA, Writing)
  • Sisyphus, Maureen Bradley (Professor, Writing)
  • Grass, Scott Amos (BFA & MFA, Writing)
  • The Quandry of Señor Muchacho, Jeremy Lutter (BFA, Writing) also starring Theatre alumna Amanda Lisman
  • Woodrow Without Evelyn, Daniel Hogg (BFA, Writing)
  • Near Silence, starring Treena Stubel (BFA, Theatre)

Finally, the annual VFF SpringBoard event focuses on the business side of filmmaking, which is dynamic and ever-changing in this increasingly digital era. SpringBoard offers aspiring Canadian filmmakers the opportunity to expand their knowledge and keep up with new trends in panels and discussions hosted by established industry leaders.

What can you discover at Springboard?

What can you discover at Springboard?

Again, Fine Arts students can attend the Feb 5-7 Springboad events at the Vic Theatre for free. This is especially of note for anyone interested in film studies, film production, acting, producing, screenwriting or media studies in general. Students simply have to RSVP by Monday, February 1, to  director@victoriafilmfestival.com.

Friday, February 5:

• Media Worldview Round Up (11am-noon) – Join the VFF for the annual review of what’s new, forecasted and unpredictable. Gain insights into how the changes impact the kinds of projects you create and understand new opportunities. With Harold Gronenthal, Executive Vice- President of Programming & Operations – AMC/Sundance Channel Global at AMC Networks Inc. He has led content acquisitions for AMC, IFC, Sundance Channel and WE TV since 2004.

Tania Koenig-Gauchier

Tania Koenig-Gauchier

• Getting Your Start (12:15-1:45pm) – A panel of commissioning editors will provide tips on what a career looks like for an emerging filmmaker. Topics will include commissioning priorities, preferences on approach and pitch, and what to expect working in the field. Panelists include TV producer Tania Koenig-Gauchier, who has almost 20 years experience in broadcasting and independent production working as a producer for CTV, APTN and CBC, and has a background in business, marketing and promotions for television; Tara Ellis, CBC’s Executive Director of Scripted Content, including comedy and drama, kids programming and digital originals; and Robin Neinstein, Production Executive, Original Drama Content for Shaw Media, who oversees the development and production of various scripted series and co-productions for Shaw channels including Global, History and Showcase.

Mary Galloway

Mary Galloway

• The Winning Pitch: Mary Galloway (2:30-3pm) – Mary Galloway won the BravoFact! $35,000 pitch competition in 2015 to create her short film Ariel Unravelling, and now returns to discuss making her film and working with BravoFact! Mary Galloway is a young First Nations actor, producer and writer. She has dedicated her career to telling stories with dynamic female leads, as well as being an advocate for equality for Aboriginal (and non-Aboriginal) woman. She prides herself on being a positive role model for today’s youth. She has lead three feature films, can be seen on TV shows such as The CW’s Supernatural and is in pre-production for many of her own passion projects.

• Pitch Tips (3:30-4:30pm) – This session reveals the nuts and bolts of how and what to say when pitching your project. Pat Ferns is President of Ferns Productions Inc., specializing in blue-chip documentary-drama mini-series, working with his son Andrew, President of Ferns Entertainment Inc. whose principal focus is drama. Major series Pat and Andrew have produced together include the award-winning Captain Cook: Obsession and Discovery and Darwin’s Brave New World, both Australia-Canada co-productions.

Saturday, February 6

Semi Chellas (G. Pimentel, photo)

Semi Chellas (G. Pimentel, photo)

• In Conversation with Semi Chellas (noon-1:30pm) – Semi Chellas discusses writing for film and television. Chellas was Co-Executive Producer and writer for Mad Men, running the room for the final two seasons. She was nominated for six Emmys and shared the WGA award with Matthew Weiner for co-writing the episode “The Other Woman”. Chellas has written for indie features, kids movies, television movies and directed several award-winning short films. Chellas is currently working as an Executive Producer of Steve McQueen’s HBO miniseries Codes of Conduct.

Sunday, February 7

Larry Weinstein

Larry Weinstein

• In Conversation with Larry Weinstein (noon-1:30pm) – Welcome to the inventive world of Larry Weinstein, a wonderfully unique documentary filmmaker whose films have captured the lives of great composers, the former Ambassador to Iran Ken Taylor, and the mystery of Hana’s Suitcase.  Weinstein is going to look at the anatomy of making a documentary from inception to completion while expanding on his thoughts by screening raw and completed footage of his latest project, Devil’s Horn. He’ll be in conversation with CTV AM’s film critic, Richard Crouse.

Top 10 Fine Arts stories of 2015

It’s the end of another busy—and rewarding—year here at the Faculty of Fine Arts, where there was never any shortage of things to keep everyone busy. With five departments offering literally hundreds of annual concerts, theatrical productions, readings, exhibits, symposiums and lectures by visiting artists, academics and professionals, Fine Arts remains one of the most community-engaged faculties on campus. Here’s a quick wrap-up featuring some—but certainly not all—of the leading Fine Arts stories of the year.

A very Meigs year

Sandra Meigs with the Right Honourable David Johnston, Governor General of Canada (photo: Sgt Ronald Duchesne)

Sandra Meigs with the Right Honourable David Johnston, Governor General of Canada (photo: Sgt Ronald Duchesne)

It was quite the year for Department of Visual Arts professor Sandra Meigs. Hot on the heels of being named one of eight recipients of the Governor General’s Awards for Visual and Media Arts in March—an honour that saw her work featured in a special curated exhibit at the National Gallery of Canada this past summer—she presented her most recent solo exhibit of new work, All to All, at Toronto’s acclaimed Susan Hobbs Gallery. Plus, she was announced as the winner of the $50,000 2015 Gershon Iskowitz Prize at the AGO in October, an award that also comes with a solo show at the Art Gallery of Ontario and a further $10,000 towards a publication on her work. Read more about Meigs’ successes here and here.

A Royal event

UVic's new RSC honorands featuring Hodgins (third from left), Biro and MacLeod (far right). (UVic Photo Services)

UVic’s new RSC honorands featuring Hodgins (third from left), Biro and MacLeod (far right). (UVic Photo Services)

More than 400 of Canada’s brightest academic minds converged on Victoria in November when the Royal Society of Canada—Canada’s national academy—honoured three of our own. Celebrated playwright, Writing professor and UVic alumna Joan MacLeod was one of three UVic professors elected as new fellows, while noted composer and Music professor Dániel Péter Biró was elected as one of three new members of the College of New Scholars, Artists and Scientists. Finally, acclaimed author and retired Writing professor Jack Hodgins was presented with the RSC’s 2014 Pierce Medal for outstanding achievement in imaginative literature. Find out more about UVic’s Royal Society connections here.

Really made in BC

Maria Tippett speaks to a full house

Maria Tippett speaks to a full house

Back in September, Fine Arts was proud to host the launch of Made in British Columbia: Eight Ways of Making Culture—the latest book by noted cultural historian Dr. Maria Tippett. “UVic has always impressed me as being sensitive to art in British Columbia, and is a superb place to launch the book,” noted the Governor General’s Award-winning Tippett. It was a packed event with nary a seat in the house and, despite nearly having to cancel due to ill health, Tippett proved a real trouper and carried on with a fantastic event. Read more about the book here.

Singing his praises

Benjamin Butterfield (UVic Photo Services)

Benjamin Butterfield (UVic Photo Services)

A tenor of international renown with a repertoire ranging from baroque to classical and contemporary, Music professor Benjamin Butterfield was announced in June as the 2015 winner of UVic’s Craigdarroch Award for Excellence in Artistic Expression. “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,” says Dr. Susan Lewis. “He makes the difference for young singers, providing both inspiration and sound teaching to prepare them for the world stage.” Discover more about Butterfield here.

(Re)Acting to a crisis

Conrad Alexandrowicz

Conrad Alexandrowicz

Back in March, a first-of-its-kind national symposium co-organized by Department of Theatre professor Conrad Alexandrowicz questioned and examined traditional acting methods, as it addressed what has been described as “the crisis of actor training in Canada.” Acting Training in a Shifting World saw 34 instructors from the majority of Canadian post-secondary drama institutions—ranging from universities and colleges to conservatory programs—converge on the Phoenix. “It’s good for UVic to host a discussion where we’re questioning all the things we’ve taken for granted for decades—that acting always comes out of a printed script,” says Alexandrowicz. “We’re under a lot of pressure to think of theatre training as a greater part of a liberal arts education, so we should be including people from all across campus, people who want to learn about performance but have no interest in professional acting per se.” Read the original Ring article here.

Mile-high research

Art History & Visual Studies professor Allan Antliff

Art History & Visual Studies professor Allan Antliff

Being the first to gain access to an archive is the kind of research opportunity most academics dream of—and it’s how Art History & Visual Studies professor Allan Antliff spent his summer. Antliff was recently announced as the inaugural Research Fellow in Residence at the Clyfford Still Museum Research Center in Denver, Colorado. Named for the famed American painter—whom Antliff describes as “a leading artist in the abstract expressionist movement”—the position at the CSM represented an exciting opportunity. “No scholars apart from those at the CSM have had access to his archive or library before this—I’m getting first crack at it,” said Antliff, who spent two months on site. Read more about Clyfford Still here.

Welcome to the (faculty) club

Fine Arts was pleased to announce three new hires this academic year: Music’s Joseph Salem, plus Cedric Bomford and Megan Dickie in Visual Arts. “Dr. Salem comes to us from Yale University, where he completed a doctoral degree with a dissertation on Pierre Boulez,” says Dr. Susan Lewis. “A scholar with expertise in music after 1950, he brings a strong analytical focus to his approach to music. He is a passionate teacher who will ignite the classroom and instill a love for music our students.”

Salem, Dickie & BOmford

Salem, Dickie & BOmford

Joining Visual Arts from the University of Manitoba is sculptor and photographer Cedric Bomford. “[His] career is on a upward trajectory as evidenced by an international exhibition record and his work being recently nominated for the prestigious 2014 Sobey Award,” noted Visual Arts chair Paul Walde.

And stepping up from her longtime position as a sessional instructor is local sculptor Megan Dickie. “Megan has been teaching with Visual Arts for 10 years now,” says Walde. “She is consistently one of our most highly ranked instructors and is extremely popular with our students. In the past four years, Megan’s studio research has developed in new and innovative ways, bringing her more exhibition opportunities both nationally and internationally.”

Nominating success

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

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

An impressive 26 nominations in the 2015 Leo Awards for films created by Department of Writing faculty and alumni proves we’re punching above our weight when it comes to film futures—truly, a surprising number for a university that doesn’t even have a film production program. “Film is just a development of the Writing department’s already well-known streams,” says film professor Maureen Bradley, whose groundbreaking feature film Two 4 One (produced by Fine Arts Digital Media Technician Daniel Hogg) was nominated for six awards. “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].” Read more about our film course here.

Finding art in conflict

Applied Theatre professor Dr. Kirsten Sadeghi-Yekta became the latest Fine Arts TEDx speaker in November, when she enthralled audiences with her talk “Utopia of Unwanted Spaces: Art in Conflict.” From her experiences bringing theatre to some of the most seemingly hopeless places in our world, Sadeghi-Yekta has learned what it takes for art—and culture—to not just live on, but thrive in conflict zones. “Theatre transcends the destructive places where a horrendous physical world exists,” says Sadeghi-Yekta. Some of her most notable work has been with working with the children in the Downtown East Side in Vancouver, young people in Brazilian favelas, disabled women in areas of Cambodia, adolescents in Nicaragua and students with special needs in schools in the Netherlands. You can watch the video here:

Gone but not forgotten

Finally, this past year saw the passing of three important figures in the Faculty’s history: School of Music professor Gene Dowling, Visual Arts professor Don Harvey, and Writing professor Dave Godfrey.

An inspirational teacher and invaluable colleague, Dowling passed away in June. “He showed incredible generosity and thoughtfulness towards his students and helped make the School of Music a great place to be,” says Acting Dean of Fine Arts and former School of Music Director Susan Lewis.

Dowling, Godfrey & Harvey

Dowling, Godfrey & Harvey

Also passing in June was former Writing chair Godfrey, a Governor General’s Award winner. Retired Writing professor Lorna Crozier remembers him as being “generous, sharp and excited about ideas and young people. He was a central figure in the Canadian renaissance, in our belief that our own stories have value. We need more of his kind now.”

Professor Emeritus Harvey passed away in August. A founding member of the Visual Arts department, current professor Robert Youds recalls Harvey as having “a formidably quick wit and a razor sharp eye for anything to do with colour, mark-making, and the pictorial in art. He played an enormous role in the early development of the Visual Arts department at UVic—for which we current members owe a real debt of thanks.”

Mackie’s back in town

For a song written only days before the premiere, “Mack the Knife” has not only become the most recognized number from The Threepenny Opera, but also a musical standard performed by some of world’s greatest artists. The history of the song also represents a fascinating journey for how we view one of theatre’s most notorious villains, the character MacHeath—better known as Mack the Knife.

The beggars, prostitutes and down-and-out sing in Phoenix Theatre's production of The Threepenny Opera (photo: David Lowes)

The beggars, prostitutes and down-and-out sing in Phoenix Theatre’s production of The Threepenny Opera (photo: David Lowes)

Bertolt Brecht’s The Threepenny Opera is a landmark of modern theatre. After opening in 1928 in Berlin, it became one of the biggest hits of the 1920s. Here was a satire so irreverent and cutting in its humour, so gritty in its reflection of the down-and-out, and so uncompromising in its criticisms of post-WWI German society that it would influence all theatre thereafter. Kurt Weill’s precedent-setting, jazz-influenced music would create a resurgence in the musical worldwide.

Opening November 5 at UVic’s Phoenix Theatre, this mainstage production of The Threepenny Opera is directed by Department of Theatre professor Brian Richmond who has set it in an absurd, near-future dystopia. Part biting satire and part sheer theatrical innovation, this famed musical is a landmark of modern theatre. “This is quite possibly the most important piece of musical theatre in the 20th century,” says Richmond, who worked with Applied Theatre professor Kirsten Sadeghi-Yekta to bring a strong sense of realism to this production.

To learn more about the vision behind this production, director Richmond will be giving a pre-show lecture at 7pm on Friday, November 6. The Threepenny Opera then runs 8pm Tuesday to Saturday to Nov 21 at UVic’s Phoenix Theatre, with a 2pm matinee on Saturday, November 21. Tickets range from $15 to $25 and can be charged by phone at 250-721-8000. 

The ensemble cast of Phoenix Theatre's The Threepenny Opera (photo: David Lowes)

The ensemble cast of Phoenix Theatre’s The Threepenny Opera (photo: David Lowes)

The Threepenny Opera borrows from the 18th-century The Beggar’s Opera and offers an edgy mix of biting satire and sheer theatrical innovation as it takes aim at the traditional bourgeoisie and reveals a society where law is fickle, money corrupts and crime absolutely pays. Richmond is well-known for breathing fresh life into classic works, as evidenced by past Phoenix productions like Guys & Dolls, Dark of the Moon, The Wind in the Willows and Romeo & Juliet.

“Mack the Knife,” the song that has since become an iconic symbol of the play, was only added at the last minute at the behest of Harald Paulsen—the actor playing MacHeath in the premiere—as he wanted a number that would better introduce his character. A number of translations and versions of the play were produced following the original, but it wasn’t until Marc Blitzstein’s 1954 New York City version that Threepenny became a hit in America, ensconcing the play and its music in popular culture. Conducted by the preeminent Leonard Bernstein (a friend of Blitzstein) and featuring Lotte Lenya (Kurt Weil’s widow, who had been part of the original Berlin cast), it ran Off-Broadway for over six years and broke records set by Oklahoma.

Mack the Knife (Lindsay Robinson) flees from Polly (Pascal Lamothe-Kipnes) in Phoenix's The Threepenny Opera (photo: David Lowes)

Mack the Knife (Lindsay Robinson) flees from Polly (Pascal Lamothe-Kipnes) in Phoenix’s The Threepenny Opera (photo: David Lowes)

It was Blitzstein’s translation of “Mack the Knife” that was famously recorded by some of the biggest stars in the 1950s and ’60s, including Louis Armstrong, Bobby Darin, Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington and Frank Sinatra. While based on the Blitzstein version, each artist made the song his or her own, accentuating or repeating different lyrics to highlight Mackie’s exploitive playboy nature. Musically, some interpreted the song with more swing, more jazz, more up-tempo, more lounge, as best fit the artist’s style. Armstrong spontaneously added Lotte Lenya’s name into the lyrics as she watched his recording session. Sinatra added references to many previous singers in his lyrics.

In 1976, a new version of Threepenny opened on Broadway (later made into a movie), featuring a version of “Mack the Knife” that returned to Brecht and Weill’s original idea of a murder song that accentuated MacHeath’s trail of victims more than his womanizing ways. This version was recorded in the ’80s and ’90s by the likes of Lyle Lovett, Sting and Nick Cave. Then, in 1994, Robert David MacDonald and Jeremy Sams hoped to recapture some of the original edginess of Brecht’s irreverent cutting humour and mounted a version of Threepenny with an emphasis on Mackie’s more gruesome villainous ways.

Director Brian Richmond

Director Brian Richmond

It is this most recent translation that director Richmond chose for the Phoenix production. “Directors often ask not only how, but why an audience responded to a particular work at the time of its premiere,” he says. “[We] then try to build an interpretive bridge between this central nerve, or zeitgeist, of the culture from which the work arose and the times in which we live now.”

Still reeling in the aftermath of the war, the 1920s German Weimar government was plagued with hyperinflation, political extremists, severe poverty and famine. At the same time, there was false sense of affluence and indulgence among the elite, leaving Germany teetering on the brink of inevitable disaster. As young artists and political activists, no doubt Brecht, Weill and friends could see that this house of cards was about to fall.

The 1994 translation restores the grittiness and angst of the original for today’s audiences. “Looking at the present day conditions—economic, political and social—it’s not difficult for current audiences to relate to this fear of an impending collapse of society,” says Richmond. “Thankfully this has not happened yet . . . which is why we decided to set this production in the future, where we can take for granted that society has already collapsed. We felt that an absurd dystopian future would further highlight the absurdity of how man’s appetite for greed, lust and gluttony, keeps contributing to our downfall.”

—Adrienne Holierhoek

The Threepenny Opera runs 8pm Tuesday to Saturday to Nov 21 at UVic’s Phoenix Theatre, with a 2pm matinee on Saturday, November 21. Tickets range from $15 to $25 and can be charged by phone at 250-721-8000

Behind the mask

You might think that wearing a mask is a way to hide from others, but Department of Theatre alumna Kate Braidwood discovered while she was studying here at UVic that masks are a fun and engaging way to express herself on stage.

Phoenix alumna Kate Braidwood

Phoenix alumna Kate Braidwood

Now, as the co-founder of the multi-award winning WONDERHEADS physical theatre company, Braidwood works with her husband Andrew Phoenix to create playful characters through full-face masks. They then integrate these “wonderheads” into performances fraught with exquisite visual storytelling.

LOON, which opened the Phoenix Theatre’s 2015/16 season on October 14, is just one of the acclaimed productions for which this international touring theatre company is known. LOON tells the story of Francis, a lonely janitor with a child-like imagination and a wild fascination with the moon. Unfortunately, Francis hits an emotional rock bottom and he feels like there’s nowhere to go but up . . . and up! It’s a surprising mix of physical theatre, comedy and pathos, all wrapped up in a peculiar, but beautiful, love story.

With their creative use of full-face masks, expressive physical movement and inventive lighting and sound cues in place of words, WONDERHEADS’ shows have been compared by CBC Radio to watching “a living cartoon for lovers and dreamers.” (Watch this online trailer.) With “Critics Choice” and “Best Show” awards ranging from Vancouver to Orlando, they have been successfully changing audience’s perspectives on the nature of theatre and storytelling across North America.

LOON-MaskVideo.jpg

Watch this 2-minute time-lapse video of the full 50-hour process

Braidwood and Phoenix create all of their full-faced, oversized masks from scratch. First they sculpt the head and facial expression out of modeling clay. The head is then covered with liquid rubber to capture expressions into a casting mould, and strips of plaster-soaked cloth are laid around this rubber to construct a hard exterior shell. When it’s dry, the rubber mould is filled with strips of papier-mâché to create the actual mask. The final mask is given eye and air holes, painted lovingly with rosy cheeks, or freckles or whatever is needed for the character, and then topped with a hairdo.

Braidwood attributes much of her direction in life to her studies in the Department of Theatre’s Acting Specialization program. “My time at UVic played no small part in my journey that led to founding WONDERHEADS,” she says. “It was at UVic that I first performed with masks. I was lucky to have Peter Balkwill [of Old Trout Puppet Workshop fame] as a movement teacher at the time, and creating vocal masques in Jan Wood’s class shed light on the path to devising and creating my own original work.”

Love is in the air at LOON (Second Glance Photography)

Love is in the air at LOON (Second Glance Photography)

After graduating in 2003, Braidwood trained at Dell’Arte International, a physical theatre school in California, where she met Andrew  Phoenix. “During the process of creating our first show together, we happened to fall in love,” she recalls. “We got married, and when it came time to create our next show we thought ‘love’ would be a fitting theme. But LOON isn’t just about love; it’s also about loneliness, loss, and letting go. It’s about remembering how a person or experience helped shape who we are, and how we keep them in our hearts as we move on.”

Now based out of Portland, Oregon, and as Co-Artistic Director of her own theatre company, Braidwood is also appreciating other aspects of her education. “The program at the Phoenix trained us to have a wide range of skills in the theatre, and the importance of being multi-faceted is integral for me today now that I run my own company,” she says. “When I moved on from the Phoenix, I kept the experience in my heart, and it is an honour to return to share my work with current students.”

LOON runs at 8pm daily to October 24 (except Sunday, Oct 18), plus a 2pm matinee on Sunday, October 24, at Phoenix Theatre. Tickets range from $15 – $45 and can be purchased here.

Fine Arts at the Fringe Fest

It’s time again for Victoria’s annual Fringe Festival—the 29th annual Fringe Fest, actually, making it the second-oldest Canadian Fringe (next to the mighty Edmonton Fringe). With over 50 shows from across Canada, around the world and all over Victoria, Fringers are primed for 11 days of indie theatre from August 27 to September 6. Remember, the Fringe only comes once a year, so take in as much as you can! Grab a program, get a button and start seeing whatever strikes your fancy.

fringeAs always, Fine Arts is well represented in this year’s Fringe, with a plethora of Phoenix Theatre alumni & students on deck—but there are also a number of Department of Writing alumni active this year too. In no particular order, here’s a quick guide to who’s doing what and when. Just click on the show title and a link will take you to their Fringe page to find out more. Note: any names listed are Fine Arts students or alumni.)

The Dangers of Daphne – Downtown Activity Centre (Venue 2) • Written by Robbie Huebner (Writing MFA), Directed by Melissa Taylor. Projection Design by Max Johnson. Featuring Sarah Cashin, Ian Simms, and Kevin Eade.

The damsel: kidnapped, hogtied, blindfolded, helpless — the old Hollywood standard. Daphne, an aspiring silent film actress, plays the part every day. Sure, she’s getting famous, but what good is fame when you’re always the victim? Nobody loves a woman roped to railroad tracks. If only Daphne could flip the script… A tale of music, celluloid and bigscreen hubris.

Keara Barnes

Keara Barnes

Almost a StepmomWood Hall (Venue 4) • Created by Keara Barnes

A true story:Keara moved to Ireland. She fell in love. Then she became a stepmom…almost. A darkly comic tale about the ups and downs of becoming a stepmother. Multiple characters and a murder attempt round off this tumultuous and touching solo show.

Rumpelstiltskin . . . and Other Tales – Metro Studio Theatre (Venue 3) • Created by & featuring Jeff Leard

Classic children’s stories re-imagined by Fringe Festival favourite Jeff Leard—son of Story Theatre founder & fellow Phoenix alumnus Jim Leard. An exciting solo show of family favourites created for kids, their families and everyone else, too.  “…a young Robin Williams” – LONDON FREE PRESS. “Do yourself a favour and let Jeff Leard spin you his story…” – BEAT MAGAZINE.

Jeff Leard

Jeff Leard

Sperm WarsVictoria Event Centre (Venue 1) • The other Fringe show created by & featuring Jeff Leard!

Sperm Wars takes place in a brutal, futuristic, utterly absurd universe. As sperm and eggs collide in the battle for Uteran supremacy tales emerge of love, loss, betrayal, spaceships, sword fights, life, and death before birth. The result is gametocidal tragedy, sci-fi hilarity, and one surviving oddly placed robot. “5 stars: an epic masterpiece” – Edmonton Journal

The Workingclass CafeFairfield Hall (Venue 7) • Produced by Emma Hughes and Tristan Bacon. Featuring Nicholas Yee, Alexa Carriere, Logan Mitev, Sean Brossard.

The Workingclass Café is a last-minute Fringe show featuring a different performance lineup every night, providing the opportunity to showcase many different artists and their amazing performance talents. Join this celebrate live theatre, local artists and the last minute chances that are always hoped for!

Sam Mullins

Sam Mullins

The Untitled Sam Mullins Project – VCM Wood Hall (Venue 4)  • Created by & featuring Sam S. Mullins

Canadian Comedy Award-winner Sam Mullins (This American Life, The Moth, CBC’s The Irrelevant Show) tells the four stories of his four “truths”. “****1/2 God he’s good. Sam Mullins is a master storyteller.” –WINNIPEG FREE PRESS. “****1/2 Equal parts excruciating and hilarious. Mullins knocks it out of the park.” – EDMONTON JOURNAL

The Problem with Facebook – Downtown Activity Centre (Venue 2) • Created by & featuring Ian Simms

Five teenagers struggle to make the best of the awkwardest time of their life. But thanks to the magic of the internet, they are put in touch with an Iranian rebel with some sage, although offbeat, advice. A show about honesty, the subtext that flows through every social media message, and our perspective through the lens of technology.

4web3webLt.-Nun-Fringe-Image-copy-3Lieutenant Nun – Macaulay Point Park (Venue A) • Directed by Mercedes Bátiz-Benét (Writing) & Kathleen Greenfield. Musical Coaching by Sarah Jane Pelzer. Mask Design by Ingrid Hansen, Bátiz-Benét & Greenfield. Puppet Design by Hansen. Mask & Puppet Construction by Hansen & Andrew Barrett. Stage Management by Delaney Tesch. Featuring Keshia Palm.

The creators of Little Orange Man team up with the makers of El Jinete (Summerworks 2014) to re-imagine this 2004 Theatre SKAM smash hit! In the 17th Century, Catalina escapes the convent and sails to the New World dressed as a conquistador. After years of being male, Catalina’s secret sex is revealed. A true story about gender, identity, war and conquest.

The Daughter of Turpentine – Langham Court Theatre (Venue 6)
Written by Leah Callen (Writing MFA). Directed by Chase Hiebert. Featuring Graham Roebuck, Lindsay Curl, Renee Killough, Pascal Lamothe-Kipness, and Brett Hay.

Meet Pin: a fed up, sexually-frustrated tree nymph who just turned sixteen. Burning to get away from her painted sisters and her guardian Gabriel, she falls for turpentine and a passing arsonist. But will she ever break free from Gabriel’s spell? A flammable fairytale for adults. Originally presented as a Phoenix SATCo production.

3webtwo-copyTwo Metro Studio Theatre (Fringe Venue 3) • Created by Kat Taddei. Directed by Colette Habel. Lighting/set design by Sean Brossard. Sound design by Colette Habel. Featuring Brett Hay, Nicholas Yee, Levi Schneider, Jack Hayes, Sam Lynch.

Ever wondered if out there, in a faraway universe, lives another you? This haunting new work presents two dramatically different versions of one life. Set in parallel worlds, both manipulated by a chorus of mysterious figures, Two blends the unsettling surreal with the familiar hyper-real.

Two St Andrew’s Gymnasium (Venue 5) • Created by Cameron Fraser

The second show in this Fringe so titled, this Two is an unbridled multidisciplinary show centered around a young couple’s evolution from a budding romance through to an established relationship. Combining physical comedy, acrobatics, dance and object manipulation, Two offers a lighter side to the ups and downs of love, lust and peanut butter sandwiches.

3webcasino-royale-copyIan Fleming’s Casino Royale – St Andrew’s Gymnasium (Venue 5) • Directed by Ian Case. Featuring Ellen Law.

Witness the world stage premiere of the first of Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels. Agent 007 declares war on Le Chiffre, French Communist & paymaster of the Soviet murder organization: SMERSH. For incredible suspense, unexpected thrills, and extraordinary danger, nothing can beat James Bond in this, his inaugural adventure.

Band GeeksSt. Michaels University School (Venue 9) • Directed by Cam Culham

Faced with dwindling attendance and funds, a highschool’s beloved marching band is desperate. When a troubled athlete is relegated to their ranks, Elliott, the band captain and Laura, his best friend, must find a way to unite the band, embrace their inner geek, and save the day.

3webthewyrdsisters-copyThe Wyrd SistersMetro Studio Theatre (Venue 3) • Created/Directed by Alannah Bloch. Featuring Colette Habel, Nicola Whitney-Griffiths, Victoria Simpson, Nicolas Yee, Jack Hayes, and Levi Schneider. Costume design by Michelle Bowes. Original sound composition by Carl Keys. Choreographed by Nicola Whitney-Griffiths.

Benevolence and malevolence. Evanescence of smoke whispering across a moor. The glint of a dagger behind a curtain. The Wyrd Sisters is a collective movement theatre piece interpreting the magic of Shakespeare through dance and original sound composition. “Something wicked this way comes…” the Wyrd Sisters are waiting for you.

Fallout – Roxy Theatre (Venue 8) • Written by Shane Campbell (Writing). Featuring Markus Spodzieja, Jenson Kerr.

At the end of the world, two men are trapped in their basement struggling to pull together a forgotten past. Al, who is suffering from amnesia, is stuck with Nate, his roommate. In this dark comedy the two have to come to terms with how to survive the future they find themselves in.

Andrew Wade

Andrew Wade

The Most Honest Man in the World – Wood Hall (Venue 4) • Created by & featuring Andrew Wade

A life-long love story about the pursuit of honesty over all happiness. Andrew Wade builds a working lie detector and straps himself in. Using stories, music, apps, and tap shoes, Wade looks at old relationships and insecurities as he tries to learn how to honestly let go. “A brave experiment in both theatre and life. 4 stars! – Saskatoon StarPhoenix

The Best Meal You Ever Ate Congregation Emanu-El (Venue B) • Featuring Michael Armstrong (Writing MFA)

Avram and his wife are the last two Jews left alive in the ghetto fighting the Nazis and they are starving. To their astonishment a chef, Jean-Paul, brings a wonderful meal complete with wines. He applauds their courage and has persuaded the German commander to allow them one final, sublime meal before they are destroyed. But is it kosher…?

Last-minute electives!

Looking for a last-minute Fall elective to replace the course that sounded good in June but now has you scratching your head? (“Uh, did I really intend to register for A History of Molds and Fungi?”) You’re in luck—Fine Arts has you covered with a wide ranging of fascinating electives guaranteed to enhance any degree.

Missy Elliott's in the house for an Intro to Hip Hop

Missy Elliott’s in the house for an Intro to Hip Hop

Check the technique behind An Introduction to Hip Hop (FA 200). As well as looking at the roots of hip hop and groundbreaking originals like Kook Herc, you’ll be doing case studies on artists like Missy Elliot, Kanye West and Jay Z. You’ll also focus on the role of graffiti, turntablism and bboy/bgirl culture. Taught by Melissa Avdeef—the creator of last year’s popular Beyonce course— An Intro to Hip Hop runs 4:30-5:50 pm MW to Dec. 4.

HA200PosterThe creation of art has always been a hands-on process, but now you can look back at the historical roots of arts & crafts with How is Art Made? (HA200) Very much a hands-on course  itself, this Art History elective with Marcus Milwright examines how people actually make beautiful objects and buildings. From the painting of an icon to the casting of a bronze figure, you’ll have the chance to connect and handle a wide variety of ancient and medieval objects. How is Art Made? runs 3:30-4:20 pm MWR to Dec. 4.

Last year's Phoenix production of A Midsummer Night's Dream (photo David Lowes)

Last year’s Phoenix production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream (photo David Lowes)

Thanks to the likes of the Belfry Theatre, Intrepid Theatre, Theatre SKAM, Theatre Inconnu, Langham Court, UVic’s own Phoenix Theatre and many others, there’s no question that Victoria is a theatre town. But watching—or creating—a stage play can often be daunting if you have no background to it. That’s where An Introduction to Theatre (THEA 101) comes in. Taught by local theatre artist and filmmaker Leslie Bland, you’ll be introduced to practical and theoretical approaches to play analysis, dramatic criticism, theatrical form and to the principles of stage production. Better still, attendance at live performances is required—which means you’ll get to go to plays, for credit! An Introduction to Theatre runs 3:30-4:50 MTH to Dec. 4.–

ICarraccideal for anyone interested in History, Medieval or Italian studies, as well as Art History, consider going for Baroque with the fascinating  Baroque Art in Italy 1550-1700 (HA342A). Taught by Anne Williams, this course explores the innovations in Italian art & architecture at a time marked by clashing dogmas of faith, political upheaval and scientific discovery. We will examine in depth selected works of painting, sculpture, and architecture by artists including Caravaggio, Bernini, and the Carracci. Baroque Art in Italy runs 2:30-3:20pm MWR to Dec. 4.

VA_painting labMore interested in developing your own artistic skills than studying the legacy of others? Check out Foundation Drawing and Painting
 (ART 103), which explores both drawing and painting. Normally reserved for Visual Arts students, ART 103 is now open to general enrollment. Discover how developing basic art skills can contribute to a wide variety of academic pursuits, from anthropology and engineering to law, sciences and more. Through studio exercises and exciting creative projects, you’ll get hands-on with a wide variety of methods and materials. Foundation Drawing and Painting
 runs to Dec. 4 at a variety of times.

Experimental photography by Victoria's own Hannah Maynard

Experimental photography by Victoria’s own Hannah Maynard

We live in a world ruled by Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat, but how did we get to the point where everyone always has a camera with, or on, them? Find out with the History of Photography (HA369). Taught by Menno Hubregste, you’ll discover how this medium has developed since its invention in 1839, both technically and aesthetically, as well as the different types of images created by artists, journalists and scientists. From travel and documentary photography to Dada, Surrealism and conceptual art, you’ll also look at the rise of women photographers and how photography changed in the age of Postmodernism and advertising. The History of Photography runs 12:30-1:20pm TWF to Dec. 4.

Interested in learning why people practice thea394.2theatre in places of conflict and war? Want to know how theatre can be used in international development settings? Wondering what kind of techniques work in conflict zones? Back by popular demand, Theatre professor Kirsten Sadeghi-Yekta still has space in her popular Applied Theatre elective, Theatre, Conflict & Development (THEA 394). This exploration into the practice of theatre in places of conflict and war—a topic Sadeghi-Yekta knows well—will include examples from the likes of Cambodia, Sudan, Kosovo, Nicaragua, the Congo and Brazil. Theatre, Conflict & Development runs 9-10:20am MR to Dec. 4. To register, contact the Theatre Department secretary directly at theatre@uvic.ca.

Fine Arts alumni fuel Shakespeare Festival

While students and alumni of the Department of Theatre tend to show up on stages all over—and far out of—town, one place to keep an eye on local talent is the Greater Victoria Shakespeare Festival. Running July 8 to August 8 and this year celebrating its 25th anniversary, the Shakespeare Festival is packed with Phoenix folks past and present, on stage and off.

GVSS Artistic Director & Writing MFA Karen Lee Pickett

GVSS Artistic Director & Writing MFA Karen Lee Pickett

“We trace our genealogy back to 1991, when the first Shakespeare Festival was started in the Inner Harbour by Clayton Jevne,” says GVSS Artistic Director and local playwright Karen Lee Pickett—an MFA alumna of the Department of Writing. (Jevne himself was both an alumni and former instructor with the Department of Theatre.) “And after Clayton moved on, a couple of members wanted to keep it going so they formed the non-profit Greater Victoria Shakespeare Society and eventually found this home at Camosun College—and now it’s our tenth year at Camosun.”

This year’s outdoor productions include A Midsummer Night’s Dream—directed by Bard on the Beach’s Christopher Weddell—and Romeo & Juliet, directed by Phoenix alumna Britt Small, of Ride the Cyclone! and Atomic Vaudeville fame.

“Being the 25th anniversary, it’s good to have two plays with a broad appeal,” says Pickett, who was hired as festival producer back in 2011 and is now in her second year as Artistic Director/Producer. “The last time we did Dream was our first year at Camosun.”

The triple Phoenix alumni Dream, starring Trevor Hinton (Oberon), Sarah Jane Pelzer (Titania) & directed by Britt Small (photo: David Bukach)

The triple Phoenix alumni Dream, starring Trevor Hinton (Oberon), Sarah Jane Pelzer (Titania) & directed by Britt Small (photo: David Bukach)

This year’s productions, running in repertory from July 8 to August 8 on the grounds of Camosun College—include Phoenix alum Trevor Hinton, Sarah Jane Pelzer, Cam Culham, Michelle Morris and Taylor Lewis, plus stage managers Rebecca Marchand and Delaney Tesch. And School of Music instructor Colleen Eccleston’s son Kiaran McMillan will be playing Romeo, as well as Lysander in Dream.

Pickett, who recently performed her own one-woman show Slick at Intrepid Theatre’s Uno Festival in May 2015,, admits her current gig is nominally a year-round position, despite being a summer festival. “It’s a lot for one person,” she says with a bit of a tired laugh. “My big push last year was to concentrate on the artistic quality of the productions. We have a great history of including a lot of students and community actors—which is an important part of our mandate—but I want to make the shows the best that we can make them.”

Phoenix alumna Sarah Jane Pelzer as Juliet with Kiaran McMillan as Romeo (photo: David Bukach)

Phoenix alumna Sarah Jane Pelzer as Juliet with Kiaran McMillan as Romeo (photo: David Bukach)

As a playwright and actor herself, does being an artistic director help her own creative activity? “It’s challenging, especially with a small but growing organization, but I always feel grateful that I work in the arts; I don’t pull down any other jobs. That said, my hours are ‘when I’m awake.’ But living an artistic life means doing a lot of different things.”

Looking to the future, Pickett sees great opportunities for growth in the festival. “I really want to bring our young actors up through the ranks, so they have the opportunity to work with more established actors,” she says. “And I would like to expand our education program, so we can include more youth.”

The Greater Victoria Shakespeare Festival runs July 8 to August 8 at Camosun College. Tickets run from $19 to $24, or you can get a festival pass for $33 to $42.

From Manila to Broadway

Like many MFA students in the Department of Theatre, director Chari Arespacochaga came to UVic already armed with a strong resume and extensive experience in theatre. A native of the Philippines, Arespacochaga directed professionally in Manila for many years, casting big foreign stars, and touring shows across Asia. Her resume is teeming with major productions of Broadway’s best and most popular musicals including Spring Awakening, Legally Blonde, Avenue Q, The Little Mermaid, Aladdin and Rock of Ages.

Directing MFA Chari Arespacochaga (photo: Adrienne Holierhoek)

Directing MFA Chari Arespacochaga (photo: Adrienne Holierhoek)

So why leave a successful career to travel across North America and return to school? “I didn’t want to rest on my laurels in Manila. Doing my MFA meant starting fresh in a new community so that I could improve myself and my craft,” says Arespacochaga. “When I was researching different programs, I noticed that UVic’s directing MFA was not only very successful, but very competitive—only one person is admitted each year. I thought it would be very challenging and I would be able to focus completely on exploring plays and directing work within a department that has the resources and support to make my ideas a reality on stage.”

Arespacochaga was also looking forward to working in the department’s extraordinary facilities and mentoring with the diverse faculty. “I loved that there were three different spaces in which I could explore staging possibilities in,” she says. “And the faculty has a great diversity of experiences and approaches to creating theatre. I thought this would be beneficial to expanding my ideas and directing process.“

A scene from Phoenix Theatre's Amadeus (photo: David Lowes)

A scene from Phoenix Theatre’s Amadeus (photo: David Lowes)

While musicals have a special place in Arespacochaga’s heart, for her MFA thesis production she decided to explore music within a more classical-style play and chose Amadeus, Peter Shaffer’s Tony Award-winning fictional play (later a Oscar-winning film) about Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and his rivalry with Antonio Salieri.

“I was taken by the poetry in Shaffer’s writing and believed that the questions this play asks about the nature of art were very important. What is our accountability to our talent? Is it a gift from a God, or can it be developed? How far would you go to achieve success?” she says. “These are fascinating ideas to explore in school where people are trying to become artists.”

Amadeus director Chari Arespacochaga interviewed on CTV VI

Amadeus director Chari Arespacochaga interviewed on CTV VI

Staged in March as part of the Phoenix Theatre’s mainstage series, Amadeus was called “bold and ambitious,” garnering a 4.5/5-star Times Colonist review and a nearly sold-out run. Directing a cast of 16 student actors, Arespacochaga was also able to work with a majority-professional creative team, including professor Allan Stichbury, retired Stratford lighting designer Michael Whitfield, sound designer Brian Linds, choreographer Jacques Lemay and award-winning student costume designer Pauline Stynes.

Returning to school has also opened up Chari’s perspective on theatre. “I love a good musical, but there are so many other genres of theatre that you might not get to do in a commercial environment—so many ways to do theatre, and so many scripts to create theatre with. There’s always something to be excited about, always something to explore.”

Chair CUFor Arespacochaga, coming to Victoria was a stepping-stone to bigger and better things. “As a director, it’s important to venture into bigger theatrical centers and to keep discovering new ways of creating and approaching theatre.  I left Manila to broaden the spheres that I create theatre in,” she says. “What’s next?” she laughs. “I am keeping my bags packed and then I will disappear into Vancouver or Toronto or New York or London or wherever the work takes me . . . and emerge with a Tony Award.”

—Adrienne Holierhoek

This article originally ran in the June 2015 issue of UVic’s Ring newspaper

Designing Prague

When it comes to stage design, the Prague Quadrennial is as good as it gets—and this year, a pair of Theatre alumni will help represent Canada. “It’s the Venice Biennalie of stage design,” says Department of Theatre professor Allan Stichbury. “It’s the top in terms of recognizing stage design in the world.”

The nominated design for the Belfry Theatre production of The Turn of the Screw

The nominated design for the Belfry Theatre production of The Turn of the Screw

With top stage designers from 80 countries, the Prague Quadrennial is the biggest theatre exhibition in the world. Canada will be represented by six different submissions at the June 18-28 event, selected from 33 entries by the three-person jury—which included Stichbury. Among those entries was the Belfry Theatre’s 2008 production of Turn of the Screw, which featured the design work of Phoenix alumni Patrick DuWors (set & lighting) and Erin MacKlem (costumes), plus frequent Phoenix contributor Brian Lynds (sound).

Much like any major international competition, the Canadian teams will be competing for gold, silver or bronze awards. Stichbury—who, along with Theatre professor Mary Kerr, has exhibited at the Prague Quadrennial before—will also be taking 13 current Phoenix students to the event.

Allan Stichbury

Allan Stichbury

“Our students have exhibited in the student exhibition since 1995—and they will again this year—but it’s not the same as being juried into the competition,” he notes. “But it’s still an amazing opportunity. The attendance is supposed to be about 80,000 people—and a huge percentage of that will be students, so our students get to meet colleagues from all over the world.”

As for the competition itself, Stichbury said the jury was obviously impressed by the stunning Belfry design by DuWors and Macklem. “It really met the criteria of inserting itself into the heart of the production—not just paying it lip service or commenting on it.”

Macklem, who graduated with a BFA in 1998, has been the Artistic Associate & Outreach Coordinator at the Belfry for nine years now and is “thrilled” at being selected. “The event itself is so inspiring—it gives you a sense of the national identity of the aesthetic of different places, and how the approaches to scenography vary according to geography.”

A stylish Erin Macklem

A stylish Erin Macklem

While she has attended the Quadrennial in the past (in fact, her Turn of the Screw design was inspired by a Latvian entry she saw there), Macklem won’t be going this year due to family and production commitments. “I told Patrick that we’ll just have to work together on something exciting in the future so we get invited again,” she laughs.

Regarding the acclaimed design for Turn of the Screw, Macklem credits fellow Phoenix grad DuWors with the initial concept. “Patrick really took the lead on it with the idea of it being all black and white with a crazy modern red staircase,” she recalls.

“When I heard that he wanted a contemporary take on the Gothic period, I realized I wanted the costumes to key into the script and be true to period, so we didn’t go too far afield. The pieces themselves were very much from the period but they all had a satin contrast fabric sewn onto them so it would outline them and catch the lights in a certain way—the floor was also very high gloss, so we tried to incorporate the idea of light playing off the darkness.”

Patrick DuWors (photo: Jae Kyun Im)

Patrick DuWors (photo: Jae Kyun Im)

The very fact that the Belfry was mounting a Henry James piece originally written in 1898 also made the production memorable for her. “The Belfry specializes in contemporary shows, so doing a Henry James piece was weird and outside of the mandate, even though it was a modern adaptation of the script,” she says. “To approach it with a very contemporary eye to the design made it feel like it was more a part of the world the Belfry’s audience was accustomed to. People still say, ‘what was that one with the crazy red staircase?’ It’s fun that it left that much of an impression on people’s imagination.”

Macklem is also quick to credit her UVic training for her current success. “I had a great experience with the design department,” she says, citing Mary Kerr, past instructor Debra Hansen and Stichbury himself. “Allan is very much a director’s designer, which put me in good standing and helped me understand how bodies move through space, how you really need to analyze a play’s text to understand the traffic patterns—what the positions of power are and how to optimize those in the design.”

She also notes how the variety of design experience at UVic better prepared her for future employment. “I did more set design in school but there were more opportunities in costume design out of school, so I switched to that,” she explains. “But I had the advantage of both Mary Kerr and Debra Hansen alternating in the teaching position, so it was great to have different perspectives from different teachers.”

Macklem's design work for Eleemosynary at the Phoenix

Macklem’s design work for Eleemosynary at the Phoenix

When asked for a standout production from her student years, Macklem points to the 1997 Phoenix show Eleemosynary. “It was all-student design, and we were all undergrads, which was quite rare,” she explains. “It was really quite a utopian experience—we were all on the same page—and that really came though in the design. It showed all of us how you can transform a theatre, take the set off the stage and into the audience and how much that can change things.”

Stichbury notes that it’s the Department of Theatre’s unique hands-on approach that makes it outstanding in a crowded university field. “Unlike many Canadian universities, our students actually get to design something and put it on a stage,” he explains. “At the undergrad level, most universities have faculty members exclusively designing, but we allow our best undergraduates to do it—so when they get out into the profession they’re much more capable of stepping up at an earlier date than many others. They learn by doing—don’t get me wrong: learning by theory is great, but you also have to practice. Our students get more opportunity to do that on a significant scale than most do.”

PQUltimately, Stichbury already sees both Turn of the Screw and UVic as winners in this year’s Prague Quadrennial. “It’s fantastic that UVic is represented in at least one of the six shows,” he says. “It’s already a big victory, because there’s a lot of pretty amazing stuff out there across Canada.”