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!

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.

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!

 

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.

The colour of love

We all know the colour of money and the colour of jealousy, but leave it to acclaimed Department of Theatre design professor Mary Kerr to bring us the colour of love.

If you're in Toronto, don't miss Bella

If you’re in Toronto, don’t miss Bella

Kerr’s new play, Bella: The Colour of Love, debuts at the Toronto Centre for the Performing Arts’ Greenwin Theatre on October 15. Better still, the run is over 85% sold out, with two extra performances added already.

Inspired by the life of Bella Chagall—the writer, actress, scholar and revolutionary who was also the great love and creative muse for her famous husband—Bella is an intricate poetic look at the nature of love and creativity told through words and song, against the backdrop of Marc Chagall‘s colourful paintings. Written by Kerr and Theresa Tova, who also stars in the production, Kerr also (not surprisingly) did the production design for both this and the original 2011 cabaret, commissioned by the Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts.

But the origins of Bella actually go back more than 30 years earlier, when a mutual Interest in Chagall led Kerr and choreographer Danny Grossman to create the show’s first incarnation in 1976. Danced to the music of Puccini on a painted horse in a bower of lilacs, this early Bella was described as “a satisfying, haunting and poetic observation about love and death.”

A scene from the original production of Bella

A scene from the original production of Bella

After standing ovations and four sold-out houses in 2011, Kerr and her artistic team began taking the production to its next stage. When approached to present a 30-minute segment at the Art Gallery of Ontario in conjunction with their 2011 exhibit Chagall and the Russian Avant-Garde, choreographer Grossman was asked to come back on board (and he’s still the choreographer of this latest version of the show, also featuring music composed and performed by Matt Herskowitz). An expanded one-hour version then played at the Singer Festival in Warsaw Poland and the full two-act production appeared at Halifax’s Dalhousie University in fall 2013. This current Toronto production, however, offers a revamped theatrical run, complete with new paintings, costumes and musical numbers.

MaryKerr-NatPost-14Oct14As Tova tells the National Post in this article, she and Kerr “researched the life of this ‘unrealized artist’ in part to tell ‘the story of women, especially at that time, when Jews were not allowed to go to university’.” You can also read more about Bella in this piece from the Canadian Jewish News. This also marks the second play written by lifelong friends Kerr and Tova, following the success of their Holocaust musical Still the Night.

In the last decade of her life, Bella Chagall—born Berta Rosenfeld (1889-1944)—wrote a series of memory stories in Yiddish, the poetic and visually rich language of her youth. Chagall said of her writing: “She wrote as she lived, as she loved, as she greeted her friends. Her words and phrases were a wash of colour over the canvas.” These two published collections are the parallel poetic stories to Chagall’s paintings and drawings; together they constitute what we believe to be an intricate poetic dance between two friends about the nature of love and creativity.

A good sign: Bella in Toronto

A good sign: Bella in Toronto

“We feel their love—steeped in Hasidic traditions and imagery of 1909, their time in revolutionary Moscow, their life in Paris, escape to America and her subsequent death there—to be a back drop to the real story: a poetic discussion of what it is to be creative artists in the 20th century,” writes Kerr about the show. “Bella was a brilliant scholar, a privileged modern woman who went to university and also studied acting. The idea that she studied with Stanislavsky in Moscow while he studied design with Leon Bakst in St Petersburg, place these two young people at the epicenter of creative constructivism and cubism in the early years of the century.”

(Interesting side-note: Kerr was originally introduced to Chagall when her painting teacher accused her of copying his style in the first oil painting she ever made. She was mortified, but went on to write her thesis on Chagall and his Hasidic influences.)

Mary Kerr in her office at UVic

Mary Kerr in her office at UVic

Kerr has forged a celebrated career as a production designer in Canadian and
International theatre, dance, opera, feature film, television, exhibition and special events design. Her stage design has been described as“ kinetic sculpture on stage” and is characterized by experimentation with architectural concepts, scale, imaginative materials and colours, nonrealism and often satiric cultural commentary on the human condition through her unique sets and costumes.

She has created for the Canadian Opera Company, The Vancouver Opera, The Banff Opera of the Twentieth Century, Pacific Opera Victoria and The New Zealand Opera. In
1994, Kerr designed the internationally televised Opening and Closing Ceremonies of the Commonwealth Games in Victoria. For Expo 86 she designed the First Theatre and
production in the Canadian Pavilion.

Mary Kerr, illustration of a costume designed for Copper Thunderbird (Legacy Gallery)

Mary Kerr, illustration of a costume designed for Copper Thunderbird (Legacy Gallery)

Among her dance commissions are productions for the Paris Opera Ballet, NYC Dance Umbrella, The Royal Winnipeg Ballet, The National Ballet of Canada, The Florida Ballet and 28 pieces for The Danny Grossman Dance Theatre Company in Toronto, New York
and Europe. In 2008, she was the subject of Copper Thunderbird at UVic’s Legacy Gallery, a groundbreaking exhibit which paired Ms. Kerr’s costume plates, model, built costumes, process photographs and nationally broadcast video of the production with Norval Morrisseauʼs (Copper Thunderbird) paintings.

Named a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada in 2010, Kerr is the only scenographer to be so elected. A member the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts, her work is housed in many collections including The Mary Kerr Collection at the Metro Toronto Library and The
Paris Opera Archival Museum. She was nominated for British Columbia Distinguished Academic of the Year Award in both 2003 and 2004.

Mary Kerr's bold design for Eurydice at the Phoenix in 2012 (photo: David Lowes)

Mary Kerr’s bold design for Eurydice at the Phoenix in 2012 (photo: David Lowes)

Kerr is also one of 10 Canadian designers judged to be included in the 2012 publication World Scenography: 1975-1990, as well a featured designer in the first published book on Canadian stage design Scenography in Canada (2004). A Bravo Fact Film Mary Kerr: the Creative Process has been shown at the Museum of Modern Art in NYC and she is profiled in the 2008 Banff Centre publication Inspiring Creativity: 75 Years of Creation at the Banff Centre.

Kerr has taught at tUVic’s Theatre department since 1998, teaching general, directed and graduate studies in the aesthetics, design, history of scenography and culture, costume design and costume history. She continues to create bold designs for the Phoenix stage.

 

Is that meant to be funny?

If you think there’s nothing funny about censorship, Mark Leiren-Young would like to change your mind. A prolific freelance journalist, screenwriter, playwright, memoirist and award-winning author, Leiren-Young is this year’s Harvey Stevenson Southam Lecturer in Journalism and Nonfiction for the Department of Writing. And while his current Writing course Finding the Funny focuses on humour writing, his upcoming public lecture will examine the fine line between comedy and censorship.
Mark Leiren-Young is the latest Southam Lecturer

Mark Leiren-Young is the latest Southam Lecturer

“I’m fascinated by the question of, ‘Where’s the line?’,” says Leiren-Young. “What can you make fun of? What can’t you make fun of? What’s taboo? How soon is too soon?” By way of example, Leiren-Young looks east to Toronto’s frequently lampooned mayor. “Rob Ford and his tumor—too soon for jokes?”

As the author of the 2009 Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour-winning memoir Never Shoot A Stampede Queen: A Rookie Reporter in the Cariboo and one-half of the long-running satirical comedy duo Local Anxiety, Leiren-Young well knows the fine art of funny. A graduate of both UVic’s Writing and Theatre departments, he is also the first UVic alumnus to hold the Southam position.

His October 15 annual Southam public lecture You Can’t Say That!? Comedy, Censorship and Sensitivity in the 21st Century will draw not only on his own experiences as a journalist and performer but also on examples from popular culture to illustrate how the line between comedy and censorship keeps shifting.

“Think about the first time you ever saw South Park,” he says. “We all said, ‘Oh my god, you can’t say that on television!’ And that’s one of the thing I’ve told my class—you can critique anything you want, just don’t tell me it’s not funny. It’s okay to say you’re offended by it, but I’m not talking about anything that people haven’t laughed at.”

After writing three plays about censorship and spending the past 25 years on the Freedom to Read organiztion’s free expression committee, it’s a topic that’s clearly close to Leiren-Young’s heart. “It gets at the heart of what we are ‘allowed’ to write, and why we write,” he says. “Riffing on what’s funny versus what’s offensive is going to make for a great conversation.”

Mark Leiren-YoungThe secret, he says, always lies in context: given our rapid-fire media messaging and instantaneous technology, it’s all too easy for a joke to cross the line. “These 10-second Youtube clips that are killing careers now—all too often they’re taken totally out of context. It’s one thing to be funny in a comedy club, but play that same joke on the evening news…”

As the eighth Southam Lecturer for the Writing department, Leiren-Young follows in the footsteps of the likes of CBC Radio’s Jo-Ann Roberts, author Richard Wagamaese and sports journalist Tom Hawthorn. And, given the topic, will his public lecture actually be funny?

“It better be,” he chuckes wryly,” or I’m already in deep trouble.”

You Can’t Say That!? Comedy, Censorship and Sensitivity in the 21st Century 7:00 pm Wednesday, Oct. 15 in room A240 of the Human & Social Development Building. Admission is free.

Alumni find love at the Phoenix

Most people come to UVic in pursuit of education. Two Phoenix alumni, however, found love and a life together in theatre

“It feels like coming full circle,” says alumna Kaitlin Williams (BFA’09).

Mack Gordon & Katlin Williams in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe

Mack Gordon & Katlin Williams in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe

Ten years ago, Williams met Mack Gordon (BFA ’08) when they were two fresh-faced first-year students in the Department of Theatre. Now married, they return to the stages of the Phoenix Theatre for our annual Spotlight on Alumni with The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, running October 9-18, 2014.

Update: due to popular demand, this show has now been held over, with two extra shows added—8pm Friday October 24 & 2pm Saturday October 25.

“Kaitlin and I are blessed to work together as often as we do,” says Gordon. In 2012, they were cast as Peter and Lucy in Pacific Theatre’s much-loved adaptation of the classic Narnia tale.

Read more about the pair in this Times Colonist interview. And you can read some of the reviews here, where the TC calls it “enjoyable”, “engaging” and “charming,” while CVV Magazine says “there is much to praise in this production.”

Written and published in 1950 by C.S. Lewis, this novel is the first and most well-known story in the Chronicles of Narnia series. Ron Reed, the Artistic Director of Pacific Theatre, adapted The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe for the stage, setting the play years later when Peter and Lucy are adults. Stopping off to tour their Uncle Digory’s house they find themselves returning to the same spare room where the old wardrobe sits and begin to recount all the adventures they had as children. Their imaginations take over: using only the furniture in the room and a few old coats from the wardrobe, they travel back to Narnia—bringing the audience along with them.

A seasonal favourite, Pacific Theatre has remounted this play many times to great acclaim since it first played in 1998. Over the past few years, Williams and Gordon have toured this show across the province sharing the clasic story with many BC communities, including stops at Kamloops’ Western Canada Theatre, West Vancouver’s Kay Meek Centre and, of course, the play’s home: Pacific Theatre. This presentation at the Phoenix Theatre brings the play to Vancouver Island for the first time.

Williams & Gordon in Barkerville

Williams & Gordon in Barkerville

Not many of us get to bring our spouses to work, but for Williams and Gordon, acting together makes their careers more rewarding. They keep an eye out for projects where they can perform together, whether it’s playing fiancés in the Jessie-winning production of The Foreigner or Mr. Jake and Nellie Webster, a gold miner and his wife at Barkerville Historic Town. “We joke that we are a 2-for-1 package,” laughs Williams.

Besides the built-in convenient carpool, working together makes a big difference on stage. “Sharing the stage with someone you already trust completely allows you to take risks that you might otherwise be apprehensive about,” says Gordon. “I sometimes feel akin to husbands and wives who work in the circus on the flying trapeze; our first safety net is always each other.”

Having their show selected as the Spotlight on Alumni presentation this year also means an opportunity to share post-graduating advice with current students. “Our comprehensive education helped get us involved in many areas of theatre, not just acting. The skills and connections we gained—whether backstage, studying marketing, working in the box office, or collaborating with community groups—have kept us working in theatre over the years,” says Williams.

Both actors have busy and multi-faceted careers that provide what they call their “patchwork pay cheque.” Gordon is an actor for theatre, film, and TV and also writes his own plays, works as a director—he recently assisted director Meg Roe (BFA ’04) at Bard on the Beach—and does simulation acting for training purposes. Williams has performed on stages around Vancouver and was also the Community Engagement Manager for Pacific Theatre, where she began right after university as an apprentice. She now finds acting takes up all her time.

Kaitlin Williams in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe

Kaitlin Williams in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe

For Williams especially, this show is close to her heart. As a 12-year old girl, she attended Pacific Theatre’s adaptation of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and watching the actors transform into the story’s various characters—from Mr. Tumnus and the Beaver, to the evil White Witch and the mighty lion Aslan—inspired her to become an actor herself. “Not only am I performing in this same play, but I get to perform with my husband at my side, at the school where we met, 10 years later! It feels like coming full circle—times 10!”

—Adrienne Holierhoek

If you’re planning to attend The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, take a look at our entire Phoenix season. For the regular ticket price of just two plays, you could attend all four plays by subscribing to the entire season for only $48. Or, choose just three plays for only $36.

Five for Fine Arts in GG list

When it comes to the really big awards, we always hope there will be at least one name on the list associated with our faculty—or, if we’re really lucky, sometimes even two. Colour us amazed then that this year’s list of the English-language finalists in the Governor General’s Literary Awards includes five people associated with the Faculty of Fine Arts: one Department of Writing faculty member, two former grad students, one Harvey Southam diploma grad plus one Theatre alum!

That’s five, count ‘em, five from Fine Arts out of 18 nominees in the Fiction/Poetry/Non-fiction/Drama categories of the Governor General’s Literary Awards, which are funded and administered by the Canada Council for the Arts.

GG finalist Bill Gaston  9photo Jen Steele)

GG finalist Bill Gaston
9photo Jen Steele)

Congratulations go out to Writing professor Bill Gaston (Fiction) for his new short story collection Juliet Was a Surprise; MFA alumni Garth Martens (Poetry) for his debut collection of poems Prologue for the Age of Consequence and Arleen Paré (Poetry) for her latest volume, Lake of Two Mountains; Harvey Southam grad Arno Kopecky (Non-fiction) for his timely investigation The Oil Man and the Sea: Navigating the Northern Gateway; and Department of Theatre alum Janet Munsil for her recently published play That Elusive Spark, which was mounted here at Phoenix Theatre in 2005.

“It was quite a surprise,” Martens told the local Times Colonist in this interview with the local nominees. “I was half asleep . . . I was really quite jubilant.” And you can click here to listen to an interview with local CBC’s On The Island.

The Governor General’s Literary Awards are Canada’s oldest and most prestigious literary awards program with a total value of $450,000. Each winner will receive $25,000. The publisher of each winning book will receive $3,000 to support promotional activities. Non-winning finalists each receive $1,000.

“This year’s list of finalists contains powerful novels and poems, imaginative children’s books, skillful translations, entrancing dramas and enlightening non-fiction,” says Canada Council Director and CEO, Simon Brault. “They are all meaningful books in which we can, as readers and Canadians, lose ourselves and find ourselves.”

His Excellency the Right Honourable David Johnston, Governor General of Canada, will present the 2014 GG Literary Awards at 6pm Wednesday, November 26 at Rideau Hall in Ottawa.

India field school spotlights intergenerational theatre

The buildings may have been repaired, but two key segments of the population in the southeastern coastal region of India are still struggling to overcome the effects of the 2006 tsunami: seniors and rural youth. Now, a new UVic field school hopes to bring a sense of joy to these marginalized people by creating India’s first intergenerational theatre company.

Matthew Gusul (centre) during a field trip to the region last year

Matthew Gusul (centre) during a field trip to the region last year

Led by PhD candidate Matthew Gusul, 13 Department of Theatre students will be traveling to Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry, India, to participate in the two-month field school. Gusul, an applied theatre practitioner who has done similar fieldwork in Mexico and Guatemala, has been working with the 80 people in Tamil Nadu’s Tamaraikulam Elders’ Village (TEV) for the past two years.

By positively highlighting the life experiences of TEV residents and the 750 young students of the Isha Vidhya Matriculation School—both of which were created after the 2006 tsunami to address issues of displacement and vulnerability—Gusul will work 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.

Matthew Gusl_India8_smMany of the seniors at TEV were alive at the time of India’s independence in 1947 and offer rare opportunities for living history. But the idea of meeting the needs of seniors is still relatively new in India; in 1947, life expectancy was about 42 years, while today it’s closer to 64.

“India has a new population they don’t know how to deal with—they don’t have old age pensions or facilities for seniors,” says Gusul. “And when disasters happen, seniors are the last in the pecking order of importance. Often seniors tend to get put off to the side in what are commonly referred to as ‘granny dumps.’”

Intergenerational Theatre for Development is one example of the kind of community-engaged research happening at UVic, where undergraduates have the opportunity to take dynamic hands-on learning experiences beyond the traditional classroom and into communities around the world.

Matthew Gusl_India4_sm“Our students are there to bear witness to the process of getting this company up and running and creating the first performance,” says Gusul. He is working with the NGO HelpAge India, which will act as the organizational home for the theatre company. Once Gusul and his students arrive, the company will begin rehearsing with intergenerational theatre techniques used by the GeriActors and Friends in Edmonton, and Roots and Branches in New York City. The first performance will be on November 27, 2014.

Matthew Gusl_India3_sm“I really want to look at how the community is affected by this process—the performance and process leading up to it should be absolutely wonderful, filled with fun and joy and laughter,” says Gusul. “We really use the idea of intergenerational playfulness. You see it on the bus all the time: a young person will sit next to an old person, and the first thing the old person does is make a joke, then they start laughing together. It’s the same with seniors and their grandchildren. That’s what the company works with.”

Following the field school, the company’s Indian directors—Pondicherry University’s Dr. Bala Pazani and Sugantha Lakshmi, along with Dean of Performing Arts Dr. K.A. Gunasekaran as Creative and Cultural Consultant—will take what they learned from UVic’s theatre artists and adapt the model to be culturally appropriate for India.“Even though we have this desire to help, there have been a lot of projects with the exact same motivations that have really gone awry,” says Gusul. “Often times theatre projects with NGOs and in development situations can almost become tools for teaching or message giving—and you can see that in India right now. But we view theatre as more of a process, more about the celebratory nature.”

Matthew Gusl_India2_smKey to the whole project is its ability to survive and grow after Gusul and his students return to UVic in December. “Part of what I’m trying to do is make sure we’re as little involved as possible with the actual theatre work,” he says. “We’re there to support the idea getting generated and going; then it’s about the India community taking it on. Ultimately, it’s up to them—I can’t be too much of a cook in their kitchen.”

While Gusul notes success can be difficult to measure when it comes to theatre for development (“it’s a struggle for our entire discipline,” he admits), he’ll know the field school will have done well by the smiles on the participants faces. “The most important thing is to have one of the best days TEV has ever had, where the entire community is laughing and sharing a generational experience.”