Visual Impetus returns

How do arts and visual culture affect surrounding location and communities? That’s the question being asked at the 18th annual Visual Impetus Symposium. Organized by the graduate students of the Department of Art History & Visual Studies, this annual conference provides a venue for graduate students in Art History and related fields to present their research to fellow students, faculty and the greater community. Visual Impetus is open to graduate students at any university, and offers participants the ability to gain experience as presenters and receive the critical feedback that is so valuable to their research.

Participants at 2013's Visual Impetus

Participants at 2013’s Visual Impetus

Visual Impetus XVIII will be held January 23 & 24 in room 103 of the Fine Arts Building. It opens at 4pm Friday, January 23, with opening remarks by Acting Dean of Fine Arts Dr. Lynne Van Luven, followed by the introduction of the first panel (Technology & Arts: Engineering the Future) by Art History grad student Regan Shrumm, with a charcuterie-and-cheese reception following at 6:40pm. On Saturday, January 24, sessions start at 9am and will end at 2:30pm and feature four more panels (Craft Communities: Rituals & Collective Memories; Devotion & Violence in Sacred Spaces; Identity in Space & Communities; Imagery Symbolism: Status & Legitimacy in Art).

You can read the full schedule of events and presenters here.

Not a real Cowichan Sweater, but the Olympic-branded knock-off

Not a real Cowichan Sweater, but the Olympic-branded knock-off

“The committee tried to feature an interdisciplinary symposium featuring UVic students, so this year’s presentations are on diverse topics, including on textiles of Oak Bay’s St. Mary the Virgin Anglican Church, understanding aerial images in historic cities and Jewish iconoclasm,” says organizer Regan Shrumm. “Along with nine Art History and Visual Studies graduate students, we also have presenters from Visual Arts, the School of Music, the Department of Theatre and UVic’s English department. Graduate students from as far away as Riverside, California, and Kingston, Ontario, will also be traveling to present.”

For her part, Shrumm will be presenting the paper, “Knitting for Our Lives: The Appropriation of the Cowichan Sweaters by the Hudson’s Bay Company during the 2010 Vancouver Olympics,” on Friday.

A scene from the recent Applied Theatre field school in India (photo: Laura Buchan)

A scene from the recent Applied Theatre field school in India (photo: Laura Buchan)

This year’s Visual Impetus keynote speaker will be Matthew Gusul, PhD candidate in the Department of Theatre. His 1pm Saturday  presentation will offer a survey of his recent Indian Field School, which created India’s first intergenerational theatre company.

The department’s graduate students and the Symposium Committee are also honouring Art History professors Dr. Anthony Welch and Dr. Christopher Thomas, for their long service with the department.

VI-XVIII_2015-x508The subject matter of the presentations delivered at Visual Impetus reflects the department’s dedication to a global art history. Students engage with a wide array of culturally diverse mediums, including architecture, painting, digital media and the ephemeral arts. Presenters from past symposiums have addressed topics ranging from medieval Persian illuminated manuscripts and contemporary First Nation textiles to Baroque Italian chapels. Due to the diverse nature of the topics discussed, students employ a multitude of theoretical approaches to augment their analyses.

Visual Impetus is free and open to the public. It is supported by the generosity of the Department of Art History & Visual Studies, the Dean of the Faculty of Fine Arts, and the University of Victoria Graduate Student Society.

Hope & joy created by Applied Theatre field school

People who have mostly known only poverty and suffering have now found new hope, a sense of joy and a stronger community thanks to a recent University of Victoria Applied Theatre field school in India.

In a scene written by Vadevil, Jayamma and he speak with the Isha students while trying to find food and water (photo: Laura Buchan)

In a scene written by Vadevil, Jayamma and he speak with the Isha students
while trying to find food and water (photo: Laura Buchan)

Led by PhD candidate Matthew Gusul, 13 Department of Theatre undergraduate students traveled to India’s Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry regions to participate in the field school throughout October and November 2014. 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, his students and a team of Indian directors encouraged these seniors and rural youth to perform their own stories, develop strong community relations and create new lines of dialogue across generations.

We first wrote about Gusul’s Intergenerational Theatre for Development plans back in October 2014 while he was planning the field school. “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,” Gusul said at the time. And it sounds like that’s exactly how it came together.

Culture from the inside out

UVic Student Kathleen O'Reilly reads to Isha School Children (photo: Nikki Bell)

UVic Student Kathleen O’Reilly reads to Isha School Children (photo: Nikki Bell)

“Everyone had a wonderfully dynamic and very emotional experience,” says Gusul. Upon arriving, the undergraduates started familiarizing themselves with India and teaching English and basic theatrical exercises at the Isha school, while Gusul himself instructed the UVic students on neo-colonialism and its legacy in India. “The school is filled with first-generation learners—which, in India, means they are the first member of their family to ever attend any school—and of the 15 students who became part of the theatre company, only two of them had parents who could read or write,” he says. “One of our students used the phrase, ‘Getting to know culture from the inside out,’ which is precisely what we did.”

With participants ranging in age from nine to 90, Gusul and his students worked to develop a sense of intergenerational playfulness, as well as train three Indian directors in their unique facilitation style. “We didn’t want to overload anyone with a lot of information,” Gusul explains. “Playfulness and storytelling is how this style of theatre should work. When you introduce the young & the old, natural playfulness will happen; that’s the beginning point of rehearsal, then you transfer that over to story-sharing, and use those stories to create performance.”

Something old, something new

The final performance at TEV (photo: Aisling Kennedy)

The final performance at TEV (photo: Aisling Kennedy)

The field school culminated on November 27 with intergenerational theatrical performances at both TEV and the Isha school—a totally new kind of theatre in India, which Gusul makes clear would never have happened without the presence of the field school. “The first time they even started thinking about this was back in 2013 when I first went to this community,” he says. Yet despite the vast cultural distances between the instructors and participants, and the age difference between the performers themselves, the final performances—rooted in the personal experiences of the children and elders—was, as Gusul put it, “a triumph.”

“To create a piece of theatre from something that was spontaneously told to something put on for an audience in just three weeks was truly remarkable,” he says. “They really stepped up to the plate. When it came time to shine, they shone.”

Gus and his newly adopted Indian Grandmother Jayamma (photo: Blair Moro)

Gus and his newly adopted Indian Grandmother Jayamma (photo: Blair Moro)

Gusul was particularly moved by one participating elder named Jayama, who shared her own story: traded for a piece of farmland as a dowry, Jayama and her husband worked the land for years until he died, then all three of her sons turned to alcohol and abuse, which is how she ended up in abandoned in the elders’ village. Even worse, the last of her sons died from alcoholism only days before the final performance, with Gusul himself driving her to the funeral.

Yet despite all that, Jayama insisted on performing. “She told me that she was really sad to have lost her son, but felt fortunate to be in the elders’ village as she had gained so many adopted sons—including the village manger and myself—and would never want to do anything to disappoint us. She said she still wanted do the performance, because it was so important to her,” he recounts. “This speaks directly to the power of what theatre can offer someone: how important it was for her to tell her story, and how important it was for us as a global community to listen. When you want to talk about the absolutely most under-privileged person in the world, it would be from someone in her position: she’s 80 years old, can’t read or write, and had been abused and abandoned by her sons. ”

Making a better world

Dr Warwick Dobson addresses participants at the Isha School  (photo: Blair Moro)

Dr Warwick Dobson addresses participants at the Isha School (photo: Blair Moro)

Gusul’s PhD advisor, Theatre professor Dr. Warwick Dobson, joined the field school towards the end of the process, and praised his efforts of all the participants. “The relationships they formed with the elders and students from the different locations were exceptionally strong, and this speaks volumes for their commitment and dedication to the whole Intergenerational Theatre project,” he says. “The final performances were truly magical events. What has been particularly impressive about the whole initiative is that Matthew took great care to involve two Indian directors from Pondicherry University in the devising process.”

Even though the UVic students have now returned, the success of Gusul’s project has ensured it will continue. One of the Pondicherry directors will continue working with the company from January to June 2015, with three more intergenerational theatre companies to be formed in other parts of India over the next 12 months thanks to the support of the HelpAge India NGO, who have supported this initiative from the beginning. “It has been a truly transformative experience for all of us who were fortunate enough to be a part of it,” says Dobson.

UVic students, Nikki Bell, Aisling Kennedy, &  Katelyn Clark, create a 'Happy Machine' with Jayamma & boys from the AIM for SEVA Cuddalore Boys home (photo: Laura Buchan)

UVic students, Nikki Bell, Aisling Kennedy, & Katelyn Clark, create a ‘Happy Machine’ with Jayamma & boys from the AIM for SEVA Cuddalore Boys home (photo: Laura Buchan)

Gusul himself will return to India in June, but sees success as more than just the field school’s imapct. “The Tamaraikulam Elders’ Village is a beacon of hope for elders everywhere in the world,” he says. “It’s filled with people who were poverty-stricken beggars, dayworkers and farmers their entire lives . . . but they aren’t given money, just food, clothes, a roof over their heads and a place to pray and do recreational activities. If you’re an abused elder in Peru, in Africa or here in Canada, it’s inspiring that such a place does exist and is actually making a difference in people’s lives. If it can happen there, it can happen anywhere. It’s more than just a pie-in-the-sky ideal, it’s proof that a better world is possible.”

Gusul praises both UVic and the Department of Theatre’s Applied Theatre specialization—for allowing him to further develop his research into intergenerational theatre. “This is a highly unique project,” he says. “Intergenerational theatre only exists in a few pockets in the Western Theatre world, and this has been the first attempt to spread this methodology to another culture in another country. It is often assumed that people who are in poverty or are very undereducated would struggle to articulate their thoughts, feelings and stories if they were given a platform to have a voice. But this project—and specifically the methodology of intergenerational theatre with the connection to intergenerational playfulness—has shown it is possible for impoverished, undereducated elders and youth to have a voice.”

UVic student Chelsea Graham & TEV elder Srinavisan enjoy their time at the Isha School (photo: Aisling Kennedy)

UVic student Chelsea Graham & TEV elder Srinavisan enjoy their time at the Isha School (photo: Aisling Kennedy)

Ultimately, it’s Jayama’s story that Gusul holds closest to his heart, knowing the difference Applied Theatre has made in her life. “I’m really happy that for one single night, we could take one of these elders and help her become a storyteller for her community, he says. “She can tell her story of going through poverty and oppression her whole life, and can now proudly stand up in this village and declare her story. It’s wonderful.”

—This piece originally ran in the January 2105 issue of UVic’s Ring newspaper. Matthew Gusul will also be the keynote speaker at the 18th annual Visual Impetus Graduate Student Research Symposium in the Department of Art History & Visual Studies, running January 23 & 24 in Fine Arts 103.

 

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. His hunt for JM’s identity also earned Milwright a spot on UVic’s own Top 10 News Stories for 2014. 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.