Writing alumni news

Fall is the season for new book launches, and there are a few on the horizon for our busy Department of Writing alumni.

Ali Blythe

Ali Blythe

First up is Ali Blythe, who is launching their first book of poems, Twoism. Recently described as “a stunning debut” and named one of the top-10 hottest books coming out this fall by CBC books, Twoism was also praised by Quill & Quire in their fall preview for how it “questions the validity of gender binaries and bodily limits.” Blythe will be joined by at the launch reading by friends and fellow Writing alumni Garth Martens, Melanie Siebert and Anne-Marie Turza.

Don’t miss Blythe’s launch at 7:30pm Tuesday, September 15, in the Bard and Banker Pub’s Sam McGee room, 1022 Government. Hosted by Russell Books.

Arleen Paré

Arleen Paré

Hot on the heels of that comes the latest poetry collection from 2014 Governor General’s Award-winner Arleen Paré, whose latest volume is titled He Leaves His Face in the Funeral Car. Another collection of lyrical poems, but with a darker exploration than her GG winning Lake of Two Mountains, Paré’s Funeral Car is described as “elegiac, lyrical, ironic; a series of reflections, recollections; a collection about relationships—to family, clocks, water, trees, ungulates, endings—recognizing that not all relationships are straightforward.”

Join Paré for her launch at 7:30pm Tuesday, September 29, at Munro’s Books, 1108 Government—and be sure to congratulate her about Lake of Two Mountains being nominated for the 2015 City of Victoria Book Prize!

Frances Backhouse

Frances Backhouse

Another fall launch features the much-anticipated nonfiction book by MFA alumnus and current Writing instructor Frances Backhouse. Once They Were Hats: In Search of the Mighty Beaver examines humanity’s 15,000-year relationship with the beaver, and the beaver’s even older relationship with North American landscapes and ecosystems. Backhouse goes on a journey of discovery to find out what happened after we nearly wiped this essential animal off the map, and how we can learn to live with beavers now that they’re returning.

Don’t miss the launch, 7pm Thursday, October 8, at the Copper Owl, 1900 Douglas.

A scene from Connor Gaston's The Devout

A scene from Connor Gaston’s The Devout

Also debuting this fall is the debut feature film by Connor Gaston. The Devout will be making its world premiere nearly simultaneously at both the Vancouver International Film Festival and Korea’s renowned Busan International Film Festival (aka “the Cannes of Asia”). VIFF comes first on October 2 with Busan following less than 12 hours later on October 3. In Busan, The Devout was selected as one of 10 films in competition for the Busan Bank Award—the festival’s top international prize—and at VIFF it will be appearing in the Canadian Images program, as well as highlighted in the BC Spotlight competition.

Gaston wrote the screenplay for his Master’s thesis, and the story follows a Christian schoolteacher who has a profound crisis of faith after his terminally ill four-year old daughter claims to have had a past life. Obsessively seeking answers, he risks his marriage and his last remaining days with his child to determine is she has lived before, and if she will live again.

Journey Prize longlister K'ari Fisher

Journey Prize longlister K’ari Fisher

In other alumni news, congratulations go out to both alumni Eliza Robertson and Melanie Siebert (also a former Writing sessional instructor) for each winning $5,000 in the Writers’ Trust of Canada “Five x Five” program, sponsored by the RBC Emerging Artists Project. Impressive that two of the five winners both emerged from the Department of Writing! And we’re very excited to announce that former BFA and current MFA K’ari Fisher was named to this year’s Journey Prize longlist. Better still, her nominated story—“Mercy Beatrice Wrestles the Noose”—originally appeared in UVic’s very own The Malahat Review. Writing MFA alumna Yasuko Thanh was a Journey Prize winner in 2009.

Fine Arts at the Fringe Fest

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

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

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

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

Keara Barnes

Keara Barnes

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

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

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

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

Jeff Leard

Jeff Leard

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

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

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

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

Sam Mullins

Sam Mullins

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Andrew Wade

Andrew Wade

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

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

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

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

Fine Arts alumni fuel Shakespeare Festival

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

GVSS Artistic Director & Writing MFA Karen Lee Pickett

GVSS Artistic Director & Writing MFA Karen Lee Pickett

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Remembering former Writing chair David Godfrey

An award-winning author, a publishing visionary, a pioneer in on-campus computing and an early Writing department chair—David Godfrey was all this and so much more. The Department of Writing is saddened to announce the passing of this former professor at the age of 77.

David Godfrey, seen later in life at his Cowichan Valley vineyard

David Godfrey, seen later in life at his Cowichan Valley vineyard

The winner of the Governor General’s Award for English language fiction in 1970 for his novel The New Ancestors, Dave Godfrey was also the co-founder of iconic Canadian publisher House of Anansi, as well as the New Press and was the editor of Press Porcépic—which became the publishing house The Porcupine’s Quill. Chair of the Writing department from 1977 to 1982, Godfrey retired from the department in 1998 to operate the 60-acre Godfrey-Brownell Vineyards in the Cowichan Valley.

“I was an admirer of Dave Godfrey’s writing long before I joined him in the Department of Writing,” notes retired Writing professor Jack Hodgins. “His great novel The New Ancestors seemed to be opening up something new in Canadian fiction. That he had attended both the famous Iowa State and Stanford writing programs made him a valuable colleague in a writing program. I was impressed, too, that he had been one of those Ontario writers—like Matt Cohen and several others—who were creating a new Canadian literature for our generation. Somehow he made me feel welcome to join him in this enterprise.”

Born in Winnipeg, Godfrey was educated at Trinity College at the University of Toronto, Iowa State University and Stanford University, and taught English and music in Ghana for several years during the 1960s. Upon his return to Canada, he taught at U of T before arriving at UVic. As the Globe & Mail noted in this obituary, Godfrey’s time at what is now the Iowa Writers’ Workshop (where he earned an MFA in 1963 and a PhD in 1966) was foundational. “He was mentored by the novelist Hortense Calisher, taught by Malcolm Cowley, played tennis with Philip Roth, hung out with Larry McMurtry (Lonesome Dove) and Ken Kesey as Mr. Kesey worked up the manuscript for One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and made wine with Raymond Carver.”

Godfrey seen during  his time in the Writing department

Godfrey seen during his time in the Writing department

Current Writing professor Joan MacLeod had Godfrey as a professor when she was an undergrad in the Writing department back in the 1970s. “He had a strong reputation not only for his editorial skills but also his fiction. He co-taught the fiction workshop I was in, where I started a novel that eventually became my MFA thesis,” she recalls. “He was incredibly good to me and incredibly supportive. He made me feel like I had a voice.” Fast-forward 25 years to when MacLeod’s play The Shape of a Girl was playing at the Belfry Theatre. “He came down from his home up-island to attend the play. It was so great that he had kept up with me a little bit.”

Retired Writing professor Lorna Crozier remembers Godfrey as being “generous, sharp and excited about ideas and young people. He was a central figure in the Canadian renaissance, in our belief that our own stories have value. We need more of his kind now.” (Indeed, Godfrey is described as a “modern-day renaissance man” in this 2007 article from BC Business magazine about his vineyard—which also played host to the 2013 Rock of the Woods music festival.)

Farley Mowat (left) & Dave Godfrey at UVic in 1982 (photo: UVic Archives)

Farley Mowat (left) & Dave Godfrey at UVic in 1982 (photo: UVic Archives)

Dave Godfrey’s legacy lives on in the three publishing houses he helped create. House of Anansi Press was founded in 1967 by Godfrey and writer Dennis Lee as a small press with a mandate to publish Canadian writers. It quickly gained attention for publishing the likes of Margaret Atwood, Matt Cohen, Michael Ondaatje, Erín Moure, Roch Carrier, Marie-Claire Blais, Anne Hébert, George Grant and Northrop Frye. House of Anansi still thrives today, as does the New Press—which focuses on “books that promote and enrich public discussion and understanding of the issues vital to our democracy and to a more equitable world”—and The Porcupine’s Quill, an “artisanal publisher that values the art and craft of the book, both in content and in form.”

More than just a writer and editor, however, Godfrey was at the cutting edge of the cultural side of computer technology, arguing that decentralized data and computer communication were extremely important for art and literature. In 1979, he co-edited (with Douglas Parkhill), Gutenberg Two, focusing on the social and political meaning of computer technology, and co-wrote The Telidon Book (with Ernest Chang), about electronic publishing and video text. He also founded a software development company called Softwords—which eventually grew to a staff of 22 with annual sales of about $1 million.

“Dave helped hold the department together not long after its difficult birth,” recalls former departmental colleague Derk Wynand. “He also played a huge role in bringing us into the 20th—and perhaps 21st—century, with his expertise in computers and business.”

Godfrey working on the  telecommunications research Project Cue,   with Writing co-op students Rhonda Roy & Michael Quinlan. Project Cue promoted electronic communication using the CoSy conferencing system. (OVPR)

Godfrey working on the telecommunications research Project Cue, with Writing co-op students Rhonda Roy & Michael Quinlan. Project Cue promoted electronic communication using the CoSy conferencing system. (OVPR)

“He was ahead of his time,” agrees Crozier. “He was into computers at the start, before any of us dreamed of giving up our pens and booklets, and he insisted that the department get on board. He was also a proponent of the Co-op program because he was that rare thing—a businessman as well as a writer.”

Described by Wynand as “one of the pioneers of UVic’s Co-op Program,” retired Humanities, Fine Arts and Professional Writing Co-op coordinator Don Bailey recalls Godfrey as “the founding chair” of the Writing Co-op. “He was very committed to introducing students with a flair for writing—and some digital competencies—into careers in the communications, publishing, journalism and tech sectors. He was somewhat of a visionary in this regard.”

Godfrey's GG-winning novel The New Ancestors

Godfrey’s GG-winning novel

Noted author and Writing alumnus Richard Van Camp named Godfrey as one of the UVic Writing professors who led his “spiritual adventure” and “nurtured my hunger as a writer.” Together with the likes of Crozier, Hodgins, Patrick Lane, Marilyn Bowering, Bill Valgardson and Stephen Hume, Van Camp notes their collective “dedication to the structure and magic behind a story was contagious. It was at [UVic] that I learned about theme, that sacred thread that binds characters, intent and story together. I also learned about tone and I learned how to tighten dialogue to make it snap with energy. And I learned the hardest lesson of all: Writing is rewriting.”

One of Godfrey’s children, Rebecca Godfrey, is also an award-winning novelist (Torn Skirt) and non-fiction writer (Under the Bridge), as well as a professor of creative writing at Columbia University.

Posting on Godfrey’s Facebook page, ‪former student Judy Keeler recalls him as “a pioneer, a rebel, a genius who reinvented himself and fought for talent.” That’s pretty tough to beat when it comes to an epitaph for a lifelong writer, editor and educator like David Godfrey.

Her next chapter

There have been educators and scientists, conservationists and lawyers, visionaries and business leaders. Now we can add journalist to that laudatory list as beloved CBC Radio personality Shelagh Rogers begins her three-year term as the University of Victoria’s 11th Chancellor on June 8.

Click here to watch the live streaming ceremony of the installation of Shelagh Rogers as Chancellor.

Shelagh Rogers prepares for her purple reign (Photo Services)

Shelagh Rogers prepares for her purple reign (Photo Services)

“It’s a huge honour, I’m absolutely delighted,” says the characteristically humble host of The Next Chapter. “I must say, though, it came rather out of the blue. It just hadn’t occurred to me—this isn’t something you apply for—so I was hugely surprised when I got the call.”

While the idea of being a university chancellor may never have occurred to Rogers, she seems an ideal match for the university. Nationally respected for her nearly 35 years with the CBC and her role as Honorary Witness for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Rogers holds five honorary doctorates (Western, Mount Allison, Memorial, Nipissing and VIU) and was made an Officer of the Order of Canada in 2011. Heck, she’s even a West Coast island-dweller, having called Gabriola home for the past decade.

Likening the weeks leading up to her acceptance of the position as something of a “courtship period”—including meeting with both President Jamie Cassels and Board of Governor chairman Erich Mohr, familiarizing herself with UVic’s legacy of dynamic learning, interacting with students and touring the campus—Rogers says she quickly fell for our extraordinary academic environment. “Obviously, it’s very beautiful and I love the size, which is very attractive to students, faculty and staff; that’s a value that should be promoted and protected. But I’m just blown away by what UVic is doing to reach out to the community.”

Rogers hosting the Dept of Writing's Lorna Crozier Scholarship event in November 2013

Rogers hosting the Dept of Writing’s Lorna Crozier Scholarship event in November 2013

Rogers already feels a kinship with UVic’s vital impact on the city, the province, the nation and the world. “Community engagement is critical,” she insists. “A university is like a brain, and it’s vital for Victoria and Vancouver Island to have that interaction with UVic. There isn’t an elitist mentality here; there’s a nice flow between the community and the university. Decisions aren’t being made in small office in a large tower—it’s wide open. I see Jamie out on campus and he’s talking to people and anyone can talk to him. These are things that are really important; they represent the values of transparency and openness, and that’s a big part of why UVic rocks.”

no stranger to uvic

Rogers at the official announcement in 2014

Rogers at the official announcement in 2014

Nominated by the “dean team” of Drs. Sarah Blackstone and Lynne Van Luven (the Dean and Associate Dean of the Faculty of Fine Arts, respectively), Rogers was a clear choice to follow outgoing Chancellor Murray Farmer. “Shelagh has a deep commitment to higher education and to the Aboriginal reconciliation process,” says Van Luven. “She has the ability to ask the right questions and to tell the whole story so that others can understand complex and urgent issues and ideas. She will enhance the excellence of our university, and 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.”

Those sentiments are echoed by Jo-Ann Roberts, Rogers’ former CBC colleague. “Having a woman of her integrity, intelligence and natural curiosity [as Chancellor] speaks well of UVic,” says Roberts, who recently retired as host of CBC Radio’s All Points West to run as Victoria’s federal Green Party candidate, and was the Department of Writing’s visiting Harvey S. Southam Lecturer in Journalism and Nonfiction for 2013. “A lifelong learner herself, Shelagh is a champion of literacy and a proud Canadian with a passion for history, music and our Aboriginal history. She is also loved from coast to coast to coast for her genuine interest in the people who have shared their stories with her and whose home towns she has visited.”

promo-nextchapter-biggerFor her part, the 60-year-old Rogers will continue to host and co-produce The Next Chapter—her weekly showcase of books and ideas—from the backyard studio constructed by her husband, retired CBC technician Charlie Cheffins. As we talk, Cheffins sits next to us in a tearoom in Victoria’s historic Chinatown district, and Rogers often glances his way for supportive nods and encouraging smiles. (“I’m already calling him the Chancellor-in-Law,” she quips.) But when I mention the praise bestowed upon her, Rogers waves it away and instead shifts the spotlight to how her new role as Chancellor dovetails with her other longstanding role: being a witness.

“Witnessing is an active verb,” she explains. “And if you’re seriously committed to the retelling of what you’ve seen and heard, it’s not always comfortable.” Gesturing at the two pins gracing her lapel—one, the Order of Canada, the other representing her role as Honorary Witness at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission—Rogers’ voice takes on a serious tone. “The Order of Canada motto is ‘They desire a better country,’ and I do desire a better country, so I wear this button as a reminder. And this one”—she strokes a small strip of moosehide dangling from a silver shield—“reminds me of how important it is to be a witness, to recount and retell things you have seen and heard, to make sure the word gets out. It’s broadcasting, in a way.”

Rogers (second from right) at the Truth & Reconciliation Hearings

Rogers (second from right) at the Truth & Reconciliation Hearings

Rogers pauses and quotes an Ojibway elder who, on the eve of her testimony at the TRC hearings in Ottawa, told her to remember the words debwe win. “That means ‘speaking from the heart’ in Ojibway. And the word ‘witness’ itself is from in wit, which means ‘having a clean heart’ in Old English. The relationship with witness is very beautiful, how it all relates back to the heart. It’s not just hearing and seeing, but feeling too.”

“Just be Yourself”

Before accepting the position, Rogers made a point of speaking with former Chancellor Norma Mickelson—UVic’s first female Chancellor—who served from 1997 to 2002. “I was worried about how I could uphold the values of the university and support all the ways the university engages with the community and the students and respect all the relationships on campus and started thinking, ‘Wow, am I even qualified to do this?’ And Norma gave me a great piece of advice: ‘Just be yourself.’ She reminded me that I was asked for a reason, and talked about what joy the role had brought her. She really bulked up my muscles!”

"Just be yourself"—easy advice for Shelagh Rogers as UVic's next Chancellor

“Just be yourself”—easy advice for Shelagh Rogers as UVic’s next Chancellor

While her formal installation will coincide with her officiating at the Spring 2015 convocation on June 8, Rogers is already settling into her role on campus. “I feel incredibly stimulated—like my mind is always dancing—and that’s a very nice feeling,” she says. “This is a much broader discourse than what I do at the CBC. It’s going to be a huge stretch, but I feel I can go into the outside world and really talk about the UVic difference. And there really is a difference here. I want to get to know it as well and represent it to the best of my abilities.”

Torch_RogersNoting that list of former Chancellors—scientists and educators and lawyers (“Oh my!” she chuckles again)—Rogers takes a thoughtful pause. “I’m different. I’m a journalist, and that will help me trying to understand the whole UVic story. As a journalist, my training has been to get at the real meaning—the truth—and to create dialogue. That’s important to me.”

As the page turns on her own next chapter, it’s clear Shelagh Rogers will always speak from the heart as she witnesses UVic’s continuing development here on the edge of innovation.

A shorter version of this interview ran in the Spring 2015 issue of the Torch, UVic’s alumni magazine. Click on the link to read Shelagh Rogers’ top books list and an excerpt of her on-stage live interview with UVic alumnus and Flickr & Slack innovator Stewart Butterfield.

26 film award nominations for Writing alumni, faculty

Need proof of the impact of the Department of Writing‘s film production courses? Just look to the 2015 Leo Award nominations, where films by Writing faculty and alumni received a combined 26 nominations—a staggering number for a university that doesn’t technically have a film production program.

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

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

Clearly, the Writing department is punching above its weight when it comes to film futures, but this year’s list of nominees is no exception—as evidenced by past Leo nominations and the department’s 2011 win for  Best Web Series Award for Freshman’s Wharf.

What’s the secret to their success? “Film is just a development of the Writing department’s already well-known streams: fiction, poetry, creative non-fiction and drama,” says film professor Maureen Bradley. “I don’t know anywhere else in the country where this is happening. There are good student films being made, but they’re not being driven by faculty [led-courses].”

Students shooting Freshman's Wharf on campus

Students shooting Freshman’s Wharf on campus

Bradley has spent the past five years building up the technical equipment and supporting talent to create professional-looking 10-minute short student films. “Drama and film are really an applied form of learning,” she explains. “A screenplay and a play are not final products, and they’re always open to interpretation. Students need to see how hard it is to make a film, how to adjust the writing as the film is made, how to write with a budget in mind.”

With no other Vancouver Island college or university offering film production classes, Bradley feels UVic’s Writing department is uniquely situated to help fill a gap both locally and nationally. “I think we have the best [student] screenwriters in Canada here, and I have a lot of experience in the other centres,” she says. “This is a unique situation where the production comes through the writing first. I’ve seen beautiful films at student screenings across Canada, but the story is usually lacking—so it’s really exciting to see story and surface come together here. Why make a film if there’s no heart to it?”

This year’s Leo nominees with ties to the Writing department include:



• Alumnus Jason Bourque‘s feature film Blackfly leads the pack with nominations for 10 awards, including best motion picture, direction & screenwriting

• Professor Maureen Bradley‘s feature film Two 4 One (produced by Fine Arts Digital Media Technician Daniel Hogg) is nominated for six awards, also including best motion picture, direction & screenwriting—and costumes, which were created by Theatre grad Kat Jeffery

Gord's Brother

Gord’s Brother

• The short film Gord’s Brother—created by the busy alumni team of Daniel Hogg (producer), Jeremy Lutter (director) & Ben Rollo (writer)—received four nominations

• Alumni Kate Bateman & Matt Hamilton‘s web series The Actress Diaries received four nominations



• Recent MFA grad Connor Gaston‘s student film Godhead received 2 nominations

A project of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences Foundation of British Columbia since 1999, the Leo Awards are an annual celebration of excellence in BC’s film & television scene.

The awards will be presented over three evenings  in Vancouver, depending on program: June 6 at the Westin Bayshore and June 13 & 14 at the Hotel Vancouver.

Enter Vodka, exit Masters student

When it comes to their theses, UVic’s graduate students are always looking for something new. Recently, Master of Education student Mike Irvine became the first person to conduct an underwater webcast defence of his thesis. Now, Department of Writing MFA candidate and playwright Leah Callen will present a staged reading of her thesis—the surreal play Enter Vodka—followed by a public defence . . . in front of a live audience.

Dept of Writing MFA Leah Callen

Dept of Writing MFA Leah Callen

“Originally, I asked to do my defence under-vodka, but that was a no-go,” quips Callen. “I’m just grateful for the opportunity to have my play read by some lovely actors to an audience. A script doesn’t mean much unless it is heard out loud.”

Enter Vodka marries the personal histories of two dead Russians—Stalin’s daughter and the Romanov Princess Anastasia—both stuck at 17, and trapped inside a melting Fabrage egg. In Enter Vodka, nothing is as red or white as it seems. The 90-minute show begins at 8pm Sunday, April 26, at the Intrepid Theatre Club (1609 Blanshard, at Fisgard) with Callen’s thesis defence to follow. Admission is by donation.

The staged reading—directed by Melissa Taylor, featuring Kathleen O’Reilly & Julie Forrest, and designed by Kerri Flannigan & Colette Habel (all UVic students or alumni)—is part of Intrepid’s monthly New Play Reading Series and in support of the Equity in Theatre Initiative, which continues to celebrate the work of local women playwrights at all stages of their careers. “We are happy to be working with the UVic writing program on this project to bring new plays to life,” says Intrepid artistic director, playwright and celebrated Department of Theatre alumna Janet Munsil.

A scene from Callen's The Daughter of Turpentine

A scene from Callen’s The Daughter of Turpentine

Nervousness aside, Callen is looking forward to the opportunity of having her new play presented in public. “UVic’s Writing program is wonderful, but I felt pretty cloistered as a playwriting graduate student, typing away by myself for two years,” she says. “I’m both excited and terrified by the defence part—but if I can’t stand up to a little public scrutiny, what kind of a playwright am I? My characters have to go through the fire literally, so the least I can do is honour them figuratively with a little Q&A.”

The idea behind the public defence came from Callen’s MFA supervisor—award-winning playwright and Writing professor Kevin Kerr—who wanted her project to step off the page. “A stage play is meant to be seen in performance and, as a writer, it’s important to see the work handled by the other collaborating theatre artists who bring the work to life,” he explains. “The success of the thesis is not only on the page, but also in the way that it inspires other artists to create a living experience for an audience.”

Writing professor & playwright Kevin Kerr

Writing professor & playwright Kevin Kerr

Kerr feels this is an ideal opportunity to showcase the creative academic process. “It seemed to be an exciting way to handle this formal step in Leah’s academic journey,” he says. “It’s potentially an opportunity for an audience to get a first-hand encounter with what a Fine Arts graduate degree entails, and demonstrates the connection between the work done inside a university Fine Arts program and the professional practice the students are working towards.”

Both Kerr and Callen expect it to be more than just a standard theatrical talk-back session. “There will be a different level of stakes attached to the process, as the questions—and answers—are part of the final step for Leah to complete her MFA,” he says. “People witnessing the defence will also be able to contribute to that experience with questions of their own.”

Not that Kerr is out to add extra pressure to an already daunting experience. “Will it be nerve-wracking? Yes—but exciting as well,” he chuckles. “Leah is being supported by a team of artists who are invested in presenting the work to the best of their abilities. Their passion is already a vote of confidence in the candidate’s talent and ability, so Leah’s not alone in this experience.”

Callen—who spent the past two years studying with playwriting faculty Kerr and Joan MacLeod—had her first one-act play, The Daughter of Turpentine, produced by Phoenix Theatre’s SATCo in 2014. She has also reviewed theatre for local online magazines Coastal Spectator and CVV Magazine. A revamped version of Turpentine will reemerge as a full production at the Victoria Fringe Festival in August this year; directed by Phoenix Theatre’s Chase Hiebert, Callen promises it will “literally set the stage on fire.”

enter vodkaThe inspiration for Enter Vodka originally came from a poem she wrote about the Romanovs for Writing professor Tim Lilburn’s poetry workshop. “This story is inspired by the two real women, but it’s a metaphor for the places people visit when wounded, to escape or  revisit pain in ways that are as ritualistic as drinking tea, lighting candles or doing shots of vodka,” explains Callen, who cites the likes of Tennessee Williams, Tomson Highway, Sarah Ruhl, and Wajdi Mouawad as influences.

“Anastasia ordering Svetlana about could easily be modern-day Russia trying to drag Ukraine back home. I’m playing with the historical forces that have led to this moment in time, and in the end their holy kiss has explosive repercussions literally and figuratively. But this is not a biographical play. It is symbolic and thematic of the Russian struggle, but it’s mostly about women trying to find joy and freedom in the face of death.”

Kerr is also looking at this as something of a pilot project. “I’d be interested in continuing to find more opportunities to connect our grad students to the larger theatre community and audience as part of their time here,” he says. “I think it could be an important part of what we can offer as a program.”

Joan MacLeod joins Belfry’s 40th season

Department of Writing professor and beloved Canadian playwright Joan MacLeod‘s most recent play, The Valley, has just been announced as being part of The Belfry Theatre‘s 40th anniversary season.

Joan MacLeod

Joan MacLeod

Running February 2 – 28, 2016, The Valley will be directed by former Belfry artistic director and award-winning director Roy Surette. Described as “relentlessly topical—and deeply empathetic” by the Globe and Mail, The Valley focuses on how a dramatic police encounter binds four people together—a mother and her teenage son, a policeman and his wife. As the Belfry put it in their announcement, “the strength and fragility of everyday people is the cornerstone of Joan MacLeod’s work and The Valley is her latest gem.”

Canadian plays speak to us in a way that plays from other countries don’t,” says current Belfry AD Michael Shamata. “There is a common language, and Victoria’s Joan MacLeod—winner of the Siminovitch Prize and the Governor General’s Award for Drama—speaks that language better than any writer I know. Her writing is subtle; it is calm on the surface with floods of emotion running underneath. This mother’s pain and helplessness in the face of her son’s depression affected me deeply.”

Shamata also notes that Surette’s production of MacLeod’s Homechild was “the first play I ever saw at the Belfry, and I’m so happy he’s coming back!”

2151After debuting in 2013, The Valley has been mounted at a number of theatres across Canada, and the book of the script was released in 2014 by Talon Books.

Joan MacLeod’s other plays include Another Home Invasion, Homechild, The Shape Of A Girl, 2000, Little Sister, The Hope Slide, Amigo’s Blue Guitar, Toronto, Mississippi and Jewel. She also wrote the libretto for The Secret Garden and has written several scripts for CBC television. She has won several awards including the $100,000 Siminovitch Prize, the Governor General’s Award for Drama, two Chalmers’ Canadian Play Awards, the Jessie Richardson Award, Betty Mitchell Award and Dora Mavor Moore Award.

For seven seasons she was a playwright-in-residence at Tarragon Theatre in Toronto and in 2009 was the Senior Playwright-in-residence at the Playwrights’ Colony at The Banff Centre. The Shape Of A Girl has been playing each year since its premiere in 2001 and has been translated into six languages.

Warming up to WordsThaw

While the rest of the country may still be dealing with the winter blahs, locally we’re well into spring—which means it’s time once again for WordsThaw. Running March 20-22 at UVic, WordsThaw has grown into a welcome spring literary event over the past three years, nicely balancing what’s always a fall-heavy literary load.

2015_header_bannerV2Since 2013, The Malahat Review has invited dozens of poets, novelists, short fiction writers, and journalists to mark the coming of spring with a symposium celebrating Canadian literature. Held each year here at UVic, WordsThaw brings together writers, students, editors, publishers, and others with an interest in creative writing for a weekend of readings, panel discussions, workshops, and socializing. There are too many writers to list, but you can see the full lineup of participants here. Tickets range from $15 to $35, depending on whether it’s a full pass or an individual event; you can get all the ticket info here.

Not surprisingly, the Department of Writing is heavily involved in this year’s WordsThaw, with a flurry of faculty and alumni participating in either the weekend events or some of the prequel events, including faculty members Lynne Van Luven, David Leach, Patrick Friesen, Kevin Kerr, Derk Wynand, John Barton and Mark Leiren-Young plus alumni Arleen Paré, Kayla Czaga, Hanna Leavitt, Garth Martens, Matt Rader, Jane Silcott, Eve Joseph and D.W. Wilson.

You can read the full schedule of events here, but at a glance, here’s where Writing will be represented:

Governor General's Award-winning poet Arleen Pare is a featured reader at WordsThaw

Governor General’s Award-winning poet Arleen Pare is a featured reader at WordsThaw

Words on Ice: An Evening of Readings (7:30pm Friday, March 20 in HSD A240, doors 7pm) featuring eight Canadian writers: Yvonne Blomer, Karen Enns, Kevin Kerr, Fiona Tinwei Lam, Peter Midgley, Arleen Paré, Matt Rader and D.W. Wilson. Hosted by John Barton.

Natural Divide or Shape-Shifting Chic: Negotiating Creative Nonfiction’s Extremes (10:30-noon, HSD A240) featuring Fiona Tinwei Lam, Mark Leiren-Young and Jane Silcott. Moderator: Lynne Van Luven.

Vanity or in the Vanguard: Self-Publishing’s Makeover (1:30-3pm in HSD A240) featuring Mary Hughes, Patrick O’Connor and Sid Tafler. Moderator: David Leach.

Has it Got Better: Minority Voices or Major Talents (3:15-4:45pm in HSD A240) featuring Hanna Leavitt, Janet Rogers and Daniel Zomparelli. Moderator: Aaron Devor.

Undergrads in focus at JCURA

While much of the high-profile research and creative activity on campus tends to happen at both the faculty and graduate student level, let’s not discount the foundational work being done by our undergrads. As such, the Faculty of Fine Arts is once again proud to feature the work of 10 students from four separate departments in the annual Jamie Cassels Undergraduate Research Awards.

March 4_JCURAFirst instituted in 2009-10 as the Undergraduate Research Scholarship program by then Vice-President Academic and Provost—and now UVic President—Jamie Cassels, the JCURAs are designed to provide support for exceptional undergraduate students who might otherwise not be able to obtain a direct research experience as a part of what we anticipate should be a truly formative learning experience. With the award nomination process administered by the Learning and Teaching Centre, on behalf of the Provost’s Office, the annual JCURA symposium is one of the highlights of IdeaFest.

You can read full abstracts on all 110 entries here, from almost every department on campus, but we’re just going to note the Fine Arts contributions—which you can find out more about in person at the JCURA symposium running 11:30am-3pm Wednesday, March 4.

The Department of Art History & Visual Studies is in the lead with three JCURA students this year. Aimee Hawker (supervised by department chair Catherine Harding) is focusing on the Basilica of San Francesco in Assisi for her JCURA project. “An essential site of veneration and pilgrimage, it is visited by thousands of pilgrims each year,” she writes. “It also houses the most expansive narrative program that survives in Italy from the 13th and 14th centuries, with masters such as Giotto, Cimabue, Simone Martini and Giunta Pisano taking part in the Basilica’s decoration.” Her project examines the current research on the degradation of the frescos of the Upper Basilica and the restoration and conservation efforts carried out by the Istituto Centrale per il Restauro (I.C.R.).

A clip from Holly Cecil's William Morris film project

A clip from Holly Cecil’s William Morris film project

Fellow AHVS student Holly Cecil (supervised by professor Erin Campbell) presentation is “A Joy to the Maker and the User”: The Arts & Crafts Movement in Canadian Collections, which traces the origins of the British Arts and Crafts design movement to its reception in Canada, by analyzing several representative objects in our Legacy Art Galleries collections. “Uniting beauty and function, these works of art allow us to trace the movement and its appeal to Canadian collectors,” writes Cecil.  Her project will culminate in website-friendly short films, like this foundational William Morris film project she created.

When planning the summer 2015 Legacy Art Gallery exhibit on Katharine Maltwood and the Arts and Crafts movement, curator Caroline Riedel notes, “The inclusion of Holly Cecil’s work . . . also underlines the mandate of the Legacy Art Galleries to foster research and learning through art and, where possible, to showcase the work of faculty and students who work with our collection.”

At work on VISA's Peoples Apothocary

At work on VISA’s Peoples Apothocary

And AHVS’s Laurie White (supervised by professor Allan Antliff) is considering the aesthetic and ideological role community gardens play in our contemporary visual culture. “Through the aesthetic medium of the garden, these shared outdoor spaces promote social interaction and connection to nature and are in this sense works of ‘social sculpture’, a term coined by German artist Joseph Beuys,” she writes. “Whether they grow food or flowers, community gardens are an outlet for creative and political self expression and form an important part of counter-cultural struggles in the West today.” She will be looking at gardens as works of art in themselves, both on an aesthetic and socially transformative level, and will consider local community gardens with artistic connections, such as Vancouver Island School of Art‘s People’s Apothecary.

Meanwhile, Department of Writing student Cody Gies (supervised by professor Lee Henderson) proposes to write and illustrate a weekly/bi-weekly alternative webcomic that will explore and make use of various structures and techniques of the medium. “Inspired by ‘rubber hose’ animation and the highly imaginative works of Jean Giraud (Moebius) and Brandon Graham (an influential Vancouver cartoonist with Victoria connections), I hope to write a surreal fantasy focused on the journey and relationship of two protagonists,” says Gies. “I plan to research and incorporate an interactive narrative experience through use of links, gifs, games, etcetera, embedded in the sequential art.” You can check out both a digital and limited-run print version of the comic at the JCURA fair.

Watch out, Writing profs—Flexer has diagrams

Watch out, Writing profs—Flexer has diagrams

Also in Writing, Jerry Flexer (supervised by Writing chair David Leach) will be examining the very thing he spends days listening to: creative writing pedagogy, with an emphasis on creative nonfiction. “My research will consider two dominant approaches,” he writes. “The product-focused approach invites students to read published works and emulate, while the process-focused approach relies on a step-by-step process to gradually develop learners’ creative writing skills. One area of debate is whether a method based on a process of any kind can be effective. Some creative writing instructors, as well as some published writers, attribute artistic writing to talent and hard work, something instruction does not provide. I will argue for the importance of including a process focus in creative writing instruction because research suggests it better meets the expectations and needs of learners.”

Over in the Department of Visual Arts, Elizabeth Charters (supervised by professor Robert Youds) is examining sculptural practice is space. “I’m interested in how we interact with the space of the constructed environments we find ourselves in,” she says. “Inspired by everything from street lamps and neon signs to the objects displayed on a living room mantle, I am curious about the physical and psychological impacts that various artificial environments­­ have on our way of living. How we move through and interact with the space that is immediately found around us, whether it is in the private or public realm, can be reflected in our body’s relationship to the space and the objects within it.” Charters’ eventual goal is to challenge the viewer’s ideas about lived spaces, providing a platform for both a bodily and psychological understanding of the self within the space of an urban setting.

instagram-to-compete-with-snapchat-with-new-bolt-appAnother Visual Arts student, Hovey Eyres (supervised by professor Lynda Gammon), is looking at the impact of Instagram. A social media application that produces 60 million photographs per day from 200 million users around the world, Eyres notes that “love” and “me” are two of the most popular tags used to describe these photos, with “selfie” not far behind. “These photos reflect my generation’s desperate search for identity and acceptance in today’s society,” she says. “By reproducing these images with pencil and paper, I redefine their context and provoke questions about Instagram, identity, and society. The images’ content is recognizable and familiar, yet the materials make them surprising and stimulating.” Her drawings ultimately reflect issues including publicity versus privacy, appearance versus reality, and the individual versus society.

One last Visual Arts student is Olivia Prior (supervised by Jennifer Stillwell) whose work in the realm of art and technology focuses on “the cohesion of technology, space, and light, by creating interactive installations that generate results unique to each engaging participant.” Her JCURA presentation will use light to examine the control that the physical presence of each participant has in a space, by using various methods to measure values of proximity, sound, or touch. “The light and methods of physical measurement will aim to remove the notion of control, and use technology as a way to reflect the ongoing activity in the space.”

Jerzy Grotowski

Jerzy Grotowski

Finally, we have two Department of Theatre students presenting their research. Emma Leck (supervised by Theatre professors Allan Lindgren and Conrad Alexandrowicz) will be examining the theories of two international theatre artists: Polish experimental director Jerzy Grotowski and Soviet director Vsevolod Meyerhold to determine how external actions can inform emotional states. “This research promises to augment the actor’s process and illuminate issues involving the relationship between body and self,” she says.

And Chase Hiebert (supervised by professor Jan Wood) is engaged in a project that will “explore a technique of acting that engages and involves the audience in a cathartic experience. This research promises to reframe the actor/audience relationship in ways that emphasize the need for empathy.” You’ll have to visit the JCURA symposium to find out more on that.