RSC honours Fine Arts professors

More than 400 of Canada’s brightest academic minds will be converging on Victoria this weekend as the Royal Society of Canada—Canada’s national academy—comes to town. The RSC’s annual general meeting runs November 26-28 at the Fairmont Empress and will feature scientists, scholars and artists from across the country. But while such a grand gathering of vibrant minds is notable in itself, it’s triply important for Fine Arts as three of our own are being honoured.

Celebrated playwright, Department of Writing professor and UVic alumna Joan MacLeod is one of three UVic professors elected as new fellows—the country’s highest academic honour—while noted composer and School of Music professor Dániel Péter Biró has been elected as one of three new members of the College of New Scholars, Artists and Scientists (colloquially known as the RSC’s “rising stars”). Finally, acclaimed author and retired Writing professor Jack Hodgins will be presented with the RSC’s 2014 Pierce Medal for outstanding achievement in imaginative literature, alongside two other UVic medal winners.

“The Faculty of Fine Arts is fortunate to have colleagues of the calibre of professor Joan MacLeod and Dr. Biró, both of whom bring their research and creative practice to bear on their teaching and mentorship of our students,” says Susan Lewis, Acting Dean of Fine Arts. “We congratulate our two colleagues on their appointments to the RSC.”

Joan MacLeod

Joan MacLeod

Lewis is quick to praise MacLeod’s creative output. “One of Canada’s foremost playwrights, MacLeod’s works explore contemporary social justice issues with characters who are often on the margins of Canadian society,” she says. “She has received numerous awards including the Governor General’s Award for Drama, two Chalmers’ Canadian Play Awards, a Dora Award and the Siminovitch Prize.”

For her part, MacLeod seems equally happy and surprised by the honour. “I’m pleased about the Royal nod because my research is my stage plays, of course—my artistic practice,” she says. “I have always had a sense of community in theatre and writing, but academic community is something else. To be included in a group of eminent scholars, scientists . . . it’s astounding.” MacLeod joins existing Faculty of Fine Arts Royal Society Fellows Tim Lilburn, Mary Kerr and Lorna Crozier.

Lewis, also the Director of the School of Music, well knows the work of her colleague Biró, noting his position at the forefront of music composition and research. “In 2011, Dániel was Visiting Professor at Utrecht University and in 2014-2015, Fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University. His compositions are performed around the world and he is internationally active as a composer, researcher, performer, lecturer and teacher,” she says.

Dániel Péter Biró (photo: Linda Sheldon)

Dániel Péter Biró (photo: Linda Sheldon)

“I am happy to be elected a member of the College of New Scholars, Artists and Scientists,” Biró says. “Composing music is not only creating something new, but also discovering the past. It’s almost like we’re conservationists of culture.”

Biró notes that the Aventa Ensemble’s Mark McGregor will be performing one of his pieces—Kivrot Hata’avah (Graves of Craving), for solo bass flute—during the RSC Gala. “This composition was selected to represent Canada in the International Society of Contemporary Music 2013 World New Music Days in Vienna,” he says. “McGregor commissioned the piece and will premiere this new version.”

Be sure to check out this new UVic video featuring Biró discussing his work.

For those not familiar with his many books, the Comox Valley-born Jack Hodgins is an influential writer dedicated to chronicling the people and stories of Vancouver Island. Winner of the Governor General’s Award in 1979 for The Resurrection of Joseph Bourne, he was also presented with the Lieutenant Governor’s Award for Literary Excellence in 2006, was made a Member of the Order of Canada in 2009, and won the 2011 City of Victoria Book Prize for his recent novel The Master of Happy Endings. He taught with the Department of Writing from 1983 to 2002 and, in the process, became a mentor to a whole new generation of authors.

 Jack Hodgins (photo: Don Denton)

Jack Hodgins (photo: Don Denton)

Yet Hodgins’ creative efforts are not limited to the page. In 2014, he wrote “Cadillac Cathedral” which he performed live on stage with the Vancouver men’s choir Chor Leoni, composer Christopher Donnison created an opera based on several short stories from Hodgins’ book The Barclay Family Theatre, and his life has been commemorated in the NFB documentary Jack Hodgins’ Island.

The Royal Society AGM kicks off with a public event—a special day-long symposium on Canadian marine biodiversity on Thursday, Nov. 26—followed by the welcoming of new fellows and college members into its fold and awarding medals for outstanding achievement. UVic is undeniably proud to have eight researchers among those being honoured. “This incredible breadth of expertise and impact really speaks to this university’s research strength as a whole,” says David Castle, UVic’s vice-president research.

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

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

UVic President Jamie Cassels is equally excited by the event. “We’re very pleased to be the presenting sponsor for this event,” he says. “This gathering is an opportunity for all of us to welcome Canada’s eminent scholars and celebrate their impacts in areas vital to Canada and the world.”

UVic’s other new Fellows include chemist Frank van Veggel and philosopher James Young, while exercise psychologist Ryan Rhodes and astronomer Sara Ellison become members of the College of New Scholars, Artists and Scientists. Ellison also joins Hodgins as a medal winner, receiving the RSC’s Rutherford Medal for outstanding achievement in a branch of physics, as does cosmologist Julio Navarro, who wins the 2015 Tory Medal for outstanding achievement in astronomy.

For those who want to stay up on our honorands’ creative practice, Joan MacLeod’s latest play, The Valley, will appear at the Belfry Theatre from Feb. 2-28, 2016. A stage version of Jack Hodgins’ Spit Delaney’s Island—based on the short story, which earned him his first Governor General’s Award nomination for the book of the same name—is being adapted for the stage by Victoria’s Theatre Inconnu from December 1-19.

Finally, Dániel Péter Biró was recently commissioned by the Klangforum Heidelberg to write a new work for voices and ensemble. The Schola Heidelberg and Ensemble Aisthesison at the University of Heidelberg premiered Biró’s Messiaen, Couleurs de la Cité Celeste in October 2015, with additional performances in Mannheim and Ludwigshafen that same month—but you can hear it right here.

Mackie’s back in town

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Director Brian Richmond

Director Brian Richmond

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

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

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

—Adrienne Holierhoek

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

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.