India field school spotlights intergenerational theatre

University of Victoria – India Intergenerational Theatre for Development Field School from Matthew Gusul on Vimeo.

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

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

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

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

By positively highlighting the life experiences of TEV residents and the 750 young students of the Isha Vidhya Matriculation School—both of which were created after the 2006 tsunami to address issues of displacement and vulnerability—Gusul will work with a team of Indian directors to encourage these seniors and rural youth to perform their own stories, develop strong community relations and create new lines of dialogue across generations.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Audain professor makes history again with Witness Blanket

Indigenous concepts and Western legal principles have been united in a historically unique agreement signed by the Canadian Museum for Human Rights (CMHR) and Carey NewmanAudain Professor in the Department of Visual Arts. The agreement covers the protection and use of The Witness Blanket, Newman’s powerful art installation made with over 800 items collected from the sites and survivors of Indian residential schools across Canada.

Carey Newman’s “Witness Blanket” installed at the Canadian Museum of Human Rights in Winnipeg (photo: Jessica Sigurdson, CMHR)

An unprecedented move

In an unprecedented move, written documents and an oral ceremony have been given equal weight in an agreement that vests legal rights with the artwork itself, as a living entity that honours the stories of the survivors.

Audain professor Carey Newman

“Rather than trying to decide our rights, we put the rights with the Blanket and the stories that were given to us by survivors,” says Newman (Ha-Yalth-Kin-Geme), a Kwagiulth and Coast Salish artist and master carver from Sooke. “We were not negotiating against each other but collaborating together in the best interest of the Blanket itself. We didn’t want to treat it like a transfer of property because I don’t feel ownership of the Blanket, I feel responsibility towards it and I wanted to make sure the Museum felt this too.”

UVic professor Rebecca Johnson, associate director of the Indigenous Law Research Unit, reviewed the agreement before it was finalized and called it “totally unique”.

“It has huge implications for me as a law professor because it models new and hopeful possibilities of seeing the law in its creative and expansive forms, not just as something that constrains and punishes,” she says. “It captures the heart of what’s possible when people work together to imagine new ways of drawing on law—both Indigenous and Canadian—to move us in a new direction.”

UVic’s Faculty of Law plans to incorporate the agreement into its curriculum, which will help students explore creative avenues for drawing Indigenous and Canadian legal orders together.

Read more in the CBC story here.

Relationships, not ownership

Now that the 12-metre-long, cedar-framed artwork—which was first presented publicly at UVic back in 2014—has been taken into the care and protection of the CMHR in Winnipeg on Treaty 1 Territory, it will undergo restoration work after several years of traveling, including an extended exhibition at the CMHR in 2015-16. A new traveling version of the Witness Blanket has also been created, which will have its first showing at the Red Deer Museum + Art Gallery from May 4 to June 23.

Interacting with the installation. (Photo: Jessica Sigurdson/ CMHR)

CMHR president and CEO John Young said meaningful working relationships with Indigenous people create opportunities to learn, grow and share in new ways—which is also important to reconciliation. “Museums have sometimes assumed a unilateral authority to interpret Indigenous cultures and artifacts,” he says. “In collaborating with our Indigenous partners, we instead work to honour the perspectives, skills and experience they bring to the discussions.”

CMHR head of collections Heather Bidzinski researched positive examples from other cultural institutions but worked to create something entirely unique. “This agreement is based on understanding each others’ traditions in a mutually respectful way and recognizing that agreements are really about relationships—not about concepts of indemnity and ownership, which can be adversarial and confrontational,” she says

The new documentary film, Picking up the Pieces, about the making of the Witness Blanket—which debuted last fall at the Vancouver International Film Festivalwas also shown at the CMHR as part of the announcement, followed by a conversation with Newman and film producer Cody Graham of Victoria-based Media One.

UVic’s Young said the Witness Blanket is a work of national significance that provides a tangible framework for conversations about the genocide of Indigenous peoples in Canada. “Its stories, its objects and what they represent help us better understand this issue in terms of human realities and consequences instead of being just an abstract concept. As a national museum devoted to human rights education, we are committed to playing a meaningful role in sharing this truth as we work towards reconciliation.”

Newman is the sixth Audain Professor of Contemporary Art Practice of the Pacific Northwest with UVic’s Visual Arts department. As well as being a former School of Music student, Newman is the first Audain professor to hold a three-year position with the department. Previous Audain professors include Governor General’s Award-winner Rebecca Belmore, Rande Cook, Nicholas Galanin, Michael Nicol Yahgulanaas and Jackson 2Bears.

UVic promotes teaching that reflects the aspirations and calls to action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, including addressing issues most relevant to Indigenous people and working with Indigenous communities and organizations to understand, preserve and celebrate traditions, knowledge and cultures.

Faculty concert series a January highlight

2019 is off to a harmonious start, thanks to a stellar series of faculty concerts at the School of Music. But while all of these performances feature current teaching faculty, there are also a number of concerts and recitals featuring current students and alumni. Be sure to check the School of Music’s online events calendar for complete listings.

Crossing Boundaries

Klazek and Schryer

Classical and folk music traditions are woven together in the Crossing Boundaries concert on January 13, where trumpet professor Merrie Klazek will be joined by fiddle champion Pierre Schryer and guitarist/vocalist Andy Hillhouse for an energetic concert showcasing a variety of musical styles ranging from Celtic and Latin to classic jazz and baroque.

Crossing Boundaries will take you on a journey through music ranging from 1560 to 2018. Expect to hear everything from ’70s pop and Irish reels to contemporary ballads, Latin Samba and Baroque court music, along with anecdotes and stories shared by the performers. The program will give Klazek an opportunity to demonstrate the many colours of the trumpet family—including piccolo, cornet, flugelhorn, and standard C and B-flat trumpets—while treating the audience to some the finest fiddle and guitar playing around.

Merrie Klazek is well-known as a performer, teacher and recording artist of orchestral, chamber, traditional and popular music, and her career has taken her around the globe. A celebrated performer and producer, Schryer is one of Canada’s leading traditional fiddlers and has established himself as a gem among fans and fellow musicians for his captivating performances. Hillhouse is a touring bandleader, choral director, music and culture scholar, and festival organizer.

Crossing Boundaries runs 2:30-4 pm Sunday, Jan. 13, in the Phillip T. Young Recital Hall. Tickets are $10-20.

The Cross-Cultural Clarinet

Shawn Earle

Clarinetist Shawn Earle performs solo contemporary works influenced by non-western cultures in an afternoon concert on January 15. The clarinet is very versatile, with the ability to produce a variety of different tonalities and timbres. This concert explores this versatility through works imitating and influenced by South Asian Indian Raga, East African guitar, Balinese music and Japanese visual art. Other instruments such as a kick drum, Tibetan tea bowl and electronic sounds will be used to broaden the sonic pallet. Works on the program include Evan Zyporyn’s Four Impersonations, John Mayer’s Raga Music, Judith Shatin’s Cherry Blossom and a Wrapped Thing: After Hokusai, and others.

Shawn Earle teaches clarinet at UVic, performs regularly as a soloist and has been a chamber musician with the Albemarle Ensemble, Cascadia Reed Quintet, Vancouver Clarinet Trio, Trio Dolce and guest artist with the Novo Ensemble. He has also performed with the Charlottesville Symphony Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, Okanagan Symphony, Victoria Symphony, Vancouver Island Symphony and Vancouver Metropolitan Orchestra.

The Cross-Cultural Clarinet runs 12:30-1:20 pm Tuesday, Jan. 15, in the Phillip T. Young Recital Hall. Admission is by donation.

Almost Blue: Chet Baker at 90

The late, great Chet Baker

The great American West Coast trumpeter and singer Chet Baker left a profound mark on jazz in his 40-year career. The iconic poster boy for West Coast cool jazz, Baker would have turned 90 this year. Take a journey through the fascinating world Baker lived in with a concert on January 18 featuring School of Music professor and trumpet personality Patrick Boyle, Victoria veteran pianist Tom Vickery, Don Cox on double bass, and drummer Morgan Childs.

Cool jazz refers to a style performed by jazz musicians in California in the 1950s and early 1960s. As opposed to the harder edged sound popular on the East Coast during that time, this cooler West Coast style was more lyrical and soft—Baker’s hallmark sound. Like fellow trumpeter Miles Davis, he could express himself in a few choice notes with his lyrical, poetic playing. Three decades after his untimely death, Baker’s music continues to resonate with listeners today.

Almost Blue: Chet Baker at 90 runs 8pm Friday, Jan. 18 in the Phillip T. Young Recital Hall. Tickets are $10-25.

Music for Cello, Soprano and Piano

Highbaugh Aloni, Vogt & Young

On January 27, School of Music professors cellist Pamela Highbaugh Aloni, pianist Bruce Vogt and soprano Susan Young will present a concert of works for cello, piano, and soprano by César Franck, Johannes Brahms and Leila Lustig.

Pamela Highbaugh Aloni has enjoyed performing both as a chamber musician and soloist in North America and Europe and is a co-founding member of the beloved Lafayette String Quartet. Among the elite of Canadian pianists, Bruce Vogt is a unique and dynamic performer. He appears regularly in concerts within Canada, but has also inspired audiences in England, the USA, Germany, France, Italy, Norway, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, China, and Japan. Canadian soprano Susan Young is in demand as a performer, choral conductor, clinician and adjudicator. Educated as both and singer, she is known for the diversity of her skills and has performed in Canada, the United States, Spain, France and Austria.

Music for Cello, Soprano and Piano runs 8pm Sunday, Jan. 27 in the Phillip T. Young Recital Hall.  Tickets are $10-25.

TubaChristmas a “sonic hug” for the city

Support your local tubas!

For 40 years now, tuba and euphonium players from all across Vancouver Island and beyond have been gathering at Market Square in downtown Victoria for one of the city’s most anticipated holiday traditions. TubaChristmas returns to once again raise money for the Times Colonist Christmas Fund, a charity that assists the people most in need in the Greater-Victoria community.

TubaChristmas, as performed by the Victoria TubaChristmas Ensemble, runs from 1-3pm Saturday, Dec. 8, in Market Square, 560 Johnson Street. Donations will be accepted throughout the duration of the event.

Last year, an impressive 101 brass musicians gathered to play an afternoon of favourite carols, and the resulting donations far exceeded those collected in previous years. Tubist and UVic instructor Paul Beauchesne — who will lead the ensemble for the fourth year — has his sights on record-breaking numbers for the 40th anniversary of this beloved event. And this year, local video production company Roll.Focus and CHEK TV are partnering to produce the first livestream of the event.

Paul Beauchesne leading the TubaChristmas ensemble

Beauchesne describes the sound of massed tubas and euphoniums as a “sonic hug,” filling the square with music that will echo through the surrounding streets. Jointly sponsored by Market Square and UVic’s School of Music, TubaChristmas was established in Victoria by the much-loved tubist, Eugene Dowling, who succumbed to cancer in June 2015. Dowling was one of Beauchesne’s tuba instructors, as well as a mentor and friend, and Beauchesne is proud to carry forward the TubaChristmas torch.

TubaChristmas dates back to 1974 where it originated in New York City by the late Harvey Phillips of Indiana University. Concerts now take place in over 200 cities worldwide and this year marks the 45th year for TubaChristmas internationally. The original concept was to honour the late William Bell (1902-1971) — Phillips’ teacher and former tubist with the New York Philharmonic — who was born on Christmas Day, but over the decades it has grown to become so much more.

Don’t miss this once-a-year occurance, which has grown into one of Victoria’s most beloved seasonal events!

Final novel by celebrated Indigenous author Richard Wagamese launched at UVic

From telling stories that helped us understand what it meant to be Canadian to inspiring future generations of writers, Richard Wagamase was one of Canada’s most beloved authors. His death in 2017 at just 61 was a profound loss for our country’s literary culture, and now his final novel, Starlight, is being launched locally at a special event hosted by UVic Chancellor Shelagh Rogers who is also host of CBC Radio’s The Next Chapter and a longtime friend of Wagamese.

The Starlight book launch runs from 7-8:30pm Tuesday, Dec 4, at UVic’s First Peoples House. Admission is free, and all are welcome.

Starlight tells the story of an abused woman who discovers sanctuary on the farm of an Indigenous man, and is an apt conclusion to his literary legacy.

“This book is not only a last gift to his readers, it is a masterpiece,” says Rogers. “It will be wonderful to be among friends to pay tribute to his life and his writing, and it’s wonderful that this event takes place at UVic, as Richard loved the university and his time here.”

Joining Rogers will be 2018 Governor General’s Award winner Darrel J. McLeod (Mamaskatch), 2018 Bolen Book Prize winner Monique Gray Smith (Speaking Our Truth: A Journey of Reconciliation), current Writing MFA candidate Troy Sebastian and Writing professor emerita Lorna Crozier.

Richard Wagamese (photo: John Threlfall)

As one of the Harvey Southam Guest Lecturers in the Department of Writing, Wagamase had a lasting influence on UVic students and the local community by mentoring young writers and sharing his vision of the power of Indigenous storytelling.

“Richard Wagamase had a profound impact on our national culture through his novels, his essays, his memoirs and his memorable readings and talks,” says Writing chair David Leach, moderator of this event.

“As our Southam Lecturer in 2011, he inspired and challenged our students to move out of their comfort zones as writers and explore the power of oral storytelling. It was such a great pleasure to hear Richard’s big-hearted laugh in our hallways and talk with him about books or baseball or the blues. It’s still a shock to realize we will never get another chance to hear him read aloud from his richly detailed and deeply humane novels and essays.”

By drawing upon his work as a journalist and his experiences as a residential school survivor, Wagamese created memorable and award-winning novels such as Indian Horse and Medicine Walk, as well as compelling works of nonfiction, including as One Native Life and Embers.

Copies of Starlight will be available for sale at the event.

UVic is accessible by sustainable travel options including transit and cycling. For those arriving by car, pay parking is in effect. Evening parking is $3.