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
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.
Many 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.
“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.
“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.”
Key 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.”
When Kwagiulth and Coast Salish artist Carey Newman’s Witness Blanket was unveiled at the University of Victoria in 2014, it was clear the large-scale installation would quickly become a national monument and spark reflection and conversation about residential schools, settler-Indigenous relations and reconciliation. Now, Newman will continue the conversation as the sixth Audain Professor of Contemporary Art Practice of the Pacific Northwest with UVic’s Department of Visual Arts.
Kwagiulth and Coast Salish artist Carey Newman installs the Witness Blanket at UVic ahead of its unveiling in 2014 at a global conference hosted by the university. Photo: Suzanne Ahearne
“This is breaking new ground for me,” says Newman. “I’m looking forward to having the opportunity to convert the experience of mentorship into a more formal educational setting.”
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.
A former UVic School of Music student, Newman will be the first Audain professor to hold a new three-year position with the department. He will also play a role in the award-winning ACE program with UVic’s Gustavson School of Business, which supports the entrepreneurial practices of Indigenous artists.
“As a master carver, Carey Newman has extensive knowledge of traditions and teachings, as well as a keen interest in contemporary design and digital processes,” says visual arts chair Paul Walde. “Not only is he an extremely well-established artist, but he has strong connections in different mediums and disciplines, both nationally and internationally. With him in the department, we know we would all learn a lot—faculty and students alike—and we look forward to how we can be enriched by that dialogue.”
The artist in his studio in 2013/14, working on one of the cedar panels for the Witness Blanket. Photo: Media One.
The master carver for the Cowichan 2008 Spirit Pole, Newman had another piece, “Dancing Wind,” featured at the 2010 Olympic Games. For over 20 years, he owned Sooke’s recently closed Blue Raven Gallery. He is also an accomplished pianist and singer who has performed at the National Aboriginal Achievement Awards and with Pacific Opera Victoria, where he is currently a board member.
Best known for his 12-metre-long Witness Blanket—created and assembled from 600 objects and artifacts including pieces of residential schools, an old drum and a shoe—Newman spent four years travelling across Canada with the installation that evokes the atrocities of Indian residential schools and a national journey toward reconciliation. Newman is excited to bring ideas of reconciliation into his classes at UVic.
“I’m interested in looking at how artists can take on the issue of reconciliation through their own relationship with Canada,” he says. “That way, it’s not limiting it to Indigenous people but is encouraging anyone, even international students, to relate to it.”
Established by a $2-million gift from philanthropist and UVic alumnus Michael Audain in 2010, the position has brought distinguished practicing artists Rande Cook, Nicholas Galanin, Michael Nicol Yahgulanaas, Jackson 2Bears, and Governor General’s Award-winner Rebecca Belmore to teach in the visual arts department.
Like art? What about quizzes? How about art quizzes with a word-play twist? If you answered yes to any of these, then you’re in for a real treat: the return of the Art History Christmas Quiz!
Designed by Art History & Visual Studies professor Marcus Milwright, the Art History Christmas Quiz was first mounted back in 2013. Like so many of us, the idea of spending the holidays doing a challenging quiz comes naturally to Milwright.
“Our family was always keen on quizzes, from crosswords to tests of general knowledge,” he says. “There used to be a quiz in a newspaper that asked readers to identify a painting from a little section. This provided the inspiration for the AHVS Christmas Quiz, although I wanted to add some new elements.”
On each of the eight slides in the quiz, you’ll see a composite picture. Identify each image, then follow the instructions to find certain letters drawn from the name of the artist, the subject, the name of the object, and so on. (For example, take the “g” from Van Gogh and add it to the “v” from da Vinci to reconstruct a series of words.) Click here for full contest rules and details.
“It was fun to assemble faces from different paintings, drawings, photographs, and sculptures, but the challenge was to make the words and names from them,” says Milwright. “There should be some teasing images mixed in with some familiar ones.”
To take part in the quiz, write the completed words (or as many as you have been able to complete) on a postcard with your name and contact email. Hand this postcard into the main office of the Art History & Visual Studies department — that’s room 151 of the Fine Arts building — by January 5, 2018. Or if you’re on campus, you can send it by interoffice mail, or go really old-school and mail it in: AHVS Christmas Quiz, PO Box 1700, University of Victoria, Victoria, B.C., V8W 2Y2.
Looking for some visual assistance for the quiz? If you’re an AHVS student, you can access our DIDO image database; if you’re outside the faculty, try one of the public access sites like ARTstor, the Metropolitan Museum of Art or the website for London’s National Gallery.
This quiz is open to all UVic students, and you may compete as teams (but only one postcard submission per team). There will be a main prize and two also for runners up. The winners will be announced on January 12. Remember, partial submissions will be accepted.
And while the top three winners of the original AHVS Christmas Quiz were all AHVS students, don’t let that dissuade you from playing along. “It was really funny and exciting,” said winner Atri Hatef at the time.
“I had some answers right away within each question, but often had to really search for the complete answer,” said previous winner Terry Rodgers.
Congratulations to Hamed, Kirsten & Atri!
Update on the winners!
Congratulations go out to the two winning teams of the 2017 AHVS Christmas Quiz: Atri Hatef & Hamed Yeganehfarzand, and India Cornell & Kirsten Matulewicz (not pictured).
Not surprisingly, all are AHVS students—Hatef and Yeganehfarzand are PhD candidates, while Matulewicz and Cornell are Masters students. Both teams worked together to get the correct answers to as many questions as possible, and came closest to completing the entire quiz. In addition to gift certificates for a local bookstore, they also received some art-based Canadiana: a puzzle and a calendar!
How can theatre activate the experiences of migrant youth, while at the same time providing a window into the experiences they face while assimilating into a new culture, new society and new city? Questions like this are at the heart of a new Applied Theatre performance directed and devised by Theatre PhD candidate Taiwo Okunola Afolabi.
Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps welcomes the cast on June 20
Commissioned for World Refugee Day 2017 and created in partnership with the Victoria Immigrant & Refugee Centre Society (VIRCS) and the Applied Theatre program in UVic’s acclaimed Theatre department, the live interactive play Journeys of Arriving, Belonging and Becoming was first performed to a packed house of 65 people at Victoria’s City Hall on June 20 — including Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps, City Councillor Jeremy Loveday, Victoria Immigrant and Refugee Centre Society (VIRCS) director David Lau, and Michael Shamata, Artistic Director of the Belfry Theatre. It was also remounted as a free outdoor theatre performance on June 29 in the #UVic quad.
“The performance explores complexities that surround refugees and migrant movements, which can be overwhelming — especially when we don’t have a clear way to actively engage with the issues and individual experiences,” explains Afolabi.
Director Taiwo Afolabi during the audience talkback session
Afolabi is a graduate fellow with UVic’s Centre for Global Studies and a Queen Elizabeth Scholar with UVic’s Centre for Asia-Pacific Initiatives. He arrived in Canada two years ago, and his research focuses on artistic practices among internally displaced persons.
The powerful 50-minute show features a mix of drama, dance, music and spoken word, all aimed at exploring the very real process of relocation, resilience, settlement and integration. It showcases common experiences like choosing an English name, learning a new language, and the difficulties that come with navigating everyday situations like ordering coffee, finding a job or dealing with the donation of unwanted goods from well-intentioned but thoughtless people.
The cast of “Journeys of Arriving, Belonging and Becoming”
But more than just presenting these difficulties, Journeys of Arriving also provides a creative platform for a cast with a truly global background: Syria, Israel, Russia, Hong Kong, China, Thailand, Nigeria and Canada.
Most of the eight-person cast are Department of Theatre students — including Annie Konstantinova, Jasmine Li, Megan Chandler, Olivia Wheeler, Thiptawan Uchai and Victoria Stark — with the addition of UVic student Tianxu Zhao, and community member Samer Alkhateb.
“Actors’ experiences and stories from refugees, immigrants and newcomers in Victoria inspired the performance,” says the Nigerian-born Afolabi. “We asked ourselves challenging questions around identity, language, assimilation, psychological needs and the other experiences that refugees and immigrants face.”
The cast performing on campus on June 29
VIRCS youth program coordinator Jasmindra Jawanda says the seed of the idea began about a year ago when she first met Afolabi.
“We both discussed the possibility of working together on a youth theatre play . . . as we both felt youth were often left in the shadows. They are the forgotten ones, standing on the margins of society wanting to fit into Canadian culture but because of the many barriers and challenges that they face, they struggle to integrate into their new communities. We wanted to shine a light onto their stories and truths.”
For his part, Afolabi says he wanted “a storytelling approach” to the material — thus the inclusion of monologues, dialogue and action with music — and occasional moments of humor and comedy allow the cast to address highly emotional and socially sensitive issues. “I worked with an amazing, passionate and dedicated team. Each person volunteered almost 50 hours to devise this performance.”
Applied Theatre is the use of theatre and drama skills for the purposes of teaching, bringing about social change and building a sense of community. UVic’s program is recognized around the world for its innovative applied theatre projects, including a field school in India and exchange programs in Thailand.
Most people likely see theatre as a form of entertainment, but for anyone working with global refugees and internally displaced persons, theatre can also offer a sense of hope and community.
Consider the global impact of the work of UVic applied theatre PhD student Taiwo O. Afolabi. A graduate fellow with UVic’s Centre for Global Studies and a Queen Elizabeth Scholar with UVic’s Centre for Asia-Pacific Initiatives, Afolabi arrived in Canada two years ago. His research focuses on artistic practices among internally displaced persons (IDPs) in IDP communities or camps to create awareness for the plight of displaced persons.
Applied theatre PhD candidate Taiwo Afolabi
“Theatre can raise consciousness,” says Afolabi. “Coming to one workshop might change someone’s perspective, whereas I can write five articles that might never be read.”
The Nigerian-born scholar had already travelled to the likes of Burkina Faso, China, Denmark, Iran and the USA and before choosing to pursue doctoral studies in UVic’s Theatre department; indeed, he came to UVic specifically to study with renowned Department of Theatre professor Warwick Dobson.
“For me, applied theatre is all about relationships and interactions,” he explains. “Relationships are powerful because they involve us, and those interactions make us responsible and actionable. Once we start understanding peoples’ reality, it brings us closer to their experience — not just theory, but their actual experience. We can start living it.”
The applied theatre program in the Department of Theatre is no stranger to international projects: consider the recent field school to India led by PhD candidate Matthew Gusul, or the efforts of Theatre professor Kirsten Sadeghi-Yekta, who has led projects in Brazil, Cambodia, Nicaragua and The Netherlands.
Locally, Afolabi has been working with both the Victoria Immigrant and Refugee Centre Society and the Intercultural Association of Greater Victoria, and will be participating in a World Refugee Day performance at Victoria City Hall on June 20.
Following completion of his PhD, Afolabi hopes to travel to throughout Africa — specifically to Eastern, Southern and Western Africa — to map and document what local people are doing to preserve their culture. “Moving from different countries gives you a broader perspective on the world and practices,” he says.
In this article from UVic’s Ring, Afolabi discusses his artistic practices around internally displaced persons or communities. He talks about how a “lived experience” – through the audience’s firsthand experience of culturally specific activities and performances, ranging from dance and music to drumming and magician acts – “has the capacity to make it personal, beyond theory.” This kind of empathy, he says, generates “a profound response.”
“So much memory and knowledge resides in the body and in theatre we can bring it out,” he explains. “And sometimes people give solutions that don’t work for a complex issue because we are distanced from it. With the ‘lived experience’ [of theatre], even if it’s only for a second, you can come to that point. It can give you something that you won’t forget.”
Afolabi is participating in a panel about migration and refugee performances as part of Forgotten Corridors: Global Displacement and the Politics of Engagement — the 10th annual conference of the Canadian Association for Refugee and Forced Migration Studies. Running May 15 to 18 and hosted by UVic’s Centre for Asia Pacific Initiatives (CAPI), this is the first time the conference has been held on the west coast of Canada.
Afolabi was interviewed for this TC story
“We’re building community and building relationships between refugees from different cultural backgrounds,” Afolabi said in this Times Colonist article about the Forgotten Corridors conference.
Afolabi explains that he uses dance, music and drama to give displaced people a sense of empowerment and allow them to engage in “self-celebration, self-expression and self-documentation,” rather than simply being treated like victims.
Forgotten Corridors seeks to expand the examination of global displacement by looking beyond the world media focus on the Mediterranean: are other displaced groups being left out of the discussion? How do financially strapped countries such as India and Kenya accommodate thousands of guests for protracted periods of time? What can theatre teach us about the experiences of internally displaced persons? What do Australia’s offshore detention camps reveal about personal impacts of sending those in search of a safe home to languish in limbo?
By bringing together more than 200 activists, scholars, policy makers and other experts from all corners of the world to share knowledge, experiences and strategies as they relate to global displacement, Forgotten Corridors also dovetails with UVic’s new International Plan, launched in the fall of 2016. It is also one of four signature series events by UVic to mark Canada’s 150th anniversary.
For his part, Afolabi hopes to start conversations at Forgotten Corridors that will act as “sparks” for people to then take home with them.
“When we start understanding the reality, it brings us closer to the experience,” he says. “Applied theatre has the capacity and potential to bring these issues closer to us. We can start living it.”