Betty Waynne Allison is married to her role

Betty Waynne Allison has the title role in Mary’s Wedding

Double UVic graduate Betty Waynne Allison is certainly getting her fair share of the media spotlight this month. A graduate of both the UVic education program and the music education program ((B.Ed & B.Mus ’05), this talented soprano is in the enviable position of debuting the title role in the world premiere of Pacific Opera Victoria’s Mary’s Wedding.

Based on the 2002 play of the same name, POV’s new opera version features music by composer Andrew MacDonald and libretto by original playwright Stephen Massicotte, who have created a powerful and emotional role for Allison. “It’s wonderful to be back,” says the Ladysmith-based Allison of her return to Victoria. “It’s home and that is a special feeling in this business . . . Since day one, POV has been a supporter of mine and I feel honored that they are taking this chance on me. We all believe in this show and it is rare to be afforded the opportunity to create a brand new opera character.”

A scene from Mary’s Wedding: (from left) Alain Coulombe, Thomas Macleay and Betty Waynne Allison (photo: David Cooper)

Ironically, however, opera was not Allison’s only focus while during her undergrad years. “While at UVic I never dreamed or even thought about being a professional singer,” she admits. “My focus was on learning to play all the band instruments and education technique rather than learning performance techniques.”

Now a full-time opera singer, Allison’s career is definitely taking off. She is an alumna of the Canadian Opera Company Ensemble—where her roles included Fiordiligi (Così fan tutte), Donna Anna (Don Giovanni), Tatyana (Eugene Onegin) and Rusalka (Rusalka)—and she also performed the Countess (Le Nozze di Figaro) with the Centre for Opera Studies in Sulmona, Italy; the title role in The Cunning Little Vixen in a new production at the Banff Centre; the First Lady in the COC’s The Magic Flute; and Alice in Falstaff with L’Opéra-Théâtre de Metz Métropole, France. Next spring she will take on the title role in Susannah with Florentine Opera.

Given that it’s the world premiere of a decidedly Canadian story, media coverage of Mary’s Wedding has been expectedly brisk—including Marsha Lederman’s preview in the Globe and Mail, a cover story in Monday Magazine, a nice Q&A with Allison in the backpage “Secrets & Lives” column of Boulevard magazine’s November issue, a review by Monica Prendergast on local CBC morning show On The Island, a review—by yours truly—for the local online arts mag Culture Vulture Victoria (“Allison is absolutely the star here, and not only because she plays the title character. Breathing real life into Mary, Allison hits all the right notes—literally and figuratively; her emotionally complex character is as enjoyable to watch as is her powerful, yet fragile, voice”) plus both a preview and review in the local Times Colonist, where Kevin Bazzana notes, “The fresh-faced young singers portraying the central couple—soprano Betty Waynne Allison and tenor Thomas Macleay—have personable voices that are fortunately not out of proportion to the characters or story or venue . . . Crucially, both have real acting talent; their various encounters are sweet, touching, funny and genuine.”

The TC also highlighted UVic’s companion exhibit, The World of Mary’s Wedding: Reminiscences of WWI, running through to November 17.


Speaking of Pacific Opera, eight School of Music students took to the Royal Theatre stage back in October as part of POV’s production of Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman. As members of the massive 50 plus-person chorus, Andrew Buckley, Josh Lovell, Mary-Ellen Raynor, Jeremy Roszmann, Anna Shill, Cedric Spry, Claire Stewart and Marlee Wetter brought their dynamic voices to the stage with verve.

Having the opportunity to work with the Opera Company has given these students a valuable glimpse into the world as a professional musician. “POV has shown me what the real world is like,” says Jeremy Roszmann, a fourth-year student. “The ability to study professionals in their element—without feeling like an intruder—is invaluable experience and education.” First year Master’s student Anna Shill, felt honoured to be a part of the production: “What can’t you learn from your peers and those ahead of you? Sharing space with people that spend their lives living the career you hope for puts everything that we learn at school into perspective.”

Hot on the heels of their Wagnerian experience, Andrew Buckley, Anna Shill and Cedric Spry are also appearing in the 20-person chorus for Mary’s Wedding.

Media roundup

From left: Siminovitch jury chair Maureen Labonté with Joan MacLeod, Dr. Lou Siminovitch, playwright and $25,000 Siminovitch Protégé Award recipient Anusree Roy, and BMO Senior Vice-President Andrew Auerbach

No question, it’s been a busy couple of weeks in the media for Fine Arts faculty and alumni. In case you haven’t been able to keep up on it all, here’s a quick roundup of recent media coverage.

Joan MacLeod – As the winner of this year’s $100,000 Siminovitch Prize for Theatre, the acclaimed playwright and acting chair of the Department of Writing was splashed across numerous front pages, including the Globe and Mail, the Times Colonist, the Vancouver Sun and MacLean’s magazine, among others, as well as being interviewed by CBC radio and CBC television.

Lorna Croier receives her Order of Canada from Governor General David Johnston (Photo: Sgt Ronald Duchesne, Rideau Hall © 2011 Office of the Secretary to the Governor General of Canada)

Lorna Crozier – The beloved poet and longtime Writing senior faculty member received her Officer of the Order of Canada on Friday, November 4. Local TV station CHEK provides a clip of the ceremony.

Esi Edugyan – The $50,000 Giller Prize win by this uber-talented Writing graduate and former Writing instructor (mistakenly described as “Vancouver writer” by the Toronto Sun) has earned coverage in most Canadian media outlets, as well as some international headlines, as seen in the New York Observer and this BBC article. Check out the CBC coverage, which features an award clip and a morning-after interview. Geez, who’d wanna get up that early after winning the literary prize of a lifetime? She also talks with Q’s Jian Ghomeshi (November 9 podcast).

Esi Edugyan accepts the Giller Prize on Nov 8 (Photo: Tyler Anderson/National Post)

Plus, the National Post ran a lovely reflection on the crazy year that Edugyan and her husband, Writing instructor Steven Price, have had—including new books by both of them (Price’s was the local earthquake novel, Into That Darkness) and the recent birth of their first child. “You each became the other’s first reader, and most essential editor. You brainstormed together, solved the work together, sought out and quarreled with whatever you were in the thick of over dinner, or while washing up. You remember that first apartment, with the tiny kitchen, where one of you wrote on a card table next to the garbage can in the mornings, the other late into the nights—and how you often left work out for the other to read over, and make suggestions on.”

Sean Holman talks to Andrew MacLeod (A.MacLeod, photo)

Sean Holman – In addition to teaching journalism in the Department of Writing, and filling in as the acting Director of Professional Writing, Holman got plenty of coverage recently with the news that he was shutting down the daily reporting aspect of his infamous investigative journalism watchdog blog, Public Eye Online. After seven years of scrums, breaking a whopping 6,000 stories and dealing with ever-dwindling resources, Holman’s announcement caught more than a few people off-guard. Here, he talks to Andrew MacLeod, legislative bureau chief for the Tyee, about why he’s bowing out. And then the Tyee ran an opinion piece by The Ubyssey student newspaper editor Justin McElroy called, “What Sean Holman Taught Me”. “As journalists, the world of public demand teaches us to focus on our ‘brand’ and our Klout score,” writes McElroy. “We’re told that having the skills of a writer, photographer, editor and on-air talent, all in one, is the best hope for success. But at the same time, we’re also told that investigative journalism skills are important, and that the role of the fourth estate is vital. Holman’s decision gives a hint as to which priorities are winning.”

Holman also offered the Canadian Centre for Investigative Journalism these five lessons learned from his years of doing Public Eye Online. And Shaw TV’s Dan Kahan offered this end-of-an-era interview with Holman. Finally, Vanessa Hawk of UVic’s own Martlet offered this in-house interview with Holman, which also offered some thoughts on the next generation of journalists he’s helping to teach: “It’s so fantastic when I see my students being able to write an exclusive story that could easily be published in any major newspaper across the country. That’s extraordinarily rewarding.”

Frances Backhouse – This MFA candidate in Writing and award-winning writer herself recently penned a fascinating and informative ode to the beaver for the Tyee, in response to Senator Nicole Eaton’s push to have this “dentally defective rat” and “toothy tyrant” removed as our national symbol.

Visual Arts grad Mike McLean in front of his year in photos (Photo: Darren Stone, Times Colonist)

Mike McLean – A Visual Arts alumnus and former sessional instructor, McLean’s new Open Space exhibit, Thirty-Five Thousand Forty, was featured in the Times Colonist. McLean took 96 photos a day for an entire year, from June 2010 to June 2011, which now cover every inch of the gallery’s walls. “Photography in the digital era is developing its own language, forging unique processes and technologies,” writes McLean in the show’s description. “It seems to have reached the democratic potential that George Eastman predicted one hundred years ago, when he took the process out of the studio of the trained craftsman and put it into the hands of the unskilled hobbyist.” As Open Space notes, “McLean turns the idea of digital photography inside out, conferring an analogue physicality and monumentality onto a format that proliferates effortlessly, flooding websites, Facebook, memory cards and hard drives in an unimaginably deep cloak of images.” The exhibit runs to December 10 at Open Space, 510 Fort Street in Victoria.

Will Weigler (Photo: Darren Stone, Times Colonist)

Will Weigler – A sessional instructor in Theatre specializing in Applied Theatre, Weigler’s doctoral dissertation about  why audiences connect to live performances—what he describes as “ah-ha!” moments—was featured in both the Times Colonist and the Calgary Herald, as well as the Victoria News, and was interviewed for CFUV’s campus news show, U in the Ring, and on-air at CFAX 1070. “Weigler asked more than 90 people—including scholars and critics—to describe unforgettable moments they had experienced in theatre,” writes Chamberlain. “He then analyzed these descriptions to see if any identifiable patterns emerged. And they did. A theatre director and actor, Weigler will publish his dissertation in book form to help others create compelling and memorable theatre . . . . Weigler discovered a number of recurring factors that typify ‘ah-ha!’ theatre. For instance, something unorthodox might happen that alters the traditional actor/audience relationship. It works to yank us into the action. An actor may be suddenly held upside down, or have a pie thrown in his face. In his research, Weigler also found other physical things – perhaps an onstage gesture – can embody an emotion, a relationship or some other aspect in a powerful, revelatory manner. This, too, can break down any performer/ audience barrier.”

John Gould, centre, with judges Page (left) and Stenson (photo: Adrian Lam, Times Colonist)

John Gould – This longtime Department of Writing instructor and acclaimed author was one of the three judges for the Times Colonist‘s second annual “So You Think You Can Write?”contest, alongside fellow professional writers Susan Stenson and Kathy Page. This year’s winner was UVic English graduate Maija Liinamaa, about whom Gould said, “A kid’s algebra class—what a superbly unlikely place to experience supernatural intervention! A fresh concept, brought to life with fresh prose and tons of finely observed detail.”

Writing alum Esi Edugyan wins $50,000 Giller Prize

Congratulations to Esi Eudgyan on her Giller Prize win! (photo: Chris Young/Canadian Press)

Whew! What a week for the Department of Writing. First, longtime instructor and beloved poet Lorna Crozier received the Order of Canada at a ceremony in Ottawa Friday night, then acting chair and acclaimed playwright Joan MacLeod won the $100,000 Siminovitch Prize for Theatre on Monday night—now, Writing graduate and former instructor Esi Edugyan has won the Scotiabank Giller Prize for her book, Half-Blood Blues. With a prize of $50,000, the Giller is awarded annually to Canada’s best English-language novel.

“A prize like this does so much to promote literature in Canada and the world,” Edugyan said in her acceptance speech. “It’s been the greatest privilege to be one of the nominees and to be shortlisted with such brilliant writers.” Like Edugyan, fellow nominee Patrick DeWitt was also on the same four-award shortlist—the Giller, the Man Booker Prize, the Writers Trust Award and the Governor General’s Literary Award; DeWitt won the Writers Trust, and the Governor General’s will be announced next week.

Esi Edugyan gives her acceptance speech at the Giller Prize in Toronto (Photo: Tyler Anderson, Postmedia News)

Focusing on four black jazz musicians in Nazi-occupied Germany, Half-Blood Blues is the second novel for the Colwood-based Edugyan, who is married to award-winning poet, author and UVic Department of Writing instructor Steven Price. As well as being a Writing graduate, Edugyan was also a sessional instructor with the Department for two years, specializing in fiction writing. (Edugyan and Price also celebrated the birth of their first child in late August of this year, making the past two months a dizzying time indeed.)

The Giller jury praised Half-Blood Blues as a “joyful lament,” noting that “any jazz musician would be happy to play the way Edugyan writes.” Ironically, while Half-Blood Blues had been released in England earlier this year, it was almost not published in Canada following the bankruptcy of original publisher Key-Porter Books. “The book was actually homeless for a few months until it was bought by Thomas Allen Publishers,” Edugyan said back in August. “It was intensely worrying; I love the Brits, and I love my editor there, but when you write a book, you really want to be published in your own country, to make an impact in your own sphere.”

In addition to her BA from UVic, Edugyan has a Masters in Writing from Johns Hopkins University and she has held fellowships in the US, Scotland, Iceland, Germany, Hungary, Finland, Spain and Belgium. Her well-received debut novel, The Second Life of Samuel Tyne, was also published internationally, and her work has appeared in several anthologies, including Best New American Voices 2003 and Revival: An Anthology of Black Canadian Writing (2006).

The other Giller Prize finalists, each of whom receive a $5,000 prize, include David Bezmozgis (The Free World),  Lynn Coady (The Antagonist), Patrick deWitt (The Sisters Brothers), Zsuzsi Gartner (Better Living Through Plastic Explosives) and Michael Ondaatje (The Cat’s Table). The Giller was founded by Jack Rabinovitch in 1994 in memory of his late wife, literary journalist Doris Giller.

Other notable prizes for the Department of Writing this year include alumnus DW Wilson‘s
£15,000 win of the BBC National Short Story Prize (nearly $24,000 Canadian) and current student Erin Fisher‘s $2,000 first-place win in the PRISM International poetry and fiction contest, plus retired Writing prof Jack Hodgins recent City of Victoria Butler Book Prize win. Congratulations to all!

Joan MacLeod wins the $100,000 Siminovitch Prize in Theatre

Siminovitch Prize winner Joan MacLeod

Acclaimed Canadian playwright and acting Department of Writing chair Joan MacLeod has won the 2011 Siminovitch Prize in Theatre. With a prize of $100,000, the Siminovitch is Canada’s richest theatre award.

“For well over a decade now my time to write has been steadily diminishing,” says MacLeod. “The Siminovitch award changes all that. What a generous and perfect gift. What a great reminder of what drew me to writing in the first place—there is joy to be found in creating a piece of writing.”

The Vancouver born-and-raised MacLeod is the author of nine plays, including such beloved works as The Shape Of A Girl, Amigo’s Blue Guitar, Homechild and Toronto, Mississippi. The Tarragon Theatre production of her latest play, Another Home Invasion, is currently on a national tour, and The Shape of a Girl has been produced continuously since its 2001 premiere. MacLeod’s plays have been translated into eight languages and she has received numerous awards, including the Governor General’s Award for Drama and two Chalmers Canadian Play Awards; this is her second time on the Siminovitch list, following her nomination in 2005. MacLeod also graduated from UVic’s Department of Writing in 1978—where she has taught since 2004.

“The jury wanted to recognize Joan’s unique voice, her masterful storytelling and the impact that her work has had among audiences in Canada and beyond,” noted jury chair Maureen Labonté, “Joan is a master of expressing the profoundest human emotions, putting to paper the vulnerability, the compassion, the weaknesses and strengths of the human spirit. Moreover, as a teacher, mentor and role model, she has no doubt inspired a generation of new Canadian theatre artists.”

Joan MacLeod was joined at the Siminovitch Prize gala in Toronto by former UVic MFA student Sally Stubbs and Department of Writing colleague Maureen Bradley, along with Fine Arts associate dean Lynne Van Luven (taking photo)

But while MacLeod may be cutting back on her teaching duties in the near future, don’t count her out of the department anytime soon. “It’s a very rewarding job,” she told the Globe and Mail about her position at UVic. “I love my students and I’m honoured that the teaching part of me is also part of this award.”

One unique aspect of the Siminovitch Prize is its designation of a $25,000 protégé award; MacLeod has chosen Toronto playwright Anusree Roy as her protégé, whose plays Brothel #9 and Pyassa have each won a Dora Award for Outstanding New Play.

Named for renowned scientist Lou Siminovitch and his late playwright wife Elinore, the Siminovitch Prize has awarded over $1 million in prizes since its 2001 debut. Previous winners include Toronto playwright Daniel MacIvor, Vancouver director Kim Colier and Calgary designer Ronnie Burkett.

Media coverage of MacLeod’s win has been brisk, with noticeable features in the Globe and Mail (“I’m so far from being the bright new thing, so it just feels great to be celebrated like this. It’s not something that happens often at this point in someone’s career.”), MacLean’s magazine (“”This is the big one. For a playwright in this country, it really doesn’t get better than this and it isn’t anything that I had imagined.”), CBC, the Vancouver Sun and the front page of the local Times Colonist.

MacLeod also offered praise for her days as a student in UVic’s Department of Writing: “They believed in my voice and thought I had talent,” she told the TC’s Adrian Chamberlain. “That really meant a lot to me.”

Sonik nominated for $40,000 non-fiction prize

Award nominee Madeline Sonik

Afflictions & Departures, the latest book by Department of Writing instructor Madeline Sonik, has made the longlist for the $40,000 BC National Award for Canadian Non-Fiction. After perusing 134 books submitted by 35 publishers, the jury—made up of former Vancouver Public Library City Librarian Paul Whitney, author Shari Graydon and former Vancouver Sun editor-in-chief Patrician Graham—then whittled that list down to 10 diverse books, including Sonik’s autobiographical offering, plus Charlotte Gill’s Eating Dirt, Brian Fawcett’s Human Happiness and Chris Turner’s The Leap, among others.

“Canada’s authors continue to inspire, engage and enlighten, and this year’s nominated titles well reflect our tradition of truly remarkable literary non-fiction,” said Keith Mitchell, chair of award organizers the British Columbia Achievement Foundation.

Sonik—an award-winning novelist, short-story writer, children’s author, poet, editor and non-fiction writer whose previous books include the likes of Drying the Bones and Arms (both from Nightwood Editions), plus Belinda and the Dustbunnys (Hodgepog) and Stone Sightings (Inanna)—has been nominated for prizes before, but says this is the shortest list she has appeared on to date.

“It means a lot to me personally,” says Sonik of Afflictions & Departures (Anvil Press). “Right from the beginning, this book has been a bit of a wild child. When I went looking for a publisher, I got so much, ‘Wow…, this is fantastic,… but how would we ever market it?’ ‘It’s not conventional memoir. It’s not conventional personal essay. It’s not like anything we’ve ever seen.’ Brian Kaufman at Anvil Press said the same thing—but fortunately, that’s what he was looking for.”

Unfortunately, says Sonik, the use of the word “essays” as the cover descriptor has been a bit of a stumbling block for Afflictions & Departures—which tackles the author’s life from conception to my mid-teens, as well as her touching on her late parents and the particular historical period through which they all lived as a family. “When the book was published in the summer, book editors didn’t want to review it . . . so really, word of mouth has been the only thing sustaining the book so far. This nomination will at least get the title out there a little further.”

Regardless of the outcome, Sonik says the BCNA nomination has inspired her to come up with a name for the new nonfiction genre in which she’s been working. “I’m going to call this book a ‘fracture’—a series of short, linked memoir pieces that uses techniques of hard-boiled journalism and literary fiction, and self-consciously disrupts or fractures conceptions of linear time. I think postmodernists will love this label!”

Last year’s winner was John Vaillant for The Tiger, and UVic’s Patrick Lane won in 2005 for There Is a Season.

Finalists for the seventh annual award will be announced December 5 and the award presentation will take place in Vancouver on February 6, 2012.

Sonik’s new poetry collection, The Book of Changes, is forthcoming in 2012.

And, as one of the 36 contributing authors, she is also participating in the local launch for the new collection, Slice Me Some Truth: An Anthology of Canadian Nonficiton (Wolsak & Wynn), at 7pm Thursday, November 24, at The Well, 821 Fort Street.


REVIEW: Madeline Sonik’s Afflictions & Departures was reviewed in the November 13 issue of the Times Colonist. Reviewer Candace Fertile describes the book as a “fascinating and deeply moving memoir” that “pulsates with raw, straightforward truth.”

“In addition to the realism contained in these essays is the tough and beautiful language,” praises Fertile. “It’s evident that words matter enormously to Sonik, and she consistently finds the right ones to use . . . . Afflictions & Departures is guaranteed not only to satisfy but also to inspire. Sonik has overcome enormous challenges and turned them into literary jewels. This book encourages readers to think about family, memory and history—and above all, resilience.”