Ready, set . . . launch!

A few Department of Writing-related readings and book launches to add to your November calendars:

Coastal poet Joe Denham

• Coastal poet and author Joe Denham will be the featured reader at the next instalment of Open Word: Readings and Ideas, followed by a live interview with Department of Writing poetry prof Tim Lilburn. (Open Word is a partnership between Open Space and the Department of Writing.)

Denham is the author of two poetry collections, Flux (2003) and Windstorm (2009), and one novel, The Year of Broken Glass (2011, all published by Nightwood). His work has appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies including Open Field: 30 Contemporary Canadian Poets, The New Canon: An Anthology of Canadian Poetry and Breathing Fire 2: Canada’s New Poets. Denham lives with his wife and two children in Halfmoon Bay, BC, and works as a commercial fisherman throughout coastal British Columbia.

Denham reads first at 7:30pm Tuesday, November 15, at Open Space, 510 Fort St., then swings up to campus for an 11am Wednesday, November 16, reading in room 203 of the Fine Arts Building.

• Faculty of Fine Arts associate dean Lynne Van Luven will be among the dozen authors kicking off their new book as the annual fall collective push by the Heritage Group of Publishers (including Heritage House, TouchWood Editions, Brindle & Glass, Rocky Mountain Books and the Royal BC Museum). Van Luven will be debuting her latest effort, Somebody’s Child: Stories about Adoption. Also on the bill is alumnus Barbara Stewart, who will be reading from her book, Campie.

The festivities run 5:30 to 9:30pm on Thursday, November 17, at the Maritime Museum of BC in Bastion Square. Stewart will be on roughly around 6:45pm, while Van Luven will read at 7:30pm.

Finally, Writing facutly members Madeline Sonik, just-nominated for the BC National Award for Canadian Non-Fiction, and recent Officer of the Order of Canada winner Lorna Crozier are both included in the new collection, Slice Me Some Truth: An Anthology of Canadian Nonficiton (Wolsak & Wynn). Described as “a ground-breaking survey of today’s creative nonfiction in Canada,” the 36 authors collected in Slice Me Some Truthcover memoir, personal essay, literary travel, nature writing, lyric essay plus researched literary journalism and cultural criticism; writers include the likes of Kate Braid, M.A.C. Farrant, Patrick Friesen, Wayne Grady, Mark Kingwell, Evelyn Lau, Charles Montgomery, Stephen Osborne, Harold Rhenisch and Andreas Schroeder, among many others.

Both Sonik and Crozier will be joining anthology co-editor Zoe Landale plus contributors M.A.C Farrant and Genni Gunn at the local launch at 7pm Thursday, November 24, at The Well, 821 Fort Street.

New face in Visual Arts

Paul Walde at work with a study for “Composition for Percussion, Light and Ultrasound”

Breaking news from the Department of Visual Arts: London, Ontario, visual artist Paul Walde has been named the newest associate professor.

“The Department is excited to have Paul join our ranks,” says Visual Arts chair Daniel Laskarin. “His expertise and enthusiasm will complement and augment the range of learning available to our students, and his creative work will be a welcome addition to the discourse of the visual arts at UVic and beyond.”

Walde is a multidisciplinary artist, musician and curator who has been teaching at the University of Western Ontario of late. As his website bio states, his “eclectic body of work suggests unexpected interconnections between landscape, identity, and technology and includes painting, photography, printmaking, sculpture, installation and audio.” He is also a founding member of the London-based experimental sound art collective, Audio Lodge.

A graduate of the University of Western Ontario (BFA) and New York University (MA), Walde is also the winner of The Prescott Fund Award from the National Arts Club in New York City, and has recently received awards from the Canada Council for the Arts and the Ontario Arts Council. As the Artistic Director and visual arts curator of LOLA—the London Ontario Live Arts festival—Walde has presented projects by such international artists as Brian Eno (UK), blackhole factory (DE), Yoko Ono (US), Jamie Lidell (UK), Caribou (CAN) and Paul D. Miller, aka DJ Spooky (US). Often blurring the lines between producer and curator he has also presented the work of such Canadian artists as Michael Snow, Kelly Mark, Dave Dyment, Gordon Monahan and Michelle Gay.

The completed “Composition for Percussion, Light and Ultrasound”

His piece, “Composition for Percussion, Light and Ultrasound”—an after-dark installation consisting of a group of drums containing high-powered lights to attract moths, plus audio mics to amplify the sound of the moths as they fly across the drum skins and react to audio recordings of bat sonar—was featured in both the spring 2011 issue of Musicworks magazine and the summer 2011 issue of Utne Reader magazine. (“I’m interested in fusing nature and culture and trying to come up with things that are interesting,” Walde is quoted as saying. “The piece looks to interpret nature however it happens in real time.”)

“The past seven years in London have been extraordinarily productive,” Walde said in a recent note to the London arts community, “and many of you have contributed to the success of my projects whether they have been the exhibitions or performances of my own art projects or those of my collaborators Audio Lodge, the LOLA festivals that I curated, the LOLA concert series which I helped organize, the publication of my writing, or contributing to the dozens of public programs that I helped organize and present at Museum London. I am also indebted to my colleagues at the University of Western Ontario where I have taught for the past seven years, with the exception of the two years I spent at Museum London. It goes without saying that I will miss London and all the wonderful friends that I have here. I thank you for your continuing support as I make this important transition in my professional career.”

Paul Walde will begin teaching at UVic in January 2012.

All in good fun

Director Bindon Kinghorn (front) with the cast of Rookery Nook. (Photo: David Lowes)

Looking for a good belly laugh? Don’t miss Phoenix Theatre’s latest production, Rookery Nook, a 1920s British farce written by Ben Travers and directed by Bindon Kinghorn. “Farce is a fine line between satire, which makes a point, and just a gentle prod in the ribs,” explains Kinghorn. “No one is meant to be offended by any portrayal of themselves on the stage; it’s written for pure fun and enjoyment.”

Most often associated with plays by the likes of Oscar Wilde (The Importance of Being Earnest), Noel Coward (Blithe Spirit), Joe Orton (Loot) and Michael Frayn (Noises Off), or filmed productions like the Carry On movies or the classic John Cleese TV series Fawlty Towers, British farce is meant to be just good fun. “There’s no message in it—it’s just a bit of hilarious silliness,” says Kinghorn. “Most of the gags that you see on the stage—which are not in the script—are all devised by ourselves from the cast. All we’ve done is try and choreograph them.”

As he explained to Adrian Chamberlain in a Times Colonist preview of the show, Kinghorn first worked on the play back in 1968 in England, when he was an assistant stage manager at Bristol Old Vic for the historic Theatre Royal. (“I swept the floors, I brought coffee and occasionally touched the set or props.”) Now nearing retirement, Kinghorn liked the idea of bookending his career by coming back to the Nook. “I had a life on stage and behind stage and I remember it with great fondness,” he said. “At this stage in my career, I felt I might go back to it. Rather than being the lowly ASM, I’d be the director.”

UVic student Jamie Tanner has also created a dandy video preview of the show, which takes you backstage, through the set and into a conversation with Kinghorn himself. Keep your eyes open for the steaming ears and cat on the fly.

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Update: Adrian Chamberlain has now reviewed Rookery Nook, giving it 3 1/2 stars and noting, “This two-hour play, revived by the University of Victoria’s theatre department, is quite a bit of fun. And the UVic crew has done a tremendous job. Bindon Kinghorn’s clever direction is relentlessly zippy, with great emphasis on zany physical hijinks. A well-rehearsed student cast does well, balancing a sometimes dense script with hyperactive movement. The set and costumes are truly lovely – a triumph for the design team.”

Among Chamberlain’s standouts are student actors Derek Wallis, Jonathan MasonLucas Hall and Brooke Haberstock. “These young players possess seemingly endless energy. This is harnessed into a myriad of physical routines so well-choreographed and executed, at times it recalls modern dance.” He also gave props to set designer Jessica P. Wong (“[her] Tudor cottage shows painstaking attention to detail—the functional interior looks absolutely authentic and is key to this production’s success”) and costume designer Kat Jeffery (“[the] costumes are rooted in historical accuracy; at the same time, she has fantastical fun with them.”)

And Chris Felling of Culture Vulture Victoria has also weighed in, calling Rookery Nook “a fast, shallow but extremely satisfying comedy.” Felling also noted the “design . . . is superb. The first rise of the curtain was met with gasps and murmurs from the audience.”

“After being underwhelmed by Love Kills I was tickled to see something completely different mounted at the Phoenix,” Felling concludes. “Variety has always been one of student theatre’s strong suits and Rookery Nook has the added bonus of looking as professional as they come.”

Finally, Nadia Grutter of UVic’s own Martlet says, “Once you see the Phoenix’s Rookery Nook, you’ll be in on the joke. The play’s director (and dedicated Phoenix Theatre manager), Bindon Kinghorn, matches writer Ben Travers’ brilliant script with his own careful attention to detail, impeccable comedic timing and a real eye for farce in this 1920s comedy . . . . Rookery Nook’s shenanigans are not to be missed. Just try to keep a straight face—I’m sure you won’t be able to.”

Rookery Nook runs to November 19 at UVic’s Phoenix Theatre.

Franke James’ green conscience

In a class by herself: 1981 MFA Franke James stands in front of one of her own pieces

Artist, writer, environmentalist and recent thorn in Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s side, Franke James, is profiled in the Autumn 2011 issue of the alumni mag, The Torch. One of the first two graduates of UVic’s MFA program way back in 1981, James has made something of a name for herself since 2007 with her unique fusion of artistic and environmental concerns as seen on her website, My Green Conscience—but, most recently, as a result of the  Federal government blacklisting a planned European art tour blasting the ongoing Canadian tar sands development.

Following her personal motto of “doing the hardest thing first,” James took the story of her blacklisting to the media, threw a high-profile “blacklisting party” and put up billboards and bus shelter ads denouncing the government’s action. “The government usually does this with Environment Canada scientists who can’t speak out without losing their jobs,” she says, “but I can speak out, and I’m going to use every creative tool I have to challenge this blacklisting.”

An award-winning visual essayist whose work on climate change has graced the stage alongside Al Gore and Robert Kennedy Jr., James has also worked with the likes of lateral thinking pioneer Edward de Bono and 7 Habits of Highly Effective People author Stephen Covey, as well as mounting a $750,000 cross-Canada billboard art show featuring artistic A-listers like Jack Shadbolt, Mary Pratt and Gathie Falk.

And while she originally came to campus in 1979 to work with inspirational Visual Arts prof Mowry Baden, James readily credits UVic’s MFA program for the range of resources in her personal toolkit: “Creative thinking, learning to speak your mind using visual language, and being able to judge the impact of your creative effort —and both critique it and withstanding criticisms, and then come back with new solutions—that’s what came with my MFA. It makes you very resilient.”

Despite Canada’s recent environmental backsliding, James remains surprisingly optimistic about the future. “Look at smoking and garbage,” she chuckles. “There are fewer people who smoke now and pretty much everyone knows that smoking causes lung cancer. And back in 1979 we threw everything into garbage cans, while we now sort it into different containers for recycling. Those are wonderfully optimistic examples of change that can happen in a relatively short period of time.”

When it comes to causing change on either a local or global level, Franke James feels it all comes down to using the tools you know best. “Andy Warhol said to paint what you love, but I say paint what you want to change.”

Clearing the Air

Applied Theatre instructor Lauren Jerke (photo: Nik West, UVic Photo Services)

Imminent Masters graduate and Applied Theatre instructor Lauren Jerke was profiled in UVic’s latest knowlEDGE research feature, “Clearing the Air,” which ran in the Times Colonist on October 30. Both her work with VIHA’s smoking cessation and reduction group at Victoria’s Eric Martin Pavilion, and her penning of an original play, Mixed Messages (along with members of that group), were the subject of the piece.

“Applied theatre is the use of theatre for extra-theatrical purposes, like community-building, social change and education—and it almost always does all three at the same time,” Jerke explains in the article.

Mixed Messages focuses on how social culture and direct targeting by the smoking industry has resulted in rampant tobacco addictions among people living with mental illness. “Some doctors have been convinced by the tobacco industry that allowing people with a mental illness to smoke is ‘self-medication’ and that it eases their symptoms,” says Jerke. “The tobacco companies went as far as sending complimentary cartons of cigarettes to psychiatric institutions.”

(Quirky side-note: the guy smoking in the background of the accompanying photo is Fine Arts communications honcho and author of this blog, John Threlfall, who had to puff his way through a cigarette for the first time in over 25 years. Ick!)