Happiness is . . . a good production of Charlie Brown!

If you’ve got kids or grandchildren and are looking for a fun show, don’t miss Phoenix Theatre’s current production of You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown.

The Phoenix cast of You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown (photo: David Lowes)

The Phoenix cast of You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown (photo: David Lowes)

Based on Charles M. Schulz’s popular Peanuts comic strip, this high-energy, fast-paced musical follows the strip’s format of presenting humorous snippets and funny scenes rather than offering a more formal plot. And while this 46-year-old musical has an enduring charm that will appeal to any musical fan—the show has had recent revivals on both Broadway and at Ontario’s famed Stratford Festival—it really works best for families with kids aged six to 12.

In his review for CBC Radio’s On The Island, critic David Lennam says, “This version at the university is really good, particularly in that way that long after you’ve left the theatre you’re thinking about it again . . . . When you slip it on, it feels like a favourite sweater, that pure nostalgia that you’re bathed in. And it has something to say to today’s audiences because deft social commentary is what made Schulz’s comic strips so endearing.”

Noting the production is rich in sentimentality and familiarity, with vibrant choreography by busy local veteran Jacques Lemay, Lennam says “the acting and art direction are where it really succeeds: everything pops with colour . . . like a Roger Rabbit universe. The ensemble cast play well off each other.”

Snoopy (Kevin Eade) sings to the moon (photo: David Lowes)

Snoopy (Kevin Eade) sings to the moon (photo: David Lowes)

Under the headline “Phoenix Theatre’s Charlie Brown Sure to Please Fans,” the local Times Colonist says, “the University of Victoria’s theatre department has done a superior job with this 1967 musical.” True, reviewer Adrian Chamberlain admits he’s not a fan of musical creator Clark Gesner’s material, but he praises this production nonetheless: “The cartoon-ish set and costumes are great. Jacques Lemay’s choreography is just dandy—the dance is simple, yet sufficiently complex to engage and entertain. Fran Gebhard’s sure-handed direction is bold and brisk.”

He also points out that the “well-rehearsed student cast did well overall. And Adrian Bronson, accompanying on grand piano, was excellent.” As for favourites, Chamberlain says, “Tea Siskin, playing Lucy, emerges as the show’s standout. Her performance was theatrical without being over the top; she somehow manages to create a strong, warm character who’s simultaneously irritating and endearing.”

The Peanuts gang with Charlie Brown (Kale Penny) (photo: David Lowes)

The Peanuts gang with Charlie Brown (Kale Penny) (photo: David Lowes)

Reviewing for CVV Magazine, Anna Kemp describes the production as “all good, no grief” and “fun right from the rousing opening number.” Noting her five-year-old son “loved it, and it was just the right length for him,” Kemp says “the performance by UVic’s Phoenix Theatre makes it easy to see why the show has enjoyed such popularity over the years.”

Kemp also enjoyed the cast overall. “Tea Siskin (Lucy) and Christie Stewart (Sally) really steal the show, both with powerful voices and strong dramatic presences,” she writes. “Kale Penny as Charlie is well-cast as the kind-hearted, somewhat gormless guy who never quite gets things right. Better still, all the actors seem to be enjoying themselves on stage, which really infuses the performance with a sense of joyfulness.”

She also credited director and Department of Theatre professor Fran Gebhard for putting  together “a great creative team”—including pianist Adrian Bronson, percussionist Katelyn Clark, choreographer Jacques Lemay, musical director Jim Hill and the design team of professor Allan Stichbury (set) plus Simon Farrow (lights), Allyson Leet and Shayna Ward (costumes), noting “the cast really look like the comic strip characters, right down to their amazing stiff wigs and rolled-down socks.”

Director Fran Gebhard also spoke to the Victoria News in this interview, noting that “Charlie Brown has already stood the test of time. He doesn’t need to be changed to be relevant. Everything these kids go through—depression, anxiety, existentialism, bullying—still plague us today, and the Peanuts gang do a beautiful job of exploring how to overcome these problems on their own.” Gebhard was also interviewed in the March issue of Island Parent magazine, which is currently available around the city.

You’re A Good Man Charlie Brown runs to March 23 at UVic’s Phoenix Theatre. Click here for tickets and showtime information.

Alumni names in the news

There’s been a flurry of Fine Arts alum popping up in the media of late. Here’s a quick roundup.

Who will win in the Gaston versus Thanh showdown?

It’s Gaston versus Thanh! Who will win?

Writing grad Yasuko Thanh has been named as finalist for the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize in the BC Book Prizes for her debut collection —and she’s up against none other than Department of Writing chair Bill Gaston. Thanh has been tapped for her debut collection of stories, Floating Like The Dead, while Gaston is named for his latest novel, The World.  Also on the shortlist for the BC Book Prize’s Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize is Writing alum and former Writing instructor Patricia Young for Night-Eater, her 11th book of poetry.

Thanh also continues to make news thanks to the revealing news about her appearance in the 2014 PEN nude author’s calendar. The latest coverage appeared in the Times Colonist, hooked to her participation in The Malahat Review‘s upcoming WordsThaw event on March 23.

Jessica Kluthe (photo: Edmonton Journal)

Jessica Kluthe (photo: Edmonton Journal)

Three other Writing alumni in the news: grad-turned-Writing professor Joan MacLeod‘s new play The Valley was just announced in the Globe and Mail as being part of the lineup for Tarragon Theatre’s new 2013-14 season. CBC CanadaWrites Short Story Prize shortlister Eliza Robertson now has a Q&A up about the story that landed her a spot in the popular CBC writing contest; this is her third time entering, and first time as a finalist—fingers crossed for the whole “third time lucky” thing! And Jessica Kluthe continues to attract attention with her first book, Rosina, the Midwife—check out this Edmonton Journal article.

Nathan Medd

Nathan Medd

Over in Theatre, busy Phoenix alum Nathan Medd was just announced as the new Managing Director of the National Arts Centre’s English Theatre in Ottawa—a real feather in anyone’s cap. “I feel extremely honoured to be taking on this role with the National Arts Centre—the Team Canada of the performing arts!,” he says.

The move sees Medd leaves his position as managing producer of the nationally recognized Electric Company Theatre in Vancouver—whose artistic director and founding member is none other than new Department of Writing prof Kevin Kerr.  Among Medd’s other achievements (theatre program coordinator with the BC Arts Council, the Canada Council’s Theatre Assessment Committee, Vancouver’s arts assessment juries, etc.) are stints with both the Belfry Theatre and Intrepid Theatre, where he helped establish downtown Victoria’s immensely popular Metro Studio.

Will Jasleen Powar make it to MuchMusic?

Will Jasleen Powar make it to MuchMusic?

In other Phoenix news, current Theatre student Jasleen Powar has made it to the top 40 in MuchMusic’s VJ Search competition. (Phoenix alumna Melanie Karin had also been on the longlist, but got knocked out.) Will Powar make it to the top 20? Vote for her here and help her make the cut!

Also on the television beat, Phoenix grads Peter Carlone (half of the sketch comedy team Peter ‘n Chris) and Mack Gordon have applied to be on the first-ever Canadian edition of The Amazing Race—you can watch their hilarious audition video here. The cross-Canada version of the race-around-the-world reality show will air later this year on CTV. And Phoenix grad and Theatre SKAM co-founder Amiel Gladstone is back in Victoria directing Pacific Opera Victoria’s upcoming production of Tosca.

Amy Wood

Amy Wood

Staying in the media spotlight, recent School of Music alum Amy Wood made it through the first three rounds of voting in CBC’s Searchlight competition for the Best New Canadian Artist, earning a spot in the top five for the Victoria region before getting bumped. While at UVic, Amy studied voice with Music prof Benjamin Butterfield, but started playing and singing at the piano at a very young age. She now describes songwriting as an “obsession,” saying, “I can’t not write and lately it hurts not to sing for others.”

Wood is currently planning the release of an EP as well as a full-length album and is in the midst of covering song requests on her YouTube-based Sunday “Request Booth”. (Interesting side-note: Wood’s Searchlight submission was actually recorded in the UVic studios and mixed by one of School of Music Audio Specialist/Recording Engineer Kirk McNally‘s student recording techs.)

perceptionFinally, three Visual Arts alumni—Stephanie Aitken, Katie Lyle and Shelley Penfold—are featured in Drama of Perception, the latest exhibit at Deluge Contemporary. Aitken currently teaches at Langara College and Emily Carr University in Vancouver, Penfold lives and paints in Vancouver, and Lyle received a fair bit of attention last year when she was named the honourable mention winner in the 14th Annual RBC Canadian Painting Competition for her oil painting, “White Night.” She earned a cheque for $15,000 and her painting was added to RBC’s 4,000-piece corporate art collection.

Drama of Perception is also curated by Visual Arts prof Sandra Meigs, and runs to April 13 at 636 Yates.

Writing grad makes CBC shortlist

Department of Writing grad Eliza Robertson has been announced as one of five finalists in CBC’s 2013 Short Story Prize.

Eliza Robertson (photo: Will Johnson)

Eliza Robertson (photo: Will Johnson)

Robertson’s story “L’Étranger” was selected from over 2,400 short stories that were submitted from across the country. Her name appeared on the longlist in the company of fellow Writing grads Yasuko Thanh, Judy LeBlanc and former Writing instructor Holly Nathan, but only Robertson made the final cut. She is also the only BC entry, with two each of the other four shorlisted English-language authors coming from Alberta and Ontario. (French entries get their own contest, which you can check out here.)

The winner will be announced on Monday, March 26, but you’ll able to read the shortlisted stories on the Canada Writes site, where one new story will be published each weekday morning alongside a short Q&A with the finalists—and you can read Eliza’s Q&A here.  Once all five stories have been published, you will be able to vote for your favourite (voting begins March 15).

The winner, as selected by the CBC Short Story Prize jury, will be announced on Monday, March 26. Jury members this year include fellow UVic Writing grad and Giller Prize-winner Esi Edugyan, plus Lawrence Hill and Vincent Lam. The Grand Prize winner will receive a cash prize of $6,000 (courtesy the Canada Council for the Arts), plus a two-week writing residency at The Banff Centre and will be published in Air Canada’s enRoute magazine. The other finalists will each receive $1,000 from the Canada Council for the Arts.

This is hardly the first time Robertson has made the news. After picking up The Malahat Review’s 2009 Far Horizons Award, she was shortlisted for 2010’s Journey Prize and won the 2010 PRISM International fiction contest; Robertson was also one of the student creators of the 2011 Leo Award-winning web series, Freshman’s Wharf, and received the Booker Scholarship to attend England’s University of East Anglia.

According to their website, the “CBC Literary Prizes are the most important prizes awarded to unpublished literary work in Canada. They bring visibility to authors who are beginning their writing career and help promote the careers of well-known Canadian writers.”

The legacy of Michael Williams explored in new Legacy exhibit

Talking about art takes on a whole new meaning with the opening of Creating [Con] text, the latest exhibit at the Legacy Gallery.

"Biomorphic" by Jack Shadbolt (1988)

“Biomorphic” by Jack Shadbolt (1988)

Creating [Con] text activates works of art in in UVic’s Michael Williams Bequest Collection through the oral history research of Dr. Carolyn Butler Palmer and her graduate students. Over the course of a number of years, Butler Palmer—an assistant professor in Modern and Contemporary Arts of the Pacific Northwest for the History in Art department—and her students have gathered an extensive array of interviews with people associated with the late downtown businessman and art supporter Michael Collard Williams and the artists he collected.

"Untitled; Four Figures" by Angela Grossman (1984)

“Untitled; Four Figures” by Angela Grossman (1984)

Featuring paintings by Angela Grossman, Jack Shadbolt and Emily Carr—all eminent British Columbia painters whose careers span more than a century into the present day—Creating [Con] text allows the stories of artists, dealers, collectors, and viewers to infuse the works of art with more deeply understood meaning.

“Oral histories provide dynamic primary source materials that describe a history not found in textbooks,” says Butler Palmer, UVic’s Williams Legacy Chair. “These interviews give us new ways of interpreting the past and shed light for viewers on the relationships and influences that a single scholarly interpretation may not provide.”

Drawing upon recorded excerpts from the Oral History project, the exhibition commemorates the life of Michael Williams and his passion for art. It also illuminates the connections between the BC artists in the exhibition—artists who share many links despite the generation gaps between them. Finally it provides meaningful access to the stories around the art, preserving them for future generations.

Creating [Con] text runs from March 13 to June 15, 2013, at The Legacy Gallery, 630 Yates (corner of Broad and Yates). Free and open to the public Wednesday–Saturday, 10 am-4 pm.

Phoenix helps light the SPARK

The Belfry Theatre’s annual SPARK Festival is back and, not surprisingly, some Phoenix Theatre staff, students and alumni are involved.

Jan Wood

Jan Wood

First up on March 11 is Department of Theatre prof Jan Wood, who will be presenting a staged reading of her new work Sacrifices. Here’s the official description of Sacrifices: “Each person makes allowances and negotiates compromises in order to exist…but at what cost? Sacrifices examines the choices that an ordinary woman makes to balance career, family and self-fulfillment. In revealing her story, Medina exposes the tiny sacrifices that have led her to commit her ultimate sacrifice, an act universally condemned and abhorred. Part myth, part mystery, Sacrifices tells of a struggle for personal fulfillment in a world where a thin veneer can separate sanity and madness.”

Sacrifices will be read by Wood and noted director and playwright James Fagan Tait (The Life Inside) at 7pm Monday, March 11 at the Belfry—for free!

Wood also recently appeared in the Belfry’s December 2012 production of A Christmas Carol alongside husband Brian LInds—who is doing a miniplay installation at SPARK called Story With Sound: A Lucid Moment. And their daughter, Shayna Linds, is appearing in Belfry 101 Live at SPARK. Talk about a family affair!

Taddei, Ogden & Macaulay (photo: Peter Pokorny)

Taddei, Ogden & Macaulay (photo: Peter Pokorny)

Meanwhile, current Phoenix students Kathryn Taddei, Monica Ogden and Charlotte Macaulay—all past Belfry 101 students—are collaborating on a new miniplay for the Belfry Leadership Training Program called Kid Psychic. All the miniplays this year are inspired by the senses, so Kid Psychic looks to the sixth sense and opens the door to another world.

Michelle Monteith

Michelle Monteith

Phoenix alumni are also on deck this year, with Michelle Monteith appearing in Little One by acclaimed playwright Hannah Moskovitch (whose The Russian Play was a hit at SPARK 2010). Little One is described as “a stylish little lullaby-nightmare” and is a welcome return for Monteith, who previously wowed us with Revisited, which she co-created with 2B Theatre. Monteith is interviewed in this Times Colonist SPARK preview.

Jennifer Lines

Jennifer Lines

Also appearing at SPARK this year are Theatre SKAM’s Matthew Payne (in Zopyra Theatre’s When Time Was Young), and busy Phoenix grad Jennifer Lines, who will be reading the new play by Carmine Aguirre, The Trial of Tina Modotti. The Jessie Richardson Award-winning Lines, who last appeared locally in The Real Thing at the Belfry, is a frequent face at the likes of Vancouver’s Bard on the Beach and Arts Club Theatre. Aguirre, a graduate of Vancouver’s Studio 58 who won the 2012 Canada Reads for her book Something Fierce: Memoirs of a Revolutionary Daughter, also wrote Blue Box, which was an audience favourite at 2012’s Uno Fest.

Carmen Aguirre

Carmen Aguirre

The Trial of Tina Modotti is a one-woman show exploring the life of the famed 1920s photographer and activist. Born in Italy in 1896 to an impoverished working class family, she moved to San Francisco in her teens, and then later lived in Mexico, Germany, the former Soviet Union, and Spain, where she ran a hospital for the Republicans during the Spanish Civil War. Renowned and remembered for her photography as much as for her activism, she died in 1942 of a heart attack in Mexico City. Aguirre’s play examines themes around art as a tool for change, the personal and artistic cost of absolute commitment to a political cause, and ultimately asks the question: what is the purpose of art in the face of human suffering?