Canadian comedy star & Phoenix alum Chris Wilson joins Air Farce

Looking for a fun —and funny — way to celebrate Canada 150? Spend July 1 with Department of Theatre alumnus Chris Wilson on CBC TV’s Air Farce Canada 150 special.

Phoenix alum and new Air Farce star Chris Wilson (photo: Rodney Daw)

Wilson, best known as one-half of the multiple award-winning comedy duo Peter N’ Chris, is one of two new cast members of the veteran Canadian comedy ensemble Air Farce.

He describes his new role in Air Farce as “a dream come true” in this June 29 Times Colonist article. “It was pretty fun,” he says of the audition process. “They just sent some scripts from past shows. From there, I just put my own take, my own spin on things. That was that.”

Air Farce has a long and enviable track record in the Canadian comedy scene, dating back to 1970 and boasting both a 24-year CBC Radio series and a 15-year CBC TV series. Lately, however, the Air Farce has been focusing on seasonal specials, like their annual New Year’s show and this week’s Canada 150 special.

You can watch it on CBC TV at 5pm Saturday, July 1, and again at 8pm Monday, July 3.

The full Air Farce cast (photo: Rodney Daw)

Wilson and fellow new cast member Isabel Kanaan join the six others in the troupe, including founding members Luba Goy and Don Ferguson. And considering over two million Canadians watched the Air Farce’s 2016 New Year’s special, it’s great exposure for Wilson.

Contacted at his home in Toronto, Wilson says he has fond memories of Air Farce. “It was one of my uncle’s favourite shows, actually, and my dad would watch it—it was always on. It’s pretty great to be part of that history now. This was one of the first times my parents were, like, ‘Oh wow!’ about something I’m doing. Normally I say we’re doing Fringe shows and they’re pleased, but this time they were noticeably more excited—‘It’s television!’”

Not that he’s been quiet since graduating in 2008. Wilson and his three-time Canadian Comedy Award-winning sketch comedy partner and fellow Phoenix alum Peter Carlone have built a large following in Canada and the US. In addition to shows like Peter N’ Chris Save the World, Peter N’ Chris and the Mystery of the Hungry Heart Motel, Peter N’ Chris and the Kinda OK Corral, and Peter N’ Chris Explore Their Bodies, the team have wowed audiences at Just For Laughs, JFL42, The Toronto Sketch Comedy Festival (2013, 2014) and at sketch festivals in Chicago and San Francisco.

Peter N’ Chris

They’ve also appeared in the Phoenix’s own Spotlight on Alumni in 2012, are writers for CBC Radio’s The Irrelevant Show, are regulars on the Canadian Fringe Festival circuit, have appeared on the popular comedy site, as well as the web series White Ninja, and the Leo Award-nominated short film, Grocery Store Action Movie. Lately, they’ve been touring small-town BC (“we’ll get 350 or 400 people coming out who don’t know us, they’re just rowdy, ready to laugh and don’t care if we’re not famous”), and they’re currently appearing in A Peter N’ Chris-tmas Carol at the 2017 Toronto Fringe Festival.

In fact, Wilson’s Air Farce gig came about as a direct result of his success with Carlone. “We were pitching to a panel at Just For Laughs for a Peter N’ Chris TV show and Air Farce’s Don Ferguson was on the panel,” he says. “They then asked me to audition because they were looking to expand the cast. But Peter and I are always working on other projects, and we are trying to move into doing more film and TV anyway.”

“Our goal is our own television show, something we can write, direct, star in and have full creative control over — you know, something that will never happen,” he chuckles. “Our next major goal is to finish a feature film script we’re working on. The Fringe circuit is great and it’ll always be there — it’s a nice source of income and, after 10 years, we pretty much know exactly how much we’ll make — but we both want to try a different kind of project.”

While working for a mainstream comedy ensemble like Air Farce may be a bit more traditional than his own off-the-cuff comedy stylings, Wilson says he’s still got room to improvise. “In the rehearsal process, we’ll improvise and riff on lines . . . if they like it, they’ll write it down and it’ll be in the next script draft.”

Now in a short film—it’s Peter N’ Chris!

When asked about the influence his Theatre education had on his life — beyond meeting classmate Carlone and working on their first seven-minute show together as a class assignment — Wilson points to the department’s comprehensive approach.

“I’d say it was the multi-disciplinary aspect,” he says. “UVic really encourages you to make your own work, whether through SATCo or off-campus, and that was invaluable. You meet a lot of UVic alumni on the Fringe doing their own work. UVic really encouraged that . . . having that support, that network, is one of the most valuable things — especially when you’re out of school working and can connect with others.”

Wilson admits he was influenced by the success of fellow Phoenix alumni TJ Dawe and Charles Ross. “Seeing Charlie do his One-Man Star Wars was amazing — it was pretty much what I wanted to do.”

But it was the influences of both current performance professor Jan Wood and former professor Ned Vukovic to which he is most indebted. “I always think about Jan Wood — it was her class where you had to create your own show. And I think a lot about Ned’s advice: ‘Dare to be boring; don’t try to act so much. You’re more interesting just standing there than you think.’ That’s totally true, especially with film acting.”

Except, of course, when you have to sing and dance on TV.


Patrick Du Wors is the only Canadian accepted at 2017 World Stage Design in Taiwan

When it comes to outstanding alumni, it’s hard to beat award-winning theatrical designer Patrick Du Wors. Not only has he made a name for himself on both national and international stages, he was recently hired as the new assistant professor of design for the Department of Theatre.

Theatre professor Patrick Du Wors

But this month, Du Wors is in the spotlight as the only Canadian stage designer selected to participate in the prestigious 2017 World Stage Design exhibition and Scenofest conference in Taiwan.

Running July 1-9, the juried showcase features 350 outstanding examples of international theatrical design in two categories: professional (200 displays) and emerging (150). Du Wors is firmly in the professional category, with his design for the Ghost River Theatre production of The Last Voyage of Donald Crowhurst selected from nearly 500 submissions worldwide. His work will be seen by between 13,000 and 15,000 visitors during the exhibit’s 10-day run on four floors of the Taipei National University of the Arts museum space—with nearly half those visitors coming from abroad.

Despite being the only Canadian production accepted, Du Wors is characteristically humble about his inclusion. “It’s such an honour to be exhibiting my design,” he says. “There were a number of [Canadian] submissions, so it is nice to be selected.”

One of Du Wors’ designs for “The Last Voyage of Donald Crowhurst” (photo: Benjamin Laird)

Described as “a multimedia meditation on ambition and the artistry of deception,” the world premiere of Last Voyage was produced by Alberta’s Ghost River Theatre during their 2014/15 season. It won six awards at Alberta’s Betty Mitchell Awards, and also received multiple nominations in the 2016 Alberta Literary Awards and the Calgary Critics’ Awards.

Du Wors — who is both attending World Stage Design and was on the jury for the “emerging” category — is proud to have his work seen beyond the original production. “This is a traditional exhibit in that we’re showing artifacts from the process: models, costume drawings and production photos,” he says.

This is in stark contrast to the inherently ephemeral nature of theatre as an art form, where many productions only exist for their run and are then never seen again. “One thing I learned from my classes with Mary Kerr is the importance of exhibitions, being included in catalogues, having some trace of your work.”

Du Wors’ design for the Belfry’s “Turn of the Screw”

His work on the Belfry Theatre’s 2008 production Turn of the Screw — alongside fellow alum Erin Macklem and frequent Phoenix contributor Brian Linds — was also one of only six Canadian design teams selected for the 2015 Prague Quadrennial, which Stichbury described in this story as “the Venice Biennalie of stage design.”

Du Wors (BFA ‘02) began teaching at the Phoenix in 2016, following the retirement of veteran stage designer Allan Stichbury. “Having seen what other institutions are doing, I was happy to come back here,” says Du Wors, who also trained at the Royal Shakespeare Company, the Banff Centre and the University of Alberta. “I’m ready to make this position my own.”

Brother of noted School of Music alumna violinist Kerry Du Wors, Patrick followed his UVic BFA with a position as resident assistant at England’s prestigious Royal Shakespeare Company, where he spent a year working on RSC productions in both London and Stratford-Upon-Avon. “That was incredible, because I got to work with a number of really incredible designers, including Richard Hudson who became famous for The Lion King.”

After another year freelancing in the UK and working on productions for the likes of Frankfurt Opera, Royal Scottish Ballet and Netherlands Opera, he returned to Toronto to design for various national theatre companies — including locals the Belfry and Blue Bridge Repertory Theatre — as well as being a guest designer at a number of universities (National Theatre School, Sheridan, York, Ryerson, George Brown) before earning his MFA from University of Alberta. He was on faculty at the University of Calgary’s School of Creative and Performing Arts before being hired at UVic.

Phoenix’s “Dark of the Moon” (photo: David Lowes)

“I loved Calgary, but when this position came open I couldn’t help to see if I could come back home,” he says. “I had quite a good sense of what kind of students would thrive in different training environments, and it made me realize that the UVic program was incredibly strong and a program I could get behind 100 percent. Having seen what other institutions are doing, I was happy to come back here.”

And while he’s a product of our own Theatre department, Du Wors is also an advocate for the more comprehensive Phoenix model, which allows students to get a sense of what everyone does backstage regardless of specialization. “As a designer, there’s a big difference working with a student who went to UVic and a student who went to a conservatory — their interactions with the rest of their collaborators is very different.”

But it’s his on-stage work designing sets, lighting and costumes for which Du Wors is mostly know, including such memorable local productions as the Phoenix’s Dark of the Moon (2008) and The Monument (2002), the Belfry’s Turn of the Screw (2008) and A Number (2006) and many Blue Bridge shows, including Death of a Salesman (2009), A Streetcar Named Desire (2010), Fire (2011), Little Shop of Horrors (2012) and My Fair Lady (2013).

“The Last Voyage of Donald Crowhurst” (photo: Benjamin Laird)

As for the future of The Last Voyage of Donald Crowhurst — which tells the story of the titular British sailor who was poised to win a solo, non-stop round-the-world sailing competition before disappearing — Du Wors remains optimistic that it will reach a wider audience.

“As a theatre production, it was a massive experiment,” he says, noting that show creators David van Belle and Eric Rosehad had worked on it for five years — including an unusual 10-week rehearsal process “where tech and design were integrated from the first day of rehearsal.”

“We were simultaneously working out the projection design, the set, the acting, the blocking and adjusting the script accordingly,” he continues. “It broke all the rules of conventional, English-Canadian theatre making . . . . I remain optimistic that a larger audience will get to see it, because it was a very special production.”


Experiences of migrant youth explored in new play

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.

Visual Arts student keeps sex safe . . . and cute

Third year Visual Arts student Cassidy Luteijn is making the news as one of the finalists for a Canada 150 condom wrapper design contest. Her uniquely “Canadian” imagery includes a hippy beaver and a moose draped in underwear.

Vote now for Cassidy Luteijn’s designs

As she explains in this interview in the Martlet, it was Luteijn’s experience as a UVic student residence leader that taught her the importance of safe sexual health. “I think the students — especially in residence, I find — are just coming out of being under their parent’s roof, and with that comes a lot of exploration,” she told the Martlet‘s Cormac O’Brien.

The story has so far been reported by not only the Martlet but also CBC Radio, the Huffington Post and others. “It was pretty awesome,” says Luteijn, describing her shock at the news to the Martlet. “You could almost just blink a little bit and make sure you’re seeing what you’re seeing.”

Cassidy’s two designs   were selected out of hundreds of, ahem, entries by a panel of judges at contest sponsor ONE Condoms to make it into the top 50.

The public can vote for the final 10 winners on the contest page through July 12. Winners will be chosen on how well the designs celebrate Canadian life, culture and history. The ultimate winner will earn $1,000, a year’s supply of 365 condoms (featuring their design, of course) and 10,000 condoms donated to the Canadian health organization of their choice.

Two artists, one lake, 100 years apart

Paul Walde (UVic Photo Services)

On July 8, 1917, iconic Canadian painter Tom Thomson drowned in Algonquin Park’s Canoe Lake. Now, on the 100th anniversary of Thomson’s death, intermedia artist and Visual Arts chair Paul Walde will swim the length of Canoe Lake — accompanied by a synchronized swim squad, canoe flotilla, brass band, film crew . . . and a minute of silence recorded at the bottom of the lake.

Not only will The Tom Thomson Centennial Swim allow Walde the opportunity of commemorating the centenary of Thomson’s death with this site- and temporally-specific piece, but he will also be reframing the enduring images and legacy of the early 20th-century artist for future gallery installations.

Walde training at a local lake (photo: Brandon Poole)

Media interest in this story has been high, with Walde being interviewed for 10 different media outlets in BC and Ontario, ranging from CBC Radio’s Up North in Sudbury to The Early Edition in Vancouver (skip to the 1:20 mark) and talking about “Canada’s Van Gogh” on radio shows in Victoria, Kamloops, Kelowna and Prince George, as well as this June 22 Times Colonist article and this Saanich News article.

But the most interesting piece was this story that ran on page A3 of the July 9 issue of the Toronto Star, where arts reporter Murray Whyte actually traveled to Canoe Lake to witness the swim itself.

“Landscape painting is about beauty,” Walde says in the piece. “But the landscape is dangerous. It doesn’t care if you live or die. That was the very limit of what I could do. For me, to be in the water where he died — that was powerful.”

Walde is well-known for his bold and innovative sound and video installations, including Requiem for a Glacier in 2013, filmed live onFarnham Glacier in BC’s Purcell Mountains and earning international headlines, and Alaska Variations for an Anchorage Museum exhibition in 2016, which was singled out by USA Today as one of the top US museum exhibits of the year and was recently exhibited in Norway. 

Tom Thomson’s 1912 painting The Canoe, painted at Canoe Lake

“I grew up in Northern Ontario near where the Group of Seven did their first trip together,” he says. “This is what was presented to us as Canadian art, and through my work I’ve been trying to find other ways of engaging with the landscape, especially around issues of the environment and colonialism.”

“I’m trying to give people a sense of what [the landscape] sounds like, what it looks like below the surface, to try to create . . . a different understanding,” Walde told the Times Colonist.

The Tom Thomson Centennial Swim will be documented by a professional film and audio crew. Footage from the event — including underwater body-cam, mobile boat units and stationary positions — will be combined with shots of the lake and locations featured in Thomson’s paintings.

Thomson was also the subject of Walde’s 1997 theatrical performance, Index 1036, a collaborative work created with his wife Christine Walde, a UVic librarian, which fictively examined Thomson’s death in the context of contemporary performance art.

A former competitive swimmer who uses lake swimming to inform his practice as an intermedia artist, composer and curator, Walde has created a body of work exploring interconnections between landscape, identity, and technology with historical events as a recurring theme.

Tom Thomson

Canoe Lake, where Canadian artist Tom Thomson died in 1917, is located in Ontario’s Algonquin Park, Canada’s oldest provincial park (est. 1893) where Thomson worked as a guide from 1913 until his death.

UVic’s Visual Arts department is recognized nationally and internationally for developing innovative artistic voices and is one of Canada’s leading contemporary art programs.