Crimes of the Heart offers a memorable sister act

Sophie Chappell, Lucy Sharples and Sara Jean Valiquette in Crimes of the Heart (Photo: David Lowes)

Is there anything more lovable — or more maddening — than sisters? With an unshakeable bond that can often escalate into emotional heights unmatched by any other familial relationship, sibling rivalry and reconciliations are in the spotlight in Crimes of the Heart, the latest mainstage production at Phoenix Theatre.

It’s Hazlehurst, Mississippi, circa 1974 and, after a difficult childhood, the three Magrath sisters have grown up and gone their separate ways: Meg escaped Mississippi to pursue her Hollywood dreams; Babe married an ambitious young lawyer; and Lenny remained at their Granddaddy’s side in the family home. But after Babe commits a violent crime, the three sisters reunite back home for the first time in years; utimately, each sister must come to terms with the consequences of her own crimes of the heart.

Crimes of the Heart runs February 15 – 24 at the Phoenix Theatre, with 2pm matinees on February 17 and 24. Tickets run $15-$26 at 250-721-8000.

Humorous and heartfelt, this Pulitzer Prize-winning play by American playwright and screenwriter Beth Henley captures the incredible power of family. Department of Theatre professor Peter McGuire says Crimes has “been on my list for a few years.”  In this Times Colonist preview, McGuire felt this was the right time to mount this female-fronted production. “Looking around the department, and watching which actors were coming up, I knew I’d have the right cast for this play. This made sense — it has six actors and four wonderful female roles.”

Sara Jean Valiquette (left) & Sophie Chappell (photo: David Lowes)

First produced in Kentucky in 1979 and again in New York City in 1980, the original Broadway production of Crimes of the Heart not only won the 1981 Pulitzer Prize but also the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for best new American play; Henley also received a Tony Award nomination for best play and, five years later, an Academy Award nomination for best adapted screenplay for the movie adaptation, which featured Jessica Lange, Diane Keaton and Sissy Spacek.

But accolades alone weren’t what attracted McGuire to the project. Even though plans to produce Crimes were in place more than a year ago — long before the #MeToo movement — McGuire feels the timing couldn’t be better. “We weren’t predicting this,” he told the Times Colonist. “But the timing is incredible. As an instructor, I’m always mindful of the fact that the gender ratio is really skewed. There are some great plays for women, but there aren’t many great plays for women.”

Phoenix’s Crimes has been receiving some nice local coverage, including the Times Colonist article and this Oak Bay News preview, as well as this review by local arts blogger Janis LaCouvee. And local entertainment monthly Monday Magazine declared Crimes “a triumph” in their review, which noted that even though it’s set in the ’70s, the show “has a fresh relevance today.”

 

Stefanie Mudry’s set with lighting by Theatre professor Patrick Du Wors (Photo: David Lowes)

Monday‘s review went on to praise the designs by current Theatre students Stefanie Mudry (calling her set “perfect to the last detail of the period”) and costumer Madeline Lee. “The play will surely touch the heart of anyone with a family . . . . it reveals the fact that the family is stronger than the sum of its parts . . . . I think the playwright, Beth Henley, would approve.”

And Camosun’s Nexus newspaper said they “highly recommend this play and would go see it again. The show’s well-timed comedic nature doesn’t detract from the more serious parts of the story . . . . Overall, the whole production meets the high-quality standard that has been set by the Phoenix Theatre.”

 

 

And don’t miss the final mainstage production at Phoenix Theatre, The Comedy of Errorsa pop musical reboot of Shakespeare’s classic mistaken-identity farce. Directed by MFA candidate Jeffrey Renn, and running March 15 to 24.

Latest Southam Lecturer Judith Pyke talks docs

When it comes to narrative filmmaking, it’s hard to beat a good documentary. The form of visual storytelling most closely related to journalism, documentaries have unparalleled power to not only connect us with their subjects in remarkably personal ways, but to also cross time and place while staying firmly rooted in reality.

Documentarian Judith Pyke

Such is the world in which Judith Pyke lives. An award-winning writer, director, executive producer and showrunner, Pyke collaborates with top creative professionals to make absorbing documentary and non-fiction television and films.

She has worked in diverse and challenging locations worldwide (the High Arctic, Liberia and rural Kenya, Japan, Europe) and has interviewed hundreds of people — from top scientists and international figures to village locals and renowned artists like Lou Reed, Philip Glass, Cecilia Bartoli and Stephen King. And her films have received accolades and aired on networks all over the world (CBC, History Television, CTVglobemedia, Bravo, TLC) — all of which combine to make her the ideal choice as the 2018 Southam Lecturer in Journalism and Nonfiction in UVic’s celebrated Writing department.

Better still, she’s a UVic alumna, having received her BA here back in 1994.

“As soon as I started at UVic, I knew I wanted to be a documentary filmmaker, but there were no filmmaking courses at that time,” Pyke recalls. “But even though I’m a visual storyteller, I’m also in love with the written word—I’m a writer and a director, which use different parts of your storytelling brain.”

“One thing I told my students in the first class—and it’s really true—is that my experience with UVic’s Creative Writing department was really formative for building up my creative confidence as I went forward in my career,” she continues. “Some of those courses really set me up for having a creative life and career.”

Pyke will offer a free public lecture titled “Discovering Documentary: A Filmmaker’s Journey Through the Foundational Aspects of Documentary-Making” at 7pm on April 5 in room A240 of UVic’s Human & Social Development building.

Teaching the doc life

As the 11th person to hold the Writing department’s prestigious Southam Lectureship, Pyke now joins fellow Southam Lecturers like journalist Vivian Smith, Jo-Ann Roberts (CBC’s All Points West), author Carl Wilson, late Indigenous author Richard Wagamese, immersive journalist Terry Glavin, sports writer Tom Hawthorn, satirist Mark Leiren-Young, editors Sandra Martin (Globe and Mail) and Charles Campbell (Georgia Straight) and experiential journalist Jody Paterson.

Pyke interviewed on CBC TV in 2017

The annual Harvey Stevenson Southam Lectureship – named after UVic alumnus Harvey Southam – is made possible by a gift from one of the country’s leading publishing families. The Southam Lectureship celebrated its 10th anniversary with a special event in November 2017, where an “all-star” panel of six former Southam Lecturers joined together to discuss the current state of journalism.

As the Southam Lecturer, Pyke is teaching a course on documentary film and television for the Writing department this semester (WRIT 321). “Basically, I’m teaching the course I would’ve loved to have taken when I was a student,” she says with a chuckle. “It’s really professionally focused, so I’m taking the students from beginning to end of the documentary process. We’re also talking about some of the ethical and practical concerns and issues that arise during filmmaking.”

With almost 50 students, Pyke’s class emphasizes the realities and practicalities of documentary filmmaking (writing, directing, reviewing, pitching, teamwork) and examines different doc styles, the history of the form, and the creative process itself. “Part of my class is to really emphasize the role of the writer in filmmaking,” she explains, noting that she feels filmmaking is similar to writing poetry: both involve “thinking in images” which, she says, help her formulate concepts as a writer.

An award-winning approach

Conjoined BC twins Tatiana & Krista Hogan in Pyke’s “Inseparable”

Pyke’s most recent work was Inseparable for CBC Docs, which she not only directed and wrote but also executive produced. The film had its world premiere in November 2017 and received an enormous amount of positive viewer feedback. Her company, Curious Features, is currently in development on a number of other projects, including another doc for the CBC.

Her other 2017 documentary — Cracking Cancer, which aired on CBC’s The Nature of Things with David Suzuki — is currently nominated in the “Best Direction in a Documentary” category in the upcoming Canadian Screen Awards (winners to be announced March 11). Past work includes 2016’s Cowboy Up, which received a Golden Sheaf Award nomination, and Twin Life: Sharing Mind and Body, which has since been broadcast around the world and was nominated for a 2015 Canadian Screen Award.

Pyke acknowledges how the landscape for documentaries has changed since her years at UVic, where she was inspired by the groundbreaking likes of Brother’s Keeper by Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky.

“So much amazing work was being done just as I was finishing my undergrad,” she recalls. “Those early docs were really inspiring and I realized it was a great way to engage with the world and tell stories. It’s been an amazing couple of decades for the documentary, and the public has really fallen in love with the form too.”

When asked if it was easier for students to hop onto the doc bus today, Pyke pauses and considers. “Technology is definitely cheaper and more accessible — you can make things more on your own now — and our access to and knowledge of media in general has increased,” she says. “And people are also crossing over into different worlds more often now—you can be a writer or a journalist and make a documentary too. But it’s still hard to get something made.”

The trick, she says, is to find the right subject. “Some stories are so unique they just can’t help but draw you in . . . I usually think that if I find it interesting, other people will find it interesting too.”

With her class now underway, Pyke is also preparing for her upcoming public Southam Lecture on April 5, as well as planning her new doc project.

“I’ve been really lucky in my career and have already covered a lot of interesting stories,” she concludes. “I just hope I keep doing projects that are exciting and surprising and resonate with people.”

Three Music alumni win CBC’s Music Class Challenge

Some people train for years to achieve Olympic glory, but two local school groups are already sounding like gold thanks to the efforts of three local music teachers — all of whom are School of Music alumni.

CBC Music Class Challenge winners & Music alumni (from left) Jennifer Hill, Jody Onuma, Michael Mazza

When the results of the annual CBC Music Class Challenge were announced in December, two of the six winning ensembles turned out to be from Greater Victoria: the Arbutus Mixtape Orchestra, led by Michael Mazza and Jennifer Hill at École Arbutus Global Middle School, and the Campus View Instrumental Ensemble, led by Jody Onuma at Campus View Elementary. All three are alumni of the School of Music’s Music Education program.

“We’re really proud of our students,” says Mazza. “We were just looking for something new to do in our music program, a way to fire the kids up and connect with other schools across the country doing the same thing.” And while it’s a first-time win for Mazza and Hill, this is the second time Onuma’s class has won their category, following their 2016 win for their cover of “Stitches” by Shawn Mendes.

The annual contest sees K-12 schools across the country competing to arrange and record one of 17 specially selected Canadian songs. (2017’s other winning schools were from Ontario, Quebec and Newfoundland.) Among the 17 options for songs were tracks ranging from current hitmakers like Basia Bulat, Jully Black and The Strumbellas to Canadian icons kd lang and Joni Mitchell, and the regional likes of Quebec’s Jérôme Minière and Inuktitut artists the Jerry Cans. But both local schools chose Marc Cholette’s “CBC Olympic Theme” to work with.

“CBC said if schools chose the Olympic theme, they might be able to be broadcast it,” says Mazza. “And that was part of it—I wanted the kids to be watching the Olympics with their parents and have the thrill of seeing themselves on TV.” As a result, not only does each winning class receive a state-of-the-art recording kit (valued at over $5,000), but they will now have their videos seen on CBC TV during the Winter Olympics broadcast in February.

The 2017 contest saw 500 submissions from every province and territory, which were judged by rocker Ewan Currie (The Sheepdogs), concert violinst Ming-Jeong Koh, Indigenous singer-songwriter IsKwé, CBC Radio’s Tempo host Julie Nesrallah, CBC Music Class producer Kelly Kitagawa and representatives of Canadian music education charity and contest co-creators MusiCounts.

Mazza says music is a “big part of the fabric of our school,” noting that over 75 percent of Arbutus students are enrolled in 10 performing ensembles led by their two full-time music teachers. The Arbutus Mixtape Orchestra is made up of grade 7 and 8 students in Mazza and Hill’s music classes. Their contest entry began with one class, then expanded as more and more kids became interested in the project; Mazza says the whole project took about seven 30-minute rehearsals, plus time for arrangement and recording.

“It started out just with the brass and string quartet, but we wanted to fill it out some more so we added the boy soprano at the beginning, then the vocal jazz singers in the background,” he says. “I’d wake up in the middle of the night sometimes thinking, ‘Oh yeah, we should add some clapping.’ It just organically evolved as we went along in a way we couldn’t have predicted and then came together in the end.”

One interesting aspect are the Indigenous drums being played in the video are all student-made, which Mazza says act as a “representation of the diversity of our school and our country. We also really liked the juxtaposition of the indie-rock claps and the First Nations drumming.”

Judge Julie Nesrallah of CBC’s Tempo says she “loved the performance because it had so many fun and interesting things going on: singing, drumming, the funky guitar solo, clapping and the ‘heys’ all came together to provide a dynamic, multi-layered performance that was very entertaining and moving. The whole performance was delightful to listen to.”

As for their recording-kit prize, Mazza says he’s just setting it all up and learning the software. “There are some students who are really interested in recording engineering and technology, so I’ll help them understand how it works and give them the opportunity to record some of our school ensembles,” he says. “Part of my philosophy is I want music to be part of the kids’ identity when they leave school—whether that’s playing the trumpet or knowing how to record.”

Mazza is both an alumni and sessional instructor with the School of Music (teaching, appropriately enough, a course on Music in the Middle School Curriculum). A band kid himself in high school (on trumpet), he says he always intended to become a music educator. “The best thing about going to UVic is that I basically got two degrees: music education and performance.” When asked if he still plays, he chuckles.  “You can catch me down at Pagliacci’s every second Sunday—I’ve been playing there in a klezmer band since 2001.”

While all three alumni — Mazza, Hill and Onuma — represent the kind of top-flight talent that come out of UVic’s Music Education program, Mazza singles out Music professor Gerald King as a shining example of how inspiring a music educator can be to students of any age. “Gerry was a mentor to all three of us. He set such high standards and inspired us to do excellent work with the kids. We’re lucky to have him.”

As for the course he teaches in UVic’s School of Music, Mazza brings third-year Music Education students directly into his middle-school classroom. “It’s real experiential learning on their part; for many of them, it’s their first time being in front of a large group and teaching real kids. It’s a wonderful partnership between the university and the school district.”

And while the Music Class Challenge is a great salute to music education in Canada, Mazza says it pales in comparison with the effort his students made.

“We’re really proud of our kids,” he says. “They really aspired to do something memorable, and I don’t think they’ll ever going to forget this.”

Now that’s the kind of education we like!

Fine Arts grads shine during Alumni Week

UVic’s annual Alumni Week is back, and Fine Arts is well-represented in the various events happening across campus and around the city from February 1-7. 2018 marks the 11th annual celebration highlighting the achievements and impact of our alumni, and offers everyone — current students, faculty and alumni alike — the opportunity to show our UVic pride and celebrate UVic grads in communities all over the world.

While there are over 15 events and activities happening over the week, we’re only going to highlight those involving Fine Arts alumni. And be sure to check out the Flashback Foto Contest, where you can submit photos of yourself from your UVic days and enter to win prizes.

AHVS grad student & exhibit curator Nellie Lamb

At 3pm on Saturday, February 3, Art HIstory & Visual Studies alumna and current AHVS graduate student Nellie Lamb will be hosting a special curator’s tour of her current exhibit, Innocence: West Coast Art & Artists Through a Visitor’s Eyes at UVic’s Legacy Art Gallery Downtown. A fascinating look at west coast creativity in the early 1960s, Innocence pairs original works from UVic’s Art Collection with a 1963 NFB documentary.

“Sometimes seeing something we are familiar with through another’s eyes reminds us how incredible that thing is,” she explains. “I hope visitors leave the gallery with a feeling of wonder about the place that we live, and the artists who have worked here for thousands of years and continue to . . . . that’s the feeling in [both the film] and the artworks in this exhibition give me.” You can read more about Lamb’s Innocence exhibit here.

Twin Kennedy

The main event of the week, the gala Distinguished Alumni Awards Night, begins at 7:30pm Monday, February 5, at the Songhees Wellness Centre. All are welcome to attend this free event and see 12 distinguished alumni honoured, and hear what they have to say about how UVic has made — and continues to make — a difference in their lives, and the greater communities around us. Among the recipients are the Faculty of Fine Arts DAA recipients, Carli and Julie Kennedy — School of Music alumni who, under the stage name Twin Kennedy, have been shaking up the world of country & roots music from their new base in Nashville.

“There’s a lot of people in Nashville who can’t do what we can, because they never went to school,” says Carli. “We’re so grateful to have had the time to study and learn before we got out there.” Read more about Carli & Julie in this exclusive interview.

Celebrated Writing alumnus Daniel Sieberg will be In Conversation with UVic Chancellor Shelagh Rogers starting at 7pm on Tuesday, February 6, at First Metropolitan United Church. Not only is Sieberg a graduate of the Writing department but he’s an Emmy-nominated and award-winning TV correspondent/host and the author of The Digital Diet, as well as a former Google executive and the co-founder of Civil.

The big event on Wednesday, February 7, is the special free concert by Twin Kennedy starting at 8pm at Felicita’s Campus Pub. Enjoy a rare intimate and acoustic local performance by these Canadiana stars, who are a little bit country and a little bit classical. With a steadily growing amount of industry recognition — including multiple nominations from the Canadian Country Music Association (three) and the BC Country Music Association (12) — Twin Kennedy have also already won two John Lennon Songwriting awards for their song “Secondhand Gold,” which picked up the Grand Prize (Country) in 2015 and Best Country Song in 2016, as well as a pair of Vancouver Island Music Awards (Country Album of the Year).

Also running all week (and through to March 29, actually) is the exhibit Distinctly Canadian: The Malahat Review’s Relationship with the Visual Arts at the Legacy Maltwood Gallery in the McPherson Library – Mearns Centre for Learning. Curated by AHVS alumna Caroline Riedel, this exhibition pays tribute to the role of art in The Malahat Review — one of Canada’s most iconic and long-standing literary journals.

In its50-year run, its pages have featured the work of established writers, emerging talent and critical essays on both literature and the visual arts. The synergy between art and literature is particularly evident in the cover art and essays of the journal’s first decade, which presented new work by internationally acclaimed artists such as Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth, Andy Warhol, and Roy Lichtenstein. Featured artists in this exhibit include Maxwell Bates, Robert De Castro, Glenn Howarth, P.K. Irwin, Davidee Kavik, Jack Kidder, Tony Hunt Sr., Elza Mayhew, Eric Metcalfe, Myfanwy Pavelic, Margaret Peterson, Bill Reid, and Gordon A. Smith.

For a complete listing of Alumni Week events please visit our Attend an Event page for more details. If you have any questions please contact Alumni Relations at 250-721-6000 or alumni@uvic.ca.