New adjunct professor heading up Canadian-born Broadway hit at the Phoenix

“Mix ups, mayhem and a gay wedding… of course the phrase gay wedding has a different meaning now… but back then it just meant fun, that’s all this show is – fun!” says the Man in the Chair as he reads the back of the record cover of his favourite musical from 1928: The Drowsy Chaperone. But this fictitious musical is the foundation for the real 2006 Broadway hit musical of the same name, running at the Phoenix Theatre from November 8 to 24.

Jacques Lemay, director of “The Drowsy Chaperone”

“It’s a fun pastiche of old Broadway and the music is really quite lovely,” says internationally renowned director, choreographer and adjunct Department of Theatre professor, Jacques Lemay, who is the guest director and choreographer for the UVic production. “It’s remarkably both nostalgic and current, as we watch the parody of the past through the eyes of the imaginative, agoraphobic and slightly sarcastic narrator, the Man in the Chair, who’s stuck here in the present.”

The real magic of The Drowsy Chaperone is derived from the transformation of the Man in the Chair’s shabby one-room apartment where he listens to his records and escapes into the glamorous world of his musicals — in this instance, the glittering world of movie stars, highfalutin’ mansions, fantastical weddings, and of course, menacing pastry chef gangsters. Collaborating to create this illusion is a stellar design team of UVic alumni, including set designer Bryan Kenney (MFA ’12), costume designer and PhD candidate Graham McMonagle (MFA ’17) and lighting designer and professor Patrick Du Wors (BFA ’02). Another PhD candidate, Nancy Curry, is the music supervisor and vocal coach, and two current fourth-year students are sound designer Eva Hocking and stage manager Emily Lindstrom.

Indeed, The Drowsy Chaperone is the biggest song-and-dance show the Phoenix has presented in well over a decade: so much so that an entire set of dance shoes were needed for the 19-person cast. “The entire department has been anticipating this production since it was announced last spring,” says chair Allana Lindgren. “Jacques has such an impressive history — from the Royal Winnipeg Ballet to the opening ceremonies of two Olympics and Commonwealth Games — [so] we know are in good hands.”

Bob Martin & Sutton Foster in the original Broadway cast production

Eight years before it was the five-time Tony Award-winning Broadway musical, The Drowsy Chaperone was a skit performed at a stag party for the marriage of two Toronto actors, Bob Martin and Janet Van De Graff. If the names and the plot sound familiar, those names are still reflected in the characters of the soon-to-be-betrothed couple in this musical-within-a-play. Bob Martin, the groom (the actor, not the character), enjoyed the performance so much, he joined the writing team of Don McKellar (Highway 61, Thirty Two Short Films About Glenn Gould), Lisa Lambert (Slings and Arrows) and Greg Morrison (Mump & Smoot), creating the iconic central character of the Man in the Chair.

The Drowsy Chaperone was then remounted for the Toronto Fringe Festival, winning rave reviews and attracting the support of Toronto über-producer, David Mirvish. Since then, it has been performed everywhere from Broadway to London’s West End, making toes tap and capturing the hearts of musical lovers around the world.

And while the show is based on a fictional musical, the Broadway nostalgia parodied in The Drowsy Chaperone is very real, as Theatre historian Anthony Vickery will discuss at the free Preshow Lecture starting at 7pm Friday, November 9.

Ultimately, the Phoenix production — complete with a custom-built propeller plane — will literally do, as the Man in the Chair says, “what a musical is supposed to do: it takes you to another world.”

The Drowsy Chaperone runs Nov 8-24. Tickets range from $16 – $30. There will also be two public previews at 8pm Tuesday & Wednesday, November 6 & 7, with same-day tickets going for just $10.

The Phoenix Theatre’s 2018-19 season continues in the spring with the Greek classic Trojan Women (February 14-23, 2019), directed by professor Jan Wood, and closes with Morris Panych’s existential, fast-paced dark comedy 7 Stories (March 14 – 23, 2019), directed by professor Fran Gebhard. Three-show season subscriptions are still available for $40.50.


Visiting actor/playwright D’bi.Young Anitafrika focuses on diversity

From addressing the United Nations and touring the world as a dubpoet to being named a Canadian Poet of Honour and being nominated for nine Dora Awards in theatre (and winning three), D’bi.Young Anitafrika has carved her own niche in the world of Canadian arts. She will be the latest author to appear at the long-running Open Word Readings & Ideas series, presented by the Department of Writing and Open Space.

A queer Black feminist artist, Anitafrika is the founding Artistic Director Emeritus of the Watah Theatre and the founding Creative Director of the Anitafrika Retreat Centre. She has curated international residencies for artists in the Caribbean, North/South America, Africa and Europe, and her own form of “Biomyth Monodrama” focuses on solo shows that use music, poetry, dance and drama to chronicle the stories of global peoples and their quests for self-actualization.

The award-winning African-Jamaican-Canadian actor, playwright and performance artist is the published author of nine plays, three collections of poetry, six dub poetry albums, a comic book and a deck of instructional cards containing her Anitafrika Method.

Following her reading at Open Space, Writing professor David Leach will conduct a live interview.

Watch her deliver this powerful performance at the HERstory in Black event at CBC Toronto during Black History Month in Feburary 2018.

D’bi.Young Anitafrika reads from 7pm Tuesday, Nov 6, at Open Space, 510 Fort Street. The public is also welcome at these other free in-class appearances on Monday, Nov 5: from 10-11:20am in UVic’s Cornett 108, and from 2:30-3:50pm in UVic’s ECS 125.

Songs, poems commemorate 100th anniversary of the end of WWI

The musical perspectives of some of the major countries involved in the Great War sets the stage for the fall concert by the School of Music‘s Voice program on Friday, November 9, in a special concert commemorating the centenary of the end of WWI.

Benjamin Butterfield

“Along the Field,” a song cycle composed by Ralph Vaughan Williams, anchors the concert with text from A. E. Housman’s A Shropshire Lad, a collection of 63 poems on themes lamenting the transience of love. During WWI, pocket books of the collection accompanied many young men into the trenches, where they were read to honour those who died much too young.

“This concert is not so much an ‘in memoriam’ to past battles fought or young lives that were lost in WWI as other anniversaries rightly have been,” describes Benjamin Butterfield, head of the Voice program. “It’s a sober reminder of the futility of war and of the needless heart break that comes to both sides in any conflict.”

The evening will open with the rarely performed Berlin Requiem by Kurt Weill and Bertold Brecht, as well as Three Songs of the War penned by Charles Ives in 1917, including his setting of McRae’s In Flanders Fields.

“Brecht’s Berlin Requiem was written for the 10th anniversary of the end of World War One, but also to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the assassination of Rosa Luxembourg, so it gets politically and religiously complicated,” Butterfield explains. “It was written for the radio, but then elements of it got censored when it was broadcast so it didn’t have the clout it was supposed to. It comes from a German point of view, but it’s more of a eulogy for humanity.”

Butterfield notes that each of the pieces in the program were specifically selected to reflect different wartime experiences: Brecht’s being German, Ives offering an American perspective and Williams hearkening to the British experience. “It’s more about ‘don’t do this again’ because in war, nobody wins. We’ve got eight girls accompanied by eight violins singing songs about young men disappearing — but we get rid of gender, we get rid of occasion and we just end up with something that makes us aware of our state.”

The School of Music Voice Ensemble will be joined by pianist Kinza Tyrrell, co-supervisor of the UVic Voice Ensemble, and special guest Steven Capaldo, who will be conducting members of the UVic Wind Symphony.   

Along the Field begins at 8pm Friday, November 9, in the Phillip T. Young Recital Hall in UVic’s MacLaurin B-wing. Entrance is by donation.



Bill Gaston wins Victoria Book Prize

Department of Writing professor Bill Gaston has won the 2018 City of Victoria Butler Book Prize for his short-story collection The Mariner’s Guide to Self Sabotage (Douglas & McIntyre).

Gaston (centre) with Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps and Brian Butler (photo: Victoria Book Prize Society)

Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps and co-sponsor Brian Butler presented Gaston with his $5,000 prize at a gala October 17 event at downtown’s Union Club.

A set of 10 cautionary tales showcasing the author’s range and narrative versatility, The Mariner’s Guide to Self Sabotage effectively captures Gaston’s gift for making ordinary moments feel transcendent. Judges praised his ability to move “seamlessly from the funny to the poignant to the surprising and absurd.”

The author of seven novels, seven short-story collections, three plays, two nonfiction books and a poetry collection, Gaston also released the memoir Just Let Me Look At You: On Fatherhood (Penguin Random House) in 2018. He previously won the City of Victoria Butler Book Prize in 2007 for the short-story collection Gargoyles (House of Anansi), which was also shortlisted for the Governor General’s Literary Award and the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize, and won the ReLit Award. In 2002, Gaston was a finalist for the Giller Prize with Mount Appetite (Raincoast), as well as the inaugural recipient of the Timothy Findley Prize, awarded by the Writer’s Trust of Canada.

2018 was a strong year for the Writing department at the Victoria Book Prize, given that fellow nominees included professor emerita Lorna Crozier (What the Soul Doesn’t Want), longtime instructor Patrick Friesen (Songen) and longtime Faculty of Fine Arts colleague Maria Tippett (Sculpture in Canada: A History).

Also winning that night was author Monique Gray Smith, who picked up the $5,000 Bolen Books Children’s Book Prize for Speaking Our Truth: A Journey of Reconciliation (Orca).

“This is our 15th year awarding the City of Victoria Butler Book Prize and we are still going strong,” says Victoria Book Prize President Alyssa Polinsky. “We couldn’t do this without the support of our generous sponsors, an engaged community of readers and all the talented writers and illustrators we celebrate each year.”

The awards gala was hosted by CBC Radio’s Gregor Craigie, with Victoria’s Poet Laureate Yvonne Blomer opening the evening with a reading from her recent works.

Established in 2004, the City of Victoria Butler Book Prize is a partnership between the City of Victoria and Brian Butler of Butler Brothers Supplies. The prize is named for UVic alumnus Brian H. Butler (BA, Philosophy), a generous and longtime contributor to the Greater Victoria arts community. Past president of the Victoria Symphony Society, he has served on numerous community boards and for United Way campaigns.

It’s that time of year for This Side of West

No question, UVic’s Department of Writing has produced scores on notable alumni — see the current success of writers like the 2018 Man Booker finalist & Giller Prize shortlisted Esi Edugyan for one — but this week, current students will be in the spotlight when the Writing student anthology This Side of West hosts their annual Editors’ Reading.

Starting at 6:30pm on Saturday, Oct 20, TSOW will be kicking off a new year at a special event at Hillside Coffee & Tea (details below). Come hear this year’s staff read their work from across all genres, and get a taste for what they’ll be interested in when it comes to new work.

Running since 2003, TSOW publishes an annual collection each spring featuring the best student work coming out of the Writing department.

This Side of West is a student-run service of the Writing department course union, which is the school-funded student organization that represents any student enrolled in one or more Writing class at UVic,” explains editor-in-chief Riley Smith. “The course union has worked and will continue to work with the department to make the student experience the best it can be, but we make a point of keeping any decisions about pieces and publication independent of faculty involvement.”

It’s this sense of independence that helps Writing students cut their teeth with the editorial process.

“Student publications are important because they give students an opportunity to go through both sides of the publications process on a lower-stakes stage than when publications credits and national distribution are involved,” says Smith, now on his second term as TSOW editor-in-chief.

Indeed, given the steady stream talent coming out of the Writing dept, it’s no surprise that past TSOW issues have featured future published authors and editors, including the likes of poet Garth Martens (2011 Governor General’s Award finalist, winner of the Bronwen Wallace Memorial Award), novelist Marjorie Celona (2012 Giller Prize nominee, winner of the prestigious Waterstones 11 literary prize, shortlisted for the First Novel Award) and poet Emily McGiffin (finalist for the CBC Literary Awards in 2004 and 2005, winner of the 2008 Bronwen Wallace Award for Emerging Writers from the Writers’ Trust of Canada).

This year’s group of student editors — including Karine Hack & Jennifer Landrey (creative nonfiction), Marley Sterner & Emma de Blois (drama), Kim Dias & Hana Mason (fiction), and Kai Conradi & Naomi Duska (poetry) — is clearly keen to keep that winning streak going, and they’re hoping this reading will generate interest among current Writing students.

“If anyone is interested in submitting to This Side of West, our submissions will open at 10pm on Saturday,” says Smith. “We accept literary work in all four genres—creative nonfiction, drama, fiction, and poetry—and comics in any of those genres are great! I’ve yet to see a screenplay comic, but if anyone’s made one work, we want it.”

Submissions guidelines and the online submission form are available on their website.

At Saturday’s Editors’ Reading, expect to hear work by the current editorial team ranging from fiction and creative nonfiction to drama and poetry. A published anthology of the editors’ work will also be available for purchase at the event.

This Side of West Editors’ Reading, 6:30pm Saturday, Oct 20, at Hillside Coffee & Tea, 1633 Hillside (across from Hillside Centre). Admission is $10.