When Theatre alum Charles Ross (BFA ’98) debuted his One-Man Star Wars Trilogy back in 2002, the cultural landscape was quite different: audiences were already becoming jaded by the new prequels, spin-offs like Rogue One, The Clone Wars and Solo were as yet unimaginable, and Disney ownership of the series seemed an Imperial ploy at best.
But where Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones fell flat with most viewers, Ross’s high-speed paean to the original trilogy found a ready audience, thanks to his remarkable mimicry, boundless on-stage enthusiasm and sincere love for the series. Now, 17 years and literally thousands of performances later, the 44-year-old Ross is still up to his Jedi mind tricks and happily reports that none of it feels forced.
“I’m certainly not sick of it,” he admits. “I still love it as much as I did when I was a kid, because love doesn’t diminish. Every time I do the show, there’s something about that feeling I’m trying to share — a simple early love for the story — and that’s what people recognize in themselves.“
Starting at 7:30pm, the evening will open with a short discussion panel featuring Writing professor and filmmaker Maureen Bradley, Art History & Visual Studies PhD candidate and recent Star Wars elective instructor David Christopher, Sociology instructor Edwin Hodge (who recently taught a Star Trek elective at UVic) and current UVic student Monica Ogden, hosted by Fine Arts communications jedi John Threlfall.
What started out as a niche play for sci-fi nerds has since grown alongside the franchise itself: now 10 films in and, with the “Skywalker Saga” coming to a finale in 2019’s Episode IX, Ross has seen his own solo show go global as well. “There isn’t a part of the planet Star Wars hasn’t touched,” he says. “It’s become much more homogenous, more a part of popular culture: you can just be a normal person and get the references—it doesn’t qualify you as a nerd anymore, just as a human being who’s seen the movies.” (Indeed, UVic even offers a Star Wars elective now.)
Officially endorsed by Lucasfilm, Ross’s 75-minute show has been performed for over a million people worldwide, including extended runs off-Broadway, in London’s West End and at the Sydney Opera House, as well as appearances on the likes of Late Night with Conan O’Brien and the popular How Stuff Works podcast.
The latest parody by Ross
And it shows no sign of slowing down: regular North American dates aside, since 2006 Ross has toured to Australia eight times, the Edinburgh Fringe Festival nine times, the UK 12 times, and has performed to audiences in Malaysia, Singapore and China. In 2017 alone, he spent 175 days on the road with it.
“Star Wars has a huge reach,” he says. “My name doesn’t mean much to many people, but the concept certainly does. There are housewives in the American Midwest who still know my work from seeing me on TheToday Show a decade ago.”
“You never know where things are going to go, but it exciting to imagine where things could go,” he says. “If you can look back and say you made one little bit of difference — a blip in the history of Star Wars, or a footnote in the history of solo shows — that would be the most amazing thing in the world.”
It’s definitely a time of change in UVic’s celebrated Department of Writing, due in large part to this year’s retirement of both award-winning novelist Bill Gaston and acclaimed playwright Joan MacLeod. But with change comes opportunity, as seen by the hiring of not one but two noted writers as incoming faculty members: new associate professor Gregory Scofield and new assistant professor Danielle Geller.
Scofield is a Red River Metis of Cree, Scottish and European descent whose ancestry can be traced to the fur trade and to Metis community of Kinosota, Manitoba. Geller is is a member of the Navajo Nation: born to the Tsi’naajinii, born for the bilagaana.
“Gregory and Danielle are transformational hires who will help the department build on nearly 50 years of literary excellence and lead the university into a future of new and diverse creative possibilities,” says department chair David Leach. “Both will expand the national reputation of our creative writing program and establish the University of Victoria as an international centre of excellence for Indigenous writing and writers.”
Meet Gregory Scofield
One of the most important poets and memoirists writing today, Scofield bridges several generations of Indigenous authors, with an extensive publishing history across multiple genres and years of mentoring and editing young writers—not to mention two new books coming out shortly: a re-release of his first memoir, Thunder Through My Veins (Doubeday Canada/Anchor Books) coming fall 2019, and his second memoir, Sitting with Charlotte: Stitching my History Bead by Bead (Doubleday Canada) due to be published in 2021.
“âcimowina. Stories. The power of stories. The spirit of stories. The bones of stories that need to be sung and invited to dance. I am so very excited to bring my stories and energy to the Writing department at the University of Victoria, to work with the students and the university community to Indigenize the creative writing curriculum,” says Scofield. “I am deeply honoured to be welcomed in the territories of the Lkwungen peoples, and to listen to their stories while sharing my own. âcimowina. Stories. There will be such a good feast.”
An award-winning poet with eight volumes published, Scofield has been an associate professor in the Department of English at Laurentian University for the past five years, and has taught creative writing and First Nations and Metis literature at Brandon University, Emily Carr University of Art + Design, and the Alberta University of the Arts. He has also served as writer-in residence at the universities of Manitoba and Winnipeg, and Newfoundland’s Memorial University. He is the recipient of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal (2012), and the Writers’ Trust of Canada Latner Poetry Prize (2016); he is also a skilled bead-worker and creates in the medium of traditional Metis arts. He continues to assemble a collection of mid to late 19th century Cree-Metis artifacts, which are used as learning and teaching pieces.
“Gregory brings academic leadership, versatility as a literary artist and innovative ways of learning and teaching to our department,” says Leach. “He will lead writing workshops and teach courses in Indigenous storytelling based on Cree traditions, and Indigenous women’s resistance writing through the practice of Métis beadwork.”
Introducing Danielle Geller
Danielle Geller is a writer of memoir and personal essays; her debut memoir, Dog Flowers, is forthcoming from One World/Random House in 2020. She received her MFA in creative writing (nonfiction) at the University of Arizona, and is a recipient of the 2016 Rona Jaffe Writers’ Awards. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, Brevity, and Arizona Highways Magazine and has been anthologized in This Is the Place (Seal Press, 2017).
“I am delighted to be joining the talented community of writers, storytellers, and artists in UVic’s Writing Department,” says Geller. “I hope to enhance Indigenous perspectives and voices in the curriculum and pedagogy . . . [and] I am looking forward to sharing my enthusiasm and commitment to the craft of writing and art-making with the students.”
Geller writes and teaches across multiple genres with interests and expertise in contemporary forms such as slipstream fiction, Indigenous futurism and video games. Along with her MFA, she has an MS in Library and Information Science and experience as an archivist, which will deepen our students’ research skills and the Writing department’s connection to the many resources of UVic’s library.
“We can’t wait for Danielle to meet our students—and vice versa,” says Leach. “When Random House releases her debut memoir about rediscovering the diaspora of her Navajo family, the rest of the world will also discover one of the most exciting new voices in literary prose.”
Both positions will begin in July 2019.
A commitment to reconciliation
“UVic recognizes that colonization and associated attitudes, policies and institutions have significantly changed Indigenous peoples’ relationship with this land. And for many years those same things served to exclude Indigenous students from higher education. We’re committed to redressing those historical and continued barriers,” says university president Jamie Cassels.
“As part of our commitment to reconciliation we’re building better and meaningful partnerships with Indigenous communities, developing new programs, and working to bring our university into better harmony with Indigenous cultures, beliefs and ways of being. Indigenous people and communities are an important part of building our university for the future.”
We acknowledge with respect the Lkwungen-speaking peoples on whose traditional territory the University of Victoria stands, and the Songhees, Esquimalt and WSÁNEĆ peoples whose historical relationships with the land continue to this day.
Carey Newman’s “Witness Blanket” installed at the Canadian Museum of Human Rights in Winnipeg (photo: Jessica Sigurdson, CMHR)
An unprecedented move
In an unprecedented move, written documents and an oral ceremony have been given equal weight in an agreement that vests legal rights with the artwork itself, as a living entity that honours the stories of the survivors.
Audain professor Carey Newman
“Rather than trying to decide our rights, we put the rights with the Blanket and the stories that were given to us by survivors,” says Newman (Ha-Yalth-Kin-Geme), a Kwagiulth and Coast Salish artist and master carver from Sooke. “We were not negotiating against each other but collaborating together in the best interest of the Blanket itself. We didn’t want to treat it like a transfer of property because I don’t feel ownership of the Blanket, I feel responsibility towards it and I wanted to make sure the Museum felt this too.”
UVic professor Rebecca Johnson, associate director of the Indigenous Law Research Unit, reviewed the agreement before it was finalized and called it “totally unique”.
“It has huge implications for me as a law professor because it models new and hopeful possibilities of seeing the law in its creative and expansive forms, not just as something that constrains and punishes,” she says. “It captures the heart of what’s possible when people work together to imagine new ways of drawing on law—both Indigenous and Canadian—to move us in a new direction.”
UVic’s Faculty of Law plans to incorporate the agreement into its curriculum, which will help students explore creative avenues for drawing Indigenous and Canadian legal orders together.
Now that the 12-metre-long, cedar-framed artwork—which was first presented publicly at UVic back in 2014—has been taken into the care and protection of the CMHR in Winnipeg on Treaty 1 Territory, it will undergo restoration work after several years of traveling, including an extended exhibition at the CMHR in 2015-16. A new traveling version of the Witness Blanket has also been created, which will have its first showing at the Red Deer Museum + Art Gallery from May 4 to June 23.
Interacting with the installation. (Photo: Jessica Sigurdson/ CMHR)
CMHR president and CEO John Young said meaningful working relationships with Indigenous people create opportunities to learn, grow and share in new ways—which is also important to reconciliation. “Museums have sometimes assumed a unilateral authority to interpret Indigenous cultures and artifacts,” he says. “In collaborating with our Indigenous partners, we instead work to honour the perspectives, skills and experience they bring to the discussions.”
CMHR head of collections Heather Bidzinski researched positive examples from other cultural institutions but worked to create something entirely unique. “This agreement is based on understanding each others’ traditions in a mutually respectful way and recognizing that agreements are really about relationships—not about concepts of indemnity and ownership, which can be adversarial and confrontational,” she says
The new documentary film, Picking up the Pieces, about the making of the Witness Blanket—which debuted last fall at the Vancouver International Film Festival—was also shown at the CMHR as part of the announcement, followed by a conversation with Newman and film producer Cody Graham of Victoria-based Media One.
The CMHR’s Young said the Witness Blanket is a work of national significance that provides a tangible framework for conversations about the genocide of Indigenous peoples in Canada. “Its stories, its objects and what they represent help us better understand this issue in terms of human realities and consequences instead of being just an abstract concept. As a national museum devoted to human rights education, we are committed to playing a meaningful role in sharing this truth as we work towards reconciliation.”
UVic promotes teaching that reflects the aspirations and calls to action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, including addressing issues most relevant to Indigenous people and working with Indigenous communities and organizations to understand, preserve and celebrate traditions, knowledge and cultures.