New Phoenix season offers comedy & drama

Great theatre always transcends a story’s political, social and economic context to speak to the human condition — and this season, the Phoenix is exploring ageless plays that continue to speak to today’s world. From lighthearted comedy to searing drama, the Department of Theatre‘s 2019/20 mainstage season has something for everyone.


Sam Mullins

It all kicks off in the fall with the annual Spotlight on Alumni, this year featuring Sam Mullins (BFA ’08) and his solo monologue Weaksauce and Other Stories (October 9-19). Written and performed by this two-time Canadian Comedy Award-winner, Mullins has been described as a “master storyteller” (Winnipeg Free Press) and the”Stuart McLean of the millennial generation” (Toronto Star).

Weaksauce is the story of the summer Mullins turned 16 and left home to work as a camp counselor . . . only to be blindsided by the first great romance of his life. This achingly angsty and tender coming-of-age story is a comedy of first times, second chances and third wheels. Now, half a lifetime (and an incalculable number of romances) later, Sam will also premiere a new story about the bleary-eyed joys of fatherhood. Like his other award-winning shows Tinfoil Dinosaur, Grandma’s Dead and The Untitled Sam Mullins Project, Sam brings unflinching honesty, vulnerability and big laughs to his latest work. (Some coarse language: suitable for ages 16-plus.)


Following that is Shakespeare’s classic Othello (November 7-23). Directed by Theatre professor Brian Richmond, although Othello was written over 400 years ago, its disturbing portrait of a world infused with racial politics, misogynist social structures and treacherous friendships makes it feel like it’s been ripped from today’s headlines.

“Although undoubtedly one of Shakespeare’s greatest plays, Othello is fascinating to approach in an era where our theatre culture has become so intensely interested in the question of diversity,” says Richmond. “As controversial as it is brilliant, my hope is that we will build a production that tackles the question of ‘Is Othello a racist play?’ with openness and integrity.”

Othello and Desdemona are lovers from very different worlds: Othello a mighty General from a foreign land; Desdemona a beautiful Senator’s daughter. They marry, undeterred by the prejudices that surround them. But no sooner are their vows sealed than their love is put to the test, as bigotry, envy and jealousy begin to pull them apart. Playing on Othello’s insecurities as an outsider in a predominantly white society, the charming but envious Iago—an Ensign and a trusted advisor—stokes the flames of his commanding officer’s jealous nature. In doing so, Iago brings both the lovers, and the world they live in, to the point of utter collapse. In its raw emotions and ruthless politics, Othello remains an ageless and poignant tragedy. (Scenes of violence and domestic abuse: suitable for ages 15-plus.)

Comic Potential

After the winter break, Phoenix is back with Comic Potential by Alan Ayckbourn (February 13-22), directed by Theatre professor Conrad Alexandrowicz. Considered one of the funniest and most inventive plays by Britain’s grandmaster of comedy (perhaps best known for A Chorus of Disapproval, but also the author of a remarkable 79 full plays), this romantic sci-fi satire is set in the foreseeable future, when actors are replaced with convincingly lifelike robots known as “actoids.”

“Like all of Ayckbourn’s work, this is a finely crafted and very funny comedy,” says Alexandrowicz. “To imagine a world where human actors have been replaced by robots is both a hilarious send-up of the way actors are perceived, but also an intriguing proposition: if what actors do is to reproduce behaviour, why not invent human-like equivalents to do it with programmable precision and predictability? The proposition is complicated by the fact that they work both better and worse than humans: they have all these hilarious glitches, but it’s the malfunction of one of them that makes her both more interesting as an actor who can offer something original to performance.”

Adam, an aspiring young writer, visits a TV studio to meet his idol, Chandler, the director of a never-ending hospital soap opera who was once a great movie director. On set, Adam discovers the charming android Jacie Tripplethree (serial number JCF 31333) and realizes that the programming glitch that makes her laugh hysterically also makes her more human. Adam and Chandler start developing a new TV show for Jacie to star in, but the studio executives aren’t convinced. Will Adam lose his heart to a robot? Will his show get the green light? Will love prevail? Tune in to find out! In the age of today’s virtual online assistants, this wickedly funny satire from 1998 reads like a cautionary tale of the rise of artificial intelligence. (Some coarse language: suitable for ages 14-plus.)

The Children’s Hour

The final show of the season is Lillian Hellman’s classic drama, The Children’s Hour (March 12-21). Directed by Theatre professor Peter McGuire, The Children’s Hour is set at a prestigious all-girls boarding school in a small New England town in the months preceding WWII. When a vengeful pupil whispers a rumour that the school’s headmistresses—lifelong friends Karen and Martha—are having an affair, it triggers a devastating chain of consequences, entangling their entire school in this toxic story of deceit.

At the peril of destroying their careers, their relationships, and their lives, Karen and Martha courageously risk public shame and fight for the truth to be heard. Written in 1934, Hellman’s potent exploration of the power of lies—and the culture of fear which allows them to thrive—remains startlingly relevant in our era of “fake news” and online deception. (Suitable for ages 13-plus.)

You can subscribe to all four shows for just $56 or 3 plays for $42. Tickets are available both online and via the box office at 250-721-8000.

Acoustic ecologist Kaitie Sly explores unheard world of ambient sound

We’ve all heard the old proverb: “What we don’t know can’t hurt us.” But, as the research of emerging acoustic ecologist Kaitie Sly shows, what we can’t hear might indeed be hurting us.

Kaitie Sly in front of her interactive map

Graduating in June with a master’s in music and a specialization in music technology, the Vancouver Island born-and-raised Sly has developed a research creation project focused on the impact of inaudible human-generated sound in Greater Victoria. By creating an interactive map of the region, she has highlighted specific areas showing the location of infrasonic and ultrasonic noise.

“The point is to communicate the significance of these frequencies in our everyday lives by allowing people to experience and hear the inaudible noise that’s around us all the time,” she explains.

The sounds of silence

Infrasonic sounds exist below the human ability to hear (20 hertz and less), while ultrasonic sounds soar above our listening range (20 kilohertz and up). And while there are naturally occurring frequencies of both infrasonic (thunder, strong winds, earthquakes) and ultrasonic (tropical rainforest, bats, mice), we’re more likely to encounter them through human-generated activities like aircraft, wind turbines and ventilation systems (infrasonic) and industrial tools, wireless chargers and vehicle parking sensors (ultrasonic).

“You may hear the audible frequencies, but there’s a lot of sound happening above or below that,” she says—and therein lies the problem. “Developments in neuroscience indicate that sonic stimuli can significantly affect the human body without our awareness, which is why I wanted to study infrasonic and ultrasound specifically. There’s this assumption that what we can’t hear can’t affect us—but my research suggests that, depending on different frequencies and pressure levels, these sounds actually produce significant effects on human well-being.”

An easy comparison, says Sly, is the carbon monoxide detector. “Carbon monoxide is odorless and tasteless but it’s very dangerous, so we’ve created carbon monoxide detectors to protect ourselves. But why haven’t we done the same thing for these types of inaudible frequencies? If you have a headache, you won’t automatically attribute it to inaudible sounds—but that’s worth questioning that if you live near a highway, wind turbine, industrial centre or anti-loitering device.”

Consider wind turbines, which are known to produce infrasonic sound. “A lot of people who live near wind turbines have experienced adverse health effects—insomnia, anxiety, hypertension, panic attacks—but the turbine industry says infrasonic sound is below the audible threshold, and therefor of no consequence,” she says. “More research is needed to explore the connection between inaudible sounds and health concerns.”

Tools of the trade

Sly in the field

Sly uses a specific high-definition omnidirectional microphone that records both the infra- and ultrasonic ranges, then runs those recordings through software that reveals a spectrogram analysis of the resulting sound.

Her map project focused on data collection and analysis over a four-month period, using field recordings of specific Greater Victoria locations: the airport, the McKenzie interchange, a construction blasting site in Colwood and an antiloitering mosquito device in Sidney. The resulting map uses an interactive ripple effect to display the type and intensity of the inaudible sounds.

“One of the scary things about infrasonic sound is that we can’t really protect ourselves from it: even if we use hearing protection, it won’t stop it from having an effect on our bodies, as the soundwaves impact the entire organism,” she explains.

As an acoustic ecologist, Sly hopes to raise awareness about the impact a soundscape can have on both humans and the wider ecosystem. “Acoustic ecologists work with urban planners or landscape architects to be more aware of both the adverse and beneficial effects sound can have on our health and well-being,” she says. “It’s a field where you’re trying to find ways to harmonize humans with their acoustic environment.”

Ultimately, says Sly, we all need to be more aware of what we hear—and don’t hear—around us. “It’s not just about the risks; sound can have a very beneficial impact on our life. Whatever your profession, think about sound in everything you do.”

Congratulations, Class of 2019!

June 14 is convocation day and the Faculty of Fine Arts is very excited to welcome 224 new graduates to our alumni family! Here is a quick glimpse into our diverse group of graduates:

Together with the new class of grads, you are part of an expansive network of over 8250 alumni. Given that you’re graduating on the cusp of Fine Arts celebrating our 50th anniversary as a faculty, there are many reasons to stay connected.
We are always interested in hearing about alumni accomplishments—please do keep in touch as your career develops, and let us know if you have any events or honours to celebrate.

We had another creatively inspiring year in Fine Arts. Here are just a few of the highlights:

Alumni success

Nathan Medd (photo: Andrew Alexander)

A cultural non-profit leader whose work is devoted to developing the performing arts in Canada, Nathan Medd (BFA ’01) is currently Managing Director of Performing Arts for the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity, the nation’s largest arts training institution and incubator of new works. This year, he was honoured with the 2019 Distinguished Alumni Award. Read more

Celebrated novelist and Writing grad Esi Edugyan (BFA ’99) soared to new literary heights this year by becoming only the second author in Canadian history to win two Giller Prizes — first for 2011’s Half Blood Blues and now for 2018’s Washington Black, which is also currently in development as a limited run TV series. Read more

Student success

Laura Gildner in her studio

Graduating Visual Arts student Laura Gildner was shortlisted for the Lind Photography Prize, mounted a solo photography exhibit at Vancouver’s Polygon Gallery and staged work at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria. She also won the Victoria Medal for the highest undergraduate GPA in the faculty. Read more

Members of the School of Music’s Vocal Jazz Ensemble were thrilled to have the opportunity to sing the music of iconic rock band Queen when the Victoria Symphony presented their Best of Queen concert this spring. Read more

Using her paintings as inspiration, graduating Visual Arts MFA Claire Scherzinger teamed up with School of Music students to create the new science-fiction podcast project Arca-45672. Scherzinger used her paintings as inspiration for the nine-episode sci-fi audio drama, which cracked the top-100 arts podcasts on iTunes Canada its first week. “The reason I do what I do is I’m interested in the future and thinking about the future,” Scherzinger told CBC Arts in this interview. “How can we use metaphors to think about how we exist today as colonizers, as destroyers of the environment? That’s really important to me.”

Faculty success

Kirk McNally (School of Music) oversaw the installation of the new CREATE Lab and recording studio for music technology students, dedicated to the art and science of listening. Read more

Carey Newman (Visual Arts) made history twice this year by seeing his Residential School memorial sculpture The Witness Blanket entered into the permanent collection of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, and in seeing the piece designated as a living entity that honours the stories of the survivors. Read more

Bill Gaston (Writing) won the City of Victoria Butler Book Prize for his story collection, A Mariner’s Guide to Self-Sabotage — one final honour before he retires at the end of this academic year. Read more

Cast of The Drowsy Chaperone

Jacques Lemay (Theatre) led the student team behind The Drowsy Chaperone to create a smash hit show that resulted in a sold-out, held-over run — and one of the most popular Phoenix shows in recent memory! Read more

Carolyn Butler-Palmer (Art History & Visual Studies) consulted on the new $10 bill featuring Canadian civil rights leader Viola Davis, which means you can see the influence of our faculty whenever you get one of the new bills. Read more

Donor impact

Our generous donors gave over $1.8 million in 2018/19, with 45% of that coming from Fine Arts alumni. Overall, we distributed $709,621 to students last year via donor-funded scholarships and bursaries.

Theatre student Emma Leck became the inaugural recipient of the Spirit of the Phoenix Award, named for the late Phoenix student Frances Theron.

With the 50th anniversary of the Faculty of Fine Arts coming up in 2019/20, we would love to hear your thoughts on how we can continue to engage with our alumni in significant ways. Convocation is a day for making meaningful memories—we hope that the culmination of your student years marks the start of our new relationship as alumni and colleagues.

Visual Arts student Laura Gildner wins Victoria Medal

No question, Department of Visual Arts undergraduate student Laura Gildner has been having a great year: not only was she shortlisted for the 2018 Lind Photography Prize—for the second year in a row—but she also had a solo exhibit of recent work at Vancouver’s Polygon Gallery, participated in artistic residencies in both Italy and Ontario, and had a solo exhibit locally at the fifty-fifty arts collective. Better still, she was just announced as the recipient of the Victoria Medal in Fine Arts, which is awarded annually to the Fine Arts undergraduate student with the highest GPA during their period of study, and presented during the Fine Arts Convocation ceremony on June 14.

Gildner’s “Tell Me What You Know I Want To Hear” at Vancouver’s Polygon Gallery

An intermedia artist from Ottawa, Laura Gildner creates works that exist primarily as performative events and are later translated into video installations, photographic documents, and archives of the makeshift communities that develop as a result of their creation.

In the four years she has been in the Visual Arts program, Gildner has participated in over 30 exhibitions—including three solo exhibitions outside of UVic—as well as produced several live art events and public performances. Throughout this time, she has shown in Canada, the US, the UK and Italy, including recent exhibitions and performances at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, Open Space, the fifty-fifty arts collective and Xchanges Gallery. She has also taken part in residencies and projects in the US and Venice, Italy, and regularly curates and organizes community-based art events in and around Victoria.

Laura Gildner in her studio

“Within my artistic practice I have increasingly become fascinated by the idea of social choreography,” says Gildner. “I’m drawn to bringing unexpected groupings of people together to collaborate on works that reveal themselves as relationships between otherwise strangers are formed. I’m fueled by the exchange of trust and power that can develop from these interactions, while constantly negotiating how ethical lines inherent to lens-based media inform both my relationship with the subjects of my work as well as the works themselves.”

Her fascination with social choreography has been highlighted during her performance at the AGGV exhibit The Changing Landscapes of Emily Carr, and at her “Public Displays of Affection” piece during the 2017 Integrate Arts Festival. “Public Displays of Affection” was a participant-driven performative walking tour between selected Integrate exhibitions in Victoria’s downtown core; fueled entirely through anecdotal recollections sourced by interviewing strangers throughout Victoria, the piece examined layered intersections between the body, identity and art as they relate to urban geography.

In addition to her studies, Gildner presented her work as part of UVic’s competitive Jamie Cassels Undergraduate Research Awards fair in February 2018, and assisted Visual Arts chair Paul Walde on his recent Ontario-based intermedia projects, The Tom Thomson Centennial Swim and “Of Weather”. Her two-week residency at Ontario’s Luminous Bodies in June 2018 saw her working on a project that would stage a participatory event resulting in a photo/video installation focused on a piece of investigative social choreography specific to Toronto Island, the site of the residency. She also staged a living installation at Victoria’s Pretty Good Not Bad Festival in May 2018 and presented video work as part of a group exhibit at the Alchemy Film and Moving Image Festival in Scotland in spring 2019. And she was recently announced as the recipient of the Karl Spreitz Legacy Award at the annual Victoria Visual Arts Legacy Society Awards.

A still from Laura Gildner’s “Informer”, her 2019 8-channel audio-video installation

“What intrigues me perhaps the most about social choreography is its ability to directly confront our languages and patterns of viewing in relation to the human form,” she says. “Can understandings of aesthetic value become challenged through interactions between multiple bodies? Is judgement cooperatively rehearsed just as much as it is performed?  Why do we tend to fetishize the body as the ultimate bearer of the truth?”

Definitely watch for more to come from Laura Gildner in her final year of studies—we can guarantee it will always be something fascinating!

Posthumous international award for Patrick Lane

The late award-winning poet and novelist Patrick Lane will receive one final honour when he is posthumously presented with the European Medal for Poetry and Art on June 7. Beijing-based poet Dr. Zhao Si Fang, vice-president of the award, will make the presentation at a small private gathering of poets. Lane’s wife, Department of Writing Professor Emeritus Lorna Crozier, will receive the award in the garden of their North Saanich home.

Patrick Lane

Commonly referred to as the Homer Prize, there has only been one other Canadian recipient in the award’s short history: UVic Writing professor Tim Lilburn, in 2017.

“This is a significant honour,” says Lilburn. “Patrick’s stature as a poet is international as well as national. His work has long been of interest to translators in China and a large ‘selected poems’ collection is now being prepared for release in Beijing in 2020, as a result of the Homer Prize.”

Initiated in 2015, the Homer Prize is a relatively new international award administered by an international chamber with representatives from Poland, China, North Africa and elsewhere. Previous laureates include Ataol Berghamoglu (Turkey), Tomas Venclova (Lituania), Juan Carlos Mestre (Spain) and Tim Lilburn (Canada). Plans to present Lane with the Homer Prize had been underway prior to his passing on March 7.

Woodcock Award

It was a full house for Patrick Lane’s memorial on April 20

Lane was also posthumously honoured with the George Woodcock Lifetime Achievement Award on April 20 at his memorial service at UVic. With nearly 300 people gathered at the memorial event, Howard White—president of the Pacific BookWorld News Society and a longtime friend of Lane—presented Crozier with the award, a $5,000 cheque and a civic proclamation in honour of Lane. Crozier received the same award the previous year.

“Although our timing with this presentation was just a little too slow, I was able to deliver the news to Patrick while he was still with us,” said White at the event. “I remember his first response: ‘Are you sure you haven’t given me that one already?’ He was really very moved, however, and wrote [the following email] the prize administrator Alan Twigg.”

“It is nice to be associated with George [Woodcock],” noted Lane. “He wrote a chapbook summary of my poetry back in mid-career and compared my verse to poets such as Yeats, which, God knows, was excessive in the extreme, but still nice to imagine it might echo some small qualities of such a master, a poet I admired when I was young and still do . . . . Thank you for this award. It is most kind.”

Remembering Lane

Described as “one of Canada’s most renowned writers,” Lane’s death made headlines in media outlets nationwide. His distinguished career spanned 50 years and 25 volumes of poetry, as well as award-winning books of fiction and non-fiction, published in over a dozen countries. Winner of the Governor General’s Award for Poetry, the Lieutenant Governor’s Award for Literary Excellence, the Canadian Authors Association Award, among others, he was named an officer of the Order of Canada in 2014. Lane with a long association with UVic and received a Doctor of Letters (honoris causa) in November 2013 in recognition of his service to Canadian literature.

“Patrick has been celebrated in this country for many decades,” says Lilburn. “Soon a full range of poetry lovers in China will be able to feast on the brilliance and compassion of this extraordinary writer.”