Day in the life: Karla Stout

When it comes to dressing for success, Karla Stout knows how to get it right. As the head of wardrobe for the Department of Theatre and a volunteer rober since 1994, Stout has ensured thousands of graduating students look their best when they cross the stage at convocation. Beyond draping hoods, adjusting tassels and soothing jangled nerves, Stout has also helped a variety of UVic presidents and chancellors look tip-top for the big day.

Now a convocation marshal, Stout well knows the importance of clothing—and, as the recipient of three university degrees herself, she feels convocation is a significant event that shouldn’t be skipped.

“It’s an acknowledgement and recognition of what you’ve accomplished, and the start of the next period of your life,” she says. “We have less and less ceremony in our lives, and convocation offers a kind of closure to the degree experience. It brings you full circle from your first day to your last.”

Stout (in blue convocation marshal’s robes) & graduating theatre major Kelsey Ward (UVic Photo Services)

An academic veteran on many levels

With four decades of costume work, 25 years of convocations and a law degree behind her, Stout is intimately familiar with a variety of regalia and formal wear.

“Clothes say so much about how a person is feeling and what’s going on for them that day,” she explains. “It shows consciousness or respect for whatever situation you’re going into—you should be clean for court, for example, and tidy for a wedding. It’s the people who come to convocation in torn jeans or track pants I don’t understand.”

While she has built costumes for the Stratford Festival, the Banff Centre, the Commonwealth Games, the Toronto run of The Phantom of the Opera and countless Phoenix mainstage productions, Stout has also taken the measure of current UVic president Jamie Cassels, fixed the hat of past-president David Turpin, created a dickie blouse for current chancellor Shelagh Rogers, sewn a hidden glasses pocket into the robe of former chancellor Murray Farmer, and constructed a special emeritus robe designed by theatre professor emeritus Juliana Saxton.

But one of her first convocation tasks after joining the theatre department in 1990 was to do some custom work for former president David Strong. “He didn’t want to wear a full jacket under his robes in the heat of summer,” she recalls, “so I created false sleeves to go under his robe.”

Still a member of the Law Society of Upper Canada, Stout’s heart is firmly set in the theatre—and she can see the links between the two. “I may not have liked the adversarial nature of the legal system, but court is performance,” she says, noting the shared importance of speaking with clarity, addressing your audience and, of course, costuming. (She says it’s no coincidence that Harcourts, the Toronto company who make legal robes, also make academic regalia.)

No typical day

Over in the theatre department, Stout says she’s doesn’t really have a typical day. “Well, today I taught a class, attended a production meeting for our upcoming run of Othello, met with my student wardrobe team and then I’ll have a two-and-a-half-hour fitting with the cast,” she says. “For Othello, we have 24 people and about 60 costumes. The thing about wardrobe is how labour-intensive it all is: it may be one stage set and one group of lights for one show, but the costumes have to be individually fitted and altered for all the actors.”

In addition to the chance to hear some fantastic guest speakers, Stout believes volunteering for convocation is an opportunity to mark a rite of passage . . . and to instill one final bit of confidence. “It’s a chance to congratulate our students on their accomplishments, and say goodbye to them,” she says. “But every year we have hundreds of graduates who have never done this before and are worried about getting it right: we know how to make it work exactly right.”

And while Karla Stout’s work with theatre is all behind the scenes, volunteering for convocation gives her the chance to be front and centre with the students. “Convocation is a great occasion, and I like to be part of marking an occasion.”

Interested in becoming a convocation volunteer? Visit the Ceremonies and Events website by October 30 for more info.

Artists discuss the radical influence of Buddhism on contemporary art

The public is invited to attend two special presentations, as part of the research convening, In the Present Moment: Buddhism, Contemporary Art and Social Practice, running Oct 25-27 at UVicThese events are organized by the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria in partnership with UVic’s Faculty of Fine Arts, Multifaith Services and Centre for the Study of Religion in Society. 

Kay Larson (photo: Patrick Shen)

The public is invited to the Orion opening keynote lecture and performance at 7pm Friday, Oct 25 at UVic’s Phillip T Young Recital Hall: “Lecture on Nothing” by acclaimed art critic, columnist, and author Kay Larson. Her 2012 book on John Cage —Where the Heart Beats: John Cage, Zen Buddhism, and the Inner Life of Artistsremains a definitive text.

At this talk, Larson will discuss Cage’s seminal text, Lecture on Nothing, which was first performed in New York City in 1949. Written as a piece of music organized around a series of “empty” time intervals (the central statement of the lecture is, “I have nothing to say and I’m saying it”) reads as an oxymoron at first, but reveals Cage’s inquiry into Buddhism.

Following this discussion, there will be a performance of Cage’s text, scored by Larson, conducted by School of Music director Christopher Butterfield and featuring local artists and performers. 

John Cage’s 4’33” by Paul Walde

Then, from 3:30 – 5:30pm on Sunday, Oct 27 , the public is invited to attend the Orion keynote conversation in room 105 of UVic’s Hickman Building: “Beautiful Trouble: A Conversation on Activism, Art and Buddhism” features Suzanne Lacy, artist and professor at the USC (LA) Roski School of Art and Design and Jodie Evans, author, activist, co-director, CODEPINK (Los Angeles). Join in a conversation between these two long-time friends as they explore the relationship between art and activism, activism and Buddhism, and the spaces in between.

Suzanne Lacy, with her 2017 performance “The Circle and the Square”

Lacy is a pioneering artist in social art practice who was introduced to Buddhism in the mid-1980s. She was the subject of a major retrospective exhibition at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in 2019, titled Suzanne Lacy: We Are Here. 

Evans is a cultural producer and global activist who has worked with His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, and the Zen master, Thich Naht Hahn, who advocated for a notion of engaged Buddhism during the Vietnam War.

Evans & the 2018 CODEPINK march on the Pentagon

“UVic’s Visual Arts department is very pleased to be hosting this AGGV-organised event in conjunction with the Faculty of Fine Arts. The world-class calibre of the invited artists and scholars makes this a key event in the study of the immense impact of Buddhist teachings on modern and contemporary art,” said Visual Arts chair Paul Walde.

In the Present Moment: Buddhism, Contemporary Art and Social Practice is a multi-phase research and exhibition project led by AGGV Curator, Haema Sivanesan. The project takes a chronological and thematic approach towards examining the impact of Buddhism on art in North America from the post-war period (c1950) to the present.

“The AGGV’s collaboration with UVic to present this research convening is of great value, enhancing our community outreach and engaging students and faculty with the Gallery’s mission,” says AGGV director Jon Tupper. “These two lectures promise to entertain, provoke and challenge preconceived ideas of both art and Buddhism.” 

Research support is generously provided by The Robert H N Ho Family Foundation, Hong Kong and the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, New York.

Indigenous oral ceremony finalizes historic Witness Blanket agreement

A historic agreement between Kwakwaka’wakw artist Carey Newman (Hayalthkin’geme) and the Canadian Museum for Human Rights (CMHR) was finalized on October 16 through traditional ceremony at Kumugwe, the K’ómoks First Nation Bighouse on Vancouver Island.

The ceremony marks the first time in Canadian history that a federal Crown Corporation has ratified a legally binding contract through Indigenous traditions‚ in a process that has attracted interest from legal and cultural communities, Indigenous peoples and academics all around the world.

CMHR CEO & President John Young (left) with Carey Newman (centre) & CMHR Head of Collections Heather Bidzinski (Photo: Media One)

A groundbreaking agreement

The groundbreaking agreement governs protection and use of The Witness Blanket, Newman’s powerful art installation made with over 800 items collected from survivors and sites of Indian residential schools across Canada. In an unprecedented process, Kwakwaka’wakw traditions and governance and Western contract law have been given equal weight, vesting rights with the artwork itself as a legal entity that carries the stories of the survivors.

The ceremony, held near Newman’s traditional territory, was facilitated by chief and spiritual leader Wedlidi Speck, head of the Gixsam namima (clan) of the Kwagul people. The ceremony included song and dance and the presence of an ancestors’ mask, with Carey Newman and CMHR president and CEO John Young each stating their purpose and intentions for the stewardship of The Witness Blanket.

Respected witnesses from the Kwakaka’wakw community, youth, elders and people with connections to the project, then reflected on their responsibilities as storykeepers and memory holders. The parties celebrated with a feast in the tradition of potlatch, acknowledging the gift of the agreement and the deep relationship that has been forged.

Spirit of reconciliation

“Reconciliation means letting go of certain ways of doing things and looking for new ways that fundamentally alter the nature of relationships,” said Newman, a master carver and Audain Professor of Contemporary Art Practice of the Pacific Northwest in UVic’s Visual Arts department.

“Through spoken words and shared memory, we can express our commitment in ways that transcend written contracts — how we feel, our hopes and our goals for this agreement and our relationship as collaborative stewards of the Blanket and survivors’ stories it holds.”

As part of the ceremony, Newman created this bentwood box specially to house the agreement (Photo: Media One)

Young said the approach to this agreement reflects the Museum’s commitment to recognizing the importance of Indigenous values in ways that encourage thought and discussion about promoting human rights.

The Witness Blanket has national significance as a framework for conversations about the genocide of Indigenous peoples in Canada,” he said. “As we jointly acknowledge our duties as its caretakers, we want to begin in a good way, based on a strong relationship of shared understanding and respect.”

Professor Rebecca Johnson, Associate Director of UVic’s Indigenous Law Research Unit, said the oral ceremony binds each party together on a deeper level than simply signing a legal document. Through the bodies, words and interactions of participants, the agreement is brought to life as a physical entity, she said.

“It matters that the parties are face to face, that they see each other and hear each other express their commitments and intentions,” said Johnson, who attended today’s event. “The ceremony places the agreement firmly in their memories and embeds it in their personal intentions.”

The future of The Witness Blanket

The Museum will soon begin restoration work on the 12-metre-long, cedar-framed art installation, in preparation for an upcoming exhibition project. A travelling photographic reproduction is touring Canada, currently showing at the Neil John Maclean Health Sciences Library in Winnipeg until October 31 before travelling to other locations in Saskatchewan, Alberta, Ontario, British Columbia and the Yukon.

Carey Newman’s “Witness Blanket” installed at the Canadian Museum of Human Rights in Winnipeg (photo: Jessica Sigurdson, CMHR)

A new book called Picking up the Pieces: Residential School Memories and the Making of the Witness Blanket, has recently been released by Orca Book Publishers. An official national book launch is scheduled for November 20 at the CMHR in Winnipeg with Newman, co-author and former Writing instructor Kirstie Hudson and national CBC radio host and UVic Chancellor Shelagh Rogers.

A documentary film about The Witness Blanket — co-directed by Newman and Cody Graham — is also being distributed for educational purposes by the CMHR and for broadcast by Animiki See Distribution, a subsidiary of the Aboriginal Peoples’ Television Network (APTN).

The Canadian Museum for Human Rights is the first museum in the world solely dedicated to the evolution, celebration and future of human rights. Using multimedia technology and other innovative approaches, the CMHR creates inspiring encounters with human rights for all ages, in a visitor experience unlike any other. 

Final week for Spotlight on Alumni show

Celebrated Theatre alum Sam Mullins

With Deparment of Theatre alum Sam Mullins now in his final week of the annual Spotlight on Alumni showcase, he takes a bit of time to talk about the magic of storytelling in Weaksauce & Other Stories, which continues to Oct 19 at UVic’s Phoenix Theatre.

The show runs nightly at 8pm, plus a 2pm matinee on Saturday, Oct 19. Tickets are available at the box office or by phone at 250-721-8000.

Weaksauce is my favourite thing I’ve ever written and I’m delighted to be back onstage where my theatre journey began,” Mullins writes in his Phoenix programme notes. “Truly everything I know about theatre I learned inside the walls at the Phoenix. This is a very special place to me, and I couldn’t be more pleased to be bringing my most special piece back here.”

Weaksauce receives strong reviews

Local media has been enthusiastic about Weaksauce & Other Stories.

“Mullins’ Weaksauce hits the mark, like a good hockey pass,” says this review in Monday Magazine. “This soul-searching biographical collection of tales . . . left the audience and this reviewer grinning a lot and laughing out loud at times. His down-to-earth delivery and willingness to reflect on sometimes painful memories came across as refreshing and honest and kept the audience with him.”

In addition to this Oct 10 preview about the show ((“After doing all of this tried-and-tested material I’ve done everywhere, it’s kind of fun to throw something in that makes me utterly terrified,” he admits), this Times Colonist review highlighted Mullins’ “sensitivity and intelligence of his writing. It also benefits from his easy, likable acting style — Mullins relates to a theatre full of people as though confiding to a single listener.”

In their mini-review, local arts podcast Check the Program noted, “The feel-good vibes of Weaksauce are balanced nicely with an offbeat trio of short stories Mullins has chosen for his second half, perhaps an even stronger showcase of his gift as a writer . . . this particular set is a masterclass in pacing, story structure and comic timing that delivers sharp meditations on spontaneity, parenthood and chance encounters with Mullins’ trademark charm and sincerity . . . If you love to be told a good story (or four), Weaksauce and Other Stories is well-worth the trip to campus.”

And local television station CTV VI did this interview with Mullins on Oct 10 (scroll to the 29:10 mark).

Playing to memory

Weaksauce is about a summer of firsts,” Sam told The Charlebois Post.  “First job. First time away from home. First love. When I sat down to start writing my memories, I realized that all I had to go off of were just the vague residue of faded feelings. I don’t remember the conversations I had with my first love. I don’t remember how I dressed . . . I just remember the adrenaline, the nausea, and the excitement of falling in love for the first time. I remember the depression of having my heart broken when someone else won her affection. I remember the freedom of being away from home by myself for the first time. I remember how it felt when the wheels of the plane left the runway in Toronto to take me back home, and how I knew that things would never be the same.”

Mullins & his “Tinfoil Dinosaur”

“As a writer, I’m almost glad that my memory is so scatter-shot. It gives me the wiggle-room to get at larger truths,” he continues. “I’ll create the conversations that make me feel the way that I felt.  I’ll fabricate the conversations so that when I’m before an audience, I can tell them the truth.”

Also included as the “other stories” are 10-minute versions of two longer stories Mullins has previously performed—including his Fringe Festival hit Tinfoil Dinosaur—plus a brand new story currently in development.

Yet despite being a performance grad, Mullins admits he never really loved acting—it’s writing and storytelling that are his passion. But what’s the difference between acting and storytelling?

“Technically, if I’m in a 300-seat theatre with lighting and sound . . . the only gimmick I have is, be present, tell the truth. Make sure you look people in the eyes. Break the fourth wall,” he said in this interview with the Edmonton Journal. “Being a storyteller, I am pretty much exclusively working off of my own personal experience.“

REACH Awards honour 2 professors

Two Fine Arts professors were honoured at UVic’s 2019 REACH Awards on October 10. The third annual awards celebrate UVic scholars for their extraordinary contributions in research and teaching, showcasing how recipients lead the way in dynamic learning and make a vital impact at UVic, both in the classroom and beyond.

“Our REACH Awards celebrate teaching and research excellence at the University of Victoria,” says UVic President Jamie Cassels. “This year’s distinguished honourees are inspiring teachers and researchers, who are contributing to a better future for people and the planet.”

With 14 awards presented in three categories, Fine Arts was well-represented by our two winners. (Read the complete list of recipients here.)

“Congratulations go out to Drs. Kirsten Sadeghi-Yekta and Patrick Boyle as two of this year’s REACH Award recipients,” says acting Dean of Fine Arts, Dr. Eva Baboula. “These are very significant areas of achievement, and it is an honour for Fine Arts to be represented by colleagues whose work affects people’s lives—from students in the classroom to communities around the world. Thank you, Kirsten and Patrick, for your passion and energy!”

Sadeghi-Yekta and Boyle join previous REACH winners Paul Walde (Visual Arts) and Suzanne Snizek (School of Music).


Excellence in Creativity and Artistic Expression: Kirsten Sadeghi-Yekta (Theatre)

Kirsten Sadeghi-Yekta, Theatre (UVic Photo Services)

“Act well your part,” poet Alexander Pope once urged, because “there all the honour lies.” Through honour—scholarly, artistic and personal integrity—Department of Theatre professor Kirsten Sadeghi-Yekta has earned the respect of communities around the world. Her applied theatre projects raise the curtain on social issues that impact people’s lives.

She customized her approach to work with children in Downtown Eastside Vancouver and disabled young women in Cambodia, with youth in Brazillian favelas torn by drugs wars and special-needs students in the Netherlands, developing a safe space for them to create artistically, build skills and confidence, and find beauty.

Most recently she has been invited to bring that experience into local focus. With the Hul’q’umi’num community on Vancouver Island, she is turning on the spotlight to help them revitalize a crucial part of their culture: their language.

You can hear Sadeghi-Yekta talk about her work in this TEDx Victoria session on “Utopia of Unwanted Spaces: Art in Conflict”.


Excellence in Teaching for Experiential Learning: Patrick Boyle (School of Music)

Patrick Boyle, School of Music (UVic Photo Services)

School of Music professor Patrick Boyle forges musical partnerships with students that embody direct, active experiential learning and scholarship. Through faculty recitals, jam sessions, public performances and impromptu in-office practice sessions, Boyle creates avenues for students of jazz to explore their growing talents, embrace their musical and artistic values, and learn about the business of music.

His pedagogical focus on the craft of improvisation, culture and composition emphasizes deepening students’ listening experience while creating something new. The vibrancy of his approach is visible in the jazz ensemble, with students sharing their music in community in formal and informal settings.

You can read more about Boyle’s teaching philosophy here.