A flurry of Fine Arts at Belfry’s Spark Fest

Each year, our friends and colleagues at the Belfry Theatre present their SPARK Festival, which offers some of the best small theatrical touring productions in Canada, as well as workshops, staged readings and other events. Now in its 11th year, Fine Arts faculty, students and alumni are once again heavily involved with the SPARK Festival.

In addition to Between Breaths, Busted Up: A Yukon Story, and KISMET, things have changed, one of the featured plays this year is Destiny, USA by Theatre alumni Laura Anne Harris. Also on tap are workshops, staged readings and mini-plays by the likes of Theatre faculty Jan WoodMichael Elliott and Michael Shamata, Mercedes Bátiz-Benét (Writing), Tobin Stokes (Music), Celine Stubel (Theatre), Erin Ormond (Theatre) and former student KP Dennis (formerly known as Writing/Theatre student Ann-Bernice Thomas), PhD Theatre candidate Taiwo Afolabi, and a collaborative reading night featuring current Writing & Theatre students.

Whatever your theatrical tastes, you’re sure to find something to enjoy at SPARK Festival!

Here’s the lineup of our contributions:

Mercedes Bátiz-Benét (photo: Peter Pokorny)

Insomniacs: The Far Side of the Accordion2pm March 7

Distinguished Alumni Mercedes Bátiz-Benét directs this staged reading by Romanian playwright Mimi Branescu. The Man and The Other Man meet in the middle of the night and go on a philosophical journey together to explore the nature of living. Nothing is what it seems; towards the end they meet The Wreck and realize the repetitive and inescapable nature of things.

Stick around for the talkback after the reading!

Jan Wood

Same Old – 7:30pm March 9

Co-written & performed by Theatre professor Jan Wood & James Fagan Tait, this new two-person play-in-development focuses on an ageing married couple. Through a series of short vignettes, the play is equal parts celebration and lament of ageing and love.

Laura Anne Harris in “Destiny USA”

Destiny, USAMarch 10-14

Written & performed by Theatre alum Laura Anne Harris, Destiny, USA chronicles Laura’s experience moving from Toronto to Syracuse, New York, at the dawn of Trump’s America. Gaining her first job as a relay operator for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing causes her to question whether she can discover the hidden humanity of the American people. Destiny, USA weaves together three stories: Laura moving to the US for the first time and working as a relay operator for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, romantically meeting her husband, and dealing with her mother’s illness in Canada while she has to live in America. All are told through storytelling and poetry.

Destiny, USA was a hit at the 2019 Victoria Fringe Festival, where critics called it “funny, poignant, cleverly crafted and well-acted . . . tightly written, overall a fine show” (Times Colonist), with “vivid characterizations . . . a strong show” (Check the Program).

Mini plays – 7, 7:20, 7:40 Wed-Sat, March 11-14 + 18-21

Every year the SPARK Festival’s mini plays push the envelope in new and intriguing ways: you might be seeing them in a staircase, office or hallway, with an audience of 2 or 10 or 15. You never what you’ll get! This year you can see three 10-minute plays created by Tobin Stokes, K.P. Dennis, Krystal Cook and others.

Acting Shakespeare – 10am-5pm March 14 & 15

Michael Elliott

This two-day workshop will be taught by Theatre professor Michael Elliott and sessional instructor Michael Shamata (also the Belfry’s Artistic Director), offering two different—yet complementary— approaches to acting Shakespeare. The two Michaels will work together and separately, providing the participants with practical tools that will open up and reveal the text in all its glory. Participants are requested to bring a Shakespeare monologue of their choice—written in verse—and preferably committed to memory. To register or learn more about the professional development workshops, call 250-385-6815. ($80/adults, $40/students for both days.)

Motswana: Africa, Dream Again – 2pm March 14

Taiwo Afolabi

Theatre PhD candidate Taiwo Afolabi directs this piece by Botswana playwright Donald Molosi. Motswana simply means “citizen of Botswana.” The Republic of Botswana is one of Africa’s wealthiest countries. This intimate multilingual show satirically questions who exactly can claim to be a Motswana. What unexpected revelations come up once we acknowledge that African borders were drawn as a fiction fabricated to serve European greed? Is “Motswana” perhaps a misnomer given the migratory nature of African peoples before borders?

New Play Cabaret 2019

New Play Cabaret7:30pm March 15

This annual collaboration between the Belfry and UVic’s Faculty of Fine Arts sees actors and directors from UVic’s Theatre department bring to life scenes from plays-in-progress by graduate and undergraduate playwrights in UVic’s Writing department. Hear work by emerging playwrights Amy DechkaJay GuoIra Adilman and Ariel Glidden, as performed by Paul CridgeTabatha HamiltonSivert Das and Madeleine el Baroudi, directed by Carter Gulseth (note: more names to come).

One of last year’s new plays—Ellery Lamm’s Summer Bucket List—went on to win multiple awards at the 2019 Victoria Fringe Festival, so come prepared to be impressed!

Celine Stubel

Women In Clothes – 7:30pm March 16

Based on the work by Sheila Heti, Heidi Julavits and Leanne Shapton, this reading is adapted by Michael Shamata and Paula Wing, and features Theatre alumni Erin Ormond and Celine Stubel, plus KP Dennis and Tennyjah Mckenna. Just as women use clothes to strengthen and express themselves, so too, this play uses clothes to address some of the larger issues of society and life—while celebrating daughters, mothers and the “sisterhood.” 

The Belfry’s SPARK Festival runs March 7 to 22 at 1291 Gladstone.



Fine Arts shines at Ideafest

From issues in contemporary Indigenous arts to plastic waste, fake news and comic books about very serious topics, UVic’s annual Ideafest always offers one of the most fascinating weeks of the year!

Running March 2-7 at locations both on- and off-campus, Ideafest 2020 is UVic’s week-long festival of research, art and innovation. There are over 35 free events to capture your imagination, and tickets are not required (unless otherwise stated in the event description).

While you can peruse the full list of Ideafest events here, we’ve rounded up the Fine Arts offerings for your quick reference.

Luff: An Exploration of Kites

Take a stroll through UVic’s Fine Arts courtyard for an outdoor exhibit on kites from third-year drawing students in our Visual Arts department and other contributors. With a history dating back more than 10,000 years, the kite has entranced inventors and creative thinkers from Benjamin Franklin to Alexander Graham Bell and the Wright Brothers. This exhibit seeks inter-disciplinary connections and philosophical insights grounded in a fundamental truth: Without good design and careful construction, nothing flies.

Luff runs March 2-7 in the Fine Arts Courtyard

JCURA Student Research Fair

A recent installation by JCURA student Josh Franklin

Nine different students from all five of our departments are presenting their work in the annual Jamie Cassels Undergraduate Research Awards fair, including:

  • Josh Franklin (Visual Arts): “Holon Inc.: A Multidisciplinary Exploration of Holistic Process Based Art”
  • Megan Ingram (AHVS): “Police, Prejudice, and Film: Contemporary Perspectives on Filmic Representations of Law Enforcement”
  • Emily Markwart (Music): “Florence B. Price: An Antidote to the Whitewashed Classical Music Canon”
  • Hana Mason (Writing): “Re-coming of Age: Themes, Motifs and Conventions in New Adult Fiction”
  • Hannah Moore (AHVS): “Revisiting the Anarchist Politics of Barnett Newman’s ‘Zip’ Paintings”
  • Benjamin Parker (Music): “Post-War Art in Europe: Stravinsky, Sibelius, Vaughn Williams and Schoenberg in the wake of WW1”
  • Christian Tervo (Theatre): “Representing War on the Canadian Stage”
  • Olivia Wheeler (Theatre): “EVOKE: An Exploration of Theatrical Designs Emotional Stimulus”
  • Keren Xu (Music): “The flute solo repertoire ‘Reflections 1’ and reception of female composer Diane Berry”

JCURA runs 11:30am-3pm Wednesday, March 4, in the SUB

Where are the Women Composers?

Even in 2020 there are significant challenges and barriers to women who are composing music. How did a patriarchal concept of art music routinely ignore historical and contemporary achievements by women in the classical music industry? Through performances of four solo flute works by female composers and a discussion with the performers and scholars, this session will explore the reasons why female composers have been excluded, ignored or sidelined.

Presenters include School of Music professor Suzanne Snizek with Sikata Banerjee (Department of Gender Studies) and flute students Emily Morse, Lisa Matsugu, Charlie Mason and Rhiannon Jones.

Where are the Women Composers? runs 12:30-2:20pm Wednesday, March 4, in Mac B037

Artistic Alliances: Indigeneity & Fine Arts

The District of Saanich along with the artist, Carey Newman, officially welcomes Earth Drums to Cedar Hill Park in September 2019 (photo: Kevin Light)

Indigenous arts engage people in multiple ways. Some works are more visible than others for some audiences and for different reasons. What is the social impact of Indigenous arts?

The research and creative activity happening in the Faculty of Fine Arts reflects the dynamic range of contemporary work being created, Indigenous knowledge and both the written and spoken word. Join fine arts teaching faculty and graduate students at this timely interactive session to learn about some of the surprising and engaging approaches to contemporary practices.

Presenters include Gregory Scofield (Writing), Carey Newman (Visual Arts), Lauren Jerke (Theatre) and Lindsay Delaronde (Indigenous Resurgence Coordinator). Hosted and moderated by Allana Lindgren (Acting Dean, Fine Arts).

Artistic Alliances runs 4-6pm Wednesday, March 4, in ECS 116

All Lit Up

Meet the next generation of Canadian literature as Master’s of Fine Arts students from UVic’s legendary Department of Writing read (and perform) groundbreaking graduating manuscripts in fiction, poetry, screenwriting, playwriting and creative non-fiction in this lively literary cabaret.

Hosted by Writing professor Kevin Kerr, readers include MFA candidates Martin Bauman, Daniel Hogg, Ellery Lamm, Troy Sebastian / nupquʔ ak·ǂam̓ and Guochen (Chen) Wang.

All Lit Up runs 7-8pm Thursday, March 5, at the Intrepid Theatre Club, 1609 Blanshard

And while Ideafest offers over 35 events, members of the Fine Arts community may also be interested in some of these other Ideafest offerings:

UVic’s annual Ideafest runs March 2-7. UVic is accessible by sustainable travel options including transit and cycling. For those arriving by car, hourly pay parking is in effect. Evening parking is $3.50. Click here for parking info and campus maps.

Preserving Performance symposium seeks to capture “lightning in a bottle”

How does an object in a museum accurately depict its lively performance history? Consider the costume of late 19th / early 20th century Canadian Indigenous performance poet Pauline Johnson: just seeing it on display at its current home in the Museum of Vancouver tells the viewer nothing about the vibrant part it once played as part of Johnson’s live performances, which were never recorded.

Pauline Johnson’s performance dress (City of Vancouver Museum)

While artists have galleries, musicians have recordings and authors have books, theatre and performance artists and dancers have been grappling with the issue of how to accurately archive the “lightning in a bottle” of live performances for decades.

But now, UVic Theatre professor Sasha Kovacs is gathering artists, curators, performers, researchers, archivists and arts enthusiasts together in a unique two-day free public event, Preserving Performance in the Pacific Northwest, running Feb 20-21 at UVic and the Royal BC Museum.

Reanimating performance history

While Kovacs’ own research focuses on Pauline Johnson’s performance history, the Preserving Performance event hopes to highlight the vibrant performance history of the Pacific Northwest by gathering together many of the region’s leading voices in archival knowledge, performance research and artistic practice.

“It’s such an eerie thing when you see a costume that’s fundamentally about life, about action—yet you see it completely still, in a museum space,” says Kovacs, a co-investigator on the Gatherings: Archival and Oral Histories of Performance project, which is providing principle funding for this event.

“Preserving Performance is about reanimating those performance elements of the past that we’ve forgotten about as soon as they’re put in the archive. They go to the archive because we want to remember them, but it also means they’re being released to forget.”

Theatre historian Sasha Kovacs

This curated series of conversations, gatherings and discussions looks to connect museum and archive specialists with performance historians and professionals to consider the political and pragmatic challenges of archiving performances. They will also look to the future, with an eye to collaborating and building networks to ensure the rich activity of performing artists working in this region have the contacts—and appropriate methods available—to ensure that legacies are preserved.

This event highlights the vibrant performance history of the Pacific Northwest region and will gather together many of the region’s leading voices in archival knowledge, performance research, and artistic practice. Goals of the symposium include:

  • deepening knowledge related to the performance activity of the Pacific Northwest region
  • imagining best practices for the preservation of performance materials by surveying and discussing the approaches currently used by local, regional, and national performance organizations and publics, and
  • highlighting the significant role of archives in creative production by inviting some of the region’s celebrated artists to reflect on the impact of archives on their artistic process.

“For so long, theatre artists have romanticized the idea that we’re the magical art form that exists and then disappears, but now there are issues of legacy, of how people remember that work,” says Kovacs. “It makes these huge contributions, but we can’t talk about it if there’s no material.”

Changes in technology and society

“I don’t want to create arguments about which art forms get more funding or attention,” says Kovacs, “but for performance, one of the reasons we’ve had a hard time generating public understanding of how important performance has been to our cultural, political and economic development is because of the challenge of creating any sort of record of it. And even when it is held in a memory institution like a museum or archive—like Pauline Johnson’s dress—it’s lost something.”

Henry Savage’s “King Dodo”, Vancouver Opera House, 1903 (RBCM)

Yet even when performances are recorded, those recordings don’t capture the essence of a living performance, and viewing them seems hollow in comparison to the live event. And recording technology continually changes (stills, film, VHS, Beta, DVD, Blu-ray, digital), which can make watching it in the future difficult.

“Performance forces us to reframe our understanding of what the archive is as memory,” says Kovacs. “If you think of it broadly—in terms of an audience’s memory—then there is a living archive of every performance. But that’s part of a larger conversation about the space performance gets, and some resistance to the art form.”

Defining performance, describing archives

There’s also the issue of what constitutes live performance. “Is Indigenous ceremony performance? Are the materials related to the potlatch ceremony considered performance? If it is, then the RBCM has a lot of materials.”

Danette Boucher of Histrionics Theatre

Participants in the symposium include Fine Arts alumni Danette Boucher (of Barkerville’s Histrionics Theatre), Matthew Payne (Theatre SKAM) and Lindsay Delaronde (Victoria’s first Indigenous Artist in Residence), plus representatives of the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, UBC’s Museum of Anthropology, the Royal BC Museum, the Burke Museum of Natural History, UVic’s Archives and a number of Pacific Northwest universities. See the full list and register for the event here.

“Part of this is also about bringing the leaders of these museums together to say what’s in their collections that is performance-related, to develop an inventory of where performance sits in these memory institutions, and what the challenges are that theatre artists are facing with archiving their own work,” says Kovacs.

“For me, it’s about bridging these two worlds—what’s happening in these museums and archives; they’re really interested in performance, and we need a lot of help figuring out what to do with all these materials. Can there be some kind of cross-fertilization between those two fields?”

Tiffany Tjosvold embraces art for everyone

When American actress Ali Stroker made history in 2019 by becoming the first wheelchair user to be nominated for—and win—a Tony Award, it was simply another indication that mixed-ability performance instructor Tiffany Tjosvold (BFA ’12, BEd ’14) was on the right track.

Tjosvold founded the Embrace Arts Foundation in 2017. She was inspired to establish a non-profit devoted to creating meaningful artistic opportunities for individuals of all abilities after a series of connected circumstances: dealing with her own debilitating chronic condition, completing her applied theatre training at UVic and, most importantly, receiving an anonymous donation to travel to Uruguay for certification with the acclaimed organization, DanceAbility International.

Embrace Arts founder Tiffany Tjvold with one of her classes (photo: Geoff Howe)

“I received an envelope with all the money—in cash—to go take the program,” she recalls. “To this day, I still don’t know who the money was from, but it was a sure sign that there were people in the community who wanted this.”

A focus on mixed-ability artists

As a Phoenix Theatre student, Tjosvold worked with the disability community and grew aware of the inaccessibility of Victoria’s performing arts scene. “For my fourth-year project, I worked with Community Living Victoria and adapted a theatre group for their inclusive Teen Community Connections program, and in my last semester I did a directed study on increasing community dance access,” she says. “I count my applied theatre degree as some of the most valuable learning and train.ing I’ve ever done—it led me to realize there were so many things I could do.”

Her own arthritic condition led to an epiphany when she found herself unable to do any of the dancing for which she had trained. “I don’t think I was really aware of how exclusive some of the spaces I was working in were … until I couldn’t be in them myself.” Frustrated by the overall experience, Tjosvold decided to do something about it.

Tiffany Tjvold

Fusing her practical experience with the Phoenix’s entrepreneurial spirit, she created Embrace Arts, with classes, camps and school programs for kids, teens and adults built on the idea of embracing movement, music and artistic expression. But Embrace Arts also boldly moves beyond typical programming by mounting inclusive dance projects, shows and participation in public arts events.

“We’re unique in that we also work with theatres, as opposed to just schools or community classes,” she explains. “We’re very driven by how we can support the artists we’re working with . . . the shape and concept of our shows can be wildly different, depending who’s involved.”

A new stage of dance training

Embrace Arts is one of a number of arts organizations uniting professional artists and people with disabilities—including Vancouver’s RealWheels, which helped inspire the idea for Embrace Arts and debuted the new mixed-ability play, Act of Faith, by theatre and writing alumna Janet Munsil (BFA ’80, MFA ’19) in April 2019. Tjosvold feels Embrace Arts is on a roll.

“There are others in BC who work with mixed-ability dance, but we’re really participant- and artist-driven,” she explains. “We want to build programs that let individuals shine as the artists they want to be and have access to the training they want; for example, some of our participants really want to rock out with hip-hop, and there are less of those opportunities around.”

While still a young company, Embrace Arts has already created meaningful artistic opportunities for over 200 participants ranging in age from four to 70—many of whom she first worked with while still a UVic student—and Tjosvold received Community Living Victoria’s “Making A Difference Award” in 2018.

At this point, Tjosvold and director of music programming Erin Koop are busy planning for the future with new initiatives like their “Stories Unfold” schools program. “We are definitely growing,” Tjosvold says.

This story originally ran in the Winter 2019 issue of The Torch, UVic’s alumni magazine