Staging Equality is making change by building relationships with theatre

Kandil & Kovacs outside Chief Dan George Theatre (cred: Adrienne Holierhoek)

If you’ve ever attended a play in the Phoenix Building, odds are good you’ve been inside the Chief Dan George Theatre. Named for the actor and chief of the Tsleil-Waututh Nation whose talent took him beyond North Vancouver to become an Oscar-nominated actor, the theatre also features a striking Coast Salish-inspired wooden-inlay wall panel—both signs of Indigenous respect literally built into the building when it opened in 1981.

Yet, as professor Yasmine Kandil noted when she hosted the President’s Town Hall in the Chief Dan George Theatre in October, has the department done enough to live up to those respectful intentions? Especially when taking into account who has historically come to, and been represented in, that space.

Enter Staging Equality, a vision of how theatre can address issues of race, diversity and inclusion by building relationships based on trust and respect.

 A collaborative and creative research project

Created out of the Strategic Framework Impact Fund, Staging Equality is a three-year, $64,000 collaborative and creative research project devised by Kandil and fellow theatre professor Sasha Kovacs.

“Theatre is a tricky space to be contending with stories of racism and to try to work in an anti-racist methodology and decolonize theatre practices,” says Kovacs. “These are really challenging things to do.”

Currently working with an interdisciplinary team of students, faculty and community partners on a series of workshops and staged readings, Kandil and Kovacs hope Staging Equality will cultivate an environment that respects the legacy of Chief Dan George.

“It’s welcoming through building relationships,” explains Kovacs. “What context or work do we need to do before our new partners and audiences enter this space?”

Now in the second of a three-year framework, Staging Equality is built on a year-long foundation of consulting, questioning, listening and planning alongside their community and campus partners. One early—but essential—shift involved abandoning the standard model of working with out-of-town guests and professionals, and instead focusing on Indigenous and racialized artists who are already doing the work right here in Victoria.

That led Kandil and Kovacs to local playwright Lina de Guevara, who founded Puente Theatre back in 1988 to showcase the experiences of immigrants and diverse minorities. In September, Staging Equality presented a staged reading of de Guevara’s play Journey to Mapu in the Chief Dan George Theatre, which featured a 15-person cast of almost entirely people of colour.

Staging Kamloopa

Journey to Mapu, featuring ICA’s Paulina Grainger (cred: Miranda Hatch)

Staging Equality’s next project is similarly local: a staged reading of the Governor General’s Literary Award-winning play Kamloopa: An Indigenous Matriarch Story, written by Kim Senklip Harvey of the Syilx and Tsilhqot’in Nations—who won the GG the same week in June 2021 that she graduated with her MFA from the Department of Writing, becoming the first Indigenous woman to ever win that award.
Now a PhD candidate with UVic Law, Harvey will be directing the November 20 Staging Equality reading of her own play, featuring a mixed cast of Indigenous students, alumni and community members. “With the readings, we’re also really trying to foster connections between current BIPoC students and BIPoC alumni and artists,” says Kandil.

Not only will this mark the first time Kamloopa has been performed locally in any format, but Harvey’s participation also represents a strong measure of confidence in Staging Equality. “It really has been about collaboration, about building those relationships across campus and in the community,” says Kovacs.

Hear more about the impact of Kamloopa on our students in this episode of the Phoenix Fire student podcast. 

Hope for change

Kandil also sees Staging Equality as a way of offering hope to students and partners, both current and future. “Racialized students do not always see themselves represented in curriculum . . . so when they work alongside practicing artists, they can have the hope and see the opportunity to practice their craft after they graduate.”

While they are only at the halfway point, Kovacs feels the project has already made an impact on her personally and professionally. “As a white woman, this has been hugely transformative: not only on how I do research but also in the way I make theatre and teach students,” she says. “And, as a department that has a theatre company operating within it, the hope is that the work we’re doing on this project can be of value and of use for other departments across Canada.”

For her part, Kandil is pleased that Staging Equality has become a sign of positive change in Victoria’s theatre community.

“It’s already starting to create a buzz and cultivate the kinds of relationships that will lead to projects beyond this,” she says. “If you show trust and you show respect, people come willingly and want to stay and build more relationships through the arts. That’s what’s been moving for me.”

workshop photo (cred: Yasmine Kandil)

The free public performance of Kamloopa is at 8pm Saturday, Nov 20, in the Chief Dan George Theatre (reservations required).

Phoenix Theatre returns with Dead Man’s Cell Phone

Phoenix Theatre returns with their first mainstage production since the pandemic closed their doors: Dead Man’s Cell Phone by acclaimed playwright Sarah Ruhl runs November 11-27.

A wildly imaginative comedy that blends quirkiness with soul, Dead Man’s Cell Phone reminds us of the importance of connection in a world more and more isolated by technology.

Who’s calling?

When a cell phone will not stop ringing at the café table next to her, Jean’s inclination to answer it launches her into the complicated personal lives of a dead man’s mother, his brother, his wife, and his mistress. This loopy and sometimes otherworldly odyssey becomes a wake-up call, forcing Jean to confront her own assumptions, and ultimately realize that life is for the living.

“I only got two scenes into reading Sarah Ruhl’s play and already I was hooked,” explains director and Theatre professor Fran Gebhard. “The play’s premise takes sad events and important themes and treats them in a bizarre and meta-theatrical way. This definitely appealed to my offbeat sense of humor.”

A multi-award-winning playwright, Phoenix previously presented a visually striking production of Ruhl’s Eurydice on the mainstage back in 2012.

Jean (Jane Rees) looks at Gordon (Ryan Kniel) one last time as the ambulance arrives in Dead Man’s Cell Phone (photo: Dean Kalyan)

Exploring isolation

Dead Man’s Cell Phone explores our post-millennial fixation with wireless communication,” continues Gebhard. “We are so connected with one another through our devices that we actually feel painful isolation when we misplace or lose our cellphones. I love how, in this play, Ruhl creates two characters that bring us a vivid participation with old fashioned stationery and its tactile properties.”

Gebhard says she found visual inspiration in the script itself. “When I read Ruhl’s stage direction referring to a moment akin to a figure in an Edward Hopper painting I really began to envision the play.”

Edward Hopper’s 1942 painting “Nighthawks”

Working with Theatre professor Patrick Du Wors on set and lighting design has resulted in a genuinely Hopper-inspired look for the production. Gebhard quotes American essayist Mark Strand on Hopper’s paintings: “. . . there is a lot of waiting going on . . . they are like characters whose parts have deserted them and now, trapped in the space of their waiting, must keep themselves company.”

“During this era of the pandemic many of us have all experienced a feeling of loneliness and we are waiting, waiting for whatever the new normal will be,” says Gebhard.

Welcome back

With audiences back in the Phoenix for the first time since March 2020, everyone is excited for this production—and the rest of their 21/22 season.

Coming up next is the world premiere of The Waste Land (February 17-26), staged by director and choreographer Conrad Alexandrowicz to mark the 100th anniversary of T.S. Eliot’s classic modernist poem, followed by Shakespeare’s Women (March 17-26), by guest director and Stratford Festival favourite Dean Gabourie

“It is such a pleasure to welcome you back to the Phoenix stage to experience this magical comedy about connectivity,” says Gebhard of Dead Man’s Cell Phone. “Enjoy the show!”

Dead Man’s Cell Phone runs through to November 27 (no shows Sunday-Monday), with matinees on November 20 & 27. Tickets run $16-$30, with livestream performances at $15 per household 

Orion Series presents visiting artist Hazel Meyer

The Orion
Lecture Series in Fine Arts

Through the generous support of the Orion Fund in Fine Arts, the Faculty of Fine Arts, University of Victoria, is pleased to present:

Hazel Meyer

Visiting Artist

 

 

 

7:30 – 9:00 pm (PST) Wednesday, Nov 17, 2021

Room A162, UVic Visual Arts building

 

Free & open to the public in-person or via Zoom

Presented by UVic’s Department of Visual Arts

For more information on this lecture please email: visualarts@uvic.ca

Sexuality, feminism & material culture

Hazel Meyer is an artist who works with installation, performance, and text to investigate the relationships between sexuality, feminism, and material culture. Her work recovers the queer aesthetics, politics, and bodies often effaced within histories of infrastructure, athletics, and illness. Drawing on archival research, her work brings various troublemakers—lesbians-feminists, gender outlaws, leather-dykes—into a performative space that centres desire, queerness, and sweat.

Hazel often collaborates with her partner Cait McKinney. These collaborations explore their shared attachments to queer histories through research, writing, and archival interventions.

Hazel is the recipient of numerous grants and awards from the Canada Council for the Arts, the Ontario Arts Council, the Toronto Arts Council, the Fonds Québécois de la Recherche sur la Société et la Culture, Conseil des arts et des lettres du Québec, The Toronto Friends of the Visual Arts, the Arts Council England, and the Office cantonal de la culture et du sport Genève.

Hazel obtained her MFA in Interdisciplinary Master’s in Art, Media & Design at OCAD University, Toronto (2008-2010), and her BFA at Concordia University, Montreal (1998-2002).

Hazel presently lives in Vancouver, on the stolen and unceded traditional territories of the xʷməθkwəy̓ əm, Skwxwú7mesh and Səl̓ílwətaɬ Nations.

 

About the Orion Fund

Established through the generous gift of an anonymous donor, the Orion Fund in Fine Arts is designed to bring distinguished visitors from other parts of Canada—and the world—to the University of Victoria’s Faculty of Fine Arts, and to make their talents and achievements available to faculty, students, staff and the wider Greater Victoria community who might otherwise not be able to experience their work.

The Orion Fund also exists to encourage institutions outside Canada to invite regular faculty members from our Faculty of Fine Arts to be visiting  artists/scholars at their institutions; and to make it possible for Fine Arts faculty members to travel outside Canada to participate in the academic life of foreign institutions and establish connections and relationships with them in order to encourage and foster future exchanges.

Free and open to the public  |  Seating is limited (500 Zoom connections) |  Visit our online events calendar at www.uvic.ca/events

Baylie Adams rehearses for success

Baylie Adams

Image courtesy of Diamond’s Edge Photography

 When fourth-year School of Music saxophone player Baylie Adams wanted to make a community impact during last February’s Black History Month, she looked to her own instrument for inspiration.

“We were only hearing about Black composers in terms of jazz music, so I read up on Black composers to find a more diversified repertoire,” Adams explains. “I’d never even thought about it in terms of classical saxophone.”

Adams’ research led her to American classical composer William Grant Still—the first African-American to conduct an orchestra in the US and, in 1931, the first to have his Afro-American Symphony performed by a mainstream American orchestra.

Inspiring change for herself & others

Inspired, she applied for and received a $1,500 Student Life Grant from the Office of Student Life to finance the project; from there, it was a short step for her Quartet Cantabile—rounded out with fellow Music students Alex Tiller, Ayari Kasukawa and Cole Davis—to record an online recital. In Appreciation of William Grant Still: A Virtual Benefit Concert (seen right) featured a number of Still’s compositions—including one written specifically for the saxophone, performed by Adams with accompanist Yousef Shadian.

In addition to engaging people to learn about this specific Black composer, the recital raised over $900 for the Blue Marists of Aleppo—a benefit fund directly supporting those affected by the ongoing war in Syria. Organizing a fundraising concert also helped Adams feel like she was contributing to various Black Lives Matter actions unfolding at the time.

“Putting work into an event like this made me feel better about all of the injustices,” she says.

The sound of one saxophone playing

Undertaking such an effort in the midst of her final year of studies is one thing, but it’s even more remarkable when you consider it happened during the COVID lockdowns, which were particularly challenging for orchestral musicians. 

“It’s hard to play a recital when there’s no one in the crowd,” she explains. “It’s difficult to feel proud about your performance when there’s no audience, when you’re sitting in your room playing your instrument to people online.”

Yet, as Adams notes, that “show must go on” mentality ended up being one of the biggest takeaways of her Bachelor of Music program.

“That was a hard thing I learned at UVic, but it was a good thing,” she says. “Being in rehearsals really made my degree special—I’m never going to forget that experience . . . even if it sometimes did involve my professor saying, in a nice way, that I have to work harder. It changed the way I conducted myself in rehearsals and did make me work harder. Because of that, I became a better player overall.”

Sharing what she learned

Proof of that is her current enrolment in UBC’s Master of Music program, where she daily draws on the lessons learned here. “I constantly reference my profs at UVic because I want people here at UBC to know what they taught me,” she says. “But I also find myself messaging students who are still at UVic, sharing what I’m learning here now. Working with other people has helped me learn how to better listen to the opinions of others, and be more comfortable sharing my own thoughts.”

While she was part of both the School of Music’s Sonic Lab contemporary ensemble and Wind Symphony, Adams didn’t limit her academic experiences to only music. In addition to a workstudy position with Alumni Relations, she also enjoyed working for Multifaith Services, where her tech support position helped with the loneliness of being a long-distance musician.

“I invited all my friends to join the weekly online sessions—meditation, yoga—so we got to see each other there,” she recalls. “That was a really great experience. Meditating with other people, whether in-person or online, was new for me.”

Adams is also excited to return to campus to graduate . . . this time, in person. “It feels a bit like a dream,” she laughs. “Human presence is getting more familiar again, but still seems a bit nostalgic.”

Fine Arts online open house Nov 17

Do you know someone ready to pursue a creative future? All are welcome to bring questions and inspiration to our free Fine Arts online open house, happening 6:30-7:30pm Wed, Nov 17 via Zoom.

Register here. Note: registration closes two hours before the event.

About Fine Arts at UVic

UVic’s Faculty of Fine Arts is BC’s only stand-alone fine arts faculty—which means you’ll be creating and learning in a specialized, dynamic academic community entirely dedicated to the pursuit of the arts. In Fine Arts, we believe you learn  by doing, so you’ll be part of a like-minded group of diverse people experiencing hands-on training in every area. 

With four buildings offering a full range of purpose-built facilities, you’re only limited by your creative ambitions in our departments of Art History & Visual Studies, Theatre, Visual Arts and Writing, plus our School of Music.

Within our faculty, we offer three live theatres, two concert halls, a recording studio, an art gallery and dedicated art-handling lab, our own coffee shop plus a full range of painting and sculptural studios, photo and technology labs, costume and production workshops, and interactive media studios. (which also holds the unique distinction of being Canada’s only All-Steinway School). 

Meet current students & teachers

At our Nov 17 online open house, you can meet students and professors from all of our units. Learn how our programs can help you achieve your creative future and soon you’ll be counting yourself among our award-winning alumni—many of whom are among Canada’s arts leaders.

Whatever your creative path, UVic’s Faculty of Fine Arts offers a friendly, engaged community where curiosity, experimentation and exploration are the cornerstones of our learning environment.

In Fine Arts, you’ll develop the critical thinking and communications skills necessary to navigate and succeed in our rapidly changing and increasingly interconnected society. You’ll make your ideas come to life, and develop and hone your abilities, all while collaborating with peers from our various disciplines.

Learn more

You can learn more about Fine Arts through our blog or social media feeds.  

Join us on Nov 17 to find out more in person!