Dean’s Lecture: Virginia Acuña

Deans’ Lecture Series

Research is continually reshaping the way we live and think. In this continuing series of online talks hosted by UVic’s Division of Continuing Studies, you’ll hear from distinguished faculty members and learn about their research interests.

Virginia Acuña on “Amusing the King”

In her talk “Amusing the King: Gender, Parody and Musical Theatre in Early 18th Century Spain”, School of Music teaching professor Virginia Acuña explores the world of Spanish baroque musical theatre through the lens of Acis y Galatea (Acis and Galatea), an operatic work performed for King Philip V of Spain in 1708.

“What makes this work interesting and worthy of attention is that it reverses gender roles of the era, while also satirizing the archetype of the male lover so commonly found in dramatic works of the period,” she explains. “Also, as we shall see, it mocks operatic conventions of the baroque. Why and how does it do so? Please join me to find out!”

You can watch this video here.

Dr. Acuña’s research interests include early music, opera, and Spanish music and culture of the early modern era, specifically the intersection of gender, politics and race in baroque musical theatre. Her research appears in Eighteenth-Century Music, Early Music, the Bulletin of the Comediantes, and in conference proceedings. She is also co-author of Claudio Monteverdi: A Research and Information Guide (Routledge, 2018).

More in the series

Other recent talks in the ongoing Dean’s Lecture Series include Art History & Visual Studies professor Melia Belli Bose, School of Music professors Merrie Klazek and Joseph Salem, and Visual Arts professor Daniel Laskarin.

Theatre grad Markus Spodzieja’s kosher journey

While Stephen Sondheim made the Baker a central character in his musical Into The Woods, theatre isn’t exactly filled with plum roles for those who love to bake. But in the case of Department of Theatre grad Markus Spodzieja, he went from the stage to starting a unique kosher bakery right here in Victoria. It was a bold change that has seen him start to rise in a whole new way. We got the inside scoop on the story behind The Bikery’s tasty treats.

Name: Markus Spodzieja, owner/operator of The Bikery Baked Goods

Age: Three decades’ young (30).

Hometown: I like to say that I’ve been born and raised on the Island, but specifically: Tofino> Comox Valley > Campbell River > Victoria.

UVic degree and year: I graduated in 2015 with a BFA in Acting from the Theatre department.

What I used to be: I’ve been, in order of appearance: warehouse picker, pirate, stagecraft carpenter, food runner, costume actor, bartender, bar manager, barista, prep cook and tech support customer service guru. After graduation I also worked a year with Working Class Theatre, but was finding that theatre wasn’t as much my calling as it once was.

Then I had the idea to: In 2017, an article was shared with me regarding the City of Victoria’s new pilot project: The Mobile Bike Vending Permit. The idea was to take a business and find a way to integrate it onto the back of a bicycle. My job at the time had been giving me some creative licence in the kitchen, and I had become really taken with the idea of pretzels. I successfully crowdfunded some capital, enough to purchase a bike, materials to build a cart attachment and supplies/ingredients.

How I did it: Through The Bikery’s infancy, I worked two successive full-time cafe jobs that allowed me the use of their space in the mornings when their establishments were otherwise closed. I would bake off a few dozen pretzels, load up the bike and hit the streets. Using social media to tag photos and locations, I slowly built a following of tourists and regulars around the city. Eventually this turned into farmers’ markets, office orders and door-to-door deliveries utilizing an online ordering system, until finally, in 2021, we were able to open the doors of our very own environmentally-focused kosher bakery space.

What I love about my new life: I love the regulars. The monthly, weekly and sometimes daily friendly faces that keep coming back because something as simple as a fresh bagel or pretzel is enough to make their day just a little bit brighter. I don’t want to over embellish too much—the hours are long and the multitasking exhausting. But being able to stand back and watch a fully stocked storefront of baked goods—the result of a full morning’s work—gradually disappear before your eyes is extremely rewarding.

What I miss about my old life: I miss evening activities. Going out to theatre, enjoying the night life of Victoria, or digging into a good board game with friends. Starting work at the stroke of midnight is a quieter life for sure.

One lesson learned: Pace yourself. The beginning of a new endeavour is exciting and can quickly become all-consuming. The biggest lesson learned is how to transition your headspace and responsibilities in a healthy way to accommodate the brand-new life you’re about to undertake. You can’t run a marathon without warming up first.

One person who helped me: Narrowing this down isn’t fair to my family, who instilled in me the work ethic I have today; the countless local business owners who have helped guide me through the trials of early entrepreneurship; my business partner, Kimanda, without whom our business in its present kosher form would not exist, and my wife, Rina, who has been my rock and guiding light through thick and thin.

One trade secret: A cup of flour is 150g, a cup of sugar is 200g and an egg is 50g. Never underestimate the power of simple mind-math calculations.

You can find me: The Bikery can be found in the Victoria Public Market at 1701 Douglas Street, facing the far side of the building. We offer no-cost, emissions-free delivery on orders over $10 when placed online at Look for our pretzel bike hitting the streets again this summer!

This interview originally appeared in the spring 2022 issue of UVic’s Torch alumni magazine 

Trans queer UVic alumna named Rhodes Scholar

There’s getting a great education, and then there’s what you do with it. Canada’s first trans woman Rhodes scholar has big plans for both.

University of Victoria graduate Julia Levy is one of 11 young Canadians—the only one in BC—chosen for the prestigious scholarship, which provides two fully funded years of post-graduate studies at England’s Oxford University. Levy, a chemistry major, will begin a master’s degree there in fall 2023.

“Being chosen for this scholarship has been so unexpected. Everyone who I was up against in BC was incredibly brilliant—it could easily have been any of us,” says Levy, 24, who got to know the other provincial candidates at a dinner with Rhodes adjudicators in the run-up to selection earlier this month.

“I feel proud as the first trans queer woman in Canada to have been selected. However, I’m at the peak of every other privilege—white, supportive parents, grew up in a good home with financial stability. Right now, you often need all those things going for you to succeed as a trans person in these types of competitions. I hope I’m the outlier of what will one day be a normal thing for trans people regardless of their backgrounds.”

— Julia Levy

The Rhodes scholarship key criteria include academic excellence, demonstrated courage and devotion to duty, and moral force of character.

“Julia has had an amazing journey at UVic and is one of the most talented chemists our department has developed. Her passion for science and her drive to make the world a better place is an inspiration to everyone who is lucky enough to know her. She has a brilliant future and I’m so excited to see all the great things she accomplishes,” says Jeremy Wulff, a UVic chemistry professor who supervised Levy.

Including Levy, 12 UVic students have been named Rhodes scholars.

At the intersection of art and chemistry

Levy’s many achievements at UVic and in her community clearly caught the eye of the Rhodes selection committee. Having graduated with a major in chemistry and a minor in visual arts, Levy actively works to bring those two disciplines together in ways that benefit people.

“Julia is a dedicated artist who is continually pushing the bounds of the discipline,” says Visual Arts professor Paul Walde. “Always questioning and probing the limits of what’s possible, her creativity and drive for excellence makes her an excellent candidate for this prestigious award.”

In her second year at UVic, she invented a virtual reality program to help struggling chemistry students visualize molecules better, and went on to develop an augmented-reality phone app for visualizing complex shapes that is now featured in UVic chemistry workbooks.

Work by Julia Levy

The art of observation

Intrigued by how she could use art in ways that illuminated the experiences of being trans, Levy created a participatory art installation to evoke in viewers the same uneasy sense of being watched that trans people experience as part of their daily lives.

She invited viewers to enter what appeared to be a private space with a camera and video screen, where they saw a view of themselves from the back. Some seized the rare angle to check out how they looked from behind, or to fix their hair—only to discover upon exiting the room that their actions had been witnessed by everyone in the larger room.

Levy also served on UVic’s equity and diversity committee and was active in the ongoing campaign to retrofit university washrooms into non-gendered spaces.

“I’m a mile wide and an inch deep in terms of all the projects I was involved in at UVic,” jokes Levy. “I’m a big believer in never being just one thing. I’m a trans woman, but I’m also a scientist. I’m an artist, but I’m also an activist.”

Levy’s research focus reflects a key UVic impact area of technology and the human experience, and the university’s commitment to advancing the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

Empower people

“My biggest interest in everything I do is to lift people up. As a trans queer woman, I know what it is to be at the bottom, to be ‘othered.’ I feel that this Rhodes scholarship is such an opportunity to amplify my voice on the issues that really matter to me.”

Levy’s extensive community work includes volunteering with the local Gender Generations Project for trans youth and their families. The project’s twice-yearly gatherings bring youth together with trans adult mentors—so important to young people as reminders that “things do get better,” says Levy.

Levy also worked with UVic’s Vancouver Island Drug-Checking Project, applying her chemistry skills for public good.

The project offers a drop-in service in a downtown Victoria storefront where people can bring street drugs in for chemical analysis. That’s a life-saving initiative in light of poisoned illicit drugs having killed 10,000 British Columbians in the last seven years. “It’s an excellent example of the social use of chemistry,” says Levy.

Levy says she was “very lucky to have grown up surrounded by lesbians” who gave her the confidence to set her own standards for the kind of woman she is. She cites a number of professors as integral to her academic growth—UVic chemists Peter Wan, Wulff and Scott McIndoe, Lindsay Herriot from the School of Child and Youth Care, and cross-disciplinary researcher David Glowacki from the University of Bristol, whom she worked with on virtual reality.

Some of the most influential people in her academic growth were teaching assistants, co-workers and project supervisors, she adds.

She expects to study computational chemistry at Oxford, perhaps with a focus on digital education or health. She’s also drawn to the idea of getting a medical degree that could one day put her on the front lines of helping trans youth access better health care. The Rhodes scholarship covers two years of study with the possibility of two more.

Levy was already part of the UVic community when she transitioned three years ago, which spared her the experience of “the trans foot being the first one you have to put forward” when in an unfamiliar space. That will not be the case at Oxford.

“I’m interested to see how that will go,” says Levy. “But I know from my own life that whenever I see that trans women have achieved something new, it gives me the assurance that things are moving forward. If getting the Rhodes scholarship amplifies my voice, this is going to be such an opportunity to speak truth to power.”

—Jody Paterson

This story originally appeared on the UVic News site on Nov 28, 2022

Exploring the hidden wonders of puppeteer Ingrid Hansen

UVic Theatre grad Ingrid Hansen puppeteering Num Num Bird on Fraggle Rock: Back to the Rock

If you made a list of the most fun careers, “professional puppeteer” would surely be somewhere near the top. And for any fan of fuzzy fur and funky foam, it doesn’t get much bigger than Jim Henson and Sesame—which is exactly where one stellar alumna is making a name for herself—even though she rarely shows her face.

Ingrid Hansen (BFA ’09) has lead roles in the Jim Henson Company’s Fraggle Rock: Back to the Rock and Sesame Workshop’s Helpsters, and is quickly becoming one of Canada’s top puppeteers. A self-described “theatre creator, puppeteer, voice actor and prison-theatre artist,” Hansen’s resume is filled with shows on leading networks, including Apple TV+, Amazon Prime, Treehouse, Teletoon, Peacock, APTN and YouTube.

“You have to be a little bit insane to want to do this, but I absolutely love it,” Hansen says with a hearty laugh. “On Helpsters, for instance, I got to create an original character: I play a big, loveable, goofy orange monster named Heart, who’s the size of a refrigerator.” But this means more than just putting on a costume: in fact, it takes three people to bring Heart to life. (Hansen handles the voice, mouth and left arm.) “I have a great support team.… If I get too hot, they shove an electric leaf-blower down the collar and give me a shot of fresh air.”

The Kelowna-raised Hansen has three seasons of the Emmy-winning Helpsters behind her, performing alongside celebrity guests like Hollywood star Danny Trejo, Broadway legend Alan Cummings and Grammy-winning singer Norah Jones, as well as a team of top-tier LA comedy writers. “Working on that show is a dream! It’s so full of personality.”

Behind the scenes

Given the candy-coloured nature of most kids’ shows, it’s easy to think that a puppeteer simply has fun professionally—but, as with any specialized art form, there’s a lot more to it than that.

“Every day is pretty fun, but I have incredibly long hours and it’s technically, mentally and physically challenging,” says Hansen. “Puppeteers call ourselves ‘professional problem solvers’ because everything a puppet does is kind of a stunt: pup-pets don’t have opposable thumbs, can’t do basic things like pick up a pencil and they break all the time. We constantly have to find tricks and create solutions to make them look alive.”

Hansen is also thrilled with her four-month gig on the Calgary-filmed Fraggle Rock reboot—a show she loved as a child. “Any time it was on we all freaked out and ran to the TV,” she recalls. “I remember being fascinated by all the creatures—the humans, the Fraggles, the little green Doozers and the big monstrous Gorgs.”

Bringing the walkaround character Ma Gorg back to life meant Hansen had to both study the original character work and add her own distinctive flair, while wearing a rebuild of the original costume. “I was wearing a puppet that was older than I was… and it didn’t even smell.”

Hollywood legend Danny Trejo with Ingrid Hansen as the furry orange Heart on Helpsters (above) and having fun out of costume (below)

An art that’s both ancient & modern

Fraggle Rock is a great example of how puppetry—a performance tradition spanning cultures and continents that dates back at least 2,500 years—embodies more than just cute characters.

Fraggle Rock was created by Jim Henson as an international children’s series with the goal of ending war,” she explains. “All these creatures are interconnected in ways they don’t always understand… it’s a really complex universe for a children’s show, where they dive into deep topics like division, exclusion and water shortages—but still with that over-arching theme of interconnectivity between all living things.”

Hansen is no stranger to big topics herself. She was co-artistic director (alongside fellow theatre grad Kathleen Greenfield) of the SNAFU Society of Unexpected Spectacles. Hansen also worked with Victoria’s acclaimed prison theatre company, William Head on Stage (WHoS), since 2008.

“I feel honoured to work out there,” she says. “The incarcerated artists are the most hard-working, ingenious people I have ever known: it really challenges them to work on a creative project that requires intense teamwork and trust. And it continually grounds me in the power of the performing arts as something relevant that can be life-changing on both sides of the curtain.”

From left: Kira Hall, Aymee Garcia & Ingrid Hansen puppeteering Marjory the Trash Heap on Fraggle Rock

Other projects on the go

Having co-authored and performed in 21 live SNAFU shows—including the award-winning productions Little Orange Man, Kitt & Jane and Interstellar Elder—Hansen also managed to stay busy during COVID. “I’ve been very fortunate to be able to keep creating,” she says. “SNAFU did Epidermis Circus, which was a livestream for the National Arts Centre performance series as well as a live drive-in show in Victoria and Vancouver, created a podcast show with WHoS, performed in Victoria’s outdoor SKAMpede festival and developed a series of short films that will be released soon.”

She has also maintained her campus connection over the years, whether by showcasing a solo show at the Phoenix Theatre or working with alumni at WHoS and Theatre SKAM’s SKAMpede festival. Indeed, just the day before this inter-view, she gave a talk to current students in the Fine Arts 101 “Creative Being” class. (Her advice to these future creatives? “Don’t wait for somebody else to give you a job. Make what you want.”)

Finally, given the current renaissance of puppetry and animation, does she still have any dream gigs to check off? “If they make any more of the new Dark Crystal show, that would for sure be on my bucket list—they used every puppeteer in the UK to make it. But really, I’m working on my dream project now,” Hansen concludes with a bright chuckle.

“I’m so grateful—I feel like the luckiest little fart-face in the world. And I’m having a lot of fun doing it.”

This story originally ran in the spring 2022 issue of UVic’s Torch alumni magazine

Ingrid Hansen works her magic as Heart on Helpsters

Theatre alum Stacy Ross continues to make the news

Stacy Ross did not grow up giving pretend interviews and dreaming of being a television anchor. In fact, the Metchosin-raised Ross had her heart set on a life in theatre.

“My first love was always theatre and musical theatre . . . I always thought my dream job would be a soap-opera actress. It was a little more stable, there was a regular pay cheque. I could be somebody nasty. I always thought it would be fun to be the villain on a soap opera.”

Ross attended Camosun’s Applied Communication Program and worked in television before the call of the theatre drew her back to Vancouver Island and UVic. Ross earned a theatre degree at UVic, then her career took an interesting turn in 2000. Her minivan was burglarized on the same night she auditioned for a coveted job as weekend sports anchor/reporter at CHEK News. She muses that may have won her some sympathy votes. In any case, she got the job, and Ross has been a well-known figure in local media ever since.

Island viewers might spot Ross or her CHEK colleagues at a HarbourCats baseball game or at the grocery store.

“People come up to me constantly when they see me doing regular things outside the newscast to say how important we are to them and how we’re part of their routine,” says Ross. “In a way, we’re part of their family—they turn us on at dinner time and catch up on what’s happening in the day. They need to have that in their lives.”

Community at the core

The value that the community—and the CHEK crew—places on reliable, local news became clear when the station was in danger of closing. CHEK first went on the air in 1956, but in 2009 its corporate owners, Canwest, put it on the chopping block. Community reaction was swift and decisive. A full-fledged “Save CHEK News” campaign ensued, with T-shirts printed and the power of social media and local celebrities put into high gear.

Ross remembers being “terrified.” She knew she would never leave Greater Victoria due to her family connections, so if the station closed, that was going to mean a career change.

“I can’t even explain the tension as we came up with a way to save the station,” says Ross. “Oh, my God, it was just awful going through those weeks, but you know, it paid off in the end.”

Each employee-owner was required to invest $15,000 of their own money—in a hurry.

“Of course, there’s no guarantee we’d succeed. Once we managed to come together in that incredible time of people literally running to the bank at the last moment to make their contributions so we could do this… it was incredibly stressful,” recalls Ross. The employees raised half a million dollars in 24 hours. CHEK became North America’s first employee-owned TV station.

Stacy Ross gets a visit at the CHEK TV studios from a group of Theatre students 

Where’s the “on” switch?

Then the team had to figure out all the intricacies of producing the news. “Who knows how to run a TV station? There was so much to learn… We had no programming, we had no technical support. We were just kind of flying blind. It was far from a sure thing when we bought that station, and we went through a lot of tough times.”

At one point, staff took pay cuts to keep the station afloat. But they made it through, eventually buying the Kings Road property that houses the station, with CBC Radio as an anchor tenant. “We ended up buying the building and succeeding and we’re making money. It’s an incredible story, really.”

She says being independent means the team can be fluid and react quickly. She can have a conversation with her station manager, and they can get the board together in a half hour—that would never happen in a corporate-news environment. CHEK also has a mandate to serve the community. “Any time we have a chance to do good, we do it.”

Now, one of their biggest challenges is fighting fake news. “There’s this battle on for those of us who are responsible journalists to remind people there are far more irresponsible journalists out there.”

Covering the COVID pandemic has been “interesting.” She has never felt as threatened as a journalist as she did by the Freedom Convoy protesters. “The vehemence, the aggression. The naked anger directed at us was unbelievable,” she says. “I’ve never felt fear for being in my profession and felt fear for my family—and I did in this case. It was awful.”

Looking ahead

She’s in a prime position as the 5 p.m. news anchor, but future dreams include hosting a show about the local arts community. Ross says her own theatre training at UVic was instrumental to her career. “I think it was integral to me getting the job and being successful. Being in theatre taught me so much self-awareness, taught me all the mechanics about voice control, how to manage non-verbal communication, the physicality.”

She says while she’s not acting, her work is still a show. “What I do every day is a performance, for sure. It’s not fiction, I’m not pretending to be somebody else… I’m still presenting. It’s a performance, and my time at UVic taught me how to do that. “

But the performance is not always easy. In fact, some days, the news is devastating—and that comes with a cost. For example, Ross covered the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. “It took a toll on me. As a mom, that was really, really difficult to manage.”

The school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, and the recent horrific fatal bank robbery in Saanich were also extremely tough to cover. “I definitely have become a harder person, a less emotional person than I used to be, because you just have to be… You have to protect yourself.”

Some days, though, her job is pure fun, like the time she toured Bear Mountain with golf legend Jack Nicklaus and his son. Ross enjoys golfing, though she’s usually too busy to hit the course. When she does have free time, she spends it with her husband and their daughter, 14, and son, 22.

Ross also devoted some of her free hours to volunteering as a UVic Alumni Association (UVAA) board member from 2016 to 2021. Brian Cant, BA ’03, Cert ’08, MBA ’18, is past president of the UVAA. He says Ross is proactive, easy to work with and truly committed to the community.

“She champions CHEK in a way that makes you confident in the work they’re doing. She’s built a lot of trust with people,” says Cant, who serves as Vice President, Business Impact & Engagement at 4VI (formerly Tourism Vancouver Island). Cant says having robust community media is critically important. “You just don’t get a perspective that is needed if you don’t have local news.”

Ross advises her own children to be aware of what information they’re consuming online.

“When you’re online watching, make sure it’s responsible journalists—research the source,” she tells them. “A lot of it is just smoke and mirrors.”

—Jenny Manzer

This story originally ran in the fall 2022 issue of UVic’s Torch alumni magazine