Celebrate Star Wars Day with Charles Ross

When Theatre alum Charles Ross (BFA ’98) debuted his One-Man Star Wars Trilogy back in 2002, the cultural landscape was quite different: audiences were already becoming jaded by the new prequels, spin-offs like Rogue One, The Clone Wars and Solo were as yet unimaginable, and Disney ownership of the series seemed an Imperial ploy at best.

Charles Ross

But where Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones fell flat with most viewers, Ross’s high-speed paean to the original trilogy found a ready audience, thanks to his remarkable mimicry, boundless on-stage enthusiasm and sincere love for the series. Now, 17 years and literally thousands of performances later, the 44-year-old Ross is still up to his Jedi mind tricks and happily reports that none of it feels forced.

“I’m certainly not sick of it,” he admits. “I still love it as much as I did when I was a kid, because love doesn’t diminish. Every time I do the show, there’s something about that feeling I’m trying to share — a simple early love for the story — and that’s what people recognize in themselves.“

Star Wars Day event

Ross will be back at UVic with a special presentation of his One-Man Star Wars Trilogy on May 4—that’s Star Wars Day (“May the Fourth be with you”)—at The Farquhar in UVic’s University Centre. Tickets range from $15.75 to $32.75 at the UVic Box Office.

Christopher (left) & Hodge (right)

Starting at 7:30pm, the evening will open with a short discussion panel featuring Writing professor and filmmaker Maureen Bradley, Art History & Visual Studies PhD candidate and recent Star Wars elective instructor David Christopher, Sociology instructor Edwin Hodge (who recently taught a Star Trek elective at UVic) and current UVic student Monica Ogden, hosted by Fine Arts communications jedi John Threlfall.

Read more about the courses offered by Christopher and Hodge in this 2018 article in UVic’s Ring newspaper.

The force is strong with this one . . .

What started out as a niche play for sci-fi nerds has since grown alongside the franchise itself: now 10 films in and, with the “Skywalker Saga” coming to a finale in 2019’s Episode IX, Ross has seen his own solo show go global as well. “There isn’t a part of the planet Star Wars hasn’t touched,” he says. “It’s become much more homogenous, more a part of popular culture: you can just be a normal person and get the references—it doesn’t qualify you as a nerd anymore, just as a human being who’s seen the movies.” (Indeed, UVic even offers a Star Wars elective now.)

Officially endorsed by Lucasfilm, Ross’s 75-minute show has been performed for over a million people worldwide, including extended runs off-Broadway, in London’s West End and at the Sydney Opera House, as well as appearances on the likes of Late Night with Conan O’Brien and the popular How Stuff Works podcast.

The latest parody by Ross

And it shows no sign of slowing down: regular North American dates aside, since 2006 Ross has toured to Australia eight times, the Edinburgh Fringe Festival nine times, the UK 12 times, and has performed to audiences in Malaysia, Singapore and China. In 2017 alone, he spent 175 days on the road with it.

Star Wars has a huge reach,” he says. “My name doesn’t mean much to many people, but the concept certainly does. There are housewives in the American Midwest who still know my work from seeing me on The Today Show a decade ago.”

The once and future one-man

And while Ross has developed a series of other solo shows over the years — including the One-Man Lord of the Rings Trilogy, One-Man Dark Knight Trilogy, One-Man Pride & Prejudice and, most recently, One-Man Stranger Things (many of which were directed by and co-created with fellow Theatre grad TJ Dawe) — time has proven that love for the original Star Wars trilogy endures.

“You never know where things are going to go, but it exciting to imagine where things could go,” he says. “If you can look back and say you made one little bit of difference — a blip in the history of Star Wars, or a footnote in the history of solo shows — that would be the most amazing thing in the world.”

Don’t miss the annual BFA Visual Arts exhibit

April is definitely the month for exhibits in UVic’s Visual Arts department, thanks to a pair of annual exhibitions by graduating artists in both the BFA and MFA programs. While the MFA exhibit is now closed, the annual BFA exhibition is set to engage your senses with a remarkable display of work.

This year titled Scatter, the BFA exhibit will feature work by nearly 30 student artists and will completely fill the Visual Arts building. Work will range from painting, photography and sculpture to performance, digital media, installations and more.

Scatter starts with the always-popular opening night reception at 7pm on Thursday, April 18, before continuing 10am-6pm daily to April 27. (Note: the exhibition will be closed Easter Sunday/Monday.) Opening night will feature catered food and a cash bar open until 11pm.

This exhibit only happens once a year and is the artistic equivalent of a final concert or mainstage theatrical production. Don’t miss your chance to share in this celebration of student creativity, dedication and innovation!

 

Annual MFA exhibit lights up downtown gallery

April is definitely the month for exhibits in UVic’s Visual Arts department, thanks to a pair of annual exhibitions by graduating artists in both the BFA and MFA programs.

First up is the annual MFA exhibition, showcasing Victoria’s best emerging contemporary artists. This year titled It’s Only An Island If You Look At It From the Water, the exhibit run April 5-14 at downtown’s Victoria Arts Council (1800 Store Street).

It’s Only An Island offers a diverse and compelling range of painting, photography, installation and sculpture by graduate student artists Lauren Brinson, Kaitlyn Dunsmore, Angus Fergus, Levi Glass, Mona Hedayati, Dani Proteau and Claire Scherzinger.

Please join us for the closing reception, starting at 7pm Friday, April 12.

Keep your eyes open for the upcoming BFA exhibit, Scatter, opening April 18 in the Visual Arts building on campus.

Student designer reconstructs a storied legacy for latest Phoenix production

Every play needs a set, whether the audience realizes it or not. From a bare wood floor to a drab apartment that slides open to reveal a musical fantasy land, the set is the canvas upon which the actors come to life. But, rather than creating a set from scratch, what happens when a director asks you to simply adapt a design that’s 30 years old? The short answer, as student designer Conor Farrell discovered, is that there’s nothing simple about it.

Conor Farrell in front of his set for 7 Stories, running March 14-23 at the Phoenix

Running March 14-23, Phoenix Theatre is presenting 7 Stories by Canadian playwright Morris Panych as the final production of their mainstage season. Given that the play is currently celebrating its 30th anniversary, director and theatre professor Fran Gebhard wanted to see the original set design brought back to life for her production in Phoenix’s Bishop Theatre.

7 Stories takes place entirely on a seventh-storey window ledge, where a man is in the midst of a life crisis. While reflecting on his life, he is interrupted by the quirky residents and their self-absorbed problems; through their interactions, however, the man finds the courage to take the next step. Panych’s quick-witted, fast-paced comedy philosophizes about life and death, right up to its existential conclusion.

You can read more about the Phoenix production of 7 Stories in some of the advance media coverage it received, including this Times Colonist story, this CTV Vancouver Island segment and this piece from Monday Magazine.

“Ken MacDonald’s original set—inspired by the fabulous art of René Magritte—is iconic and adds an important layer to the meaning of the play, with the surreal elements of Magritte’s work perfectly underscoring Panych’s existential themes,” says Gebhard. “I really couldn’t see the play with any other design.”

For Farrell, that meant adapting the 2009 version of MacDonald’s set—which was originally designed for the 1989 production at Vancouver’s Arts Club Theatre, before needing a few modifications for a 20th anniversary mounting at Theatre Calgary—into one cohesive construction that works with the Bishop’s entirely different stage shape.

Rene Magritte’s “La Condition Humaine” (1933)

“Ken’s original design was built for a very different space, so we’re changing it slightly,” explains fourth-year design student Conor Farrell, who is credited with “design adaptation” for this challenging production. “We’re taking the base design and trying to keep all the integral parts. We’ve spoken with him about how we need to change it and gotten his okay for that.”

Given that 7 Stories happens entirely on the ledge of an apartment building, Farrell’s set is a massive 23-foot-tall facade, shooting up from below the stage’s edge and melding into a sky of clouds. As we talk in the audience of the 208-seat Bishop Theatre, we get quick glimpses of the set crew through the faux-windows; swinging hammers and laughing as they work, the students create mini-stories of their own as they assemble the massive design.

“It’s a new kind of challenge,” says Farrell. “At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if I would do something differently, because it needs to keep the spirit of the original design alive.”

In addition to his actual design work—using Vectorworks, a drafting program, and building a traditional maquette or set model (“the maquette helps people visualize how big the set is, whereas Vectorworks is about sizes and sightlines”)—Farrell also did a fair bit of research into 7 Stories itself: writing a research paper about three-decade’s worth of productions of this now Canadian classic, meeting with director Gebhard and design professor Patrick Du Wors, working with the all-student creative team, overseeing the actual set construction, and having a Skype call with MacDonald himself. “He wasn’t 100 percent sold on it at first, so we had a small back-and-forth and adapted our design,” he chuckles.

With no real theatrical background before moving from Saskatoon to attend UVic, Farrell seems incredibly confidant about undertaking this project, thanks to the skills he’s developed while at the Phoenix. “The best thing about the Theatre department is all the practical experience on offer,” he says. “You can go have a conversation with any professor or talk to the production staff about a problem and figure out how to solve it together.“

As for 7 Stories, Farrell is looking forward to seeing it come to life on opening night. “That’s the fun of the show: how to act with very limited space,” he says. “This set is a challenge that the actors have to solve.”

The public is also invited to a free preshow lecture with award-winning playwright and Fine Arts alumnus Mark Leiren-Young at 7 p.m. Friday, March 15. Currently an instructor with the Writing department, Leiren-Young will discuss the significance, history and secret origins of Morris Panych’s modern masterpiece.

7 Stories previews at 8pm Tuesday and Wednesday, March 12-13 (just $8). It opens at 8pm Thursday, March 14, and runs to March 23, with 2pm matinees on March 16 (with sign language interpretation) and March 23. Tickets range from $16-$26 at the Phoenix Box Office, which is open noon to 8:30pm, Monday to Saturday and at (250) 721-8000.  

Explore the world of Ideafest 2019

It’s neither a surprise nor an exaggeration when UVic describes Ideafest as being about “ideas that can change everything.” This eighth-annual, week-long festival of research, art and innovation runs March 4-9, both on- and off-campus, and offers more than 40 public events designed to inform and engage with thought-provoking and culturally engaging events. And Fine Arts is participating in eight different events this year.

“Ideafest connects research to community. It allows UVic researchers and artists to share knowledge in different ways to appeal to a wide range of audiences,” says David Castle, UVic’s vice-president research. “We invite the public’s engagement so they can better understand how research impacts their own lives and that of society.”

As always, Fine Arts is once again an active Ideafest participant, hosting four separate events of our own and participating in four others across campus. All are free, unless otherwise noted: you can view the full Ideafest schedule here, which is searchable by day or category, but here’s our list of events.

Eva-meta art exhibit

The Visual Arts department’s Drawing 300 class continues its tradition of staging an outdoor drawing exhibition near the Fine Arts building for the duration of Ideafest. Led by Drawing 300 instructor David Gifford, students this year are interpreting meta-drawing and encounters with “aboutness, the recursive and the beyond.” Drawing 300 makes an outdoor exhibit of pictures about pictures. Prepare to have your assumptions challenged!

The Eva-meta exhibit runs Monday-Friday, March 4-9, outdoors in the Visual Arts building courtyard.

Research Reels Video Showcase

Get a taste of the amazing research and creative activity taking place at UVic, as told by our talented students, faculty and staff. A juried collection of short videos highlighting UVic research and how it’s having an impact on our lives and our world will be showcased for one night only. Prepare to be amazed and inspired! Hosted by Lara Lauzon (School of Exercise Science, Physical and Health Education) and juried by Jay Cullen (School of Earth and Ocean Sciences), Cody Graham (Filmmaker and multimedia producer) and Katrina Pyne (Hakai Magazine).

Among the entries this year are short films created by current students Peter Ojum, Leah Tidey and Chen Wang, plus recent alumnus and current Artist in Residence at Oceans Network Canada, Colton Hash (also last year’s Research Reels winner). Their films cover topics ranging from applied theatre practice and choral research to the research and creative practice of Visual Arts professor Kelly Richardson, and her current IMAX video installation commission from the XL Outer Worlds project, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the IMAX camera — a Canadian invention! Be sure to attend and vote for our faculty’s films in the viewer’s choice category!

Research Reels: Video showcase runs 5-6:30pm Tuesday, March 5, at Cinecenta in UVic’s SUB. And there will be free popcorn!

Write On: A Night Out with New Writers

Meet the next generation of Canadian Literature as MFA students from UVic’s legendary Department of Writing read (and perform) from ground-breaking graduating manuscripts in fiction, poetry, playwriting and creative nonfiction at this lively (and licensed) literary cabaret. Hosted by Writing professor Maureen Bradley, graduate student readers include Vaughn Gaston (fiction), Taylor Houghton (fiction), Janet Munsil (playwriting), Tom Prime (poetry) and Miles Steyn (creative nonfiction). Watch for guest appearances by faculty mentors.
Doors open at 6:30 pm

Write on: A night out with new writers runs 7-8pm Tuesday, March 5 at the Copper Owl Bar & Lounge, 1900 Douglas Street (above Paul’s Motor Inn).

Jamie Cassels Undergraduate Research Awards Fair

Meet the next generation of leading Canadian researchers at UVic’s Jamie Cassels Undergraduate Research Awards (JCURA). Awards go to exceptional undergrad students to carry out research in their field of study. The JCURA research fair will feature over 100 of these inspiring projects, ranging from the effects of meditation on memory retention, to improving emergency water treatment in refugee camps. Fine Arts participants include Hannah Bell (Theatre), Kai Conradi (Writing), Jamie Crystal (Music), Kim Dias (Writing), Pascale Higham-Leisen (AHVS), Sarah Kapp (AHVS), Trevor Naumann (Music) and Lee Whitehorne (Music). Just click on their individual names to read a brief of their research projects.

The JCURA symposium runs 11:30am – 3pm Wednesday, March 6, in the Michele Pujol Room (A121) of UVic’s SUB.

UVic Author Celebration

Each year, UVic faculty, staff, students and alumni publish an incredible amount of intellectual content, reflecting a wide range of research, teaching, personal and professional interests. Join UVic Libraries for this annual celebration of books written by UVic — including Writing professor Bill Gaston, who will be reading from his recent memoir, Just Let Me Look at You: On Fatherhood, and recently retired Writing instructor Patrick Friesen, reading from his latest poetry collection, Songen. Hosted by Jim Forbes, Director of Campus Services, other readers include History professors Jason M. Colby, reading from his Orca: How We Came to Know and Love the Ocean’s Greatest Predator, and Lynne Marks, reading from her Infidels and the Damn Churches: Irreligion and Religion in Settler British Columbia.

The UVic author celebration runs 2-4pm Thursday, March 7 at the UVic Bookstore.

Hear, Hear: Best Seats in the House

Experience the beauty of an orchestra from the inside out at this unique rehearsal of the UVic Orchestra, where seats for visitors will be interspersed among musicians to provide an unforgettable opportunity. Immerse yourself as never before in the works of Tchaikovsky and Debussy. Feel the magic of being in the midst of it all. Hosted by School of Music conductor and professor Ajtony Csaba and featuring the student musicians of the UVic Orchestra.

Hear, hear runs 3:15-4:15pm Thursday, March 7 at The Farquhar in UVic’s University Centre building.

Voice in Motion

Can the impact of dementia be reduced through singing and socializing? An interdisciplinary research team at UVic — including School of Music professor emeritus Mary Kennedy— is studying the impact an intergenerational choir may have on health outcomes for people living with dementia and their caregivers, as well as the impact on perceptions of dementia for participating high school students. Hear about the researchers’ findings and observations, then listen to this joy-filled choir share their music. Hosted by UVic School of Nursing professor Deb Sheets, presenters include not only Mary Kennedy but also Erica Phare-Bergh (Choir Director), Stuart MacDonald (Department of Psychology) and Andre Smith (Department of Sociology). With thanks to project partners Island Health, St. Andrew’s Regional High School, St Aidan’s United Church, the University of Victoria’s School of Nursing, School of Psychology and School of Sociology.

Voices in Motion runs 4-6pm Thursday, March 7 at St. Aidan’s Church Sanctuary, 3703 St. Aidan’s St. Note: registration is required for this free event: register here.

Other Faces of Nihonga

An expansion of the current Legacy Gallery exhibit,Translations: The Art and Life Of Elizabeth Yeend Duer-Gyokushō玉蕉, Ideafest welcomes Vancouver-based contemporary artist Cindy Mochizuki for a collective embroidery and listening experience focusing on the racialized effects on women of Japanese descent in British Columbia. Visitors will work together with Mochizuki to embroider an image informed by historical references to Japanese Canadian women during and after World War II, while listening to audio recordings of interviews of Japanese Canadian women exploring issues of race, class, citizenship, nationhood and diaspora.

Other Faces of Nijhonga runs 4-8pm Friday, March 8, and 11am-3pm Saturday, March 9, at the Legacy Art Gallery, 630 Yates St. 

Translations continues to April 6, also at the Legacy Gallery, and showcases the movement of ideas, aesthetics, politics and people between England, Japan and Victoria by looking at the life and work of Anglo-Japanese artist Elizabeth Yeend Duer (1889–1951). Born a British citizen in Nagasaki to an Englishman and a Japanese woman, Duer studied Nihonga, a traditional Japanese-style painting, with the renowned painter and teacher Atomi Gyokushi. 跡見 玉枝. Duer took on the artistic identity of Gyokushō 玉蕉. She immigrated to Victoria in 1940 and is among the remarkably few people of Japanese heritage who were not interned during World War II. Instead, she Japanized her new environment by producing Nihonga-style paintings of local indigenous wildflowers while her own identity was being anglicized.

This exhibit is co-curated by Art History & Visual Studies professor Carolyn Butler Palmer, Mikiko Hirayama (University of Cincinnati) and Janice Okada (BA, MM St). This is a project of the Williams Legacy Chair in Modern and Contemporary Art of the Pacific Northwest.

Other Ideafest events that will have appeal for Fine Arts followers include the Re-imagining Justice: Art, Law & Social Change exhibit (March 4-8), Latin American Muralism and Identity (March 5), the Express Your Thesis performance (March 6), and the Three-Minute Thesis competition (March 7). But again, be sure to view the full Ideafest schedule.

Phoenix Theatre’s “Trojan Women” takes us back to the war that begat all wars

Theatre professor and Trojan Women director Jan Wood

It’s an ironic contradiction of the human condition that the only thing as timeless as war is our simultaneous desire for peace. Sadly, this makes Phoenix Theatre’s mainstage production of Trojan Women as current as when it was first performed in 415 BCE.

“The play is as relevant as this morning’s Twitter feed,” says director and Department of Theatre professor Jan Wood. “Turn on the news and you’ll find another instance of Trojan Women being played out in the world.”

Running from February 14 to 23 (with previews Feb 12 & 13), Euripides’ tragedy follows the perspective of the wives, mothers and daughters of the defeated Trojan warriors as they struggle with grief, uncertainty and, ultimately, courage while their fates are decided by the conquering Greeks.

Theatre student Una Rekic as Athena in Trojan Women (Photo: Dean Kalyan)

“I like to think art has the power to change things, but this play proves that it hasn’t,” admits Wood. “If we’re not learning the lesson that war is bad, then it must be teaching us how remarkable our ability to survive is.”

Apart from Wood and movement director Treena Stubel, who is both a Phoenix alumna and current instructor with Theatre, this production of Trojan Women is firmly in the hands of the next generation of theatre artists, thanks to the 27-person all-student team of cast, crew and designers. “They know what’s happening in the world. They’ve seen the images and they’ve incorporated the power of that loss into the piece,” says the director. “Young people today are at the forefront of enacting real change in the world. Our survival depends upon it.”

Wood feels the intentionally timeless war-torn set and costume design helps the nearly 2,500-year-old play feel current for today’s audiences. “When I see those boatloads of Syrians coming onto the shore, I think about refugees wandering with no destination, being forced out by war,” she says. “One of the things I’ve tried to do with this production is talk about the resilience of the human spirit, and its ability to move forward: how do we go on when our families have been devastated? How do we walk forward into the future? How do we survive?”

The women of Troy lament their fate (photo: Dean Kalyan)

A performance professor with Theatre since 1996, and an accomplished actor and director in her own right — many will recognize Wood from her on-stage work at the Belfry, Blue Bridge Theatre, Bard on the Beach or the Stratford Festival — this show actually marks Wood’s directorial debut at the Phoenix.

“I am definitely an actor’s director,” she says. “I try to create an atmosphere where people have the freedom to create and follow their instincts. Theatre is a collaborative art form: during rehearsals, the more my actors feel comfortable giving, the more I have to work with, and the easier my job becomes. After all, that’s why we got into this business—because we have instincts, a creative desire and a passion, and we need to trust that.”

Ultimately, however, Wood feels the real impact of Trojan Women shouldn’t be felt on the stage. “As the audience, we bear witness, not only to lives lost but to the capacity of humanity to move forward in times of great darkness.” 

The public is also invited to a free pre-show lecture by Dr. Laurel Bowman of UVic’s Greek & Roman Studies department at 7pm Friday, February 15, where she will discuss how the play would have been originally received by an Athenian audience of largely military personnel who were in the middle of a 30-year war between Athens and Sparta.