While the Department of Theatre crossed the half-century mark with their 50th anniversary in 2016, they’ve already started planning for the future by welcoming a number of new professors to their teaching faculty. Due to a round of recent retirements that saw the likes of design professor Allan Stichbury, director Linda Hardy and theatre historian Jennifer Wise step down, they had the opportunity to bring in fresh talent in the guise of acclaimed designer Patrick DuWors, voice and speech expert Michael Elliott and theatre historian Sasha Kovacs.
New Theatre professor Sasha Kovacs
An arts researcher, creator, administrator and educator, Kovacs holds a PhD from the University of Toronto. As the new assistant professor in Theatre History, Kovacs specializes in Canadian theatre history and theatre historiography (“how we come to ‘know’ and tell the history of performance in the place we now call Canada,” she explains), as well as performance archives and theory, material theatre culture, devised theatre and experimental dramaturgy.
When asked what she’ll be bringing to UVic (beyond a husband, new daughter and extended family), she says, “A passion for thinking about research as a creative practice.”
“I’m thrilled to be joining the community at the Phoenix,” she says. “It’s hard to find a comparable department—one that really values a balanced focus on practice and research. This is a major priority for me—it matches my own commitment to ensuring that the critical academic research I do is creative, and that the creative expressions I generate as an artist are critically engaged. Being a good thinker and researcher makes a person a better performer/director/designer, just as much as honing creative instincts makes a person a better thinker. I’m happy to join a place that shares these values.”
Teaching and practicing
As a teacher, Kovacs is passionate about both connecting with students “who really believe that this discipline we work in and study can change the world” and building their confidence.
“I want students to feel as though the classes they take under my guidance expand their performance vocabularies and enrich their understanding of the traditions of our discipline.”
Born and raised in Toronto, where she developed both an academic and practicing theatre career, Kovacs has mounted a number of her own projects with the international and interdisciplinary performance collective Ars Mechanica, and has worked with a number of notable Canadian performance companies, including Nightwood Theatre, Tarragon Theatre, Buddies in Bad Times and Canadian Stage. She has also designed community-building arts programs for children, adults and seniors as the program director for Scarborough Arts, one of the City of Toronto’s six Local Arts Service Organizations (LASO).
With such an extensive background, does she have any concerns about swapping life in the theatrical centre of Canada for the western edge of the country?
“It has been wonderful to spend so much of my life in Toronto, where the theatre scene is always buzzing, but it’s also—and only—one scene,” says Kovacs. “It’s a good time for me to expand my horizons and learn about a new community that is making—and has always made—really rich contributions to Canada’s cultural and theatrical landscape. This move is welcome at a time when I’d like to cultivate focus in my life, commit to fostering connections with students through my teaching, and pursue more depth in my research.”
Kovacs (left) in 2013’s “Tomorrow we will run faster”
Given her work with Scarborough Arts, does she foresee any community outreach here in Victoria? “Of course, I want to continue working with different arts communities in Victoria, and I will keep seeking out these interdisciplinary and multi-generational artistic environments,” she says, “but I’ll do so knowing that it will take some time to make meaningful contributions.”
Ultimately, Kovacs is excited to be joining UVic’s Phoenix. “UVic’s theatre department has a rich history in leading exceptional research on theatre and performance history,” she concludes. “I am very honoured and humbled to be working in a place that has inspired so many other historians to make exciting and ground-breaking contributions to the field. I hope I can keep the legacy alive!”
Rapid fire Q&A:
What three words would you use to describe Victoria?
“Deep (I’m used to shallow lakes, not the ocean), sweet (are there a lot of pastry shops here, or is it just me?), blue (don’t know why, I just see the colour blue in my mind’s eye whenever I think of the city).”
If you could travel back in time and attend any theatrical performance in history, what/when would it be?
“Hmmm—that’s a hard one. You’d think I would have said something specific to Canadian theatre history but I think, in fact, I’d like to have been there for Molière’s last performance in his Le Malade Imaginaire—the biting comedy that marked the end of his life and career.”
What would you say to parents worried that their child wants to pursue an arts degree and live a creative life?
“They should be proud, because arts degrees cultivate creative thinkers and the creatives will save the world! ‘Please,’ I’d cry, ‘let your child save the world!’”
How do you define student success?
“I’m my happiest when students show me ways of living that even I didn’t think were possible. Then I know I’ve done my job. I’ve given them the tools and confidence to carve out their own path.”
When Art History & Visual Studies professor Carolyn Butler-Palmer received an email from the Bank of Canada back in 2017, she didn’t put much stock in it. “To be honest, I thought it was a scam email,” she laughs, “but in fact they wanted to speak to me as an art historian.”
“They knew I had an interest in women and issues of diversity,” she says. “And while they’d already determined Viola Desmond would be on the front side of the bill, they were trying to get different regional perspectives on options for the flip side—including what they ended up with, the Canadian Museum of Human Rights.”
Carolyn Butler Palmer with one of Ellen Neel’s masks in the Legacy Gallery exhibit
Often described as Canada’s Rosa Parks, the 32-year-old Desmond refused to leave her seat in the “whites only” section at the Roseland Theatre in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia, back in 1946. As a result, she was dragged out of the theatre by police and then jailed; it wasn’t until 1954 that segregation was legally ended in Nova Scotia, partly due to the publicity around Desmond’s case.
While over 450 iconic Canadian women met the initial qualifying criteria, that list was then narrowed down to a dozen candidates by an independent advisory council for possible inclusion on the $10 bill; Desmond was eventually selected by the Minister of Finance and the Governor of the Bank of Canada from a shortlist of five (including poet E. Pauline Johnson (Tekahionwake), engineer Elsie MacGill, athlete Bobbie Rosenfeld and suffragette Idola Saint-Jean) in December 2016. “It was long overdue for a banknote to feature an iconic Canadian woman,” said Stephen Poloz, Governor of the Bank of Canada, when the new bill was unveiled in March 2018. (Butler-Palmer says she “had, in fact, already voted for Viola.”)
And while we now know the new $10 bill features the exterior of the Canadian Museum of Human Rights in Winnipeg, as well as an excerpt from the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and an eagle feather representing the continuing struggle for recognition of the rights of Canada’s Indigenous people, the question of what was going to appear on the reverse of the bill was still up in the air during Butler-Palmer’s consultation. But does she like the final design?
“To be honest, I’m not sure I would’ve gone with what they selected—without going into specifics, there were other objects I thought were more favourable,” she says with a chuckle. “But I understand why they went in that direction—it’s a new museum and suits the broader issue of human rights. And the vertical design does have more impact.”
All in all, it was a unique experience for Butler-Palmer, who also teaches an AHVS elective titled “Fakes, Forgeries and Fraud” (returning in January 2019), which deals specifically with art forgery and theft—both of which are popularly associated with money. “It certainly was interesting to be contacted by a federal agency and be asked your professional opinion,” she says.
“The announcement didn’t necessarily surprise me because there is a feeling in the public consciousness that video games are addictive and that kids spend too much time on them,” Leach told the Vancouver Sun in this June 21 interview. “My problem is when you label it addiction it conjures up visions of heroin and your 12-year-old kid living on the street and not talking to you anymore. It’s like talking about being addicted to movies when what you’re really talking about is being addicted to pornography.”
A journalist who is also an expert in gaming culture, Leach had just returned from Toronto where he’d organized two symposia on the social power of video games the week before the WHO news broke. He recently launched UVic’s fledgling Digital Storytelling & Social Simulation Lab to further these interests, he has also done a double-blind study about the use of gamification for education when he was director of UVic’s Technology & Society program.
The WHO felt labeling “gaming disorder” as its own unique addiction would allow governments, health care workers and families to be more aware of the risks and better prepared to identify and deal with them. But even though they admitted gaming disorder is rare — estimating three percent of all gamers (at most) are affected — Leach challenges this idea.
“Three per cent is a wild exaggeration,” he told the Sun, noting all the people in the world — including grown men and women — and all the platforms on which they play games. “That would be millions of people. It speaks to the lack of understanding of how predominant interactive games and media is. If you think of how many people play video games, that number must be much lower, something like 0.001 percent.”
According to the WHO, gaming disorder shares many symptoms with substance and gambling problems — which, says Leach, “feeds into media and parental concerns that already exist . . . it shouldn’t be disparaged as a gateway drug to addiction.”
When Kwagiulth and Coast Salish artist Carey Newman’s Witness Blanket was unveiled at the University of Victoria in 2014, it was clear the large-scale installation would quickly become a national monument and spark reflection and conversation about residential schools, settler-Indigenous relations and reconciliation. Now, Newman will continue the conversation as the sixth Audain Professor of Contemporary Art Practice of the Pacific Northwest with UVic’s Department of Visual Arts.
Kwagiulth and Coast Salish artist Carey Newman installs the Witness Blanket at UVic ahead of its unveiling in 2014 at a global conference hosted by the university. Photo: Suzanne Ahearne
“This is breaking new ground for me,” says Newman. “I’m looking forward to having the opportunity to convert the experience of mentorship into a more formal educational setting.”
UVic promotes teaching that reflects the aspirations and calls to action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, including addressing issues most relevant to Indigenous people and working with Indigenous communities and organizations to understand, preserve and celebrate traditions, knowledge and cultures.
A former UVic School of Music student, Newman will be the first Audain professor to hold a new three-year position with the department. He will also play a role in the award-winning ACE program with UVic’s Gustavson School of Business, which supports the entrepreneurial practices of Indigenous artists.
“As a master carver, Carey Newman has extensive knowledge of traditions and teachings, as well as a keen interest in contemporary design and digital processes,” says visual arts chair Paul Walde. “Not only is he an extremely well-established artist, but he has strong connections in different mediums and disciplines, both nationally and internationally. With him in the department, we know we would all learn a lot—faculty and students alike—and we look forward to how we can be enriched by that dialogue.”
The artist in his studio in 2013/14, working on one of the cedar panels for the Witness Blanket. Photo: Media One.
The master carver for the Cowichan 2008 Spirit Pole, Newman had another piece, “Dancing Wind,” featured at the 2010 Olympic Games. For over 20 years, he owned Sooke’s recently closed Blue Raven Gallery. He is also an accomplished pianist and singer who has performed at the National Aboriginal Achievement Awards and with Pacific Opera Victoria, where he is currently a board member.
Best known for his 12-metre-long Witness Blanket—created and assembled from 600 objects and artifacts including pieces of residential schools, an old drum and a shoe—Newman spent four years travelling across Canada with the installation that evokes the atrocities of Indian residential schools and a national journey toward reconciliation. Newman is excited to bring ideas of reconciliation into his classes at UVic.
“I’m interested in looking at how artists can take on the issue of reconciliation through their own relationship with Canada,” he says. “That way, it’s not limiting it to Indigenous people but is encouraging anyone, even international students, to relate to it.”
The landscape of new and experimental music in Canada has been greatly influenced by the creative individuals who have taught and studied at the UVic School of Music. FromFebruary 2-4, this dynamic community spanning five decades — from former faculty to current students — will converge for aNew Music & Digital Media Festivalas part of the School’s ongoing 50th anniversary season.
Music composition has been a vital part of the program at the School of Music since the early days. In 1971 Rudolf Komorous was named Head of Composition and the School’s first analogue electronic music studio was established. “New and experimental music has always been central to what we do,” explains School of Music Director, composition instructor and alumnus Christopher Butterfield. “Many of Canada’s leading composers and interpreters of contemporary music had their training here . . . and our Music and Computer Science program, a major draw for the School, is the only one of its kind in the country.”
Rudolf Komorous & then-student Tony Genge work in the electronic music studio circa 1979
As a direct result of our program, where contemporary music study, creation and practice are at the core, Victoria itself is recognized world-wide as a hub for new music. Faculty and alumni initiatives — including the Aventa Ensemble, A Place to Listen, the Victoria Composers Collective, and collaborations with organizations such as the Victoria Symphony, Pacific Opera Victoria, and Open Space — continue to produce and perform some of the most exciting music of our time, all on the tip of this island off Canada’s west coast. “Show me any place in the country with that kind of activity,” says Butterfield.
The festival will be a great opportunity to hear music by many of the School’s alumni. On February 2, theUVic Orchestrawill performCassandra Miller’s Round, a new commission from the Toronto Symphony; Miller has twice received the Jules-Léger Prize for New Chamber Music, Canada’s highest honour for composition.
In a UVic Minuteon February 3, features clarinetistHeather Roche and pianist Tzenka Dianova — two leading interpreters of new music — with the Chroma String Quartet performing a smorgasbord of miniature compositions (some written especially for this occasion) by 20 Music alumni. Along with works byLinda Catlin Smith,Anna Hostman, andNicholas Fairbank, you’ll hearfestina lentebyRodney Sharman. Sharman was recently awarded the prestigious $50,000Walter Carsen Prize for Excellence in the Performing Arts, which recognizes the highest level of artistic excellence and distinguished career achievements by a Canadian professional artist in music, theatre or dance. TheFaculty Chamber Musicconcert on February 3 offers a program of music by the School’s current and former composition faculty as well asKristy Farkas andLiova Bueno.
Music alumna Tzenka Dianova
Many UVic School of Music faculty and alumni can be seen and heard during the screening on February 3 of five short films from the Canadian Music CentreBC’s Legacy Composer Film Series. Produced and directed by award-winning filmmaker John Bolton, each film features a performance of a signature work by the composer juxtaposed against a storyline unique to that piece.
A highlight of the festival is sure to be the lecture-recital with electronic music pioneer and Buchla synthesizer specialist,Suzanne Ciani, on February 4. While the School of Music has a vintage Buchla 200 Series from the 1970s, Ciani will perform on her own Buchla 200e, a modern model of the instrument.
Of course, our current student body is central to the festival. Find out what the School’s composition students are up to at the Fridaymusicconcert on February 2. UVic’s experimental music ensemble,Sonic Lab, as well as theUVic Percussion Ensemble, will each also give performances on February 4.
It’s said nothing succeeds like success, which is an aphorism well-appreciated in the offices of The Malahat Review. Currently celebrating both its 50th anniversary and 200th issue, UVic’s venerable and revered literary journal has served as a springboard for some of the most recognizable names in Canadian publishing over its lifetime.
Writing grad & outgoing Malahat Review editor John Barton (UVic Photo Services)
For instance, the Malahat was the first magazine to publish a short story by Yann Martel — 14 years before he went on to win the Booker Prize for the international bestseller Life of Pi. In 1977, the journal dedicated an entire issue to Margaret Atwood’s work, before she became internationally known. Poets such as Michael Ondaatje, Dionne Brand, Patricia Young and beloved Department of Writing professor Lorna Crozier have frequently graced its pages.
“Publishing in The Malahat is a rite of passage for many writers, who feel that they have ‘arrived,’” says outgoing editor, poet and Writing alumnus John Barton, who has nurtured the journal for more than a decade. “Writers who have won our contests have gone on to win National Magazine Awards, the Journey Prize and to get book contracts.”
One of the world’s best literary mags, right here at UVic
Established in 1967 by fabled Writing professor Robin Skelton and English professor John Peter, The Malahat Review has showcased works by established writers, discovered promising new talent and presented perceptive critical comment on other pieces including essays on both literature and the visual arts.
“Without The Malahat Review, I wouldn’t be the writer I am now,” admits Martel, whose short story “Mister Ali and the Barrelmaker” was published in 1988. The journal has won more National Magazine Awards than any other literary journal in the country and has had six editors over its lifetime, including Writing professor emeritus Derk Wynand, Constance Rooke, Marlene Cookshaw, Barton, and Skelton and Peter.
“The magazine has been an inspiration to generations of writers and students at UVic, in Victoria and across the country — as a place to read some of the best writing from around the world and as a high-profile publication to dream of seeing your own work in one day,” says Writing chair and alumna David Leach. “As a student at UVic, I remember reading one of Yann Martel’s early stories in the Malahat and being blown away by its originality . . . . To have one of the best literary magazines in the world located right here on campus has helped to establish UVic and Victoria as important centres of Canadian literary culture.”
And while the Malahat may have gotten its start back in the days when Writing was part of UVic’s Faculty of Humanities, it has long ties to us here in Fine Arts. “The Malahat Review has a long history with the Faculty of Fine Arts that spans decades,” says Dean Susan Lewis.
“Colleagues in the Department of Writing play key roles on editorial and advisory boards, and our students have learned about the literary publishing industry through the Department of Writing Internship program, established in 2004. The Malahat’s status as one of Canada’s leading literary journals makes it a desirable place for our faculty to publish. The journal enjoys an impressive list of accolades — including 12 times as either winner or finalist of the Western Magazine Award’s ‘Magazine of the Year’ and 14 Malahat authors in the National Magazine Foundation’s roster of finalists, with five gold and four silver awards.”
It’s already been a busy anniversary for the Malahat, given last November’s 200th issue launch party, which paid tribute to the Victoria literary scene and artists — past, present and future — with two previously unpublished poems from the late P.K. Page and creative nonfiction from painter Emily Carr. The issue also offers work by Writing professors (current and past), including Tim Lilburn, Patrick Lane, Lorna Croizer, Shane Book and Patrick Friesen, plus alumni Kyeren Regehr, Danielle Janess, Leah Callen, Philip Kevin Paul, Arlene Pare, Jason Jobin and Annabel Howard, as well as former Writing instructors like Madeline Sonik and Alisa Gordaneer.
200 issues, one fantastic special edition
To better mark the occasion, UVic Libraries is releasing a limited-edition monograph on January 25, edited by Barton: The Malahat Review at Fifty: Canada’s Iconic Literary Magazine is richly illustrated with archival material from UVic Special Collections and University Archives. Contributing authors include broadcaster and UVic Chancellor Shelagh Rogers, as well as Martel, Paul, Wynand, Young, Eve Joseph, Jay Ruzesky, Nicholas Bradley, Heather Dean, Jonathan Bengtson, Jan Zwicky and rising alumna literary star Eliza Robertson, among others.
“The MalahatReviewat Fifty features extraordinary stories and memoirs from a range of celebrated contributors, recognizing the vital culture impact of The Malahat Review on the Canadian and international literary scene,” says UVic librarian and local poet Christine Walde, who, as general editor of the series, led the commemorative project.
There will also be a special art exhibition, Landmarks: The Art of The Malahat Review. Curated by Caroline Riedel of UVic Legacy Art Galleries, Landmarks opens January 25 in UVic’s Legacy Maltwood gallery, located in the lower level of the UVic library. Running until May 13, it highlights the role of art in the journal and includes 200 selected cover images. Canadian artists have dominated the visual identity of The Malahat Review and the synergy between art and literature is particularly evident in the cover art and essays of the journal’s first decade, which featured new work by internationally acclaimed artists such as Henry Moore, Andy Warhol, Mel Ramos and Joan Miró.
Indeed, it would be hard to beat Dean Susan Lewis for a more simple, heartfelt acknowledgement of the magazine’s accomplishments. “My congratulations to The Malahat Review on its 50th anniversary and best wishes for continued excellence in the decades to come.”