Broadway veteran directs Spring Awakening at the Phoenix

When mounting an acclaimed Broadway musical, it’s always good to have somebody in the director’s chair who knows of which they ing. Enter veteran performer Michelle Rios, whose impressive credits on and Off-Broadway include a number of Tony Award-nominated productions—including starring alongside reining musical theatre king Lin Manuel Miranda in a little show called In the Heights.

Now a university instructor, applied theatre facilitator, and director herself, Rios was invited to the Department of Theatre this year as both a sessional and the director of the mainstage production Spring Awakening, the coming-of-age high-school rock musical that swept the Tony, Grammy, and Drama Desk awards back when it debuted in 2006.

The cast of Phoenix Theatre’s Spring Awakening (photo: Dean Kalyan)

Popular but challenging

Yet, despite its impressive rock & roll pedigree, Spring Awakening—which runs November 10-26 at the Phoenix—remains a challenging show that never flinches from tackling youthfully sensitive topics like abuse, abortion, suicide, homophobia, teen pregnancy and the crushing pressure of unrealistic academic expectations.

“There are a number of moments in this show that can be triggering for young actors,” says Rios. “We’ve had several conversations, because some scenes are rather vulnerable.  I’m trying to keep this process safe—emotionally and psychologically—because I know that this piece requires a certain level of emotional connection and urgency. Therefore, safety, collaboration, and open communication are key.”

In addition to these emotional pressures are the inevitable singing/dancing/acting anxieties that come with mounting a full musical. Unlike the students Rios usually works with as part of the teaching faculty at the Canadian College of Performing Arts, UVic’s theatre program doesn’t specifically focus on musical theatre . . . despite the fact it was the students themselves who chose to mount Spring Awakening.

Not an easy show

But Rios says she’s more than up for the challenge, seeing it as an ideal fusion of her experiences both on Broadway and working with young artists. “Teaching is something I really love, even though I come from a strong performance background,” she says. “While I was performing in New York, I was also working as a teaching artist with an organization that used drama as a means of conflict resolution and drop-out prevention.”

The first step in her process was finding out why the students chose this production. “At our first rehearsal, we had a great conversation about where they’re at, what they’re feeling, and what they need to say,” she explains. “This was an important conversation. Musical theatre is a multilayered process. This isn’t an easy show to sing, act, and dance multiple times a week. But now that the students are immersed in it, they’re learning a lot about the process and the demands of this kind of production—they have learned so much material in very little time.”

Sharing her experience

While Victoria may well be just about as far from Broadway as you can get in North America—both geographically and culturally—Rios feels she’s in the right place at the right time.

“As an artist and educator, I’ve spent a lot of time on the road — directing a musical with 20 young actors is another exciting journey for me,” she says with a quick laugh. “I’m at a point in my life where I really want to focus on passing the torch by working with young actors and helping them achieve their goals. I also feel lucky to have learned from some great directors and mentors throughout my career, so I try to bring that knowledge into the work. All in all, it’s been a great opportunity and process!”

New book by Alexis Luko heralds the spooky season

Dr Alexis Luko (photo: Tori Jones)

On a stormy Halloween weekend back in 2019. School of Music director Alexis Luko hosted an international symposium titled “The Gothic, the Abject and the Supernatural: Two Hundred Years of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein”. Fast forward to Halloween 2022 and that conference has now evolved into the new essay collection she has co-edited, Monstrosity, Identity and Music: Mediating Uncanny Creatures from Frankenstein to Videogames (Bloomsbury).

Created together with her original conference co-organizer, co-editor and colleague from Carleton University, Dr. James Wright, Monstrosity, Identity and Music explores notions of monstrosity through different media — including comic books, film, music, videogames, art and theatre — and through different academic fields ranging from film, literary and gender studies to psychoanalysis, identity politics and even videogame analysis.

“We’ve stitched together several disparate discourses across different disciplines — just as Dr. Frankenstein assembled disparate body parts — to present a multi-faceted image of Shelley’s monster and his impact,” Luko explains, pointing to such varied examples as Marvel’s Frankenstein comics and Afro-Futurism to Maestro Fresh Wes’s “Let Your Backbone Slide” and the first cinematic adaptation of Frankenstein in 1910. “Taken together — and animated — these parts give us a powerful illustration of the undying importance of Shelley’s monster and monstrously human vision.”

But the book also looks more generally at monstrosity in music, film, and videogames — including chapters about queer counter-discourses, a re-evaluation of the white women in Jordan Peele’s Get Out, 12-tone compositions in monster movie soundtracks, the representation of Indigeneity in film and the role of female monsters in The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt videogame. 

Click here to listen to Alexis Luko’s October 22 interview on this topic on CBC Radio’s North By Northwest (jump to the 11:30 mark, interview runs to 23:10).

It all goes back to her parents

A musicologist with an international reputation in film music (as well as renaissance music), Luko says she has always been drawn to scary things.

“When I was 7, my Dad gave me my own beautiful volume of Grimm’s Fairy Tales which I used to read quietly to myself before going to bed — often focused on the scariest ones, and then would spend most of the night hiding under my covers in a state of fright,” she says.

Add in family viewing nights featuring the likes of The Twilight Zone, Alien, The Fly (both versions), Invasion of the Body Snatchers — as well as more accepted cinematic classics like Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal, Akira Kurasawa’s Rashomon, David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia and Roland Joffé’s The Mission — and it’s easy to see how a combined passion for film and music developed.

“I built up my love for film, art and music because I was lucky enough to have parents who constantly challenged me to open my eyes and ears — even if it meant getting a bit scared at times,” she says.

The sound of terror

When asked for her expert option on the scariest movie soundtracks, Luko singles out the sounds of psychological horror films like Midsommar, Get Out, Rosemary’s Baby and The Shining as prime examples where atmosphere is built through both music and effects like screams and voice. “Often the viewers’ or protagonists’ fears are exploited through sound itself,” she explains. “It’s sound that helps to amplify the imagination, often lurking offscreen. Sound is the filmmaker’s most powerful tool for horror, because it’s all about asking the audience to scare themselves.”

Despite living in an era when CGI and special effects tend to dominate screens both big and small, Luko feels the worst scares are the ones we create for ourselves—something Frankenstein originator Mary Shelley well knew on that  original dark and stormy night on Lake Geneva in 1816.

“There’s nothing scarier than what’s already in your own mind,” she says. “It’s important to remember that Shelley’s original monster didn’t look anything like the cliché of the shambling green grotesque that we so often see: he was much less obviously threatening and much more human—well-spoken, well-read, thoughtful and empathetic. It’s the people he meets, and their reactions to him, it’s our society that ultimately drives him to become truly monstrous.”

Two Music concerts highlight the spooky season

The School of Music is also presenting two timely concerts: “Sorcery, Witchcraft & Fantasy” on October 27 at the Phillip T Young Recital Hall and “Nosferatu Live” on October 30 at Cinecenta.

Organized by professor Merrie Klazek, “Sorcery, Witchcraft & Fantasy” offers an interdisciplinary evening of music, theatre and poetry celebrating the history, reality and misconceptions of witchcraft. Music selections include brass quintet renditions of seasonal favourites like March to the ScaffoldMacbeth, and Nordic Tales, plus readings from the likes of Macbeth and the upcoming Phoenix Theatre production of Vinegar Tom, a contemporary political allegory set during the 17th century witch hunts. We’ll also hear poems by the late witch and celebrated UVic Writing department founder Robin Skelton, as well as a performance of the contemporary “Wiccan Goddess Chant” — a timely occasion to ring in the season of spirits.

Click here to listen to Merrie Klazek’s October 26 interview about this concert on CBC Radio’s On The Island. 

Then Music professor Bruce Vogt will offer a live improvised score to a new print of the silent horror classic Nosferatu at UVic’s Cinecenta movie theatre, as well as Buster Keaton’s 1921 short The Haunted House.

Faculty Equity Survey

 

UVic’s Faculty of Fine Arts is conducting an Equity Review in preparation for Strategic Planning. We want to hear from members of the Fine Arts community to understand what we are doing well and what else we need to do to become a place where everyone is welcomed, included and respected for who they are.

This anonymous, 10-minute survey runs from Oct 3-17, 2022, and you can take it here.

We welcome the participation of all members of the Faculty of Fine Arts: faculty, staff, instructors, and current students. The survey asks about your experiences with oppression, discrimination, harassment, Indigenization, Indigenous inclusion and decolonization in the Faculty of Fine Arts, and covers all of our units: Art History & Visual Studies, School of Music, Theatre, Visual Arts and Writing. We also are eager to hear your suggestions for making the Faculty a more inclusive space for all.

Full details about the survey—including how the data will be used, who will see the results, how your privacy is protected & the project timeline—can be found here on the Fine Arts website.

Thank you for your involvement in this important process. As a Faculty, we are looking forward to hearing a full range of views from the diverse members of our community. Your time and openness will help us build a more inclusive community for all.

New exhibit looks at relationships in the Visual Arts department

Alum & instructor Danielle Proteau with her piece in the exhibit (photo: Tori Jones)

Walk onto any pier and you’ll find yourself supported over a fluid environment. Work alongside a peer in visual arts and you’ll find yourself similarly supported in a creative environment. Such is the central metaphor behind Piers, the new Department of Visual Arts faculty exhibit running until December 22 at UVic’s downtown Legacy Gallery

A group exhibition by 18 artists spanning generations, nationalities and backgrounds, Piers showcases contemporary artwork ranging across media that explores how artists’ practices change through teaching, learning and mentorship. But it also explores how the practices of artists working within the visual arts department extends beyond campus in relation to teaching and learning.

“Artists who work in the visual arts department—whether as faculty, sessional instructors or staff—were invited to place their practice in dialogue with that of a past student or mentor,” explains exhibit curator Kim Dhillon, a former instructor in the department. “Nine artists selected an artist to show alongside, someone whose work influenced their own through the course of teaching and learning.”

The exhibit features contemporary painting, sculpture, video and photography by visual arts professors Cedric Bomford, Megan Dickie, Laura Dutton, Daniel Laskarin, Jennifer Stillwell, Beth Stuart and Paul Walde; instructor Danielle Proteau, staff member Hollis Roberts, and alumni Katie Bethune-LeamenChristopher LindsayEvan Locke and Lauren Brinson. Other participating artists include Yan Wen Chang, Annika Eriksson, James Legaspi, Arlene Stamp and Grace Tsurumaru.

The selection was left up to the individual: professors Paul Walde and Cedric Bomford, for example, chose to showcase their own former teachers (Arlene Stamp and Annika Erikson), while professors Megan Dickie and Daniel Laskarin are paired with alumni who now work for the department: facility & production manager Hollis Roberts and sessional instructor Danielle Proteau, respectively.

In Piers, a dialogue occurs between the artworks by Laskarin and Proteau to connect ideas about art as “ghosts”—something that is both there and not there—as well as the process of removal as a way of discovering. As Proteau notes, while there is a material connection in their practices—both work in sculpture and photography—there is also a philosophical similarity in how they explore presence and absence through a process of reconstruction. “Both of our practices crack open ways of knowing, broadly speaking,” she says.

Of Proteau’s practice, Laskarin says, “I feel a shared affinity for what is not quite there, that is just out of sight or beyond the grasp of accountability—that which exceeds us.”

Dickie was nominated for this exhibition by Roberts, her former student. Both have created tactile pieces and both share a sense of loss with the work they’ve chosen to display.

“The two sculptures we submitted deal with the intimacy of relationships, with both people and materials,” explains Dickie. “Both Hollis and I produced these works as a way to work through our grief: Hollis created her weaving while her Dad was sick and I created my button sculpture soon after my partner passed away. I can’t speak for Hollis, but I feel like both of us needed the repetitive work as a purpose to keep going, keep moving and feel like there was something in our control.”

Roberts agrees. “I found that the repetition of weaving was a way to make the chaos I was experiencing surrounding my dad’s illness tangible,” she says. “It was cathartic, rhythmic and it made space for my thoughts to ruminate both before and after my dad’s passing.”

It’s also no coincidence that the genesis for Piers came out of the COVID era, when campuses and shared spaces like studios and classrooms were temporarily closed. As curator Dhillon notes, while some benefits arose from the shift to online learning—specifically in the areas of accessibility and flexibility—many artists and students also felt a loss of connection.

“Making this exhibition has been a process of exchange and dialogue for artists to connect again with students or teachers who have influenced their own practices over the course of their careers,” she says.

Curtain call: John Krich

“All has not been said and never will be.”
—Samuel Beckett

The Department of Theatre is sad to announce the loss of influential professor John Krich, who passed away on September 14.

John was a member of the Theatre department from 1969 to 2002. He contributed greatly to the life of this university and our community as a beloved professor of acting, a versatile and inventive performer, and a caring and supportive director.

After receiving his MFA from the Yale School of Drama, he came to UVic and established the Victoria Fair with a fellow instructor and dear friend, Harvey Miller. The Victoria Fair presented three plays produced each season by the Theatre department (most often at the McPherson Playhouse) and included such noted international theatre artists as Christopher Newton, Marti Maraden and Neil Munro. John also spearheaded the Phoenix Summer Theatre which ran as a repertory company from 1972 to 1996 and employed numerous Phoenix students. In 1996, he also organized an international Beckett Festival presented at the Phoenix Theatre.

He directed many shows at the Phoenix and appeared in others as an actor working alongside our students. In his final year at the Phoenix, he gave an awe-inspiring performance as Hamm in a memorable production of Samuel Beckett’s Endgame directed by Giles Hogya (above). John continued to perform following his retirement in 2002 in Canada and the United States, notably appearing in Blue Bridge Repertory Theatre’s inaugural production of As You Like It.

In his final years, he found contentment in his old pastimes of reading, writing and drawing (or “doodling” as he referred to it). He loved language and was a dedicated logophile and an avid cruciverbalist. He zealously collected references to the number “7” amassing over 3,000 entries. He relished slow thoughtful walks. When health or weather prevented him from walking, he drove along Dallas Road to Beach Drive, up Cedar Hill Cross Road, once around the Ring Road—with a nod to the Phoenix—and back home again.

“He was always a teacher, always an inspiration,” says acting department chair Patrick DuWors. “He will be missed.”

Endgame credits: Production director & photographer, Giles Hogya; set designer, Allan Stichbury; costume designer, Mary Kerr; guest lighting designer, Melinda Sutton; movement coach, Peter Balkwill; stage manager, Noelle Miles. Cast: John Krich, Ryan Arnold, Devon Pipars and Zachary Stevenson.

Indigenous Theatre Festival focuses on language reawakening  

The cast performing Jealous Moon(Credit: One Island Media)

As Indigenous Elders pass, how can younger generations best learn and increase their fluency with traditional languages? Theatre professor Kirsten Sadeghi-Yekta believes applied theatre techniques can be an important part of the language-learning equation, and this month’s Indigenous Theatre Festival Reawakening Language on Stage offers a glimpse into how performance can powerfully augment classroom education.

Running at the Phoenix Theatre from September 16-18 in collaboration with the Hul’q’umi’num’ Language and Culture Society (HLCS), Hul’q’umi’num’ Language Academy and other university partners, the festival offers a weekend of performances, workshops and discussions aimed at exchanging research-based knowledge on the best practices for using theatre as a tool for this essential project.

“Language revitalization is the most important thing,” says Hul’q’umi’num’ speaker and Cowichan Tribes member Tara I. Morris, a PhD candidate in theatre and linguistics who is working with Sadeghi-Yekta on the festival. “We’re fighting for our language—we don’t accept it to be extinct—so we’re organizing and preserving and revitalizing with the younger generation. This festival offers a beautiful way to create space and help keep the language going . . . people need to know how hard we’re working.”

Sedeghi-Yekta (right) rehearses with community participants tsatassaya | Tracey White and suy’thlumaat | Kendra-Anne Page (Credit: One Island Media)

 

A different way of learning

Kirsten Sadeghi-Yekta has been engaged with this project since 2015 and her work has been supported by a number of SSHRC grants, including a new three-year Partnership Development Grant with UVic linguistics professor Sonya Bird as co-lead. “[This festival] is about inspiring other communities who are struggling to maintain their languages,” she explains. “We’re hoping to offer a spark for people to see that it’s possible to learn traditional languages through alternative ways—it doesn’t only have to be in classrooms.”

Sadeghi-Yekta was originally invited to participate by HLCS language specialist Joan Brown (now executive director of the Snuneymuxw First Nations) and SFU linguist Donna Gerdts, who were looking to find new ways to revitalize the Hul’q’umi’num’ language—which was traditionally spoken across a wide geographical area, ranging from now-Washington State and the Fraser Valley to the Gulf Islands and south-east Vancouver Island.

“Joan thought using theatre was a fantastic idea,” recalls Sadeghi-Yekta, a multi-lingual applied theatre practitioner whose international experience working with different cultures was ideally suited to this project. Given that performance has always been an integral part of Indigenous communities, theatre seemed an ideal fit for this project. “There was a steep learning curve on both sides to understand each other—both cultural protocols and the language of applied theatre—but the beauty of live theatre is you always start with your body, so we began by finding ways for participants to move past the discomfort of performing.”

Combining theatre techniques with community storytelling

Currently working with about 60 participants, Sadeghi-Yekta combines theatre-based techniques with community-inspired storytelling to help participants increase their fluency, focusing on nourishing a sense of excitement in speaking and performing only in Hul’q’umi’num’ . . . so festival audiences shouldn’t expect any subtitles.

“The whole point of the festival is that we want to celebrate Indigenous languages without translation,” she notes. “If we provide subtitles, the concentration towards Hul’q’umi’num’ could easily be gone. It’s a very complex language to learn.”

PhD candidate Morris—now co-director of the featured play Jealous Moon—has been involved with the project since 2019 in a variety of roles. “It’s been interesting being a student, learning the Hul’q’umi’num’ vocabulary for the play, acting it out and now helping teach and direct it,” she says.

Ironically, Morris’ grandmother—the late Theresa Thorne—helped create the Hul’q’umi’num’ dictionary and actually worked with SFU’s Gerdts years ago. “It’s such an honour to now be involved at this level,” she says.

kwustunaat rehearsing the role of Owl in Jealous Moon (Credit: One Island Media)

Engaging younger generations

Sadeghi-Yekta estimates there were over 50 fluent Hul’q’umi’num’ speakers when she began this project—a number that has now sadly dwindled to less than 30 over the COVID years.

“Our Elders are passing so quickly that we’re trying to make sure we find ways to expedite the process and engage the younger generations,” she says. “The great thing about this project is that it inspires specifically younger participants to commit to the learning of the language—and to feel confident in speaking it—which is where it all starts.”

Given that the festival has been twice-delayed due to COVID, she is excited to finally bring Reawakening Language on Stage to campus. In addition to the performances and workshops, the festival will also include important life lessons about persisting, building confidence, overcoming adversity and helping others. Expect heartfelt messages of sorrow and reconciliation, loss and hope, and the realization that Indigenous languages are not just an object of study but a means of artistic expression—with the ultimate hope of galvanizing a new generation of Indigenous performers.

A full weekend of performances

As well as a September 16 full-cast performance of the original play Jealous Moon—written by Hul’q’umi’num’ community member Chris Alphonse—festival participants include Dene director and playwright Deneh’Cho Thompson (USask), Education Leadership master’s candidate Yvonne Wallace of the Lil’wat Nation (UBC), indigenous/Xwulmuxw studies professor Laura Cranmer (VIU), indigenous education, Victoria’s Visible Bodies Collective, plus theatre PhD Lindsay Katsitsakatste Delaronde (UVic) and Fine Arts Indigenous Resurgence Coordinator Karla Point.

“Participants always tell me that they’ve learned to play again through applied theatre, that it’s one of the few times they can laugh again without focusing on other worries, ” says Sadeghi-Yekta. “They say that it’s brought the community more together as well—and that’s a huge compliment for the art.”