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.”
What are the interconnections between climate change, sea rituals and traditional ecological knowledge and practices, and how those be explored through applied theatre practices? That’s the focus of the research currently being conducted by Theatre PhD candidate and Vanier ScholarDennis Gupa.
Gupa is currently wrapping up a year of research on the ground—and on the seas—in his native Philippines, which is partially supported through a 2017 CAPI Student Research Fellowship.
Dennis Gupa in the Phillippines
“I have been here in the Philippines for my field work since September 2017. My site is located in Samar-Leyte Region and I am working with local elders in the island community of Guiuan, where the deadliest typhoon of 2013—Haiyan Typhoon—entered,” he writes.
“One of the most relevant activities I organized during this field research was the intentional congress festival, Paddling Visions [which saw] scholars and artists from the Philippines and Canada gather in a four-day congress festival of performances and academic dialogue and issues about climate change, human, ecological and gender violations, and indigenous knowledges.”
Held in May 2018, Gupa’s Paddling Visions sought to expand dialogue on climate justice in the Philippines. “This event is one of the activities that executes and explores my methodologies—participatory/community action research and applied theatre as research,” he writes.
Hear more about Gupa’s work in this short video:
“My heart overflows with gratitude for the participation extended by the communities in engaging them in grounding stories on the impact of climate change,” he says, noting the widespread participation in his research from all walks of life—including elders, women, children, fishermen, government officials, teachers, artists, scholars and others.
From the cultural impact of Star Wars to the inside track on making it as a young adult writer, it’s tough to beat Fine Arts when it comes to cool electives. With over 100 electives open to all students on campus, we’ve got something that will boost your creative and critical thinking skills regardless of your faculty or major.
The Faculty of Fine Arts and Ocean Networks Canada at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, are sponsoring an Artist in Residence program. The concept strengthens connections between Art and Science to broaden and cross-fertilize perspectives and critical discourse on today’s major issues such as the environment, technology, oceans, cultural and biodiversity and healthy communities. This program is open to local, national and international applicants.
The Artist in Residence will interact with Fine Arts faculty members and scientists at Ocean Networks Canada as well as with other individuals using the world-leading ocean facilities to ignite cross-disciplinary exchanges. Open to artists working in any visual, written, musical or performance discipline, this residency is suitable for an early- or mid-career artist.
The Artist will learn from and engage with the current research, connecting it to the Artist’s own practice, and to wider societal and cultural aspects, creating a body of work to be presented at the end of the residency. The selected Artist will actively engage with researchers on a variety of ocean science themes, that may include:
The ONC Artist in Residence program is established to:
explore arts or alternative cultural practices’ potential in the area of the visions, challenges, philosophical, aesthetic, and ethical aspects of the ocean and the impacts humans have on it;
add a complementary artistic and creative perspective to ocean science, the societal ramifications of its exploitation, and its cultural aspects; and
help envision the potential long-term impact of ocean changes on humanity.
The residency period can start any time between May and December 2018 and last for up to eight months. A cost-of-living stipend of up to CAD $2000/month will be paid to the selected Artist. Following the residency, a public exhibit of the resulting art will be displayed, performed and promoted by ONC and the Faculty of Fine Arts.
Please note: the application period closes on 27 April 2018.
If interested, please send your application to email@example.com at Ocean Networks Canada with the subject line “Artist in Residence Ocean Program.” The application should include your CV, a concise portfolio of previous relevant artistic work, and a letter of motivation outlining your project proposal for the residency. Applications will be reviewed by representatives of Fine Arts and Ocean Networks Canada, and artists may be contacted for an interview or to supply further information.
About Ocean Networks Canada: Established in 2007 as a major initiative of the University of Victoria, Ocean Networks Canada operates world-leading ocean observatories for the advancement of science and the benefit of Canada. The observatories collect data on physical, chemical, biological, and geological aspects of the ocean over long time periods, supporting research on complex Earth processes in ways not previously possible. The observatories provide unique scientific and technical capabilities that permit researchers to operate instruments remotely and receive data at their home laboratories anywhere on the globe in real time. These facilities extend and complement other research platforms and programs, whether currently operating or planned for future deployment.
About the Faculty of Fine Arts: With experiential learning at its core, Fine Arts provides the finest training and learning environment for artists, professionals, and students. Through our departments of Art History and Visual Studies, Theatre, Visual Arts, Writing and School of Music, we aspire to lead in arts-based research and creative activity and education in local, national, and global contexts. We integrate and advance creation and scholarship in the arts in a dynamic learning environment. As British Columbia’s only Faculty exclusively dedicated to the arts, Fine Arts is an extraordinary setting that supports new discoveries, interdisciplinary and diverse contributions to creativity, and the cultural experiences of the students and communities we serve.
Shakespeare’s funniest and shortest comedy is getting a reboot for the digital age.
Self-professed Shakespeare nerd Jeffrey Renn — currently completing his MFA in Directing at the Department of Theatre — has been working to create a Shakespeare production that would truly engage the iTunes generation. This week, the director opens his unique adaptation of The Comedy of Errors at UVic’s Phoenix Theatre, blending Shakespearean verse with contemporary music to create a zesty production that’s more Broadway pop musical than Elizabethan classical.
Of course, Renn isn’t new to either acting, directing or reinterpreting the Bard. From the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts to both the Stratford and Shaw festivals and even Broadway, he has performed Shakespeare across the world. “I have been blessed to work with rare artistic genius when it comes to Shakespeare,” says Renn, “including the legendary Robin Phillips.” (Well-known as the artistic director who put Ontario’s famed Stratford Festival on the map, Phillips sadly passed away in 2015 ).
Comedy of Errors director Jeffrey Renn
“I’m grateful to have been included in a traditional process of giving, sharing and playing that was taught to me by my theatre mentors,” he continues. “There’s now a line that travels through Shakespeare, back to the Greeks and forward to these amazing young artists on stage today. I want to be able to have young people as excited about the Bard’s work as I am.”
Comparing Shakespearean theatre to music videos, Renn feels the cutting-edge technology in music videos offers a shared vocabulary uniquely driven by youth—much as it was with theatre in Shakespeare’s day. As such, he wanted his pop-musical adaptation of The Comedy of Errors to look and feel like a contemporary music video, with an extensive use of mirrors to create a club-like environment and extend the themes of reflection right into the audience.
Two times the fun
First told in Roman times, The Comedy of Errors is an intricately-entangled farce of mistaken identity telling the tale of two sets of twins, separated at birth, who find themselves in the same city (and, coincidentally, also have the same name). Chaos ensues as their worlds collide and they end up questioning their own identities; of course, the crazy mix-up resolves into a tale of family reunion, love and self-reflection. (Cue the mirrors!)
The cast of Comedy of Errors (photo: David Lowes)
For the Phoenix production, Renn has transposed the setting to modern-day New Orleans during the annual Mardi Gras festivities, and sought inspiration in the music of Nina Simone, Queen, Beyoncé, Justin Timberlake and many others. He adapted the play with music, integrating Shakespeare’s actual verse into versions of the songs he hopes will help student audiences better relate to the themes of the play.
“Young people have always been searching for a sense of meaning, a sense of recognition,” he explains. “In order to know ourselves, we mimic behaviour, we mirror it — or, in the vernacular of music culture, we’re sampling it, making a mashup. Today, millennials understand the journey of self-identity as a performative act, framing and reframing their world through their digital devices . . . I wanted to change the play’s context to help students see themselves through Shakespeare’s words, to have fun, and make it theirs.”
Get your glow on with illuminated costumes (photo: David Lowes)
To ensure the authentic sound of youth culture, fourth-year student Aidan Dunsmuir fills the auditorium with an energetic sound design while lights explode on to the stage; colourful spandex and bling bring out the outlandish costumes of Mardi Gras parades, as well as the razzle dazzle of the club scene, with costumes designed by fourth-year student Jivan Bains-Wood. Fast-paced choreography by Christina Penhale, of Salt Spring Island’s exitStageLeft, and a clever glow-in-the-dark skeleton dance (with high-tech EL Wire suits designed and programmed by fourth-year student Matthew Wilkerson) completes the allusion to music video aesthetics.
Also offering their professional skills to this production are School of Music performance instructor and Vocal Jazz Ensemble director Wendell Clanton as music director, Theatre design professor Patrick Du Wors as set designer, and Distinguished Alumni Award recipient Michael Whitfield as lighting designer.
Sisters are doing it for themselves at the Phoenix (photo: David Lowes)
“We’re adapting Shakespeare’s adaptation of a Roman play that is almost 2,000 years old, proving that our basic humanity really hasn’t changed since then,” says Renn. “We might live differently technologically, but we’re still the same: we still have our human foibles, and we’re still really funny . . . and with what’s happening in our world today, we need laughter — silly belly laughter — and not the sort born of cynicism.”
By Kayla Foster-Brandt
Phoenix Theatre’s The Comedy of Errors runs March 15 to 24, Mondays through Saturdays at 8pm, with 2pm Saturday matinees on March 17 and 24. Tickets range from $16 to $26, with $8 same-day previews on March 13 & 14. Director Jeffrey Renn will also offer a Preshow Lecture at 7pm Friday, March 16, where he will discuss adaptations of Shakespeare plays he has been involved with over the years. (All are welcome to the Preshow Lecture, whether you’re attending the show that night or not.) For tickets, please call the Phoenix Box Office at 250-721-8000.
One of the best parts of being a Fine Arts faculty in an arts-rich city like Victoria are the opportunities available to current students through our associations with local cultural institutions. From Pacific Opera Victoria and the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria to Open Space and the Belfry Theatre (to name but a few), our students don’t have to wait to graduate to gain valuable first-hand experience working alongside professional artists, technicians, designers and directors.
Case in point: the Belfry’s annual SPARK Festival, running March 8 to 25. Beyond their outstanding lineup of fascinating shows — including the monologue Who Killed Spalding Gray? written and performed by Canadian theatre royalty Daniel MacIvor, who previously worked with Department of Theatre students to present the world premiere of Inside at the Phoenix Theatre in 2011 — SPARK 2018 offers current students in both the Theatre and Writing departments the chance to show their talents to Victoria’s wider community.
Noted playwright Janet Munsil
Playwriting students will have the opportunity to present scenes from shows-in-progress at a special New Play Cabaret. Working in conjunction with student actors and directors from the Theatre department, SPARK audiences will enjoy scenes from new plays by Department of Writing MFA candidates Janet Munsil and Elliott James, and fourth-year undergrads Sarah Pitman and Alaina Baskerville-Bridges.
The free New Play Cabaret starts at 7pm Sunday, March 18, in the Belfry’s lobby.
Talented Fine Arts students and alumni are also heavily on display during SPARK’s annual free Mini-Play Festival, which offer short 10-minute productions staged all over the Belfry’s building — from hallways, offices and storage rooms to the basement and the attic, you’ll never know where you’ll see one of these micro-plays.
This year’s Mini-Plays feature work by Theatre alumni Pamela Bethel, Charles Ross (of One-ManStar Wars fame), Monica Ogden and Tony Adams, current Theatre student and 2016 City of Victoria Youth Poet Laureate Ann-Bernice Thomas (directed by fellow student Karen Saari), plus Writing alumni Kai Taddei (formerly Kat Taddei), and Visual Arts alumna Lindsay Delaronde, currently Victoria’s Indigenous Artist In Residence and creator of Pendulum, the contemporary Indigenous artist showcase recently seen at the Belfry.
Have you heard? Mini-Plays are back at SPARK!
This year’s Mini-Plays are all commissioned by the Belfry and inspired by 6ixty 8ight, a new play by former Department of Writing instructor Charles Tidler. But be warned: most Mini-Plays only offer space for less than 10 people, so be sure to get there early to get a spot.
Mini-Plays run in two batches March 14 -17, and March 21 – 24: Wednesday/Thursday at 7:00 & 7:15 pm and Fridays/Saturdays at 7:00, 7:20 & 7:40 pm. Week one features Lindsay Delaronde, Charles Ross, and Monica Ogden & Tony Adams, while week two features Pamela Bethel, Kai Taddei, and Ann-Bernice Thomas.
Also on view during the SPARK Festival is the annual Belfry 101 Live presentation, a new play created and performed in just one short week by local high school students. This year, Belfry 101 is directed by Theatre alumna Erin Macklem, and local improviser par excellence Dave Morris of Paper Street Theatre. Belfry 101 Live starts at 7:30 pm on Sunday, March 25, on the Belfry’s mainstage.
En’owkin alumna Krystal Cook
Also part of SPARK is the new play reading of Sunday in Sodom by noted playwright Jordan Tannahill, which is being performed by a number of Phoenix alumni including Trevor Hinton, Paul Terry,Jack Hayes and Laura Jane Wallace, as well as longtime Theatre professor Jan Wood. That free reading starts at 7:30pm Monday, March 19, in the Belfry lobby.
Finally, Krystal Cook, an alumna of the En’owkin International School of Writing — which jointly awards the Indigenous Fine Arts Certificate with UVic’s Writing department — is part of the creative team behind Why We Are Here!, a site-specific pop-up choir production on Monday, March 12.