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

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.

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

“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. “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.”

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

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.”

Theatre professor and Trojan Women director Jan Wood

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?”

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.

Distinguished Alumnus Nathan Medd reflects on the state of the arts

From the nation’s capital to one of the world’s leading creative spaces, the career of Department of Theatre alumnus Nathan Medd has gone far and fast since his graduation with a BFA in 2001. Now named the 2019 Distinguished Alumni Award recipient for the Faculty of Fine Arts, Medd has made a name for himself as one of Canada’s brightest young arts leaders.

Back on campus during Alumni Week to attend the Distinguished Alumni Awards night, visit Theatre classes to speak with current students and to hold a public talk about the importance of creative placemaking, Medd took time out of his busy schedule to reflect on his career to date and the state of the arts in Canada today.

Living his dream

A cultural non-profit leader whose work is devoted to developing the performing arts in Canada, Medd is currently Managing Director of Performing Arts for the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity, the nation’s largest arts training institution and incubator of new works, a position he took up in August 2018. Prior to that, he was the Managing Director of English Theatre at the National Arts Centre, where his team successfully championed Canadian creators and initiated a new national stage for Indigenous performance (launching September 2019).

Nathan Medd (photo: Andrew Alexander)

But prior to those key positions, he was Managing Producer of Vancouver’s Electric Company Theatre, where he produced original works for Vancouver’s 2010 Cultural Olympiad and co-founded Progress Lab 1422, the performing arts creation studio in East Vancouver, in 2009. And before that, he was the Operations and Development Manager for Victoria’s Intrepid Theatre, where he co-founded Metro Studio — still a flagship venue for Vancouver Island — and also held positions with both the BC Arts Council (programs officer and policy analyst) and the Belfry Theatre (front of house manager), where he started right out of university.

“When I left the Phoenix I had an usually clear sense of direction,” says Medd. “Before I turned 30, I knew I wanted to be leading a mid-sized theatre organization, and before I was 35 I wanted to be leading an A-category theatre organization.”

Any way you look at it, moving from graduation to managing the nation’s leading arts centre in just 18 years is quite the career arc. And that doesn’t even mention the Master’s degree in management from Harvard University he recently completed, or the global pilot run of Harvard Business School’s first digital learning program in which he was invited to participate.

“[Theatre alumnus] Ian Case once told me he felt called to the theatre, the way a priest might say they were called to the church, and I’ve caught myself saying that now too,” he says. “Performing arts is definitely a calling. By the time I was about 13, I knew I only wanted to be in a theatre — it didn’t matter if I was in the booth, behind the curtain or centre-stage. It was quite a surprise to my parents.”

It was no surprise to the Qualicum Beach-raised Medd, however, at least once he got involved with the ECHO Players at the local Village Theatre as a young teen. “It was a place where adults treated children like adults and children treated adults like children — everyone was equal, everyone respected each other,” he recalls. “It was a bit bohemian and I’d never been in a club like that before. It didn’t matter how old you were, we were all just grooving on the idea of making a performance.”

Rising to the Phoenix

Medd (centre) returns for the Phoenix 50th anniversary in 2016 with classmates Jeff Glenn (left) & David Schumann

Given his up-island upbringing, and perhaps the fact that he was his high school valedictorian, applying to UVic’s Theatre program was a no-brainer for Medd; what was surprising, however, was his realization that, after four years in the acting program, acting wasn’t really what he wanted to be doing.

“I had a moment in my fourth year where I started to recognize that acting wasn’t my highest and best use in the theatre,” he says with a chuckle. “I was looking forward to a steady paycheque, making the rules and being in a position to work with and hire my friends — to say nothing of the talent I didn’t have to be acting. But I did have a love for organizing other people and produce work.”

For that, he credits the long-running Student Alternative Theatre Company, or SATCo, which was started by the afore-mentioned Ian Case and the late Tim Sutherland and continues to this day. “[SATCo] gave us a lot of space to try out theories and concepts from class with no one supervising us . . . we learned so much through that, and I learned so much about managing theatre through trial and error.”

While Medd may be well known behind the scenes, his Phoenix classmates included a number of people better known for their roles in the spotlight — including Erin Karpluk of CBC TV’s Being Erica fame, Thomas Middleditch (Silicon Valley, The Office), Meg Roe (Onegin, and a frequent face on stage and directing with Bard on the Beach), Annette Reilly (The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina), plus the likes of David Schumann, who is now one of the top trailer editors in Hollywood — many of whom he still sees, whether in person or on screen.

He also points out the value of having a purpose-built facility like the Phoenix building itself. “As I visit more and more schools now, I realize just what a dream the facility is — the three stages are the real asset of the program. A lot of theatre schools across North America have the opposite infrastructure: well-equipped studios but, if they have any performance venue at all, it’s just a ramshackle stage. There’s no facility quite like UVic.”

Creative placemaking

Medd is a familiar face at conferences and arts gatherings across Canada

As part of the overall Alumni Week activities, Medd will be participating in a free public talk about creative placemaking from 12:45-1:45pm Wednesday, Feb 6, in the Phoenix’s Bishop Theatre. Joining him will be fellow Phoenix alumni and Metro Studio co-founders Ian Case (former Intrepid Theatre general manager, now Director of UVic’s Ceremonies & Events) and Janet Munsil (former Intrepid Theatre artistic director, current MFA candidate in Writing), plus Kevin Kerr, co-founder of Vancouver’s Electric Company and a professor in the Department of Writing.

“My work these past 10 years has been about building infrastructure and altering practices that were built in the 1960s but no longer serve everyone who wants to work in or attend the arts,” Medd explains. “It’s not just a question of physical space, but programmatic space too . . . we’re making space for communities I wasn’t thinking of 10 years ago. With NAC, it was the idea of becoming the living room of the capital: you start with the idea that we’re all artists and we all need a space to be creative.”

He points to next-generational shifts that reflect a new state of mind, as much a sense of place. “Young people get the idea that colonial institutions like the NAC or Banff need to be reversed engineered or disrupted to be relevant and inviting to a wider range of communities than they were originally set up for,” he continues. “And it’s the people who are coming out of school now who’ve never had any other sensibility who will make that change. We’re in a moment where we’re correcting for history — at times, that correction may exclude people who have been in the spotlight for a long time, so maybe someone like Shakespeare needs to be set aside for a generation.”

To best understand the idea of creative placemaking — and the changes in the Canadian arts scene in general — Medd thinks of gardening. “I had a lot of time at NAC to till the soil, and that’s the best analogy for arts management: you spend your days quietly working the soil, then once a year something blooms and it’s glorious.”

The power of place

His new role as Managing Director of Performing Arts at the Banff Centre finds Medd overseeing a wide range of educational programs and residencies, ranging from theatre, dance and opera to classical music, jazz and contemporary music.

The Banff Centre’s iconic location

“It’s really the perfect job for me,” he says. “I’m having a wonderful time learning the ins and outs of other performing arts disciplines and industries and trends. The world of dance is very different from the world of theatre or classical music or jazz — and how they’re different is how they’re each responding to the great questions of our time: intersectionality, climate change, cultural appropriation and sexism.”

Known and recognized worldwide as a leader in creative development, the Banff Centre is an ideal place to have those conversations, says Medd. “Because we care so much about the artistic health of these industries, these are some of the most urgent and compelling work that’s being done today. It’s a great privilege to represent 85 years of tradition in the fine arts, and to represent Canadian culture at events around the world. The big mantra of the Banff Centre is ‘the power of place’—the value of Banff Centre is being here, feeling the power of the territory.”

Howard Jang, the Banff Centre’s vice president of arts and leadership, says he’s “thrilled” by their latest hire. “Nathan is one of the country’s brightest stars in cultural management and his leadership in working with our Performing Arts directors and Arts programs will strengthen Banff Centre’s place as Canada’s leading resource for the advancement of arts and culture.”

Between Banff and his time at the NAC, Medd is intimately aware of the emerging — and authentic — Canadian theatre aesthetics: multicultural, Indigenous, interdisciplinary and site-specific. “We’ve got great spaces all across Canada, but they don’t work for everyone I work with or want to work with. A lot of the work to come is about the underlying assumptions and structures that manage those spaces.”

Advice for the next generation

Medd on the cover of Arts Manager magazine

As the 2019 Distinguished Alumni Award recipient, Nathan Medd now joins the ranks of previous Fine Arts DAA winners, including country music stars Twin Kennedy (BMus ’08), visual artist Althea Thauberger (MFA ’02) director Glynis Leyshon (BFA ’73), author Esi Edugyan (BA ’99), lighting designer Michael J. Whitfield (BA ’67), filmmaker Mercedes Bátiz-Benét (BFA ’02), poet Carla Funk (BFA ’97), musician Paul Beauchesne (BMus ’88), author Deborah Willis (BA ’06), environmental designer Valerie Murray (BA ’78), author Eden Robinson (BFA ’92) and visual anthropologist Andrea Walsh (BA ’91).

As such, does he have any advice for either recent alumni or soon-to-be graduates?

“I’m in no position to give anyone advice, but one thing that worked for me was reckoning with the need to prioritize my career, and the work within, above everything: romance, nutrition . . . everything,” he admits. “I did that out of a fear of not getting a foothold in my chosen industry if I didn’t give it everything I had. But I think if we’re going to spend four years doing something, we owe it to ourselves to give it everything you have. Nothing’s guaranteed.”

That said, he does credit his UVic education with giving him the skills to achieve his chosen goals. “The great value of a fine arts education is gaining the tools of self-expression, self-examination and group process,” he says. “Those skills serve every possible direction you could take in your career, whether you end up in the performing arts or not.”

Looking ahead, Medd accepts that there be more change to come in his life, but feels ready to accomplish whatever task he sets his mind to.

“I’ve been forced way out of my comfort zone every time I’ve made a change, but it’s driven by a conviction that our important artistic institutions need custodians from my generation,” he concludes. “I want to help these institutions work in an evolving, contemporary world.”

Fine Arts is full-on during Alumni Week 2019

UVic celebrates graduates old and new with our annual Alumni Week, running Feb 1- 8 across campus. From film screenings and fascinating talks to concerts, a curling bonspiel, Vikes basketball and the annual Distinguished Alumni Awards night, there will be over a dozen special events to check out. Better still, most are free, although you may have to register in advance.

And Fine Arts is a big part of Alumni Week this year, as we participate in five different events showcasing the talents of a number of our alumni. Here’s what’s coming up:

Film screening with Connor Gaston

Connor Gaston

Did you know that 1 in 3 UVic staff and faculty are UVic alumni? It’s true, and you can meet many of them as we celebrate our campus alumni  and kick off Alumni Week at an exclusive event at Cinecenta. Join us at noon on Feb 1 for a screening of the short film, ‘Til Death, by director and campus alumnus Connor Gaston.

About the film: After losing his soul mate in a fatal bicycle accident, 10-year-old Zachary sets out on a journey to bring Samantha back to life in this magical, modern fairy tale.

Gaston, who holds both a BFA and MFA from the Writing department, is an award-winning filmmaker whose work has screened at film festivals around the world, including the Toronto International Film Festival. Gaston’s first feature film, 2015’s The Devout, earned him five Leo Awards (including Best Picture), the BC Emerging Filmmaker Award at the Vancouver International Film Festival, and a Canadian Screen Award nomination for Best First Feature. He is also a current sessional instructor in UVic’s Writing department.

Pizza, popcorn and soda will be provided at the screening for just $5, plus everyone will receive a free gift! (Tickets at the door.) Following the film screening, there will be a Q&A with the director.

This event runs noon to 1pm Friday, Feb 1, at Cinecenta in UVic’s SUB. Film starts at 12:15pm, so come early to get your pizza!

Fifth Street

Emerging Alumni concert with Fifth Street

Victoria-based vocal quintet Fifth Street combines the worlds of pop, jazz and R&B in perfect five-part harmony. The sublime voices of Natasha Penfield, Jilaine Orton, Ryan Narciso, Kenji Lee and Taylor Caswell found a groove together while students and as members of UVic’s Vocal Jazz Ensemble. You’ll enjoy their original a cappella arrangements of pop hits by the likes of Imogen Heap and Justin Timberlake as well as fresh takes on timeless classics.

UVic Music alumni are invited to an exclusive pre-concert reception with tasty hors d’oeuvres, door prizes, plus a special pre-concert appearance by Fifth Street. Hear them in action at 8pm Saturday, Feb 2, in the School of Music’s Phillip T Young Recital Hall, in UVic’s MacLaurin building B-wing. Entrance is by donation.

Distinguished Alumni Awards

Come join UVic’s annual celebration recognizing and honouring Distinguished Alumni Award winners that have been chosen from the faculties, UVic Libraries and Continuing Studies. This year, Fine Arts is honouring Theatre alumnus Nathan Medd —a cultural non-profit leader whose work is devoted to developing the performing arts in Canada.

Now the managing director of performing arts for the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity — the nation’s largest arts training institution and incubator of new works — Medd was also the managing director of English Theatre at Canada’s National Arts Centre, where his team successfully championed Canadian creators and initiated a new national stage for Indigenous performance.

Join us at 7:30pm Tuesday, Feb 5, in the Songhees Wellness Centre, 1100 Admirals Rd. Free, but registration is required.

Nathan Medd on Creative Placemaking

Nathan Medd (photo: Andrew Alexander)

Join 2019 Fine Arts Distinguished Alumni Award recipient Nathan Medd for this lively discussion about the ins and outs (and ups and downs) of creative placemaking. From development and gentrification to funding and accessibility for artists and audiences, get ready to “nerd out” about the business of the arts. Joining Medd on the panel will be long-time colleagues Kevin Kerr, Writing professor and co-founder of Vancouver’s Electric Company, Janet Munsil, former Intrepid Theatre artistic director and Metro Studio co-founder (also a Phoenix alumna and current MFA candidate in Writing), and Ian Case, Theatre alumnus, director of The Farquhar at UVic and former general manager of Intrepid Theatre.

In addition to his current position at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity, Medd was previously the managing director of English Theatre at Canada’s National Arts Centre. As managing producer of Electric Company, he produced original works for the Vancouver 2010 Cultural Olympiad and co-founded East Vancouver’s Progress Lab performing arts creation studio in 2009. In Victoria, he worked for Intrepid Theatre, where he co-founded Metro Studio — a flagship venue for Vancouver Island — and held positions with both the Belfry Theatre and the BC Arts Council.

This free talk runs from 12:45-1:45pm Wed, Feb 6, in the Bishop Theatre at UVic’s Phoenix Building.

Esi Edugyan with Shelagh Rogers

Join UVic Chancellor and CBC Radio’s The Next Chapter host Shelagh Rogers as she has a frank and fascinating live conversation with two-time Giller-prize winning novelist and Writing alumnus Esi Edugyan. The internationally acclaimed author of Washington Black, her latest novel, Edugyan is also the author of the Giller Prize-winning Half-Blood Blues and The Second Life of Samuel Tyne.

Join us at 7pm Thursday, Feb 7, in the Michelle Pujol Room at UVic’s SUB. Copies of Washington Black will also be for sale, courtesy of UVic’s Bookstore. Update: this event is now sold out, although a waiting list is being taken.

UVic is accessible by sustainable travel options including transit and cycling. For those arriving by car, pay parking is in effect. Evening parking is $3.

But wait, there’s more!

While Alumni Week only runs Feb 1-8, our Fine Arts alumni are busy throughout the year with their own creative endeavours. Here’s a quick rundown of some other alumni who are active around town in the next couple of weeks:

Victoria Film Festival

The 25th annual Victoria Film Festival features work by both Writing and Visual Arts alumni and students, running throughout the festival. Writing alum Connor Gaston is showing the short film Encore as part of the shorts program “Beautiful Obsessions” on Feb 4.  The Safe Space Panorama exhibition runs Feb 2-10 at the Atrium and features work & talks by Visual Arts MFA candidate Levi Glass (talk: 3pm Feb 3), undergrads Laura Gildner (3pm Feb 4),Jordan Hill (3pm Feb 6) and Jake Hrubizna (3pm Feb 8), plus MFA alumni Leah McInnis (3pm Feb 7) & sessional instructor Emily Geen (5pm Feb 5), as well as the 25th anniversary multimedia installation States of Play, curated by recent Visual Arts alumna Gina Luke.

Cry-Baby

Phoenix alumna & musical theatre teacher Kim Sholinder and the student cast & crew of Victoria High School will perform the Broadway musical Cry-Baby — based on the hit 1990 John Waters film of the same name, which starred a young Johnny Depp! This upbeat, campy musical provides a fun twist on 1950s star-crossed young lovers. Cry-Baby runs Feb 5-9 at Victoria High School, 1260 Grant. Tickets are $10-$12.

For Ground; Background  

The Victoria Arts Council is pleased to be working with Visual Arts MFA alumnus Hjalmer Wenstob on a new solo exhibition. For Ground; Background is a culmination of selected sculptures from over the last four years, as well as new works and installations. For Ground; Background hosts works of question, concern and education, in regards to environment, urban relationships to the land, and treaties. Wenstob is an interdisciplinary artist who specializes in sculpture, installation, and carving; he speaks of three dialects of his work — contemporary, traditional, and community-based.

Through his contemporary dialect, he completed both an undergraduate and master’s degree at UVic, exploring the relationships between cultures and art, and the balance between traditional and contemporary. His work is at times highly political and uses humour and irony to pose difficult questions of respect, reconciliation, and environmental issues. Nuu-Chah-Nulth from the Tla-O-Qui-Aht First Nations on his father’s side, and Norwegian and English on his mother’s side, Wenstob and his family recently opened Cedar House Gallery in Ucluelet, B.C. where he is exploring ways of weaving his contemporary/political work with more traditional materials and styles.

For Ground; Background runs until Feb 16 at the new Victoria Arts Council space at 1800 Store St. Open 11am-5pm Tues-Sat.

Todd Lambeth: Night Moves

Visual Arts instructor & MFA alumnus Todd Lambeth presents Night Moves, a series of paintings that investigates the abstract relationship between space and colour. Influenced by Cubism, hard-edged Modernist painting, comic books and candy wrappers, the colours in these paintings reference the world of advertising and design. These visually stimulating works express the artist’s interest in perceptions of pictorial space and are a direct response to the proliferation of digital imagery and imaging technology.

These paintings explore optical perceptions of space; emphasizing the formal properties of structure and design, Lambeth’s images present the viewer with a sense of visual pleasure. With their bright, welcoming colours and forms the paintings in Night Moves foreground ideas of beauty and express Lambeth’s desire to create optimistic works that distract the viewer from the difficult times in which we live.

Night Moves runs through to March 2 at Deluge Contemporary Art, 636 Yates. There will be an artist talk at 3pm Sat, Feb 16.

 John Barton: New Poet Laureate

Writing alumnus and former longtime Malahat Review editor John Barton has been named the new Poet Laureate of Victoria. Barton has written 26 books and is currently working on his first book of prose; his appointment was reported in this Times Colonist article and this piece from Monday Magazine.

Fowler (in yellow)

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee

The Victoria Theatre Guild offers a lively version of this 2005 Tony-winning show — a clever, charming and sweet-natured musical comedy about six quirky tweens competing in the spelling bee of a lifetime. While candidly disclosing hilarious and touching stories from their home lives, they spell their way through a series of words, hoping never to hear the soul-crushing ding of the bell that signals a mistake. In the end, the youth learn that winning isn’t everything, and that losing doesn’t necessarily make you a loser.

Featuring a fantastic performance by Phoenix alumni Hailey Fowler and an outstanding set by Barbara Clerihue.

Spelling Bee runs until Feb 2 at Langham Court Theatre. Tickets are $25-$35 . . . if you can find one!

 

 

Top 10 Fine Arts stories of 2018

There was certainly no shortage of Fine Arts news in 2018, given that we tracked nearly 300 local, national and international media stories about the creative activities of our faculty, alumni, students and staff . . . and those are just the stories we know about.

From our new faculty members—including Rick Leong, Sasha Kovacs, Deborah Campbell, Katharina Clausius and Michael Elliott—to a new batch of websites for our departments of Art History & Visual Studies, Theatre, Visual Arts, Writing and the School of Music, Fine Arts continues to grow and evolve as we move closer to our 50th anniversary in 2019/20.

While it was hard to choose favourites from amongst the many stories that appeared in both traditional and social media, here (in no particular order) are our choices for the top 10 Fine Arts stories from our faculty blog.

Benjamin Butterfield named to the Royal Society of Canada

Benjamin Butterfield (UVic Photo Services)

Three UVic faculty members received the country’s highest academic honour by being named 2018 fellows of the Royal Society of Canada (RSC) in September—and among those joining the distinguished ranks was School of Music professor Benjamin Butterfield.

While Butterfield has won international plaudits as one of Canada’s best operatic tenors, he is equally passionate about his role as head of voice for UVic’s School of Music.

“With a performance career, the more you’re in the game, the more you’ll be asked to be in the game,” he explains. “But my obligation is really to teaching . . . for me, it’s less about pursuing my ‘career’ and more about being here for students who sing, and who want to learn to sing—that’s my day job, that’s my real life, that’s what’s most important.”

Butterfield is now the eighth Fine Arts faculty member to be inducted into the RSC, including Fellows Mary Kerr (Theatre), Harald Krebs (Music), Tim Lilburn (Writing), Joan MacLeod (Writing) and Sandra Meigs (Visual Arts), as well as RSC College member Dániel Péter Biró (Music) and RSC Medal winner Jack Hodgins (Writing, retired).

Read more about Butterfield’s RSC appointment here.

Esi Edugyan wins second Giller Prize

Fine Arts has no shortage of alumni success stories, but it’s hard to top internationally acclaimed Department of Writing alumna Esi Edugyan, who won her second Scotiabank Giller Prize in 2018 for her latest novel, Washington Black.

Edugyan won $100,000 on the 25th anniversary of Canada’s richest literary award, and also earns the distinction of being one of only three authors to twice win the Giller Prize, alongside M.G. Vassanji and Alice Munro.

Washington Black was also nominated for the Man Booker Prize and the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize—as was her previous 2011 Giller Prize-winning novel Half-Blood Blues. Indeed, having only published three novels (including her debut, The Second Life of Samuel Tyne), Edugyan’s back-to-back wins for Washington Black and Half-Blood Blues is doubly remarkable, especially when you consider both were shortlisted for the coveted trifecta of fiction awards.

Read more about Edugyan’s Giller win here.

Carey Newman is the new Audain Professor

Carey Newman receiving his Order of BC from
Lieutenant Governor the Honourable Janet Austin and Premier John Horgan in September

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 the Visual Arts department

“This is breaking new ground for me,” said Newman in June. “I’m looking forward to having the opportunity to convert the experience of mentorship into a more formal educational setting.”

It’s been a big year for Newman: on top of being declared the Audian Professor for the next three years, he was granted the Order of BC, was named the inaugural recipient of the Professional Arts Alliance of Greater Victoria’s Regional Arts Award, played a role in the Aboriginal Canadian Entrepreneurs program with the Gustavson School of Business, received a Saanich150 art commission and debuted his new “Witness Blanket” documentary at the Vancouver International Film Festival.

Read more about Newman’s Audain position here.

Carolyn Butler Palmer advises on new $10 bill

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.”

While it’s no secret now that Canada’s new vertical $10 bill features Nova Scotia civil libertarian Viola Desmond, Butler-Palmer was under a strict confidentiality order for several months starting in summer 2017 while she was consulted by the Bank of Canada about the proposed design. One of a number of experts contacted, Butler-Palmer came to their attention due to the Globe and Mail coverage of her early 2017 exhibit Ellen Neel: The First Woman Totem Pole Carver at UVic’s Legacy Gallery.

“It was a real honour to be asked and to be able to work on such an important change in our currency,” Butler-Palmer said in this recent interview with the Martlet. “I think the change is really reflected too, [particularly] that they changed the orientation as well . . . to signify the change in the way that they represent Viola Desmond on that bill.”

Find out more about Butler Palmer’s involvement in the $10 bill here.

The Drowsy Chaperone a stunning success

Douglas Peerless as the Man in the Chair (photo: Dean Kalyan)

The response to Phoenix’s fall mainstage production of The Drowsy Chaperone, directed by Jacques Lemay, was fantastic. Audiences and reviewers alike praised this production as one of the finest in Phoenix’s 50-plus year history.

“This is one of the best shows staged by the university’s theatre department in recent years and should not be missed,” notes thisTimes Colonist review by Adrian Chamberlain. “Everything about this elegant, detailed production works well: the excellent costumes, set, acting, dancing, choreography . . . . [this is] a truly superior piece of theatre that will undoubtedly be a highlight of the season.”

It was such a hit, in fact, that they ended up adding two additional shows after the entire run was essentially sold out in November!

Read more about the amazing success of The Drowsy Chaperone here.

The Orontes Guitar Quartet welcomed as Visiting Artists

(l-r) Orwa Al Sharaa, Gaby Al Botros, Nazir Salameh & Mohammed Mir Mahmoud in front of UVic’s Fine Arts Building, November 2018. (UVic Photo Services)

The dramatic story of four musicians escaping daily violence in Syria for a fellowship in UVic’s School of Music caught the attention of The Globe and Mail in December, and became one of UVic’s top news stories of 2018.

Alexander Dunn, an internationally renowned guitarist and UVic music instructor for nearly three decades, played a vital role in bringing the guitar quartet to UVic by working for the past 18 months with two US-based organizations—the Artist Protection Fund (APF), an innovative initiative of the Institute of International Education, and the non-profit organization Remember the River.

Now safely in Victoria as the recipients of a prestigious Artist Protection Fund Fellowship grant, the Orontes quartet offer a remarkable message about the power of music, hope and determination. The quartet told the Globe and Mail that their peaceful lives in Syria had been disrupted by the civil war, and violence and terror became commonplace. But when the ensemble started to play together, “we forgot everything because we just focused on what we are doing,” as recounted to The Globe’s arts reporter Marsha Lederman in a December 8 article in the national edition of the newspaper.

Read more about the Orontes Quartet here—and be sure to watch this Globe and Mail video of the quartet playing together.

Colton Hash named Artist in Residence for Ocean Networks Canada

Colton Hash with his full-size sculpture of an adolescent female orca (photo: Ashton Sciacallo)

Victoria-based artist Colton Hash became the inaugural recipient of an Artist-in-Residence program by the Faculty of Fine Arts and Ocean Networks Canada (ONC), a UVic initiative. The new ONC residency will strengthen connections between art and science, and broaden perspectives on major issues ranging from technology and the environment to biodiversity and healthy communities.

A recent graduate of UVic’s combined undergraduate program in Visual Arts and computer science, Hash was selected for the residency from a field of nearly 70 local, national and international applicants. He will hold the position from November 2018 to March 2019 and, following his residency, will provide a public exhibition of the resulting body of work.

“I see this as a great opportunity to collaborate with ocean scientists and experiment with digital media to communicate some of the dynamic processes that play a critical role in coastal waters,” says Hash. “Whether it’s how a kelp forest responds to climate change or how the thawing of frozen methane affects sediment stability of submarine slopes, I hope I can use interactive art to inspire viewers to care more about what is happening beneath the ocean’s surface.”

Read more about Hash’s ONC residency here.

Fine Arts hosts Reconciliation & the Arts forum

There was a capacity audience for the Nov 15 forum at the Baumann Ctr (photo: Fiona Ngai)

The fourth annual Building Reconciliation Forum was hosted at UVic in November and, as part of the two-day event, Fine Arts hosted a panel discussion on First Nations Art Practice & Reconciliation.

Presented in partnership with Universities Canada, the Building Reconciliation Forum brought together close to 250 thought leaders from universities, Indigenous governing bodies and communities, and federal and regional government officials from acorss Canada to consider how universities are answering the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action.

As part of the Forum, Fine Arts Dean Dr. Susan Lewis hosted a near-capacity panel discussion on First Nations Art Practice & Reconciliation at downtown’s Baumann Centre, featuring a range of local artists, administrators, activists and alumni discussing how Victoria’s arts community can advance decolonization and reconciliation.

Panelists included Visual Arts MFA alumna and the City of Victoria’s inaugural Indigenous Artist in Residence Lindsay Delaronde; the Belfry Theatre’s Indigenous cultural advisor Kristy Charlie and executive director Ivan Habel; Pacific Opera’s director of community engagement Rebecca Hass; Open Space board member and Visual Arts sessional instructor Charles Campbell; Legacy Gallery director Mary Jo Hughes; and Art Gallery of Greater Victoria curator of engagement Nicole Stanbridge.

Also during the forum, the Theatre department hosted Nomad, a musical and visual journey through Inuit history with Inuk singer-songwriter and Order of Canada recipient Susan Aglukark.

Find out more about the First Nations Art Practice & Reconciliation event here.

Bill Gaston wins Victoria Book Prize

Department of Writing professor Bill Gaston won the 2018 City of Victoria Butler Book Prize for his short-story collection The Mariner’s Guide to Self Sabotage (Douglas & McIntyre). Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps and co-sponsor Brian Butler presented Gaston with his $5,000 prize at a gala October 17 event at downtown’s Union Club.

2018 was a strong year for the Writing department at the Victoria Book Prize, given that fellow nominees included professor emerita Lorna Crozier (What the Soul Doesn’t Want), longtime instructor Patrick Friesen (Songen) and longtime Faculty of Fine Arts colleague and Dean’s External Advisory Committee member Maria Tippett (Sculpture in Canada: A History).

Gaston is also one of 10 authors nominated for the prestigious RBC Taylor Prize for his 2018 memoir, Just Let Me Look At You (Hamish Hamilton).

Read more about Gaston’s win here.

Twin Kennedy win Distinguished Alumni Award

Twin Kennedy are now Distinguished Alumni (UVic Photo Services)

It’s only been 10 years since sister duo Twin Kennedy graduated from the School of Music, but during that short decade, the acclaimed country/roots duo already released two albums, toured across North America, moved to Nashville and won the hearts of country radio and fans alike. The sisters headed back to UVic in February to be honoured as the Fine Arts winners of UVic’s 2018 Distinguished Alumni Award—an award that’s doubly special this year, given that it was presented during the School of Music’s 50th anniversary.

Know for their distinctly “Canadiana” country roots sound, seamless harmonies and heartfelt songwriting, Carli and Julie Kennedy (BMus ’08) have been dubbed “the next big thing in country music” by the Nashville Music Examiner and Twin Kennedy’s 2017 winter single “Cold Weather” was chosen by Rolling Stone as one of the “10 new country and Americana Christmas songs to hear right now!

“We’re very proud of years at UVic,” says Carli. “Not everyone in the popular-music world has a degree, and it’s an important part of our story. To be recognized for that side of our career is a huge honour; it means a lot to us.”

“And we did it together!” laughs Julie.

They now join the ranks of our previous Fine Arts Distinguished Alumni Award winners: visual artist Althea Thauberger (MFA ’02) director Glynis Leyshon (BFA ’73), author Esi Edugyan (BA ’99), lighting designer Michael J. Whitfield (BA ’67), director and filmmaker Mercedes Bátiz-Benét (BFA ’02), poet Carla Funk (BFA ’97), musician Paul Beauchesne (BMus ’88), author Deborah Willis (BA ’06), environmental designer Valerie Murray (BA ’78), author Eden Robinson (BFA ’92) and visual anthropologist Andrea Walsh (BA ’91).

Find out more about Twin Kennedy’s award here.

The Drowsy Chaperone a smash success!

The cast of The Drowsy Chaperone (photo: Dean Kalyan)

The response to Phoenix’s current production of The Drowsy Chaperone, directed by Jacques Lemay, has been fantastic. From audiences to reviewers alike, this production is being hailed as one of the Phoenix’s best shows ever!

It’s such a hit, in fact, that the show is now extended through to November 25. All prior shows are currently SOLD OUT, except for the recent additions of Sunday, November 25 at 2 & 8pm—but we also expect those shows to also sell out quickly. Call the Phoenix box office at 250-721-8000, and note that all hold-over tickets are $30.

Here’s a quick roundup of what the media are saying:

“[Jacques] Lemay takes full rein as director and choreographer—and the results are even more stunning. This is one of the best shows staged by the university’s theatre department in recent years and should not be missed,” notes thisTimes Colonist review by Adrian Chamberlain. “Everything about this elegant, detailed production works well: the excellent costumes, set, acting, dancing, choreography . . . . [this is] a truly superior piece of theatre that will undoubtedly be a highlight of the season.”

Douglas Peerless as the Man in the Chair (photo: Dean Kalyan)

“Sometimes you just want to forget about politics, the state of the environment and other troublesome daily matters, and sit back to enjoy a bit of silly fluff. If this is your state of mind, The Drowsy Chaperone at the Phoenix Theatre is exactly what you need,” says this Monday Magazine review by Sheila Martindale. “With minimal plot, unlikely romantic situations and dynamic singing and dancing, this musical play is just the ticket to chase away the November blues.”

While Martindale praises the cast—notably student Douglas Peerless as the Man in the Chair narrator, who she describes as being “irrepressibly enthusiastic and very cute”—she also highlights the production’s designers. “Bryan Kenney’s set is clever, starting with a tiny apartment kitchen, which folds away to reveal a spacious interior where most of the action takes place. Graham McMonagle’s costumes are very 1920s and a bit over the top – exactly right for the tone of the piece. Nancy Curry must be commended for her splendid music direction, while Jacques Lemay is the overall director and choreographer . . . . Kudos to all.”

The Showbill Canada blog was similarly effusive in this review by Tony Carter: “While the effort and skill that went into this production is clear from everyone involved, special praise is owed to Douglas Peerless . . . . [but] for every bit of character work that Peerless deserves praise for, the actors who populate the diegetic musical deserve just as much for their physicality . . . from Ted Angelo Ngkaion’s blindfolded roller skating to Alison Roberts show-stopper stage routine, to Rahat Saini’s incredible vocals all live up to the Broadway tradition . . . . The Drowsy Chaperone has no bad performances. It is a Broadway classic brought to life by an amazing set design and a talented cast and crew.”

Rahat Saini as the titular chaperone (photo: Dean Kalyan)

Local arts podcast Check the Program was also delighted by it, noting, “This is a very strong production and the kind of show Phoenix does so well: it’s a big show that needs a big stage, a big cast, big sets and big costumes . . . director Jacques Lemay has managed to find the tragedy and the sadness in that character, which really shifts it from just being a comedy; it has a strong emotional core . . . Bryan Kenney‘s sets are fantastic . . . Graham McMonagle continues a streak of really great costumes . . . it really is so much fun. It’s a great show!”

Finally, the student press was also very enthusiastic, with UVic’s Martlet reviewer Adam Bach describing it as “a grand spectacle . . . honourable [cast] mentions include Aaron Smail and David Cosbey—they earn their laughs not just through physical comedy and choice accents, but by (smartly) playing opposites to each other’s size and vocal range. Another honourable mention goes to Ciaran Volke. Though his role has the least amount of jokes built directly into the script, he has everyone (but himself) giggling the whole show. The ensemble works together to command the stage, thrilling the audience with comedy and a wholesome undertone. Several numbers beg standing ovations in and of themselves.”

Nicholas Atkinson as the comic lothario Adolpho (photo: Dean Kalyan)

And Camosun’s the Nexus said in their review by Katy Weicker that “the star of this show, in many ways, is the complex stage . . . [but] the over-the-top performance style of the actors . . . I found incredibly entertaining . . . in particular, Justin Francis Lee, Rahat Saini and Nicholas Atkinson. While most of the actors managed to steal the spotlight at one point or another with their shenanigans and hijinx, the consistent shining light in the performance was Douglas Peerless, our fourth-wall-breaking narrator . . . Peerless is complex and nuanced, causing the audience to laugh out loud one moment and fight back tears alongside him the next. His raw, modern-day realness as the only major character outside the musical gives the perfect contrast to the show-stopping energy of The Drowsy Chaperone.

Weicker concludes that, “the Phoenix Theatre should be commended for tackling such an ambitious project. It’s clearly a huge undertaking . . . they nailed the razzle-dazzle, the quick-change costumes and sets, and the comedic timing of an old-time musical, while giving a real person for the audience to connect with in Peerless’ Man in Chair.”

Simply put, don’t miss The Drowsy Chaperone at the Phoenix . . . if you can get a ticket. People are sure to be talking about this production for years to come!

New adjunct professor heading up Canadian-born Broadway hit at the Phoenix

“Mix ups, mayhem and a gay wedding… of course the phrase gay wedding has a different meaning now… but back then it just meant fun, that’s all this show is – fun!” says the Man in the Chair as he reads the back of the record cover of his favourite musical from 1928: The Drowsy Chaperone. But this fictitious musical is the foundation for the real 2006 Broadway hit musical of the same name, running at the Phoenix Theatre from November 8 to 24.

Jacques Lemay, director of “The Drowsy Chaperone”

“It’s a fun pastiche of old Broadway and the music is really quite lovely,” says internationally renowned director, choreographer and adjunct Department of Theatre professor, Jacques Lemay, who is the guest director and choreographer for the UVic production. “It’s remarkably both nostalgic and current, as we watch the parody of the past through the eyes of the imaginative, agoraphobic and slightly sarcastic narrator, the Man in the Chair, who’s stuck here in the present.”

The real magic of The Drowsy Chaperone is derived from the transformation of the Man in the Chair’s shabby one-room apartment where he listens to his records and escapes into the glamorous world of his musicals — in this instance, the glittering world of movie stars, highfalutin’ mansions, fantastical weddings, and of course, menacing pastry chef gangsters. Collaborating to create this illusion is a stellar design team of UVic alumni, including set designer Bryan Kenney (MFA ’12), costume designer and PhD candidate Graham McMonagle (MFA ’17) and lighting designer and professor Patrick Du Wors (BFA ’02). Another PhD candidate, Nancy Curry, is the music supervisor and vocal coach, and two current fourth-year students are sound designer Eva Hocking and stage manager Emily Lindstrom.

Indeed, The Drowsy Chaperone is the biggest song-and-dance show the Phoenix has presented in well over a decade: so much so that an entire set of dance shoes were needed for the 19-person cast. “The entire department has been anticipating this production since it was announced last spring,” says chair Allana Lindgren. “Jacques has such an impressive history — from the Royal Winnipeg Ballet to the opening ceremonies of two Olympics and Commonwealth Games — [so] we know are in good hands.”

Bob Martin & Sutton Foster in the original Broadway cast production

Eight years before it was the five-time Tony Award-winning Broadway musical, The Drowsy Chaperone was a skit performed at a stag party for the marriage of two Toronto actors, Bob Martin and Janet Van De Graff. If the names and the plot sound familiar, those names are still reflected in the characters of the soon-to-be-betrothed couple in this musical-within-a-play. Bob Martin, the groom (the actor, not the character), enjoyed the performance so much, he joined the writing team of Don McKellar (Highway 61, Thirty Two Short Films About Glenn Gould), Lisa Lambert (Slings and Arrows) and Greg Morrison (Mump & Smoot), creating the iconic central character of the Man in the Chair.

The Drowsy Chaperone was then remounted for the Toronto Fringe Festival, winning rave reviews and attracting the support of Toronto über-producer, David Mirvish. Since then, it has been performed everywhere from Broadway to London’s West End, making toes tap and capturing the hearts of musical lovers around the world.

And while the show is based on a fictional musical, the Broadway nostalgia parodied in The Drowsy Chaperone is very real, as Theatre historian Anthony Vickery will discuss at the free Preshow Lecture starting at 7pm Friday, November 9.

Ultimately, the Phoenix production — complete with a custom-built propeller plane — will literally do, as the Man in the Chair says, “what a musical is supposed to do: it takes you to another world.”

The Drowsy Chaperone runs Nov 8-24. Tickets range from $16 – $30. There will also be two public previews at 8pm Tuesday & Wednesday, November 6 & 7, with same-day tickets going for just $10.

The Phoenix Theatre’s 2018-19 season continues in the spring with the Greek classic Trojan Women (February 14-23, 2019), directed by professor Jan Wood, and closes with Morris Panych’s existential, fast-paced dark comedy 7 Stories (March 14 – 23, 2019), directed by professor Fran Gebhard. Three-show season subscriptions are still available for $40.50.