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.
Sophie Chappell, Lucy Sharples and Sara Jean Valiquette in Crimes of the Heart (Photo: David Lowes)
Is there anything more lovable — or more maddening — than sisters? With an unshakeable bond that can often escalate into emotional heights unmatched by any other familial relationship, sibling rivalry and reconciliations are in the spotlight in Crimes of the Heart, the latest mainstage production at Phoenix Theatre.
It’s Hazlehurst, Mississippi, circa 1974 and, after a difficult childhood, the three Magrath sisters have grown up and gone their separate ways: Meg escaped Mississippi to pursue her Hollywood dreams; Babe married an ambitious young lawyer; and Lenny remained at their Granddaddy’s side in the family home. But after Babe commits a violent crime, the three sisters reunite back home for the first time in years; utimately, each sister must come to terms with the consequences of her own crimes of the heart.
Crimes of the Heart runs February 15 – 24 at the Phoenix Theatre, with 2pm matinees on February 17 and 24. Tickets run $15-$26 at 250-721-8000.
Humorous and heartfelt, this Pulitzer Prize-winning play by American playwright and screenwriter Beth Henley captures the incredible power of family. Department of Theatre professor Peter McGuire says Crimes has “been on my list for a few years.” In this Times Colonist preview, McGuire felt this was the right time to mount this female-fronted production. “Looking around the department, and watching which actors were coming up, I knew I’d have the right cast for this play. This made sense — it has six actors and four wonderful female roles.”
Sara Jean Valiquette (left) & Sophie Chappell (photo: David Lowes)
First produced in Kentucky in 1979 and again in New York City in 1980, the original Broadway production of Crimes of the Heart not only won the 1981 Pulitzer Prize but also the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for best new American play; Henley also received a Tony Award nomination for best play and, five years later, an Academy Award nomination for best adapted screenplay for the movie adaptation, which featured Jessica Lange, Diane Keaton and Sissy Spacek.
But accolades alone weren’t what attracted McGuire to the project. Even though plans to produce Crimes were in place more than a year ago — long before the #MeToo movement — McGuire feels the timing couldn’t be better. “We weren’t predicting this,” he told the Times Colonist. “But the timing is incredible. As an instructor, I’m always mindful of the fact that the gender ratio is really skewed. There are some great plays for women, but there aren’t many great plays for women.”
Stefanie Mudry’s set with lighting by Theatre professor Patrick Du Wors (Photo: David Lowes)
Monday‘s review went on to praise the designs by current Theatre students Stefanie Mudry (calling her set “perfect to the last detail of the period”) and costumer Madeline Lee. “The play will surely touch the heart of anyone with a family . . . . it reveals the fact that the family is stronger than the sum of its parts . . . . I think the playwright, Beth Henley, would approve.”
The Times Colonist also reviewed the show, describing it as being “smartly directed” by Theatre professor Peter McGuire, praising the cast and noting designer Stefanie Mudry’s “beautifully detailed set . . . is a pure joy.”
And Camosun’s Nexus newspaper said they “highly recommend this play and would go see it again. The show’s well-timed comedic nature doesn’t detract from the more serious parts of the story . . . . Overall, the whole production meets the high-quality standard that has been set by the Phoenix Theatre.”
And don’t miss the final mainstage production at Phoenix Theatre, The Comedy of Errors — a pop musical reboot of Shakespeare’s classic mistaken-identity farce. Directed by MFA candidate Jeffrey Renn, and running March 15 to 24.
What else happened in Fine Arts in 2017? More than we can mention in one blog post, so here’s part two of our top-10 stories of the year.
Considering we’re based on an island at the edge of the continent, it’s surprising how much international attention UVic continues to get — and while there’s no arguing our extraordinary sense of place here in Victoria, credit must go to our exceptional faculty who always seem to be busy across the country and around the world.
Ajtony Csaba at the Hungarian Liszt Academy of Music (photo: Réka Érdi-Harmos)
School of Music professor Dániel Péter Biró and some Music students participated in UVic’s interdisciplinary field school “Narratives of Memory, Migration, and Xenophobia” this summer, which brought together scholars, students and artists from Canada and Europe to examine issues including the recent resurgence of nationalist and xenophobic movements in North America and Europe. Biró also had a number of compositions commissioned, premiered and performed in Europe this year, as well as in Brooklyn. Ajtony Csaba was honoured to perform a special Canada 150 concert for the Hungarian Ambassador in Ottawa this summer, as well as having the opportunity to lead the orchestra at the Hungarian Liszt Academy of Music this fall. Merrie Klazek presented a solo recital at the International Women’s Brass Conference in New Jersey in June, Joanna Hood was featured on German radio this fall, and Benjamin Butterfield appeared once again at the Amalfi Coast Music Arts and Music Festival, teaching and directing the opera Gianni Schicchi with some of his UVic voice students, past and present (including Kaden Forsberg,Margaret Lingas,Ai Horton and Nick Allen).
Visual Arts professor Kelly Richardson saw her art exhibited in solo and group exhibits in Scotland, England, France, China and the United States this year, while Paul Walde had two separate exhibits on view in Norway and Scotland, and Cedric Bomford had work in California, as well as an ongoing public art commission in Seattle. And sessional instructor Charles Campbell had work exhibited at both the Los Angeles’ Museum of Latin American Art and San Francisco’s Museum of the African Diaspora this year.
Lindsay Delaronde supported by dancers during ACHoRd (Photo: Peruzzo)
Considering the City of Victoria declared 2017 a Year of Reconciliation, it was perhaps fitting that we saw a great deal of activity by Indigenous alumni, guest speakers and faculty — most notable of which was the announcement that Visual Arts MFA alumna Lindsay Delaronde would be Victoria’s first Indigenous Artist in Residence. “I hope to create artworks that reflect the values of this land, which are cultivated and nurtured by the Indigenous peoples of this territory,” she said at the time. “I see my role as a way to bring awareness to and acknowledge that reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples is a process, one in which I can facilitate a collaborative approach for creating strong relationships to produce co-created art projects in Victoria.”
2017 also saw the completion of Rande Cook’s two-year term as the latest Audain Professor in Visual Arts — on top of his duties as chief of Vancouver Island’s ’Namgis Nation and his commitments as an in-demand contemporary artist with an international practice. “Two years in the position allowed me to really reach students,” says Cook. “I was able to delve into the role art plays in politics, and got them to dive deep within themselves. I pushed my students a lot and they seemed to appreciate that — the feedback at the end of the year said it was one of the more profound classes they had ever taken.”
Theatre professor Kirsten Sedeghi-Yetka continues her applied theatre work in the area of Indigenous language preservation, and Theatre also hosted acclaimed Indigenous playwright Marie Clement as a guest this fall. AHVS professor Carolyn Butler-Palmer‘s 2017 Legacy Gallery exhibit on early female Indigenous carver Ellen Neel was featured in this national Globe and Mail article, Legacy Gallery also hosted an exhibit by Visual Arts MFA alumna Marianne Nicholson focusing on the impact of smallpox on local first nations, and fellow Visual Arts MFA Hjalmer Wenstob had a high-profile longhouse installation on the lawn of the BC Legislature this summer as part of the OneWave Gathering.
High-profile Indigenous Writing alumni Richard Van Camp and Eden Robinson were in the news repeatedly this year, with Robinson being shortlisted for the Giller Prize and winning a prestigious Writers’ Trust Fellowship. And everyone in Writing and Fine Arts were saddened to hear of the passing of former Southam Lecturere, Richard Wagamese.
Daniel Laskarin with his new public art sculpture, now installed in Richmond
Art with impact
Visual Arts faculty had a busy year with a number of prominent exhibitions and projects. Paul Walde’s Tom Thomson Centennial Swim project received a great deal of local, provincial and national media attention this summer — with 10 different radio interviews and day-of coverage by the Toronto Star — as well as making UVic’s list of top news stories of 2017.
Daniel Laskarin debuted a new public art sculpture at the Cambie Fire Hall No. 3 / Richmond North Ambulance Station and had a local solo show at Deluge Gallery, while Robert Youds had no less than three solo exhibits this fall, with two in Victoria and one in Toronto. Cedric Bomford had his work on view in California, Quebec and Toronto’s Nuit Blanche this summer, and very busy new professor Kelly Richardson participated in 14 solo and group exhibitions across Canada and Europe — with more planned in 2018.
10 years of acclaimed journalists
The stage may have been crowded, but not as much as the audience!
“The idea for the panel was sparked by a perfect convergence,” says Writing chair David Leach. “A chance to mark the 10th anniversary of the Southam Lectureship, the opportunity to thank the Southam family for their generosity, and to respond to a sense of global urgency around the role of journalists as guardians of our democratic institutions — especially when the most powerful elected official on the planet keeps attacking the free press as #FakeNews.”
Leach acted as emcee and moderator for the event, which broke all previous Southam attendance records and saw close to 250 fill every seat, aisle, ledge and doorway. six returning Southams — Jody Paterson, Terry Glavin, JoAnn Roberts and Tom Hawthorn, plus departmental alumni Mark Leiren-Young and Vivian Smith — as well as recent Writing grad Quinn MacDonald, now the publisher/editor of the local urban agriculture magazine Concrete Garden.
“All were keen to talk about their experiences as guest lecturers and debate the future of journalism,” says Leach. “Taken together, it offers a broad range of ways to look at contemporary journalism.”
A strong year for new donors
Samantha Krzywonos (far right) marks the 98th birthday of longtime donor Tommy Mayne, with three Theatre student recipients of his scholarship, in 2016
Another way to measure a faculty’s health and success is through the strength of its donors. And while Fine Arts couldn’t boast of another monumental donation like the one we received in 2016 from Jefferey Rubinoff — who sadly passed away earlier this year — 2017 remained a healthy year for donors and donations. Fine Arts Development OfficerSamantha Krzywonos reports that we attracted 103 first-gift donors this past year — as compared to 48 in 2016 — and received an overall 476 donations for a total of nearly $500,000 that will support students.
Donations of all sizes are essential not only for scholarships and awards, but also for the need for innovative technology, space modifications and equipment upgrades — all of which contribute to the success of Fine Arts students in all our departments. Donors can range from alumni and retired faculty to parents of students, corporate partners, arts patrons, current and former staff, and community members. Indeed, we currently have over 250 active donors and nearly $10 million in planned gift expectancies invested in Fine Arts students.
Krzywonos feels meeting with donors is the most rewarding aspect of her job. “It’s all about saying thank-you and sharing the impact of that support. If a student can focus on their studies and not have to take on extra work just to get by, that donor support can make a huge difference in their life.”
There’s no easier measure of just how creative the activity is here in the Faculty of Fine Arts than by looking back at what happened over the previous year. From classes and guest lecturers to concerts, exhibits, plays, readings, seminars and our core research and creative practice, it’s often hard to believe just how much happens in a given year. In fact, a recent tally of this year’s media coverage showed our faculty, students and alumni had been covered more than 250 times in 2017 — and those are just the stories we know about.
In no particular order, here’s part one of our annual wrap-up featuring some — but certainly not all — of the leading Fine Arts stories of the year.
50 years and counting
Christopher Butterfield, Susan Lewis & Jamie Cassels at the School of Music’s Gala Anniversary Concert in December
2017 saw the wrap-up of 50th anniversaries in both Theatre and Art History & Visual Studies, and the ongoing half-century celebrations in the School of Music. Theatre completed its celebrations with a trio of final events in the spring: their Human Library Project, the Tempest Orion Project, and the public mounting of A Queer Trial, a brand new play by professor Jennifer Wise, in downtown’s Bastion Square. “The people who started our department were fearless in their vision and commitment,” Theatre chair Allana Lindgren said at the time. “They transformed one of the old military huts on campus into a stage and that ‘can do’ attitude has never left.”
AVHS finished their golden anniversary year with a public panel on “Why Art Matters in Dangerous Times” and their extensive Learning Through Lookingexhibit at the Legacy Maltwood Gallery. “We were pioneers in the field when we were founded 50 years ago — not just in Canada but across North America,” noted department chair Erin Campbell of what was then the History in Art program. “At the time, art history was very Western-focused but we were one of the few institutions willing to look at Asian and Indigenous art. And we are still one of the largest world art history departments in Canada.”
While the School of Music just wrapped up its own 50th gala and reunion weekend earlier in December, they’ve still got their New Music & Digital Music Festival coming up from February 2-4. Music director Christopher Butterfield feels it’s their unique connection between faculty, students, alumni and the community that sets the School of Music apart. “We’re never going to be the place for everybody, but the people who do come here soon realize we’re punching way above our weight,” he says.
With three anniversaries down and two to go — including the Faculty’s own 50th in 2019 — it’s not hard to see the impact Fine Arts has had on the evolution of UVic itself, which is currently only 54 years old.
Internally, AHVS professor Victoria Wyatt won the Fine Arts award for Excellence in Teaching, while School of Music professor Suzanne Snizek‘s research into the forgotten works of suppressed composers earned her a place among the 10 recipients of UVic’s inaugural REACH Award, alumna Althea Thauberger was honoured as the faculty’s 2017 Distinguished Alumni, and POV Maestro Timothy Vernon being named an Honorary Doctor of Music at spring convocation.
Grad student successes
Fine Arts saw exceptional success in 2017 when it comes to the research and creative activities of our current doctoral and graduate students. Art History & Visual Studies had three successful SSHRC doctoral recipients — international students Atri Hatef and Hamed Yeganehfarzand (Iran) and Zahra Kazani (Pakistan) — which, considering only 20 were awarded to UVic as a whole, makes AHVS responsible for a remarkable 15 percent across campus in this category. Kazani also holds a CSRS Fellowship, as well as the Sheila & John Hackett Research Travel Award and a top-up to assist with international research at the Warburg Institute and the Wellcome Collection and Library, both in London.
Applied theatre PhD candidate Taiwo Afolabi
Also notable are two outstanding international PhD candidates in Theatre: national Vanier Scholar recipient Dennis Gupta, who also received the Ada Slaight Drama in Education Award, and Queen Elizabeth Scholar Taiwo Afolabi, a Crossing Borders Scholar with UVic’s Centre for Asia-Pacic Initiatives and a graduate fellow with the Centre for Global Studies.
Additionally, we’ve had great success when it comes to Canada Graduate Scholarships – Master’s Awards, with three CGS M’s in AHVS, two in Writing, and one each in Visual Arts and the School of Music. With seven out of 36 awards on campus, Fine Arts earned an impressive 19.5 percent of UVic’s allocations. Two other high-achieving graduate students include AHVS’s Su Yen Chong, another CAPI Crossing Borders Queen Elizabeth Scholar, and Elsie-May Mountford, the Ian H. Stewart Graduate Student Fellow with UVic’s Centre for Studies in Religion and Society.
Composer & celebrated Music alumnus Rodney Sharman (photo: Bell Ancell)
It’s also worth noting that 2017 has been a remarkable year for alumni achievement. In November, School of Music alumnus Rodney Sharman received the Canada Council’s $50,000 Walter Carsen Prize for Excellence in the Performing Arts, while composer Tobin Stokes saw one of his compositions performed for Queen Elizabeth II as part of the Canada 150 celebrations in London this summer, sung by alumna soprano Eve Daniell. Several School of Music alumni are featured in the 10-CD Canadian Composers Series on the UK’s Another Timbre record label — including the likes of Cassandra Miller, Alex Jang and Lance Austin Olsen — which also comes with an accompanying book. And Musicworks magazine has a feature on Victoria composers — including current concert manager Kristy Farkas — which comes with an accompanying CD.
In Theatre, alumnus Chris Wilson has joined the cast of CBC TV’s legendary Air Farce comedy troupe, Meg Braem was recently announced as the newest Lee Playwright in Residence at the University of Alberta Department of Drama,Amiel Gladstone continues to reap accolades with the award-winning musical Onegin, which he co-created and directed, and continues to tour across Canada (including a recent Belfry Theatre production starring Meg Roe), and former CBC TV Being Erica star Erin Karpluk continues to pop up on such TV shows as Masters of Sex, Criminal Minds and the continuing A Fixer Upper Mystery.
The Mercer Report
Rick Mercer sings the headlines
And there’s nothing like a bit of celebrity to wrap up part one of this post: the School of Music (and UVic as a whole) was thrilled when legendary CBC TV host Rick Mercer came to campus in October to film a segment for the final season of The Rick Mercer Report — including a live, on-camera singing lesson with voice professor Benjamin Butterfield and student Taylor Fawcett. A highlight was hearing Mercer sing the day’s Globe & Mail headlines! “I always thought I couldn’t sing but [Butterfield] convinced me that I, maybe, potentially, might be able to in the future. So I’ll be back doing my degree in opera,” quipped Mercer in this Martlet interview with Writing student Cormac O’Brien.
That’s part one—be sure to check back for part two of our top-10 stories of 2017.
The reviews are in for Phoenix Theatre’s mainstage production of The Madwoman of Chaillot, and audiences are enjoying its “visual delights and thought-provoking observations,” as local arts writer Janis La Couvée writes in this review, which also highlighted the work of director and Theatre professor Conrad Alexandrowicz and his design team.
The Madwoman of Chaillot (all photos by David Lowes)
Describing the production as “a meta-theatrical spectacle of tremendous proportions, serving up visual delights and thought-provoking observations that will leave the audience questioning their role in the scheme of things,” La Couvée notes that “once again, Victoria is fortunate to have a theatre department where foundational work of this scale can be staged.”
In the Times Colonist review, Sarah Petrescu felt “the large cast of colourful characters and absurd plot are a rare malleable clay for interesting staging and direction,” and noted how “Alexandrowicz specializes in physical theatre and makes excellent use of movement . . . a table of bad men plots to destroy the city out of greed, rolling on chairs as they choreograph their scheme.”
Petrescu also highlighted the work of cast member Chase Hiebert, a Phoenix graduate and current writing student, as well as the set by Theatre professor and alumnus Patrick Du Wors as “a fantastic version of a café in Paris, built with massive black and white illustrated backdrops.”
This review from the Showbill Victoria online arts mag felt Madwoman still “proves its relevance almost 75 years after being written. “The play is loaded with enticing wit and is brought to ‘justice’ by the studious cast, who don’t stumble through impressive vocal projection and fluid movement across the stage – so well-rehearsed that it’s not all that noticeable that some actors catch chairs being tossed to them by the crew until you realize an extra seat had appeared,” writes Shayli Robinson. “Being performed in 2017, though – especially in Victoria – it is a great allusion to the energy and oil projects proposed to pass through our province that are oft-viewed as evil and disastrous, particularly by our elderly, quirky, and whimsical fellow citizens . . . . The Madwoman of Chaillot is an entertaining, thoughtful show that will leave you seriously pondering the persecution of evil and the fate of British Columbia.”
This Monday Magazine review also singled out the work of Du Wors and graduate student costume designer Michelle Ning Lo, as well as undergraduate cast members Sarah Jean Valiquette and Nicholas Guerreiro, noting the “productions at UVic are . . . extremely professional and well-executed. One always has to admire the skill with which the drama department manages the challenging plays they choose.”
Writing for UVic’s student newspaper The Martlet, Jakelene Plan felt that “the theatrical design to come out of the Phoenix Theatre is often the most innovative and engaging work I’ve seen. It continually pushes the boundaries of what I expect and what I think is achievable, and the work done by Patrick Du Wors on set, Michelle Ning Lo on costumes, and Matthew Wilkerson on lighting design exceeds all my expectations.” Plan noted that “their unified vision of a colourful, cheerful Paris becoming infected by greed (represented by grey scale) is cohesive and complementary. …colour is an easy and striking way to draw attention to themes, but it’s the creative application that raises the technique from commonplace to spectacular.”
Over at Camosun College’s Nexus student newspaper, Leslie Do felt, “The Madwoman of Chaillot [was] a great performance . . . the action was perfect . . . . [and it] registers on a deeply human level.” She was also “especially impressed by the outstanding performance by Nicholas Guerreiro . . . his voice, his attitude, and his acting were absolutely incredible,” and concluded that director Alexandrowicz “brings a great performance to the audience with this play . . . [which is] definitely worth two hours of your attention.”
The Madwoman of Chaillot runs at UVic’s Phoenix Theatre, 8pm Monday – Thursday until November 25, with 2pm Saturday matinees. Tickets range from $15 – $26 and can be booked by phone at 250-721-8000, or in person at the Phoenix Box Office. Recommended for ages 13+.