Phoenix alumni are making history

Alumni Danette Boucher and James Douglas

Each fall, Phoenix Theatre’s Spotlight on Alumni offers the chance for returning alumni to share their experiences with both audiences and current students alike. This year’s spotlight features a pair of performers who are currently living their dreams, every day, as writers, performers, directors and filmmakers—as well as husband and wife: Danette Boucher and James Douglas.

These two talented UVic alumni are making history — literally — every day, working in BC’s fabled Barkerville Historic Town. And now, on stage at the Phoenix from October 10 to 21, Boucher and Douglas will present the stories of two BC pioneers who traveled west in search of a new future: Lady Overlander and The Fred Wells Show. But whether backstage or in the classroom, Boucher and Douglas will mentor current students, offering guidance on how they too can navigate life’s journey and achieve their dreams.

Donning hoops, petticoats, bonnet and a classic Victorian cotton dress, actor and playwright Danette Boucher’s “office” looks like a 19th-century ghost town, albeit bustling daily with tourists from across Canada. In truth, Barkerville is one of BC’s most frequented and important heritage sites — and has a long history of hiring Phoenix students and alumni to perform in the park. Together with her husband — actor, director and filmmaker James Douglas — Boucher has spent decades telling the stories of Barkerville’s past, and they are now both part of the park’s artistic and management team.

Their passion for history also led Boucher and Douglas to create Histrionics Theatre Company to better tell their favourite dramatic stories from our past — including current productions Lady Overlander and The Fred Wells Show, each featuring actual historical characters on their own quest for gold.

A scene from Lady Overlander

“I first stumbled into museum theatre in 1989 while auditioning to play Emily Carr at her childhood home in James Bay,” says Boucher. “I didn’t know then that it would lead to an exciting career in museum theatre and historical interpretation.” Beyond Barkerville, Boucher has also developed programming for the Royal BC Museum, Helmcken House, Craigflower Farm and Schoolhouse, Point Ellice House and Tod House. Many may also remember her as the “unsinkable” Margaret Brown, a character that she performed for the RBCM’s Titanic: The Artifacts exhibit.

“Over the years of interpreting BC’s history, it has given me great joy to watch stories and ideas morph as we mature and strive to understand who we are, as a result of who we have been,” she reflects. “At the start of my career, we celebrated our pioneer stories and often neglected the darker, less well known, aspects of our founding. 30 years later, we are eager to question and reframe our stories, considering many angles and experiences.”

Her play, Lady Overlander, is a dramatic first-person account of the legendary Catherine O’Hare Schubert, who — while pregnant! — walked from Winnipeg to Kamloops in 1862 in search of a new life in a tantalizing new land. Meanwhile, The Fred Wells Show also tells a fascinating but little-known story from a gold rush during the Great Depression: Wells, an introverted yet charismatic American prospector, persevered against the odds until he finally struck gold just outside of Barkerville. The ensuing 1930s gold rush saw thousands of fortune seekers flock to the town named in his honour, and saved countless BC families from poverty during very desperate times.

A scene from The Fred Wells Show

“These scripts were written with love for my home province, but are also part of a desire to understand what happened when BC was first defining itself,” says Boucher. “BC history is like the best book I have ever read, with chapters that are celebratory and adventurous, and chapters that are gut wrenching and painful. When I write, I am driven by the idea of home, how we find it, and what it means to each of us.”

The couple make their year-round home in Wells, just outside of Barkerville, with their twin daughters. Although both Danette and James attended UVic’s Department of Theatre —  twice each — remarkably, the couple didn’t meet until they worked together in Barkerville. You can read more about Boucher and Douglas in this October 5 Times Colonist interview.

Despite their lives up north, Victoria and UVic are still a big part of both their lives and their work. “Victoria has a really strong heritage and theatre community that work together well,” says Boucher. “The Phoenix is a special place for us both, a place we both called home for an important time in our lives. Even though we attended at different times, we still share many common experiences . . . and so, so many common friends.”

Both Lady Overlander and The Fred Wells Show run at 8pm till October 21 (no show Sundays) at Phoenix Theatre, with a 2pm matinee on October 21 and a bonus 7pm pre-show lecture on October 13. Tickets are $15 to $26 and are available at the box office or by phone at 250-721-8000.

—With files from Adrienne Holierhoek

Doc screening features Canadian theatre & TV legends

The Department of Theatre is dipping into the world of film for a special screening of Robin & Mark & Richard III. Better still, the filmmakers — Canadian theatrical legends themselves — will be on hand for an exclusive session only for Fine Arts students and faculty.

McKinney and Phillips in “Robin and Mark and Richard III”

The free screening begins at 12:30pm on Tuesday, September 19, in UVic’s Phoenix Theatre, with a post-screening Q&A featuring the film’s producers and co-directors Martha Burns and Susan Coyne. Then, at 12:30pm on Wednesday, September 20, Burns and Coyne will return for the special, Fine Arts-only intimate conversation.

Robin & Mark & Richard III tells the story of an unusual collaboration between one of Canada’s most influential directors—Robin Phillips (Stratford Festival)—and  gifted comedian and actor Mark McKinney (Kids in the Hall, Saturday Night Live and Slings and Arrows). Together, they delve into the one of Shakespeare’s most challenging plays: Richard III.

Click here to watch the film’s trailer and discover the power of “Shakespearituality”.

Centuries after its debut, there have been countless stage versions and numerous screen adaptations over the past 100 years — including notable interpretations by Sir Laurence Olivier, Benedict Cumberbatch, Sir Ian McKellen, Richard Dreyfuss and Julian Glover — as well as documentary explorations like Al Pacino’s 1996  Looking for Richard. With Robin & Mark & Richard III, Phillips and McKinney had not met before, and they had no idea what might happen when they begain this project: it was to be an adventure of two brilliant minds exploring Shakespeare’s world.

Burns (left) and Coyne

Captured over the course of three years by Burns and Coyne — award-winning Canadian stage veterans, co-founders of Toronto’s famed Soulpepper Theatre and Slings and Arrows co-creators and co-stars —  they filmed Phillips and McKinney rehearsing in the intimacy of Phillips’ home outside of Stratford. Although the filmmakers didn’t know it at the time, Phillips was actually quite ill and would die shortly after the film was finished.

For the Fine Arts-only conversation, hosted by Theatre professor Fran Gebhard, Burns and Coyne will discuss their diverse careers on stage, writing for theatre, film and TV, and directing and producing several short films together, including How Are You? (an official selection for the 2008 Toronto Film Festival).

Screened at the Hot Docs Cinema festival in 2016, Robin & Mark & Richard III is described as a love letter to a passionate, complicated, irreplaceable genius. The film has been called “a wonderful look into how actors build performances over time” (Toronto Film Scene) and “equal parts interview, scene study class and in-memoriam tribute to Phillips” (Now Magazine).

Shakespeare wrote: “It is required you do awake your faith”, and Robin Phillips lived this every day. An Officer of the Order of Canada and winner of the Governor General’s Performing Arts Award for Lifetime Achievement, his profound insights, exacting standards, and belief in the transformational power of theatre made him one of this country’s great mentors—one who touched the lives of three generations of artists, including Dame Maggie Smith, Brent Carver and Martha Henry, who all appear in this film.

(And for those who don’t know it, the acclaimed Canadian satirical TV series Slings and Arrows is required watching for theatre buffs! It’s a hilarious three short seasons of life back- and on-stage at a Shakespeare-specific theatre festival very much like Stratford, and no aspect of theatre — from acting and directing to marketing, production, reviewing, and post-show schmoozing — is spared.)

Your guide to Fine Arts Fringers

No question, the annual Fringe Fest is one of Victoria’s best-loved festivals of any kind. Now in its 31st year, the Victoria Fringe Festival offers 330 performances of 58 shows by 350 artists in nearly a dozen venues around town — as well as a number of free community events — over 12 dynamic days, from August 23 to Sept 3. From spoken word, drama and musicals to dance, comedy, magic, theatre for young audiences and more, you just can’t beat the Fringe when it comes to a tasty smorgasbord of theatrical delights!

Once again, Fine Arts alumni and current students are all over the fest; while most are (logically) associated with our Theatre department, you’ll also find participation by alumni and majors in our Writing department as well. But whether they’re acting, writing, directing, designing or working backstage, our alumni and students have been an integral part of the Victoria Fringe as long as it has existed. And we send a special shout-out this year to our alum and students working behind-the-scenes with organizers Intrepid Theatre to get this event up and running, including Technical Assistants Simon Farrow and Carolyn Moon, and Ticket Rocket box office support with Kristen Iversen and Kate Loomer.

Below you’ll find a listing of this year’s Fringe shows involving Fine Arts alumni and students; but whether you only see one show or pick up a multi-show pass, you’re guaranteed to see something you’ve never seen before. Happy Fringing!

A WOMAN’S GUIDE TO PEEING OUTSIDE & OTHER ADVENTURES
Directed by Andrew Barrett (BFA ’12)

Ever wondered how to perform the “Assisted Pee Over Water”? Ever struggled with a sense of self? Still grieving the death of Jack Dawson? Written and performed by storyteller Holly Brinkman, who promises that you’ll laugh, you’ll cry . . . you’ll try not to pee your pants.

AFTER THE BEEP
Created by Pamela Bethel (BFA ’99), design consultation by Erin Macklem (BFA ’98).

Pamela found cassettes from her very own answering machine she had as a teenager during the early 1990’s. Despite the obvious risk of death by embarrassment, she’s sharing this archive of adolescence with live audiences. Part confessional, part show-and-tell, it’s an exploration of awkward times revealed by the recorded voices of BFs, BFFs, a frenemy and wrong numbers. After The Beep had a sold-out run at UNO Fest 2017, and is once again presented here under the auspices of Theatre SKAM, which features the work of alumni Matthew Payne (BFA ’93), Andrew Barrett (BFA’12), Kathleen Greenfield (BFA’05) and current students Bridget Roberts, Brendan Agnew and Emma Leck.

ALL THESE PEOPLE WATCHING
Featuring Matt Lees (BFA ’90), Krista Wallace (BFA ’89), and current student Maggie Lees (their daughter), (also joined by their son David Lees), with stage manager Molly McDowell-Powlowski (current student), and script advisor Nicole “Coco” Roberge (BFA ’98).

A family of actors on stage together for the first time: Mom, Dad, Son and Daughter explore themes of family, friendship, life and death. How does a tight-knit family stay that way amidst life’s challenges? (Pie and beer may be mentioned!)

BEAVER DREAMS
Featuring Mika Laulainen (BFA ’12)

Here’s a schtick you can to sink your teeth into! Winner of two (and nominated for five) Montreal Fringe Awards, this show focuses on one family, generation after generation . . . and beavers. Sharing the same land, the same lake, and the same nightmare depicting commercial development threatening their corner of paradise in the Laurentians, Quebec. The best dam show! (“Nothing less than brilliant”– Savage Clown Montréal)

DADDY ISSUES
Directed and created by Colette Habel (BFA ’16), with Grace Le (BFA ’17), and current students SJ Valiquette and Arielle Parsons. Performed by Colette Habel, Grace Le, SJ Valiquette and Arielle Parsons. Design by Delaney Tesch (BFA ’17), with stage management by current students Molly McDowell-Powlowski and Siena Shephard, and marketing by Victoria Simpson (BFA ’17).

Devised from true stories and memories, Daddy Issues is a collage of vintage denim and classic rock that explores the relationships between daughters and their fathers. This is for the dads that were always there and never there; the dads we chose and those we didn’t; the dads we wanted gone, and the dads who left us too soon.

THE DROWSY CHAPERONE
Directed by Cam Culham (MFA ’03)

In the spirit of Canada 150, St. Michael’s University School presents the Canadian-grown, Broadway smash hit musical The Drowsy Chaperone — winner of five Tony Awards. New York Magazine has called it “the perfect Broadway musical,” as it gently pokes fun at the myriad tropes that characterize the musical theatre genre. Meet Man in Chair, an eccentric and engaging music theatre enthusiastic, as he introduces us to a fictitious 1928 musical. It is an affectionate send up of the Jazz Age musical, full of toe-tapping songs and colourful characters, from pastry chef gangsters to starlets.

GEORGE AND GRACIE: A LOVE STORY
Created by David MacPherson (BFA ’91)

Local actors Melissa Blank and David MacPherson present this loving tribute to George Burns and Gracie Allen. “George: Do you like to kiss? Gracie: No. George: What do you like? Gracie: Lambchops. George: (to himself) Lambchops. Could you eat two big lamb chops alone? Gracie: Alone? Oh no, not alone . . . with potatoes I could. George: You could. Gracie: Yep.”

GRUFF
Featuring Trevor Hinton (BFA ’07), created by Mercedes Bátiz-Benét (BFA ’07)

A rollicking puppet musical about what happens when the grass really is greener on the other side, performed outdoors in a beautiful little park by the sea — created by 2015 Fine Arts Distinguished Alumni recipient Mercedes Bátiz-Benét (Puente Theatre), Judd Palmer (the Old Trout Puppet Workshop) and Brooke Maxwell (composer of Ride the Cyclone). Singing goats! What more do you want?

INTERSTELLAR ELDER
A SNAFU Dance Theatre production by co-creators by Kathleen Greenfield (BFA’05), Ingrid Hansen (BFA ’09) and Britt Small (MFA ’04). Featuring Ingrid Hansen, with puppetry coach Mike Petersen (previous student 1980-82). SNAFU began at the Phoenix back in 2006!

From the creators of sold-out shows Little Orange Man and Kitt & Jane. Meet Kitt, fierce lone geriatric astronaut adrift in a spaceship carrying cryogenically frozen human cargo. Her mission: protect the last of humankind. “Amazingly versatile physical comedian with the best ending in the history of fringe.” – Montreal Gazette.

JUKEBOX DRIVE
Featuring current student Natasha Guerra and Amy Culliford (BFA ’14), with current student Emily Bamletter as co-director and technical lead.

With Bon Jovi, they speed away from the scene of a crime; with Sinatra, they share their first kiss; with Adele, they spread the ashes of their dead friend. With music providing the backdrop, the actors of Jukebox Drive take a different improvised road trip each night, with a soundtrack influenced by the audience.

LEER
Featuring current student Ellen Law.

With this world premiere, Wendy Magahay (Old Lady’s Guide) stars as Satan in this originally sinful, all-female, horrifyingly humorous, re-imagining of Shakespeare’s King Lear — now a twisted tale of the mother-and-daughter fight from Hell. Adapted by award-winning local playwright David Elendune (Casino Royale / Winnie The Pooh).

LOLCOW
Created by Robbie Huebner (Writing BFA ’14, MFA’16), directed by current student Karin Saari, featuring Pascal Lamothe-Kipnes (BFA ’17) and current students Annie Konstantinova, Taryn Roo Yoneda and Caitlin Holm. With film director Max Johnson (BFA ’14), and music/sound design by Graham Roebuck (BFA ’11).

“lolcow: (lol-kaʊ), n. person whose foolish behavior can be ‘milked’ for amusement.” Sheena’s boyfriend, Stan, is a lolcow. As an e-celebrity Stan is successful, but Sheena finds herself targeted by online trolls, the topic of an invasive podcast. A dark comedy that explores isolation, longing, identity, and the thinning line between public and private life in an increasingly digitized world.

MONICA VS. THE INTERNET (TALES OF A SOCIAL JUSTICE WARRIOR)
Created by previous student Monica Ogden and current student Ann-Bernice Thomas.

Monica vs. The Internet is an honest account of a Filipina feminist on YouTube. Blending storytelling, videos and comments from her own channel, Monica explores the implications of words through humor. Created by Monica Ogden (Fistful of Feminism) from award-winning Paper Street Theatre, and Ann-Bernice Thomas, the 2016 Youth Poet Laureate of Victoria.

O COME ALL YE FAITHFUL
Written by current student Nicholas Guerreiro, directed by current student Elizabeth Martin, featuring students Brett Hay and Anna Watts, with design by Delaney Tesch (BFA ’17), Victoria Simpson (BFA’17) and current student Matthew Wilkerson, stage managed by current student Siena Shepard.

We promise it’s not about Christmas. Well, it’s a little bit about Christmas. It’s also about a mysterious circular painting, a security guard with an angry streak, a foul-mouthed art aficionado with a fake name, and a Slovenian nihilist on a secret crusade. It’s about family, faith, and non-representational art, and the weird bonds that hold people together. Originally produced as a SATCo show here on campus!

SIX FINE LINES
Created and performed by Mack Gordon (BFA ’08)

Part game show, part memoir, part house party, this is a living collage that combines fun and prizes with a story about losing the people closest to you. A rolling, heaving memoir, Six Fine Lines is pop rocks for your head and heart.

As always, we’ve only listed the shows involving Fine Arts students and alumni — be sure to check out the many, many other shows on view during the Fringe!

—With files by Adrienne Holierhoek

Canadian comedy star & Phoenix alum Chris Wilson joins Air Farce

Looking for a fun —and funny — way to celebrate Canada 150? Spend July 1 with Department of Theatre alumnus Chris Wilson on CBC TV’s Air Farce Canada 150 special.

Phoenix alum and new Air Farce star Chris Wilson (photo: Rodney Daw)

Wilson, best known as one-half of the multiple award-winning comedy duo Peter N’ Chris, is one of two new cast members of the veteran Canadian comedy ensemble Air Farce.

He describes his new role in Air Farce as “a dream come true” in this June 29 Times Colonist article. “It was pretty fun,” he says of the audition process. “They just sent some scripts from past shows. From there, I just put my own take, my own spin on things. That was that.”

Air Farce has a long and enviable track record in the Canadian comedy scene, dating back to 1970 and boasting both a 24-year CBC Radio series and a 15-year CBC TV series. Lately, however, the Air Farce has been focusing on seasonal specials, like their annual New Year’s show and this week’s Canada 150 special.

You can watch it on CBC TV at 5pm Saturday, July 1, and again at 8pm Monday, July 3.

The full Air Farce cast (photo: Rodney Daw)

Wilson and fellow new cast member Isabel Kanaan join the six others in the troupe, including founding members Luba Goy and Don Ferguson. And considering over two million Canadians watched the Air Farce’s 2016 New Year’s special, it’s great exposure for Wilson.

Contacted at his home in Toronto, Wilson says he has fond memories of Air Farce. “It was one of my uncle’s favourite shows, actually, and my dad would watch it—it was always on. It’s pretty great to be part of that history now. This was one of the first times my parents were, like, ‘Oh wow!’ about something I’m doing. Normally I say we’re doing Fringe shows and they’re pleased, but this time they were noticeably more excited—‘It’s television!’”

Not that he’s been quiet since graduating in 2008. Wilson and his three-time Canadian Comedy Award-winning sketch comedy partner and fellow Phoenix alum Peter Carlone have built a large following in Canada and the US. In addition to shows like Peter N’ Chris Save the World, Peter N’ Chris and the Mystery of the Hungry Heart Motel, Peter N’ Chris and the Kinda OK Corral, and Peter N’ Chris Explore Their Bodies, the team have wowed audiences at Just For Laughs, JFL42, The Toronto Sketch Comedy Festival (2013, 2014) and at sketch festivals in Chicago and San Francisco.

Peter N’ Chris

They’ve also appeared in the Phoenix’s own Spotlight on Alumni in 2012, are writers for CBC Radio’s The Irrelevant Show, are regulars on the Canadian Fringe Festival circuit, have appeared on the popular comedy site CollegeHumor.com, as well as the web series White Ninja, and the Leo Award-nominated short film, Grocery Store Action Movie. Lately, they’ve been touring small-town BC (“we’ll get 350 or 400 people coming out who don’t know us, they’re just rowdy, ready to laugh and don’t care if we’re not famous”), and they’re currently appearing in A Peter N’ Chris-tmas Carol at the 2017 Toronto Fringe Festival.

In fact, Wilson’s Air Farce gig came about as a direct result of his success with Carlone. “We were pitching to a panel at Just For Laughs for a Peter N’ Chris TV show and Air Farce’s Don Ferguson was on the panel,” he says. “They then asked me to audition because they were looking to expand the cast. But Peter and I are always working on other projects, and we are trying to move into doing more film and TV anyway.”

“Our goal is our own television show, something we can write, direct, star in and have full creative control over — you know, something that will never happen,” he chuckles. “Our next major goal is to finish a feature film script we’re working on. The Fringe circuit is great and it’ll always be there — it’s a nice source of income and, after 10 years, we pretty much know exactly how much we’ll make — but we both want to try a different kind of project.”

While working for a mainstream comedy ensemble like Air Farce may be a bit more traditional than his own off-the-cuff comedy stylings, Wilson says he’s still got room to improvise. “In the rehearsal process, we’ll improvise and riff on lines . . . if they like it, they’ll write it down and it’ll be in the next script draft.”

Now in a short film—it’s Peter N’ Chris!

When asked about the influence his Theatre education had on his life — beyond meeting classmate Carlone and working on their first seven-minute show together as a class assignment — Wilson points to the department’s comprehensive approach.

“I’d say it was the multi-disciplinary aspect,” he says. “UVic really encourages you to make your own work, whether through SATCo or off-campus, and that was invaluable. You meet a lot of UVic alumni on the Fringe doing their own work. UVic really encouraged that . . . having that support, that network, is one of the most valuable things — especially when you’re out of school working and can connect with others.”

Wilson admits he was influenced by the success of fellow Phoenix alumni TJ Dawe and Charles Ross. “Seeing Charlie do his One-Man Star Wars was amazing — it was pretty much what I wanted to do.”

But it was the influences of both current performance professor Jan Wood and former professor Ned Vukovic to which he is most indebted. “I always think about Jan Wood — it was her class where you had to create your own show. And I think a lot about Ned’s advice: ‘Dare to be boring; don’t try to act so much. You’re more interesting just standing there than you think.’ That’s totally true, especially with film acting.”

Except, of course, when you have to sing and dance on TV.

 

Patrick Du Wors is the only Canadian accepted at 2017 World Stage Design in Taiwan

When it comes to outstanding alumni, it’s hard to beat award-winning theatrical designer Patrick Du Wors. Not only has he made a name for himself on both national and international stages, he was recently hired as the new assistant professor of design for the Department of Theatre.

Theatre professor Patrick Du Wors

But this month, Du Wors is in the spotlight as the only Canadian stage designer selected to participate in the prestigious 2017 World Stage Design exhibition and Scenofest conference in Taiwan.

Running July 1-9, the juried showcase features 350 outstanding examples of international theatrical design in two categories: professional (200 displays) and emerging (150). Du Wors is firmly in the professional category, with his design for the Ghost River Theatre production of The Last Voyage of Donald Crowhurst selected from nearly 500 submissions worldwide. His work will be seen by between 13,000 and 15,000 visitors during the exhibit’s 10-day run on four floors of the Taipei National University of the Arts museum space—with nearly half those visitors coming from abroad.

Despite being the only Canadian production accepted, Du Wors is characteristically humble about his inclusion. “It’s such an honour to be exhibiting my design,” he says. “There were a number of [Canadian] submissions, so it is nice to be selected.”

One of Du Wors’ designs for “The Last Voyage of Donald Crowhurst” (photo: Benjamin Laird)

Described as “a multimedia meditation on ambition and the artistry of deception,” the world premiere of Last Voyage was produced by Alberta’s Ghost River Theatre during their 2014/15 season. It won six awards at Alberta’s Betty Mitchell Awards, and also received multiple nominations in the 2016 Alberta Literary Awards and the Calgary Critics’ Awards.

Du Wors — who is both attending World Stage Design and was on the jury for the “emerging” category — is proud to have his work seen beyond the original production. “This is a traditional exhibit in that we’re showing artifacts from the process: models, costume drawings and production photos,” he says.

This is in stark contrast to the inherently ephemeral nature of theatre as an art form, where many productions only exist for their run and are then never seen again. “One thing I learned from my classes with Mary Kerr is the importance of exhibitions, being included in catalogues, having some trace of your work.”

Du Wors’ design for the Belfry’s “Turn of the Screw”

His work on the Belfry Theatre’s 2008 production Turn of the Screw — alongside fellow alum Erin Macklem and frequent Phoenix contributor Brian Linds — was also one of only six Canadian design teams selected for the 2015 Prague Quadrennial, which Stichbury described in this story as “the Venice Biennalie of stage design.”

Du Wors (BFA ‘02) began teaching at the Phoenix in 2016, following the retirement of veteran stage designer Allan Stichbury. “Having seen what other institutions are doing, I was happy to come back here,” says Du Wors, who also trained at the Royal Shakespeare Company, the Banff Centre and the University of Alberta. “I’m ready to make this position my own.”

Brother of noted School of Music alumna violinist Kerry Du Wors, Patrick followed his UVic BFA with a position as resident assistant at England’s prestigious Royal Shakespeare Company, where he spent a year working on RSC productions in both London and Stratford-Upon-Avon. “That was incredible, because I got to work with a number of really incredible designers, including Richard Hudson who became famous for The Lion King.”

After another year freelancing in the UK and working on productions for the likes of Frankfurt Opera, Royal Scottish Ballet and Netherlands Opera, he returned to Toronto to design for various national theatre companies — including locals the Belfry and Blue Bridge Repertory Theatre — as well as being a guest designer at a number of universities (National Theatre School, Sheridan, York, Ryerson, George Brown) before earning his MFA from University of Alberta. He was on faculty at the University of Calgary’s School of Creative and Performing Arts before being hired at UVic.

Phoenix’s “Dark of the Moon” (photo: David Lowes)

“I loved Calgary, but when this position came open I couldn’t help to see if I could come back home,” he says. “I had quite a good sense of what kind of students would thrive in different training environments, and it made me realize that the UVic program was incredibly strong and a program I could get behind 100 percent. Having seen what other institutions are doing, I was happy to come back here.”

And while he’s a product of our own Theatre department, Du Wors is also an advocate for the more comprehensive Phoenix model, which allows students to get a sense of what everyone does backstage regardless of specialization. “As a designer, there’s a big difference working with a student who went to UVic and a student who went to a conservatory — their interactions with the rest of their collaborators is very different.”

But it’s his on-stage work designing sets, lighting and costumes for which Du Wors is mostly know, including such memorable local productions as the Phoenix’s Dark of the Moon (2008) and The Monument (2002), the Belfry’s Turn of the Screw (2008) and A Number (2006) and many Blue Bridge shows, including Death of a Salesman (2009), A Streetcar Named Desire (2010), Fire (2011), Little Shop of Horrors (2012) and My Fair Lady (2013).

“The Last Voyage of Donald Crowhurst” (photo: Benjamin Laird)

As for the future of The Last Voyage of Donald Crowhurst — which tells the story of the titular British sailor who was poised to win a solo, non-stop round-the-world sailing competition before disappearing — Du Wors remains optimistic that it will reach a wider audience.

“As a theatre production, it was a massive experiment,” he says, noting that show creators David van Belle and Eric Rosehad had worked on it for five years — including an unusual 10-week rehearsal process “where tech and design were integrated from the first day of rehearsal.”

“We were simultaneously working out the projection design, the set, the acting, the blocking and adjusting the script accordingly,” he continues. “It broke all the rules of conventional, English-Canadian theatre making . . . . I remain optimistic that a larger audience will get to see it, because it was a very special production.”

 

Experiences of migrant youth explored in new play

How can theatre activate the experiences of migrant youth, while at the same time providing a window into the experiences they face while assimilating into a new culture, new society and new city? Questions like this are at the heart of a new Applied Theatre performance directed and devised by Theatre PhD candidate Taiwo Okunola Afolabi.

Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps welcomes the cast on June 20

Commissioned for World Refugee Day 2017 and created in partnership with the Victoria Immigrant & Refugee Centre Society (VIRCS) and the Applied Theatre program in UVic’s acclaimed Theatre department, the live interactive play Journeys of Arriving, Belonging and Becoming was first performed to a packed house of 65 people at Victoria’s City Hall on June 20 — including Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps, City Councillor Jeremy Loveday, Victoria Immigrant and Refugee Centre Society (VIRCS) director David Lau, and Michael Shamata, Artistic Director of the Belfry Theatre. It was also remounted as a free outdoor theatre performance on June 29 in the #UVic quad.

“The performance explores complexities that surround refugees and migrant movements, which can be overwhelming — especially when we don’t have a clear way to actively engage with the issues and individual experiences,” explains Afolabi.

Director Taiwo Afolabi during the audience talkback session

Afolabi is a graduate fellow with UVic’s Centre for Global Studies and a Queen Elizabeth Scholar with UVic’s Centre for Asia-Pacific Initiatives. He arrived in Canada two years ago, and his research focuses on artistic practices among internally displaced persons.

The powerful 50-minute show features a mix of drama, dance, music and spoken word, all aimed at exploring the very real process of relocation, resilience, settlement and integration. It showcases common experiences like choosing an English name, learning a new language, and the difficulties that come with navigating everyday situations like ordering coffee, finding a job or dealing with the donation of unwanted goods from well-intentioned but thoughtless people.

The cast of “Journeys of Arriving, Belonging and Becoming”

But more than just presenting these difficulties, Journeys of Arriving also provides a creative platform for a cast with a truly global background: Syria, Israel, Russia, Hong Kong, China, Thailand, Nigeria and Canada.

Most of the eight-person cast are Department of Theatre students — including Annie Konstantinova, Jasmine Li, Megan Chandler, Olivia Wheeler, Thiptawan Uchai and Victoria Stark — with the addition of UVic student Tianxu Zhao, and community member Samer Alkhateb.

“Actors’ experiences and stories from refugees, immigrants and newcomers in Victoria inspired the performance,” says the Nigerian-born Afolabi. “We asked ourselves challenging questions around identity, language, assimilation, psychological needs and the other experiences that refugees and immigrants face.”

The cast performing on campus on June 29

VIRCS youth program coordinator Jasmindra Jawanda says the seed of the idea began about a year ago when she first met Afolabi.

“We both discussed the possibility of working together on a youth theatre play . . . as we both felt youth were often left in the shadows. They are the forgotten ones, standing on the margins of society wanting to fit into Canadian culture but because of the many barriers and challenges that they face, they struggle to integrate into their new communities. We wanted to shine a light onto their stories and truths.”

For his part, Afolabi says he wanted “a storytelling approach” to the material — thus the inclusion of monologues, dialogue and action with music — and occasional moments of humor and comedy allow the cast to address highly emotional and socially sensitive issues. “I worked with an amazing, passionate and dedicated team. Each person volunteered almost 50 hours to devise this performance.”

Applied Theatre is the use of theatre and drama skills for the purposes of teaching, bringing about social change and building a sense of community. UVic’s program is recognized around the world for its innovative applied theatre projects, including a field school in India and exchange programs in Thailand.