Madwoman serves up “visual delights and thought-provoking observations”

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.”

Running until November 25 — with a special performance with sign language interpretation at 2pm on Saturday, Nov 18 — Madwoman is creating some wonderful dialogue and interesting feedback from critics and audiences alike.

You can also now hear this online recording of the opening week lecture by Alexandrowicz, in which he talks about the background of the Madwoman as Jean Giraudoux’s response to the Nazi occupation of France.

In the Times Colonist reviewSarah 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+.

—with files by Adrienne Holierhoek

It’s pipelines & protests in metaphorical “Madwoman”

Art is often quite prescient. Be it science fiction or political satire, a tasty analogy or handy metaphor can be a welcome tool for many artists in an effort to comment on current happenings. But what happens when, 70 years later, a far-fetched idea becomes closer to reality than the original event?

French playwright Jean Giraudoux wrote La Folle de Chaillot during WWII when Paris was under siege by Nazi forces. Unable to address the political situation directly, he used metaphor as a way to protest the violent incursion of his beloved city; unfortunately, Giraudoux was in ill health when he wrote the play and did not live to see either its premiere or success after the war.

It was understood by audiences at the time that the evil and corrupt businessmen who were trying to profit from supposed oil underneath Paris — as portrayed in The Madwoman of Chaillot, which opens November 9 at UVic’s Phoenix Theatre — were stand-ins for the Nazis, whose occupation of the City of Light and much of France caused humiliation, hardship, and tragedy for the French Resistance, French-born Jewish people and those who had fled to France prior to the outbreak of war.

Giraudoux offers us a protagonist to work against these representatives of evil: Countess Aurelia, an eccentric holdover from a less cynical time. When she learns that her cherished neighbourhood of Chaillot is in peril because of the businessmen’s plans, she bands together with a rag-tag group of artists, vagabonds and dreamers to fight back. Fast-track to 2017, when oil pipelines are being driven through our communities jeopardizing wildlife and our environment, and suddenly Giraudoux’s artistic metaphors no longer seem like a far-fetched threat.

Conrad Alexandrowicz

Department of Theatre professor and Madwoman director Conrad Alexandrowicz remains fascinated by how this play’s context has become so literal for today’s audiences.

“We live in the era of climate crisis — something even Giraudoux may not have been able to even imagine,” he says. “With the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion set to begin, we are forced to take the figures of evil in the play — bent on profit-making regardless of the costs — at their face value; for us their status as metaphor has disappeared.”

You can read more about The Madwoman of Chaillot and director Conrad Alexandrowicz in this Times Colonist interview and this Black Press interview. And CHEK TV brought their cameras in for this piece showcasing the work of Master’s student and costumer designer Michelle Ning Lo.

An essayist and dramatist who wrote 15 plays, Giraudoux also served France as a diplomat, government official, and a soldier in World War I. His writings often tempered tragic themes with rueful comedy, using allusive prose, allegory, fantasy, and political and psychological perceptions. The 1947 English translation of Madwoman by Maurice Valency holds to this day, and the play has seen a resurgence of interest in the last few years.

The set of Madwoman of Chaillot (photo: David Lowes)

The sets in the current Phoenix production — designed by recent Theatre professor and alumnus Patrick Du Wors allude to the nostalgic café-lined streets of Paris, even though they are only flat, massive representations of 19th century engravings.

Costumes, designed by MFA student Michelle Ning Lo, have WWII-era references for the businessmen, and vibrant and flamboyant Edwardian-era frills for the “madwomen.” Lighting design by fourth-year student Matthew Wilkerson captures the streets of Chaillot and helps heighten the moments of comedic absurdity, as does the sound design by third-year student Logan Swain, featuring classic Parisian music that is slightly off-kilter.

Michelle Ning Lo’s costume designs

“The designers and I have taken a meta-theatrical approach to the production, eschewing realism completely for a play that operates in the realm of the fantastic, in the genre of post-modern performance as much as in comedy,” says Alexandrowicz.

Indeed, anyone who has seen past Phoenix productions by Alexandrowicz — including 2015’s Lion in the Streets and 2012’s Good Person of Setzuan — will recall his dynamic blend of imagery, movement and text.

Keep your eyes open for intentional elements of creative anachronism that will help to make comparisons to 2017 even more apparent.

—with files by Adrienne Holierhoek

The Madwoman of Chaillot runs at UVic’s Phoenix Theatre, 8pm Monday – Thursday from November 9 – 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+.

 

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.