From Jedi knights and gold-rush explorers to doomed puppets and romantic clowns, over the past 15 years Phoenix Theatre’s annual Spotlight on Alumni has presented a range of shows as diverse and accomplished as the graduates themselves. But this month, Phoenix is entering a world as strange and terrifying as any yet imagined: motherhood.
“I don’t like to be bound by restrictions like ‘comedy’ or ‘drama’,” Nattrass explains. “I really believe life is full of both, so I’ve always written to connect with the audience, using comedy to talk about more serious things.”
This is the first time Mamahood — running October 9 to 20 at the Phoenix — will be fully mounted in Victoria, following a staged reading in 2014.“I’m so glad I get to come back to my alma mater to perform this,” says Nattrass, who graduated in 1991. “UVic has been a big part of my journey as an artist and I’m constantly collaborating with other Phoenix alum, including this show’s director, TJ Dawe.”
“Parenting is really an individual experience: the only one who can define how you’re going to be as a mother is you,” she says. “We’re told it should look like a Pamper’s commercial — all the right outfits, everything is good — but that excludes a lot of moms. It’s okay to not have an ideal experience every day of the week . . . or at all. Whether you’re a co-parent, step-parent or foster parent, it’s all about accepting your own story.”
Like so many alumni, Nattrass birthed Mamahood through her fusion of teaching and creative practice. “I was asked to teach a course on ‘Mama Memoirs’ at Camosun College and I realized I hadn’t written down my own story yet,” she says. “There’s this romantic idea that we only write at perfect times — four hours with a latte at your favourite coffee shop — but the reality of motherhood is getting up at 4:30 in the morning when you’re exhausted from breast feeding and trying to get inspired.”
The realities of the birth experience
Nattrass also doesn’t hesitate to talk about postpartum realities in her play, which sets it apart from straight-up comedies like the Mom’s The Word series. “The postpartum experience can be anything from anxiety, fear and sleep deprivation to issues surrounding the pregnancy or birth itself.”
With that in mind, she makes a point of connecting with local birth educators and support networks wherever Mamahood tours — in Victoria, she’s working with Mothering Touch Centre — and builds that into the theatrical experience. “I always do a talkback session at the end of each show, so people can not only ask me questions but also connect with resources in their community.”
Not just for moms
Not that Mamahood is only for mothers. “The biggest surprise to me are the men’s reactions,” says Nattrass of her audiences that frequently include partners, grandparents, teenagers, doctors, midwives, nurses, doulas and dudelas. “The director isn’t a dad, and a lot of men who come to the show aren’t dads, but they’ve all been so supportive.” Nor is the play only for laughs. “I’ve had people come out who are dealing with issues other than parenting — like anxiety and depression — and they can really relate to the show, because it’s funny but it’s also talking about serious issues.”
The public is also invited to a free preshow lecture with UVic English professor Sheila Rabillard on “Motherhood Out Loud”, discussing the changing face of motherhood in theatre (7pm Friday, October 12).
Ultimately, Mamahood is a comedic story about her own journey . . . so far. “The core message is that motherhood is a rock ‘n roll ride,” she laughs. “My son is nine now and the ride is definitely not over! My whole journey really has been about bursting into light.”
If it’s late August, it must be time for the Victoria Fringe Festival. Running August 22 to September 2, this annual explosion of live performance returns with 47 shows from around the globe in 12 venues, plus outdoor events for the whole family and late night programming in the Fringe Club. Pick up a program guide, get your Fringe button (you’ll need one in order to buy tickets) and get ready to Fringe!
Of course, Fine Arts is once again well-represented in the festival, with students, alumni and faculty from not only Theatre but also Music and Writing involved in creating, writing, designing, directing, performing and working behind the scenes in a number of shows. How many will you see?
ANGELS & ALIENS – Co-created and featuring second-generation Phoenix alumnus Jeff Leard (son of local theatrical legend Jim Leard), Angels & Aliens poses questions like, are we alone in the universe? Are we living in a computer simulation? What do two irresponsible roommates eat for breakfast the morning after awkward sex? In short. No. Yes. And eggs.
BEGINNING/MIDDLE/END – Featuring current Theatre student Douglas Peerless, this eponymous production includes three short plays that are broken into a Beginning, a Middle and an End. The cast will then take those nine parts and mix them around, allowing chance and audience participation to decide their order of appearance — with no performance being the same.
CAREY, OK! VOLUME 1: TIMELESS TIMELY TUNES – Featuring Phoenix alumnus Carey Wass—who first came to the city’s attention thanks to his notable role in the original mounting of the musical Ride the Cyclone—this show features a mash-up of monologues and music, that mixes beatboxing, rap-singing . . . and Sir Ian McKellen? It’s described as a must-see musical experience, and with Wass, we’d believe that.
CORNELIUS & TITANIA OR, A TRAGEDY OF THE COMMONS (A COMEDY)– Written by Phoenix alumna playwright and director Pamela Bethel (whose After The Beep was a hit at the recent UNO Festival) and featuring current Theatre student Tallas Munro, this Shakespearean spin focuses on Cornelius who, having had barely one line in Hamlet, finds he usually gets cut and ends up here — with all the other inconsequential characters. Today Titania shows up. According to this fax that just came through, she’s been replaced by a hologram. A comedy about power, privilege and the age old question — who’s responsible for the dirty dishes in the shared kitchen?
DISASTER! – Directed by Phoenix alumnus Cam Culham, this recent Broadway hit musical lovingly parodies the 1970’s disaster-film genre is presented by the St. Michaels University Music Theatre Intensive. Join a colourful group of New Yorkers at the grand opening of a floating casino and disco as they fall prey to all sorts of tragic disasters. This hilarious “jukebox musical” revives popular ’70s songs performed by local teens. They’ll have you grooving and in emergency preparation mode all at the same time!
ERNIE AND BETHY – First performed as a Phoenix SATCo show in early 2018, this comedy examines what happens when puppets grow tired of being controlled and decide to overthrow the human regime. Expect puppet revolution, a struggle to create “real art,” and a healthy dose of existentialism as down-and-out Ernie and overachieving Bethy try to create a children’s show while the foul-mouthed puppets attempt to take over. This show is filled with Theatre students and recent alumni: written, created & assistant directed by Sophie Underwood, directed by Molly McDowell Powlowski, set design by Conor Farrell, costume design by Hailee Jake with an assist by Mackenzie Monroe, lighting design by Tori Isaak, sound design by Aaron Smail, stage managed by Siena Shepard, assistant stage manager Danny Handford, production manager by Logan Swain, puppet engineers Sasha Lazin and Christian Tervo. Featuring Sheldon Graham, Emma Grabinsky with puppeteers Rachel Myers.
FADO – A tale of love and ghosts told through the saddest music in the world—Portuguese fado — this show features the talents of Phoenix alumni Cyllene Richmond, with designs by Patricia Reilly. Brought to you by the creators of the 2015 Fringe Favourite Lieutenant Nun – featuring live music by local fado singer Sara Marreiros.
THE FITTING ROOM – Written by Writing grad Ellery Lamm and original mounted by local Vino Buono theatre in 2017, this is a play about growing up, coming out, facing loss and finding faith. Four teens, a mom, a rabbi and one fitting room: six people all linked to the sudden death of thirteen-year-old Noah. This Phoenix-heavy production is directed by Anna Marie Anderson, with stage manager/sound designer Aaron Smail, set/costume designer Delaney Tesch, lighting designer Elizabeth Martin, and featuring actors Ciaran Volke, Emma Newton, Emma Grabinsky and Eva Hocking.
FOOL’S PARADISE– France, 1686. Mathilde is a young nun whose life radically changes when she meets Julie d’Aubigny, a notorious Parisian opera singer and swordsmaster. Together they plan a daring escape from the convent and elope across France, but it isn’t long before Julie’s colourful past catches up with them. Featuring Phoenixers Julie McGuire and Sophie Chappell, with designs by Annie Konstantinova.
KITT & JANE: AN INTERACTIVE SURVIVAL GUIDE TO THE NEAR-POST-APOCALYPTIC FUTURE– Co-created by Phoenix alumni Kathleen Greenfield and Ingrid Hansen, this encore presentation features Fringe favourite Hansen in the cast, with LX design by Michael Franzmann. Two 14-year-olds hijack their school assembly and train their classmates to survive the coming apocalypse. A poignant exploration of the world today’s youth are inheriting, and how they’re willing to fight for it. Last seen locally at Phoenix’s 2013 Spotlight on Alumni.
LA PALABRA EN EL TIEMPO – With bold rhythm and improvisation, local company Palabra Flamenco presents this mix of fierce dance, live guitar, troubled song and English-language poetry – a grief and praise that soak their way to dark corners. How to confront what’s buried? Hold death near, affirming life? This myth-inflected encounter honours what we’ve lost, what we’re going to lose. Written by Writing MFA alumnus Garth Martens, winner of the Bronwen Wallace Award for Emerging Writers, shortlisted for the Governor General’s Literary Award for Poetry and author of Prologue for the Age of Consequence (Anansi). With acclaimed guitarist Gareth Owen, singer Veronica Maguire (co-founder of Alma de España), and principal dancer Denise Yeo.
THE MEASURE OF LOVE – Phoenix alumnus director Wendy Merk presents this remount of an earlier Fringe hit. Love, betrayal, redemption . . . The Measure of Love is a dramatic exploration of the friendship between two women. “This story of Catholic obsession with guilt and sin is a charmer and devilish fun and in the hands of these veteran performers it’s sensational. Powerful, moody and rewarding. Who said there are no good roles for women anymore?” – Times Colonist.
RATFISH COMEDY SHOW – Join musical director and School of Music professor Patrick Boyle and experience everything that’s made Ratfish Victoria’s favourite local comedy show for 7+ years, all jammed into less than an hour: amazing hosts, a great band, surprise guest performers, hilarious headliners, roast battles — even open mic spots where you can sign up at the show for a chance to grab a 3-minute spot to perform your own original comedy at the Fringe!
SHERLOCK HOLMES & THE CURSE OF MORIARTY– Sherlock Holmes is back in his deadliest adventure yet in this new show from Victoria’s Triple Fringe Award-winners Outpost 31. This brand new re-imagining of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s timeless classic by David Elendune (Leer, Winnie The Pooh, Casino Royale) features Phoenix alumni Trevor Hinton, Ian Simms, Ellen Law and Connie McConnell.
WAR OF 1812 – Phoenix alumnus Ian Case directs this hilarious historical romp, featuring a who’s-who of the local comedy scene—including Wes Borg, Morgan Cranny, Rod Peter Jr and Mike Delamont. A young boy hates Canada until the ghost of Pierre Burton takes him on a tour of Canadian History, from the tennis ball battle fields of York to a Laura Secord mega musical, all in a Birchbark time canoe. Get ready for the funniest history lesson of a lifetime!
WATER PEOPLE – Phoenix alumnus and instructor Clayton Jevne directs this drama about Beth, a middle-aged novelist, who begins caring for her disabled mother. It seemed the right thing to do at the time, but a sociopathic social worker, a diabolical sibling, a high maintenance cat, and the woman in the mirror confirming time is not standing still are now “writing” the story that is defining Beth’s life.
THE WILDS – Co-created and featuring Kate Braidwood, this production by 12-time Best of Fest winners The Wonderheads (Loon, Grim & Fischer) features their iconic larger-than-life masks. Wendell’s wife and their beloved tree have vanished, so he must venture into the Wilds to bring them home. Pixar meets Miyazaki in this extraordinary adventure. And watch for a special one-night-only presentation of Grim & Fischer on November 8 at the Metro Studio!
And we’d like to offer a special shout-out to our alumni and students working with Fringe organizers Intrepid Theatre to get this event up, including Jaxun Maron, Sienna Shepard, Emma Leck, Melissa Taylor, and Carolyn Moon with Ticket Rocket box office support by Kate Loomer.
Never underestimate the impact a donation can have for students. For many, both undergraduate and graduate, it can make all the difference in their academic career.
“As a student from a rural town and a lower income family, this scholarship will go a long way in making it possible for me to focus on my studies in the coming academic year,” says Lauren, a third-year Theatre student.
For some, it provides opportunities previously undreamt of — “I didn’t think I’d ever have the opportunity to go to university, and the generosity of your gift has already made such a lasting impact on my studies,” says Laura, a third-year Visual Arts student — while for others, it offers the chance to realize their dreams: “My dream to teach music would be much more difficult without the generosity of you and your family,” writes John, a fourth-year student in the School of Music, in a donor thank-you letter.
The Faculty of Fine Arts distributes over $1.5 million annually from more than 200 separate student awards, benefiting students in all five of our departments. Each year, we’re proud to not only distribute funds from previously created or endowed awards, but also to facilitate the creation of new awards — in fact, 2016/17 saw six new awards created.
Here are just a few of them:
Writing professor Maureen Bradley in the active-learning classroom
Technology expands the horizons of literature
A lifelong love of literature, theatre and education has been fused with digital technology, thanks to a $25,000 donation by Dr. Robert Aitken in memory of his mother. Mary Aitken was a well-loved teacher at both Mt. Douglas and Esquimalt Secondary schools who strongly believed in fostering creativity and keeping up with the latest technology. Now, the Mary Aitken Legacy Scholarship will support students in our new Digital & Interactive Media in the Arts minor, enabling future generations of writers to get their start.
New art therapy scholarship established
There’s no doubt art can make you feel better, and now the Centre for Human Science Research and Its Relation to Human Science Association (formerly the British Columbia School of Art Therapy) has donated $32,000 to establish a new award. The Kathleen G. Collis Art Therapy Scholarship will support Fine Arts students with an interest in phenomenological approaches or other forms of community engaged creative activity that contributes to the field of art therapy and the therapeutic use of the arts.
Dean Susan Lewis (left) with Anna & Eunice Lowe
Fundraiser grows Legacy Scholarship
The Faculty of Fine Arts co-hosted an elegant fundraising dinner at the Union Club in June, in support of the Stephen and Eunice Lowe Legacy Scholarship. A silent auction of over 80 items of art and sculpture from Eunice Lowe’s private collection raised over $18,000 for the scholarship, which is awarded to an undergraduate in either Art History & Visual Studies or Visual Arts. Widow of the late celebrated artist, Stephen Lowe, Eunice has tirelessly and graciously sought ways to support our students with her generosity of time and financial support and as an arts ambassador for our community.
New Music award commemorates CFUV host
For over 30 years, Eric LeBlanc’s blues show Let the Good Times Roll appeared weekly on UVic’s CFUV radio. While he spent 25 years as the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory’s librarian, Eric was also a self-taught blues scholar: his collection of thousands of recordings was donated to CFUV after his death in 2015, and over 300 music-related books were donated to the McPherson Library. Now, friends and family have created the Eric LeBlanc Memorial Scholarship for School of Music students with a passion for jazz and blues.
Making the most of a century
Samantha Krzywonos (far right) marks the 98th birthday of longtime donor Tommy Mayne in 2016, with three Theatre student recipients of his scholarship
When noted teacher, philanthropist and lifelong theatre devotee Tommy Mayne passed away in April at the remarkable age of 99, he had already begun to see the impact of his legacy: the Thomas and Elizabeth Mayne Bursary in Theatre, established in 2010, has benefited a number of students, many of which Tommy was able to meet. “I was filled with admiration at his generosity,” said Theatre professor Brian Richmond on his passing. “The city—and the arts community—has lost a wonderful man.”
New awards this year
Indeed, the impact of these kind of gifts lingers long after students graduate. “This award comes at a crucial moment in my studies,” noted one Masters candidate in Theatre. ”Simply put, I don’t know how I would be able to graduate [without it].”
We are grateful to these and our other donors who expanded the range and breadth of awards available to our students by establishing new awards this past academic year:
As Miriam, a second-year Writing student, puts it, “This award has lit me with the confidence I need to take risks and trust my voice and my visions.” It’s hard to not feel good about making this kind of a difference in a student’s life.
To learn more about our giving initiatives, please contact Fine Arts Development Officer Samantha Krzywonos at 250-721-6305 or email@example.com.
While the Department of Theatre crossed the half-century mark with their 50th anniversary in 2016, they’ve already started planning for the future by welcoming a number of new professors to their teaching faculty. Due to a round of recent retirements that saw the likes of design professor Allan Stichbury, director Linda Hardy and theatre historian Jennifer Wise step down, they had the opportunity to bring in fresh talent in the guise of acclaimed designer Patrick DuWors, voice and speech expert Michael Elliott and theatre historian Sasha Kovacs.
New Theatre professor Sasha Kovacs
An arts researcher, creator, administrator and educator, Kovacs holds a PhD from the University of Toronto. As the new assistant professor in Theatre History, Kovacs specializes in Canadian theatre history and theatre historiography (“how we come to ‘know’ and tell the history of performance in the place we now call Canada,” she explains), as well as performance archives and theory, material theatre culture, devised theatre and experimental dramaturgy.
When asked what she’ll be bringing to UVic (beyond a husband, new daughter and extended family), she says, “A passion for thinking about research as a creative practice.”
“I’m thrilled to be joining the community at the Phoenix,” she says. “It’s hard to find a comparable department—one that really values a balanced focus on practice and research. This is a major priority for me—it matches my own commitment to ensuring that the critical academic research I do is creative, and that the creative expressions I generate as an artist are critically engaged. Being a good thinker and researcher makes a person a better performer/director/designer, just as much as honing creative instincts makes a person a better thinker. I’m happy to join a place that shares these values.”
Teaching and practicing
As a teacher, Kovacs is passionate about both connecting with students “who really believe that this discipline we work in and study can change the world” and building their confidence.
“I want students to feel as though the classes they take under my guidance expand their performance vocabularies and enrich their understanding of the traditions of our discipline.”
Born and raised in Toronto, where she developed both an academic and practicing theatre career, Kovacs has mounted a number of her own projects with the international and interdisciplinary performance collective Ars Mechanica, and has worked with a number of notable Canadian performance companies, including Nightwood Theatre, Tarragon Theatre, Buddies in Bad Times and Canadian Stage. She has also designed community-building arts programs for children, adults and seniors as the program director for Scarborough Arts, one of the City of Toronto’s six Local Arts Service Organizations (LASO).
With such an extensive background, does she have any concerns about swapping life in the theatrical centre of Canada for the western edge of the country?
“It has been wonderful to spend so much of my life in Toronto, where the theatre scene is always buzzing, but it’s also—and only—one scene,” says Kovacs. “It’s a good time for me to expand my horizons and learn about a new community that is making—and has always made—really rich contributions to Canada’s cultural and theatrical landscape. This move is welcome at a time when I’d like to cultivate focus in my life, commit to fostering connections with students through my teaching, and pursue more depth in my research.”
Kovacs (left) in 2013’s “Tomorrow we will run faster”
Given her work with Scarborough Arts, does she foresee any community outreach here in Victoria? “Of course, I want to continue working with different arts communities in Victoria, and I will keep seeking out these interdisciplinary and multi-generational artistic environments,” she says, “but I’ll do so knowing that it will take some time to make meaningful contributions.”
Ultimately, Kovacs is excited to be joining UVic’s Phoenix. “UVic’s theatre department has a rich history in leading exceptional research on theatre and performance history,” she concludes. “I am very honoured and humbled to be working in a place that has inspired so many other historians to make exciting and ground-breaking contributions to the field. I hope I can keep the legacy alive!”
Rapid fire Q&A:
What three words would you use to describe Victoria?
“Deep (I’m used to shallow lakes, not the ocean), sweet (are there a lot of pastry shops here, or is it just me?), blue (don’t know why, I just see the colour blue in my mind’s eye whenever I think of the city).”
If you could travel back in time and attend any theatrical performance in history, what/when would it be?
“Hmmm—that’s a hard one. You’d think I would have said something specific to Canadian theatre history but I think, in fact, I’d like to have been there for Molière’s last performance in his Le Malade Imaginaire—the biting comedy that marked the end of his life and career.”
What would you say to parents worried that their child wants to pursue an arts degree and live a creative life?
“They should be proud, because arts degrees cultivate creative thinkers and the creatives will save the world! ‘Please,’ I’d cry, ‘let your child save the world!’”
How do you define student success?
“I’m my happiest when students show me ways of living that even I didn’t think were possible. Then I know I’ve done my job. I’ve given them the tools and confidence to carve out their own path.”
What are the interconnections between climate change, sea rituals and traditional ecological knowledge and practices, and how those be explored through applied theatre practices? That’s the focus of the research currently being conducted by Theatre PhD candidate and Vanier ScholarDennis Gupa.
Gupa is currently wrapping up a year of research on the ground—and on the seas—in his native Philippines, which is partially supported through a 2017 CAPI Student Research Fellowship.
Dennis Gupa in the Phillippines
“I have been here in the Philippines for my field work since September 2017. My site is located in Samar-Leyte Region and I am working with local elders in the island community of Guiuan, where the deadliest typhoon of 2013—Haiyan Typhoon—entered,” he writes.
“One of the most relevant activities I organized during this field research was the intentional congress festival, Paddling Visions [which saw] scholars and artists from the Philippines and Canada gather in a four-day congress festival of performances and academic dialogue and issues about climate change, human, ecological and gender violations, and indigenous knowledges.”
Held in May 2018, Gupa’s Paddling Visions sought to expand dialogue on climate justice in the Philippines. “This event is one of the activities that executes and explores my methodologies—participatory/community action research and applied theatre as research,” he writes.
Hear more about Gupa’s work in this short video:
“My heart overflows with gratitude for the participation extended by the communities in engaging them in grounding stories on the impact of climate change,” he says, noting the widespread participation in his research from all walks of life—including elders, women, children, fishermen, government officials, teachers, artists, scholars and others.
From the cultural impact of Star Wars to the inside track on making it as a young adult writer, it’s tough to beat Fine Arts when it comes to cool electives. With over 100 electives open to all students on campus, we’ve got something that will boost your creative and critical thinking skills regardless of your faculty or major.