Student reflection: Dungeons & Dragons in the classroom

When my family first moved to Canada, we visited my grandparents’ house and loaded all of my dad’s childhood things into a moving van.

A large amount of these boxes were filled with old first edition Dungeons and Dragons modules and rule books, a collection which has continued to grow since my siblings and I began playing with our dad.

We’ve played together for over 10 years now and, even though I live on the opposite side of the country (I am originally from Nova Scotia), we still play over Skype every weekend . . . which makes me one of the few university students up at eight a.m. on a Saturday.

At most universities, this part of my life would have no relation to my academic career but in the WRIT 324: Writing Interactive Narrative course I was able to use this decade-long passion for 50 percent of my final grade!

WRIT 324 is a course on writing for interactive media taught by David Leach. 2018 was the second year the course had been offered and it drew over 40  students. Leach took us through the history of interactive media from which-way-books, to ZORK, to VR Rollercoasters all while teaching us the techniques writers use to encourage engagement and player investment.

We had smaller assignments throughout the term, but our final project was the true test of our learning. The project was left completely open-ended to encompass the wide variety of interactive media we had been introduced to over the year. This gave me the perfect opportunity to use my years of Dungeons and Dragons experience, as well as my love of horror stories.

I had previously written small adventures for campaigns in the Ravenloft Domain (a world overrun with undead and evil), but I underestimated the time it took to write a full murder mystery with its own specialized mechanics.

I included a prophecy card game that would determine the order of the murders, a map of the manor, statistics for where characters would be found in the house, room descriptions and personality outlines for each character. Just this information and the story outline took over 35 pages — which is a bit much even for a third-year project. Ultimately, I worked with Leach to determine which parts of the module were essential to the project requirements, which allowed me to polish these sections and give him a bit less to read in the end.

WRIT 324 gave me an experience I didn’t expect to have in university: to work on skills surrounding both a long time passion and my degree. It also gave me an experiential lesson in the amount of work a complete piece of writing can take.

If I could take the class again, I certainly would, though I don’t know if I could come up with a project I’d be as proud of as my module, Sylvia’s Misery. If anyone loves video games and has taken writing classes (or can argue their way as an exception to the rule) I completely recommend this course and the freedom it offers for you to explore your interests!

—Written by Writing undergraduate student Ali Barr

This story was originally published on the My UVic Life student blog

Call for Artist-in-Residence Ocean Program

The Faculty of Fine Arts and Ocean Networks Canada at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, are sponsoring an Artist in Residence program. The concept strengthens connections between Art and Science to broaden and cross-fertilize perspectives and critical discourse on today’s major issues such as the environment, technology, oceans, cultural and biodiversity and healthy communities. This program is open to local, national and international applicants.

The Artist in Residence will interact with Fine Arts faculty members and scientists at Ocean Networks Canada as well as with other individuals using the world-leading ocean facilities to ignite cross-disciplinary exchanges. Open to artists working in any visual, written, musical or performance discipline, this residency is suitable for an early- or mid-career artist.

The Artist will learn from and engage with the current research, connecting it to the Artist’s own practice, and to wider societal and cultural aspects, creating a body of work to be presented at the end of the residency. The selected Artist will actively engage with researchers on a variety of ocean science themes, that may include:

The ONC Artist in Residence program is established to:

  • explore arts or alternative cultural practices’ potential in the area of the visions, challenges, philosophical, aesthetic, and ethical aspects of the ocean and the impacts humans have on it;
  • add a complementary artistic and creative perspective to ocean science, the societal ramifications of its exploitation, and its cultural aspects; and
  • help envision the potential long-term impact of ocean changes on humanity.

The residency period can start any time between May and December 2018 and last for up to eight months. A cost-of-living stipend of up to CAD $2000/month will be paid to the selected Artist. Following the residency, a public exhibit of the resulting art will be displayed, performed and promoted by ONC and the Faculty of Fine Arts.

Please note: the application period closes on 27 April 2018.

If interested, please send your application to at Ocean Networks Canada with the subject line “Artist in Residence Ocean Program.” The application should include your CV, a concise portfolio of previous relevant artistic work, and a letter of motivation outlining your project proposal for the residency. Applications will be reviewed by representatives of Fine Arts and Ocean Networks Canada, and artists may be contacted for an interview or to supply further information.

About Ocean Networks Canada: Established in 2007 as a major initiative of the University of Victoria, Ocean Networks Canada operates world-leading ocean observatories for the advancement of science and the benefit of Canada. The observatories collect data on physical, chemical, biological, and geological aspects of the ocean over long time periods, supporting research on complex Earth processes in ways not previously possible. The observatories provide unique scientific and technical capabilities that permit researchers to operate instruments remotely and receive data at their home laboratories anywhere on the globe in real time. These facilities extend and complement other research platforms and programs, whether currently operating or planned for future deployment.

About the Faculty of Fine Arts: With experiential learning at its core, Fine Arts provides the finest training and learning environment for artists, professionals, and students. Through our departments of Art History and Visual Studies, Theatre, Visual Arts, Writing and School of Music, we aspire to lead in arts-based research and creative activity and education in local, national, and global contexts. We integrate and advance creation and scholarship in the arts in a dynamic learning environment. As British Columbia’s only Faculty exclusively dedicated to the arts, Fine Arts is an extraordinary setting that supports new discoveries, interdisciplinary and diverse contributions to creativity, and the cultural experiences of the students and communities we serve.

Southam Lecture presents filmmaker Judith Pyke

From the frozen lands of the High Arctic to the scorching streets of Liberia, filmmaker Judith Pyke has never shied away from diverse and challenging locations. Currently the 2018 Southam Lecturer in Journalism and Nonfiction for UVic’s Writing department, the award-winning documentarian will be sharing her insights and experiences at the annual free Southam public lecture. “Discovering Documentary: A Filmmaker’s Journey Through the Foundational Aspects of Documentary-Making” begins at 7pm Thursday, April 5, in room A240 of UVic’s Human & Social Development Building.

Judith Pyke will offer behind-the-scenes insight into her documentaries, like “Cracking Cancer”

“Filmmaking is my passion so I am always excited about it,” Pyke told the Oak Bay News in this April 2 article. “I’m always challenging myself to tell the best story possible.”

As a writer, director, executive producer and showrunner, Pyke has traveled the world to interview people ranging from top scientists and international figures to village locals and renowned artists like Lou Reed, Philip Glass and Stephen King. “Documentaries are a great way to engage with the world and tell stories,” she says. “The public has really fallen in love with the form.”

Listen to a live interview with Judith Pyke on CBC Radio’s On The Island at 7:20am on Thursday, April 5.

Her talk will focus on her two most recent films: Inseparable and Cracking Cancer. Inseparable focuses on a set of conjoined 10-year-old twin girls in Vernon, BC; made for CBC Docs through her own company, Curious Features, Inseparable recently won a Remi Award at the 51st Annual Worldfest-Houston International Film Festival, and has also been nominated for a Golden Sheaf Award in the “Documentary History and Biography” category at the Yorkton Film Festival. Pyke’s 2017 documentary Cracking Cancer, which she wrote and directed for Dreamfilm Productions, was recently nominated for best direction at the Canadian Screen Awards.

But as the Vancouver-based writer-director will share in “Discovering Documentary: A Filmmaker’s Journey Through the Foundational Aspects of Documentary-Making,” her interest in the form goes back to her own days as a UVic undergrad taking writing classes in the early ’90s.

“As soon as I started at UVic, I knew I wanted to be a documentary filmmaker, but there were no filmmaking courses then,” she says. “But even though I’m a visual storyteller, I’m in love with the written word—I’m a writer and a director, which use different parts of your storytelling brain.”

As the Southam Lecturer, Pyke’s class of 50 students have been learning from her 20 years of filmmaking experience, but her April 5 public talk will offer a rare behind-the-scenes glimpse into her award-winning creative process. “I loved going to UVic, so it is really great to be back as an instructor,” Pyke told the Oak Bay News. “I’m basically teaching the course that I really wanted to take when I was there.”

As the 11th person to hold this prestigious journalist-in-residence program, Pyke is currently teaching a course on documentary film and television for UVic’s Writing department. She joins a list of fellow Southam Lecturers that includes broadcaster Jo-Ann Roberts, late Indigenous author Richard Wagamese, immersive journalist Terry Glavin, and many others.

The Southam Lecturer in Journalism and Nonfiction was established in 2006 and is made possible by a significant gift from one of the country’s leading publishing families. 

“Discovering Documentary: A Filmmaker’s Journey Through the Foundational Aspects of Documentary-Making” begins at 7pm Thursday, April 5, in room A240 of UVic’s Human & Social Development Building.

From Damascus to deadlines: Deborah Campbell joins Writing faculty

From embattled cities in Syria to intractable encounters in Israel, the writing of Deborah Campbell fuses journalism and travel writing with the kind of personal observations that can only come with being immersed in some of the most pressing international issues of our time.

New Writing prof Deborah Campbell

Now, Canadian author and literary journalist Deborah Campbell will become the latest addition to UVic’s celebrated Department of Writing. Starting July 1, 2018, Campbell will be the new assistant professor of creative nonfiction; she will also become Director of the Professional Writing program in January 2019.

“Deborah Campbell instantly makes UVic’s Department of Writing the destination in Canada for aspiring nonfiction writers who want to learn how to fuse a distinct personal voice with a depth of research and a keen social conscience—just as Deborah has done for years,” says Writing chair David Leach.

“Her on-the-ground experience as a writer and reporter for major international publications has prepared her to inspire a new generation of young journalists to investigate local and global issues amid a rapidly evolving publishing industry,” he continues. “And her immense talents as a prose stylist make her a natural fit for a department long known for mentoring several generations of Canada’s top creative writers.”

Campbell’s most recent book, A Disappearance in Damascus: A Story of Friendship and Survival in the Shadow of War (Knopf Canada 2016, Picador USA 2017), won both the Writers’ Trust Hilary Weston Prize and the Hubert Evans BC Book Prize. Screen rights have been optioned by writer/director Terry George (In the Name of the Father, Hotel Rwanda). Her work has also been collected in seven separate anthologies.

“I hope to contribute my experience writing books and magazine articles from around the world, along with my knowledge of today’s fast-changing publishing climate,” says Campbell. “It’s my goal to equip the next generation with the skills and confidence to tell stories that matter.”

A world of experience

Deborah Campbell has written for Harper’s, The Guardian, The Walrus, The Economist and many other publications. Winner of three National Magazine Awards, in 2017 she also received the Freedom to Read Award, presented annually by the Writers’ Union of Canada in support of freedom of expression.

“There is so much to admire in the work of Deborah Campbell,” Writers’ Union Chair George Fetherling said at the time of her award. “Whether she is writing about war artists, international care-givers, the bafflingly complex politics of nuclear arms, or the ongoing refugee crisis in the Middle East, she does not shy from controversy, and is devoted to letting all voices find a place on her page.”

Campbell holds both a BFA and MFA in Creative Writing from UBC, and did undergraduate studies at institutions ranging from University of Paris-La Sorbonne and Tel Aviv University in Israel to SFU. Her teaching experience includes positions with the Creative Writing Program and the Graduate School of Journalism at UBC, as well as Vancouver’s Langara College. Interestingly, beyond being fluent in French, she also has a basic working understanding of Hebrew, Farsi, Arabic and Spanish.

“Deborah’s publications in such prominent magazines as Adbusters, Harper’s and Foreign Affairs, as well as her two powerful books about the complexities and dangers of life in the Middle East, helped to set her apart from an incredibly deep and strong field of applicants for this position,” says Leach. “She comes to the department with extensive experience as an instructor of nonfiction and journalism, and rave reviews from her past students and teaching peers.”

The latest chapter

For her part, Campbell is excited to be the latest chapter in the ever-evolving legacy of UVic’s Writing department. “I first heard about the department in the best possible way: from writers who got their start at UVic and are now writing books and winning awards,” says Campbell. “I’m delighted to be joining such talented faculty and students.”

Her work will compliment the current creative nonfiction and journalism classes taught by the likes of David Leach, Lee Henderson and the annual visiting Southam Lecturer in Journalism and Nonfiction, as well as sessional instructors like Frances Backhouse, Christin Geall, Annabel Howard, Kirstie Hudson, and John Threlfall.

“While it was founded by poet Robin Skelton, almost since its inception the Department of Writing has included courses and programs focused on nonfiction writing and publishing,” notes Leach, “evolving from book publishing and newspaper reporting, through memoir, literary journalism and new digital forms of nonfiction.”

Theatre & Writing students ignite at Belfry’s SPARK Festival

One of the best parts of being a Fine Arts faculty in an arts-rich city like Victoria are the opportunities available to current students through our associations with local cultural institutions. From Pacific Opera Victoria and the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria to Open Space and the Belfry Theatre (to name but a few), our students don’t have to wait to graduate to gain valuable first-hand experience working alongside professional artists, technicians, designers and directors.

Case in point: the Belfry’s annual SPARK Festival, running March 8 to 25. Beyond their outstanding lineup of fascinating shows — including the monologue Who Killed Spalding Gray? written and performed by Canadian theatre royalty Daniel MacIvor, who previously worked with Department of Theatre students to present the world premiere of Inside at the Phoenix Theatre in 2011 — SPARK 2018 offers current students in both the Theatre and Writing departments the chance to show their talents to Victoria’s wider community.

Noted playwright Janet Munsil

Playwriting students will have the opportunity to present scenes from shows-in-progress at a special New Play Cabaret. Working in conjunction with student actors and directors from the Theatre department, SPARK audiences will enjoy scenes from new plays by Department of Writing MFA candidates Janet Munsil and Elliott James, and fourth-year undergrads Sarah Pitman and Alaina Baskerville-Bridges.

The free New Play Cabaret starts at 7pm Sunday, March 18, in the Belfry’s lobby.

Talented Fine Arts students and alumni are also heavily on display during SPARK’s annual free Mini-Play Festival, which offer short 10-minute productions staged all over the Belfry’s building — from hallways, offices and storage rooms to the basement and the attic, you’ll never know where you’ll see one of these micro-plays.

This year’s Mini-Plays feature work by Theatre alumni Pamela Bethel, Charles Ross (of One-Man Star Wars fame), Monica Ogden and Tony Adams, current Theatre student and 2016 City of Victoria Youth Poet Laureate Ann-Bernice Thomas (directed by fellow student Karen Saari), plus Writing alumni Kai Taddei (formerly Kat Taddei), and Visual Arts alumna Lindsay Delaronde, currently Victoria’s Indigenous Artist In Residence and creator of Pendulum, the contemporary Indigenous artist showcase recently seen at the Belfry.

Have you heard? Mini-Plays are back at SPARK!

This year’s Mini-Plays are all commissioned by the Belfry and inspired by 6ixty 8ight, a new play by former Department of Writing instructor Charles Tidler. But be warned: most Mini-Plays only offer space for less than 10 people, so be sure to get there early to get a spot.

Mini-Plays run in two batches March 14 -17, and March 21 – 24: Wednesday/Thursday at 7:00 & 7:15 pm and Fridays/Saturdays at 7:00, 7:20 & 7:40 pm.  Week one features Lindsay Delaronde, Charles Ross, and Monica Ogden & Tony Adams, while week two features Pamela Bethel, Kai Taddei, and Ann-Bernice Thomas.

Also on view during the SPARK Festival is the annual Belfry 101 Live presentation, a new play created and performed in just one short week by local high school students. This year, Belfry 101 is directed by Theatre alumna Erin Macklem, and local improviser par excellence Dave Morris of Paper Street Theatre. Belfry 101 Live starts at 7:30 pm on Sunday, March 25, on the Belfry’s mainstage.

En’owkin alumna Krystal Cook

Also part of SPARK is the new play reading of Sunday in Sodom by noted playwright Jordan Tannahill, which is being performed by a number of Phoenix alumni including Trevor Hinton, Paul Terry, Jack Hayes and Laura Jane Wallace, as well as longtime Theatre professor Jan Wood. That free reading starts at 7:30pm Monday, March 19, in the Belfry lobby.

Finally, Krystal Cook, an alumna of the En’owkin International School of Writing — which jointly awards the Indigenous Fine Arts Certificate with UVic’s Writing department — is part of the creative team behind Why We Are Here!, a site-specific pop-up choir production on Monday, March 12.

Cue the spotlight!

Get interactive with writing, music & art at Ideafest 2018

Whether you’re a regular part of the UVic community or simply a visitor to campus, Ideafest 2018 offers an ideal chance to explore the vast and diverse range of research and creative activity happening all around the Ring Road. Fine Arts is offering five distinct events this year, and participating in some others as well.

Rightfully described as being about “ideas that can change everything,” UVic’s week-long festival of research, art and innovation runs March 5-10 and features over 40 events on topics ranging from climate change and chamber music to Indigenous law, optimistic art, antibiotic resistance and so much more.

All events are free and open to the public — please join us at any or all of our signature Fine Arts events, and be sure to take time to explore the full schedule as well. You never know what your new favourite topic might be!

First up on the Fine Arts schedule is the annual reading night featuring Department of Writing MFA candidates. Hosted by award-winning playwright and Writing professor Kevin Kerr, All Lit Up: Creative Writing’s Bright Lights offers live readings and performances by the next generation of Canadian literati, including Levi Binnema (poetry), Sarah Hamill (nonfiction), Daniel Hogg (screenwriting), Elliott James (playwriting) and Kari Teicher (fiction).

Enjoy this lively (and licensed) literary cabaret from 7 to 8:30pm Monday, March 5, at the popular Copper Owl — one of downtown’s most unique and charming arts venues, (upstairs at Paul’s Motor Inn, 1900 Douglas). Doors open at 6:30, and this event always packs out so do arrive early. Note: no minors.

For over 50 years, UVic’s School of Music has had a long history of producing outstanding string students — helped along in no small measure by the Lafayette String Quartet, who have been artists-in-residence here since 1991. Now, you can discover the next generation of outstanding string talent with Cuarteto Chroma — Canada’s first graduate student string quartet. The event String Quartets at UVic: A Musical Continuum offers an interactive performance where Cuarteto Chroma will invite the audience to suggest how they should perform a particular piece — deciding things like tempo, vibrato and the balance between each instrument — which will allow the audience to hear the effects their choices have on the musical outcome.

Afterwards, Chroma will join the Lafayette String Quartet for an informal Q&A session, followed by a Lafayette-taught masterclass for UVic string students — that’s three opportunities to catch a glimpse of the intimate world of chamber music and explore the hidden facets of life in a string quartet.  A Musical Continuum runs 11am-2:30pm Tuesday, March 6, in room B037 and the Phillip T. Young Recital Hall, both in the School of Music’s MacLaurin Building B-Wing.

Performers will include the Lafayette String Quartet (Pamela Highbaugh Aloni, Ann Elliott-Goldschmid, Joanna Hood and Sharon Stanis) and Cuarteto Chroma (Felix Alanis, Manuel Cruz, Ilya Gotchev and Carlos Quijano), as well as undergraduate string students. Interactive performance runs 11am–12:15pm in the Phillip T. Young Recital Hall, while the Q&A session runs 12:30–1:20pm in B037, and the chamber music masterclass runs 1:30-2:20pm back in the Phillip T. Young Recital Hall, just next door to the classroom.

If Bobby McFerrin’s classic singalong ditty “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” isn’t quite cutting it for you these days, art may be the answer: in troubling times, optimism can feel like a scarce commodity, but for centuries people have found hope and joy in visual art. Art and Optimism in an Age of Worry offers a lively series of short presentations as Art History & Visual Studies faculty members and graduate students will explore how artists and their works have long offered new messages of hope, healing and empowerment. While showcasing a wide range of styles and movements, they will also collectively demonstrate how art can ignite optimism and agency in your own life.

Join host and AHVS professor Catherine Harding from 5-7pm on Tuesday, March 6, in room 116 of UVic’s Engineering & Computer Science building (ECS), where she’ll be joined by fellow AHVS professors Erin Campbell and Carolyn Butler Palmer, plus grad students Holly Cecil, Gonzalo Gutierrez, Alexa Heenan, Ambreen Hussaini, and Katayoun Youssefi.

If you think Fine Arts is just about paintbrushes, sheet music and words on the page, get ready to enter the digital realm and discover a whole new world of creativity when you go Beyond the Digital Frontier: Exploring Digital and Interactive Media in the Arts. From virtual-reality filmmaking and innovations in digital art to interactive gaming, artifact handling, new theatre technology and into the recording studio with Vancouver rockers Bend Sinister, find out how UVic’s Faculty of Fine Arts is a leader in 21st century creativity at this interactive, drop-in, self-guided exploration event.

Professors Kelly Richardson (Visual Arts), Kirk McNally (Music) and Victoria Wyatt (AHVS), plus technician Simon Farrow (Theatre) and both graduate and undergrad students will showcase recent innovations in the world of digital media from 5-6:30pm on Wednesday, March 7, throughout UVic’s Fine Arts Building.

And you’ve got the entire week of Ideafest to explore the Visual Arts exhibit Math Garden. Conceived of as an outdoor concept exhibition by Visual Arts instructor David Gifford, Math Garden explores some of the visual aspects concerned with popular mathematics. Topics such as amounts, shapes and change will be imagined by the undergraduate drawing class of ART 300, whose motive is to celebrate a handful of patterns that are present in this abstract discipline.

Math Garden is inspired by Mathematica, an exhibition of mathematical concepts by Charles and Ray Eames that debuted at the California Museum of Science and Industry in 1961. The self-guided exhibit in the Fine Arts Building courtyard will also include didactic panels for the purpose of intellectual entertainment, including the explanation of potentially difficult concepts through pictures and interactive sculptures and installations.

While those are our signature events, Fine Arts students will also be participating in the likes of the annual Jamie Cassels Undergraduate Research Awards (JCURA) Fair from 11:30am-3pm on Wednesday, March 7, in UVic’s Student Union Building, as well as the new creative writing contest On the Verge: Student Voices, co-hosted by UVic’s Libraries and Equity & Human Rights, from 4:30-6pm on Thursday, March 8 in Libraries room 129. And will any of our short films about creative practice in Fine Arts make the final cut of the second annual Research Reels contest? To find out, you’ll have to drop by the screening event running from 5-6:30pm Tuesday, March 6, in the David Lam Auditorium, room A144 of the MacLaurin Building.