Phoenix Theatre: BackstagePASS
March 2018 • Act 11 Scene 4

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eNews: Shakespeare for the iTunes generation

Everyone has had to study Shakespeare. Many of us love his clever wordplay, hilarious plots, and illuminating metaphors, but others struggle to hear the meaning in his verse. What if the international language of music could help us better appreciate The Bard's genius? if you are a young person, what better music than the songs you love to help bridge cultures, from the 16th century to today. Read more about our pop musical adaptation of The Comedy of Errors below and consider bringing the teenager, or young person in your life to experience the magic of Shakespeare.

Behind the Scenes: "With what's happening in our world, we need laughter, silly belly laughter, and not the sort born of cynicism"

Shakespeare’s funniest and shortest comedy is getting a reboot for the digital age.

Director and self-professed Shakespeare nerd, Jeffrey Renn is currently completing his MFA in Directing at the Department of Theatre. Working and learning side-by-side with other students here at UVic, he became inspired to create a Shakespeare production that would truly engage this iTunes generation. This week, he will open his unique adapatation of The Comedy of Errors, a version of the play that intermixes Shakespearean verse into contemporary music, for a pop musical and Broadway-esque experience.

Renn isn’t new to acting, directing, or reinterpreting the Bard. From the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts to Stratford, the Shaw Festival and Broadway, Renn has performed Shakespeare across the world.

“I have been blessed to work with rare artistic genius when it comes to Shakespeare,” Renn said, “including the legendary Robin Phillips, ” (the Artistic Director that put the Stratford Festival on the map, who sadly passed away in 2015 ). “Now I want to be able to have young people as excited about The Bard’s work as I am.”

 “I am grateful to have been included in a traditional process of giving, sharing, and playing that was taught to me by my theatre mentors. There’s now a line that travels through Shakespeare, back to the Greeks, and forward to these amazing young artists on stage today.”

Renn feels that one of the platforms from where culture advances is the world of music videos, where cutting edge technology is a shared vocabulary, uniquely driven by youth themselves. Similarly, he feels that Shakespearean theatre was the music video of Shakespeare’s day.

As such, he wanted his pop musical adaptation of The Comedy of Errors to look and feel like a contemporary music video. Set in New Orleans during modern day Mardi Gras festivities, mirrors are used extensively to create various club-like environments and extend the themes of reflection right into the audience!

Finding inspiration in songs by Nina Simone, Queen, Beyoncé, Justin Timberlake and more, Renn adapted the play with music, integrating Shakespeare’s actual verse in versions of the songs that he hopes will help young people better relate to the themes of the play.

The Comedy of Errors is a hilarious, intricately-entangled farce of mistaken identity that was first told in Roman times. It tells the tale of two sets of twins, separated at birth, who find themselves in the same city (and coincidentally, also have the same name). As their worlds collide, chaos ensues and they end up questioning their own identity. The whole crazy farcical mix-up resolves into a tale of family reunion, love, and self-reflection.

“Young people have always been searching for a sense of meaning, a sense of recognition. In order to know ourselves, we mimic behaviour, we mirror it – or in the vernacular of music culture, we are sampling it, making a mashup,” said Renn. “Today, millennials understand the journey of self-identity as a performative act – framing and reframing their world through their digital devices... This play holds up a mirror and asks the question 'Who am I?' I wanted to change the play’s context to help students see themselves through Shakespeare’s words, to have fun, and make it theirs,” said Renn.

And what fun they are having! To ensure the authentic sound of youth culture,  fourth-year student Aidan Dunsmuir fills the auditorium with his energetic sound design. Lights explode on to the stage, and colourful spandex and bling bring out the outlandish costumes of Mardi Gras parades, as well as the razzle dazzle of the club scene, with costumes designed by fourth-year student Jivan Bains-Wood. Fast-paced choreography by Christina Penhale, of Salt Spring Island’s exitStageLeft, and a clever glow-in-the-dark skeleton dance (with high-tech EL Wire suits designed and programmed by fourth-year student Matthew Wilkerson) completes the allusion to music video aesthetics.

“We’re adapting Shakespeare’s adaptation of a Roman play that is almost two thousand years old,” said Renn, “proving that our basic humanity really hasn’t changed since then.  We might live differently, technologically, but we’re still the same. We still have our human foibles, and we’re still really funny And with what’s happening in our world, we need laughter, silly belly laughter and not the sort born of cynicism.”

Upcoming Phoenix Events:

March 15- 24, 2018 THE COMEDY OF ERRORS
By William Shakespeare
Adapted & Directed by
Jeffrey Renn

Mystery and mayhem are at the heart of Shakespeare’s shortest and funniest comedy that features a pair of twins – twice! Twenty years after they are separated in a storm at sea, the twins find themselves swept up in Mardi Gras celebrations and everyone gets mistaken for everyone else. This pop musical reboot of the 16th-century farce will have you dancing in the aisles to songs inspired by artists from Nina Simone to Beyoncé, and Queen to Justin Timberlake.

Previews: Tuesday & Wednesday, March 13 & 14 at 8pm
Preview tickets are $8 and available only after 5pm on these preview nights.
Preshow Lecture: Friday March 16 at 7pm
Director Jeffrey Renn discusses adaptations of Shakespeare plays he has been involved with over the years.
Evenings: Mondays through Saturdays at 8pm
Matinees: Saturdays March 17 and 24 at 2pm

BOX OFFICE is now open. Tickets are $16-$26

Phoenix Phacts: Student and alumni stories

 Current student and 2016 Youth Poet Laureate, Ann-Bernice Thomas, was an opening performer at the Evening of Spoken Word Poetry Rock, Blues, Soul Music, presented in celebration of Black History Month at the Belfry Theatre. Ann-Bernice is a theatre and writing double major and talks about their UVic experience in this university profile.

Theatre Inconnu, founded by alumnus Clayton Jevne (BFA '85, MFA '87 & PhD '03), is known as the longest surviving alternative theatre company in town. Their spring production of Neva by Guillermo Calderon, was directed by Jevne and featured current theatre and writing student Nicholas Guerreiro. Reviews were great for this edgy production, called “invigorating, provocative and absolutely hilarious” in the Times Colonist. Coming up at Theatre Inconnu, alumnus Matt McLaren (BFA’14) is directing The Tennant Haymovitch by Ariel Bronze, running May 1–19.

Langham Court Theatre's sold out production of Sense and Sensibility continues until March 17 and features the 18th century-inspired costume designs of alumna Hana Ruzesky-Bashford (BFA'17) and performances by Katt Campbell (BFA '08).

Theatre and writing alumnus Mark Leiren-Young (BFA’ 85) has another play opening this spring. Bar Mitzvah Boy is about a successful lawyer who has to rethink his idea of faith when he is forced to take Bar Mitzvah classes. Bar Mitzvah Boy runs at Pacific Theatre in Vancouver from March 23 – April 14 and has also been chosen to open the season of the Chester Theatre in Pittsfield Massachusetts from June 21-July 1. Mark is also the writer of the film The Hundred-Year-Old Whale which was just nominated for a WGC Screenwriting Award for Best Documentary.

Alumna Jenny Edwards (BFA ‘06) was just named the Box Office Manager at Lunchbox Theatre in Calgary. Congratulations Jenny!

Emily Piggford (BFA’11) is acting in Flatliners, the new TV series about medical students who experiment with the near-death experiences that also stars Ellen Page (show right with Piggford) and Kiefer Sutherland.

Last week's IdeaFest at UVic featured over 40 lectures and events about “ideas that can change everything!” Topics ranged from climate change and chamber music to Indigenous law, optimistic art, antibiotic resistance and more. UVic Fine Arts offered five events this year including Beyond the Digital Frontier: Exploring Digital (March 7 at 5-6:30pm), an hands-on, interactive, drop-in event showcasing recent innovations in the world of digital media. Our Assistant Technical Director and alumnus Simon Farrow (BFA ’13) showcased new theatre technology.

 Next week, from March 19 – 23, UVic hosts 5 Days of Action: Courageous Conversations, a week of events that aims to re-establish commitment towards ending discrimination, harassment and sexualized violence. Current undergraduate students Lauren Frost, Devon Goldie, Nathan Harvey, Alida Kelly, Jasmine Li, Bridget Roberts, and current PhD candidate Taiwo Afolabi, will offer performances and workshops throughout the week. Another presentation features Jessica Burdge, Hannah Bell, Hannah Allin, Brennan Tack and Tegan Morris, all students in our second year Applied Theatre class. Visit for more information.

Want more alumni stories? Check out the Alumni Profiles area of our website. Recognize anyone? If you're alumni, please tell us what you've been up to. Submit your bio online and we will add your profile to the website!

Follow the most recent Phoenixi stories by liking us on Facebook or following us on Twitter. Use #phoenixalumni to stream on our alumni website or tag @UVicPhoenix for us to retweet your event!

Sponsor Kudos:

Thank you to the Phoenix Theatre's many individual donors and corporate sponsors for their support of our programs and talented students!

Thank you to our new Production Resource Partner Production Canada, a company dedicated to helping our student designers realize their creative ideas on stage.

Thanks also to our Community Partners from the Cadboro Bay Village including: For Good Measure, Pepper's Foods, Smugglers' Cove Pub, Caddy Bay Liquor Store, and Heart Pharmacy.

Find out how your company can reach our 10,000 audience members and UVic community of over 25,000. Contact us to discuss a customized sponsorship package to meet your goals.

Phoenix eNews is a regular email magazine for those interested in the Phoenix Theatre, the not-for-profit productions at the University of Victoria's Department of Theatre, PO Box 1700, STN CSC, Victoria, BC, V8W 2Y2 Canada. The University of Victoria is a Registered Charity. Charitable Registration No. 10816 2470 RR0001

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