About four or so years ago, I took a CD and a chamber play from the box-of-things-to-review in The Martlet’s office with the promise to write up a review and send it in.
Two years ago, I graduated. Tonight, the CD and the play still sit on my desk. So these reviews are a story about my inability to finish a to-do list or work without a deadline. They are also a story about how stubbornly honest I am. I made a promise. Here I am fulfilling it. Far too late to matter to anyone but myself, but here we go:
Chad Michael Stewart‘s Machete Avenue
(save me from myself.) When I first picked up this CD, with its darkened image of a person seemingly drowning as roots reach out through his cheeks, his hands, and the hollows of his eyes… I was worried it’d be full of screaming metal tracks attempting to summon angry parents into their teenager’s basement bedrooms. (please don’t fade.) A CD like that I would have listened to once, written something about how the CD wasn’t ‘for me’, and sent off a review within a week. Machete Avenue isn’t like that. (another blank face calms the angry crowd.)
Machete Avenue exists in the room just beside ‘I really like this album’, which is to say, there are moments in life when it just feels appropriate. (beautifully broken.) Right for what’s happening in my life. Stewart writes plaintive, sad, spiritual odes to doubt and something which isn’t quite heartbreak, but rather, the loss of slowly drifting apart. (I’ve become your sad song.)
(without hope there is nothing left but empty frames.) With song titles like Crosses and Mercy of Angels, there is something inescapably Christian about this album, but rather than bursting into praise, it sings the stories of a man in despair. (we have to find a way to let the grace remain.)
His emotions are real, raw, and relatable, which is why I keep coming back to these tracks when I need music to share in my darker thoughts. (what takes years to build takes seconds to fall.) After at least four years, I still listen to this CD. And now I can do so without such a lingering sense of guilt.
Tortoise Boy, a chamber play by Charles Tidler
In my defence, not long after chose this play from the box of items-to-be-reviewed, I was placed in a class with Charles as my professor. Reviewing his work in a campus newspaper seemed to me to be a tactically and tactfully poor choice at the time. But no more!
Chamber plays are works written as though for the stage, but which are either intended solely to be read, or are intended to be performed in the sparsest manner, without sets or costumes. In Tidler’s case, this play takes the form of stories told by the characters, rather than scenes. Within the first fifteen pages we hear innocent voices and dark tales of alcohol and child abuse, murder, and Clifford Olsen. Hints of dialogue litter the pages, with moments of interaction between the characters, but we are never allowed to sit in any present moment or breathe in a scene. Instead, we stay detached, living within the current storyteller’s memories and point of view.
Sing me any song you want to sing except the song I cannot hear.
Like poetry, the play jumps, flits from moment to emotion to moment, all while forcing us to move at the pace of performance.
Does juxtaposing a sad story with a laugh track make it even sadder?
The drowned man is the only one still allowed in the pool.
Many of his phrases are brilliant, witty, and poetic. The tales the characters tell have the ability to tug on your heartstrings. But it all comes together like a book of short stories – all with the same author, and a similar style. I like the parts, but when the poetry and form separates everything into its own world, a concluding, satisfying sentiment is difficult to find.
And now I can clear a corner of my to-do table, and breathe a little more freely.
(I wrote this piece originally a month ago for a competition in The Ring, the University of Victoria’s self-published vanity newspaper. The competition asked for visions of what campus might look like in fifty years’ time. Predicting the future is always fun!
It wasn’t chosen as one of their winners.)
The UVic of 2063.
The UVic of 2063 focuses on the strengths of the university system. Acknowledging the value of social and career connections made while at university, almost every building on campus comes equipped with cafes serving free coffee and tea for students (with charges for treats and fancier drinks). Large seating areas are the norm, rather than the exception.
Within classrooms, this atmosphere of shared experiences continues, with most courses focusing on in-community projectwork and small group discussions. One perhaps startling transformation has been the elimination of lecture classes, whose material is now almost exclusively packaged as digital ‘pre-homework’ to be accessed before classes even officially begin. As a result, most lecture halls on campus have been converted into performance spaces or renovated to accomodate multiple smaller classes. Esteemed ‘celebrity’ professors occasionally holographically lead classes from the comfort of their own homes.
Also within the classroom, there has been a near-complete transition from chairs to standing desks (save for those with physical difficulties). Standing desks have even now been proven to boost acuity, productivity, and health. And in a world where most students have wearable computers and implanted enhancements powered by the sugars and pulses of their wearers’ bloodstreams, the institution can hardly ask students to set aside their technology before entering the classroom. Instead, classes encourage the use of in-the-moment digital research techniques not only for projects, but also for use while contributing to conversations.
All around campus, building on UVic’s identity as an eco-conscious campus, after decades spent eliminating wildlife on campus – first with the rabbits, which in turn removed the owls and hawks, and then later removing deer after two high-profile car accidents – the university administration has pulled an aboutface and diligently worked to reintroduce as many species to the campus environment as possible. This has included a healthy rabbit population, once architectural improvements were made to secure building foundations from the burrowing animals.
With sustainability in mind, most trees, plants, and bushes on campus now produce edible crops, with students encouraged to snack on apples, plums, pears, blackberries, and raspberries – or even a dandelion leaf or stalk of kale – between classes. While grassy fields still exist outside the main library and as fields for sporting events, all other formerly non-functional lawnspace on university land has been allowed to grow into natural landscapes.
In an effort to promote higher education, the provincial and federal governments have set up two student loan systems, one similar to our current model, and another aimed at making education more accessible, which instead deducts a percentage of the student’s earnings for ten years post-graduation, effectively functioning as an income tax.
One misstep was the construction of a new intestine-inspired building, found to be even more confusing to navigate than Cornett. On the whole, however, the UVic of 2063 is a vibrant, active learning community treasured for its education experience.
(Not too bad, eh? A few neat extrapolations based on current trends, a few in-jokes for UVicers… well, I like it, anyway.)
How to be labeled a Renaissance Man? Follow every opportunity, and then agree to be profiled for University publicity, apparently.
Let’s pick up a copy of the University of Victoria’s 2012-2013 Canadian Viewbook and see what’s inside!
Aaand… head over to page 10…
Or for a closer look…
Here’s the text (based on my responses to their questions):
A Renaissance man in the purest sense, Andrew is a little bit of everything. He’s an actor, writer, director, student senator, peer helper, faux physicist, editor, study group leader, part-time lab supervisor and rare sleeper. And he’s been to enough cast parties to fill up three memory cards with photos. Spy him volunteering in every nook and cranny of campus when he’s not churning out yet another five-star performance on the main stage of UVic’s Phoenix Theatre.
“Go join clubs, get into politics, volunteer, audition if that’s your thing; make an effort to connect in every way you can. When I became engaged with everything happening around me, that’s when campus came alive.”
They even included a link to this blog! How kind.
And now that I have graduated, and have since been an actor, science facilitator, playwright, stage manager, tutor, director, pirate, extra, web assistant, improv workshop leader and more (as can be seen on my photographic wrap-up of 2011, found here), I’m happy to not be proving them wrong.
So, most end of year wrap-ups happen… at the end of the year. But with my Christmas Panto not ending until last Saturday and my next show (The Mystery of Edwin Drood) starting rehearsals last last Monday, on top of work and auditions… let’s just say that 2012 is hopefully proving to be just as busy. 🙂
So! Onto the performances, in approximate order. (I don’t have a photo for all of them.)
Improviser, The Impromaniacs, Theatresports/Theatreshorts (Jonathan Argue for The Impromaniacs, and Dave Morris for Theatresports/Theatreshorts) (VEC) – With the advent of Sin City Improv, small audiences, and Jonathan Argue finally stepping away from the helm after perhaps twenty years, The Impromaniacs disappeared into the aether. But the revived Theatreshorts provided a good place for improvisers to get their feet wet and grow as performers. (still on every 4th Sunday of every month at the VEC!)
Malvolio, Twelfth Night (Phoenix Theatre)
Wow. What a role. What a cast. What a production. What pants. A perfect storm of awesome.
Workshop Leader, UVic Improv. – I received four separate requests from four different people, asking me to bring back UVic Improv (which hadn’t been around for over a year). How could I say no? Thank you to Amy Culliford and Blair Moro for keeping it alive this year.
Playwright, Mannequin Men (Phoenix Theatre directing project directed by Christine Johnson, and also directed by Sarah Crowell as part of the Acadia Theatre Company’s Minifest 2011 in Nova Scotia)
Playwright, What I’d Be Without You (Acadia Theatre Company, Minifest 2011). – I really, REALLY wish they had filmed this so I could have seen how it was performed. It’s a short piece I would love to see up on its feet some day. As you can see, the pictures they sent over look amazing.
Willy Beach, the poor boy, Sin City Improv, Season One (ten episodes of a weekly improvised soap opera) – Possibly the most fun I have ever had onstage. And I have A LOT of fun onstage. 🙂
Pischin/Gaev, The Cherry Orchard (directing scene) (UVic – directed by Joelle Haney)
Improv Actor/Dancer, Die Jahreszeiten (The Seasons) (UVic Chorus and Orchestra) – possibly the strangest opportunity I’ve ever had. Improvise dance-ish stuff next to opera singers and an orchestra for the third quarter of a performance? Sure, why not! (Thanks to Hayley Feigs for sharing in the experience with me.)
Mark, When We Were Awesome: A Karaoke Musical (UVic Directing Auteur Project – directed by Jesse Cooper)
Presentation Day – Movement Pieces
Presentation Day – Acting/Vocal Masque
Rowan, How Socrates Bought The Farm (Dan Hogg / Jeremy Lutter / UVic)
Stephen Harper at 8 and 18 years old, Wrecking Ball 2 (VEC)
William, William vs The World (UFV Director’s Festival)
Improviser, Good Night Harold! (Intrepid Theatre Club) – arranged by the lovely Kirsten Van Ritzen for some Sin City alumni to play for a night. A reunion of sorts. 🙂
Zacchaeus, (youth event), Adam, Elijah, Peter, Pandamania (Lambrick Park Church)
Monologuist, Monobrow IV (Intrepid Theatre Club)
Bilge Rat, Pirate Adventures (Victoria Harbour)
The King of France, The Archbishop of Canterbury, Soldier, Henry V (KeepItSimple Productions)
Vincent Scott (lawyer), Unsound Innocence (Hungarian TV of BC Foundation)
Stage Manager, Sonnets for an Old Century (Victoria Fringe – Langham Court Theatre)
Director, BFA: The Musical! (Victoria Fringe – Langham Court Theatre)
William, William vs The World (Victoria Fringe – CCPA)
Alvin, Please Print Clearly (short film by Liam Sherriff) (yes, that’s me living in a filing cabinet.)
The Mad Hatter, The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party (Vancouver Fringe – Studio 1398, Granville Island)
Erronius, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (Fighting Chance Productions, Jericho Arts Centre)
Green Gear, 4Villains.org
Wakey Faker, Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves (Metro Theatre)
And for fun, here’s a list of the day jobs I worked over the course of 2011 (in rough order):
Lab Supervisor – Studios for Integrated Media, University of Victoria
Peer Helping Student Coordinator -Counseling Services, University of Victoria
Student Caller – Student Marketing and Communications, University of Victoria
Compost and Recycling Supervisor – at a convention once.
SAT/LSAT Exam Proctor
Playwright – The Romantics, Vancouver Young Playwright’s Competition (1st place came with a financial prize)
Actor/Playwright – William vs The World, at the UFV Director’s Festival
Actor – Slixer Entertainment (murder mystery dinner and a corporate event – both thanks to the lovely Kirsten Van Ritzen)
This show was a wild ride to finally put together. I had the original idea five years ago, after working on a separate show, Alice From Wonderland, as a SATCo performance (Student Alternative Theatre Company at UVic). A director asked myself and another writer to put together a show with multiple endings and music, based on Alice returning to Wonderland as a professional woman.
Not THAT kind of professional woman.
Anyway, after working on that, I saw how much fun the Mad Hatter could be, as a character. As evidently Johnny Depp agrees. That said, for such a long genesis, I can’t say I had much of a script until… three days ago?
Yeah, this show was put together slowly and quickly. Props, costume pieces, and ideas accumulated over the past few months, but the actual words and depth, I hadn’t had time for during the Victoria Fringe crunch of performing William vs The World, directing BFA: The Musical!, and stage managing Sonnets for an Old Century.
So, we came to tonight, to the first ever performance of The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party. A show designed to be an experiment with everything I’ve ever wanted to put into a show – audience interaction, a fight sequence, sing-along songs, an improvised song, friendly semi-forcing-the-audience-to-be-involved-in-the-show… silliness abounds! And all with a heart to it. A core.
A core I discovered at about noon today. The show went up at 10:15pm. Yeah, it was tight. Oh, and we finished making the large hat timeline backdrop prop half an hour before the show began. Wow.
Admittedly, the show is highly improvised and includes a lot of audience interaction, so I can’t guarantee all performances will go as swimmingly as tonight’s did. But it was well attended, the audience dove in and got involved without resentment, and I had two strangers make a point of seeking me out on facebook afterwards to say how much they liked it, saying:
I saw “The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party”, this evening and just wanted to say thank-you for the great show, and that you’re an incredible performer.
Wicked show – loved it from start to finish. And I had two cups and they were delicious.
Well, doesn’t that just make me all peachy inside!
If you would like to come, I have five more performances! Free tea and a chance to BE the Jabberwocky!
Fri, Sept 09 – 10:15pm – Portion of ticket sales go to the Food Bank
Sat, Sept 10 – 4:30pm
Sun, Sept 11 – 1:00pm – Half Price Show
Mon, Sept 12 – 6:45pm
Thu, Sept 15 – 8:30pm
Sat, Sept 17 – 8:00pm
With a future move to Vancouver on the horizon (without a job or a place to stay yet in place), my needing to leave the house I’m currently living in right in the middle of Victoria Fringe, my pushing to spend valuable time with people in Victoria before my soft exit, and all my many theatrical ventures, life is full and busy and excellent.
Here’s what I have on my plate:
BFA: The Musical! – I am directing this show as part of the Victoria Fringe Theatre Festival. It is a fun, silly musical surrounding graduates with shiny new Bachelor of Fine Arts degrees coming to terms with the fact that having a degree does not make you immediately a ‘local celebrity’. The show comes complete with a brilliant seven person cast, a fine tech crew, original and local music, dancing, large props, and much silliness. It is a blast to work on.
William vs. The World is a hilarious, geeky adventure surrounding that narcissistic guy at the hobbies store who knows the world revolves around him. With Chuck, his trusty cactus, at his side, William is happy… until – to his horror – a woman falls for him, the All-Spark fails him, his life falls apart, and William loses himself in Bat Country. Through it all, he may become a better person. Maybe.
Previously work-shopped through UVic‘s Festival for Innovative and New Drama (FIND) and performed at this year’s UFV Director’s Festival, William vs. The World layers references to He-Man, Transformers, Spider-man, Serenity, The Ghost-busters, and pop culture with a frantic, manic character study of a man desperately clinging on to a life that may not be as grand as he suggests it is.
Venue:Venue 12 – Canadian College of Performing Arts (CCPA) – 1701 Elgin Road, Victoria, BC
Sonnets for an Old Century – Completing my triumvirate of Victoria Fringe Theatre Festival shows, as of a few days ago, I am Stage Managing this show, written by José Rivera, a two-time Obie Award-winning playwright and Academy Award-nominated screenplay writer. Which is pretty darn sweet.
I am delighted to get to work again with so many great people in Victoria’s acting community, from Holly Jonson, to Mily Mumford, to Shaan Rahman, to Bill Nance, to Alan Penty (who also features in BFA: The Musical!).
The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party – Come drink tea with the Mad Hatter!
Share his journey into Wonderland – and his descent into madness – in an overly, underly, and aroundly eager show full of storytelling, songs, audience participation, improv, silliness, gravitas, and grins. Whether it’s your unbirthday or your actual one, this is one show it would be mad to miss!
Tea is provided, but if you can, please bring your own cup.
Show Dates: The first episode should go up by the end of the year.
PirateAdventures.ca – Acting and improvising as a pirate, leading children and adults on a pirate adventure based out of Fisherman’s Wharf. Currently only for one or two days per week.
Venue: Fisherman’s Wharf
Show Dates: Intermittent shifts until I leave town in early September.
Unsound Innocence – Acting as a lawyer in a shortish film by HTVBC– excellent and crazy Hungarians who run a non-profit film company in their spare time. We wrap shooting on Saturday, hopefully.
Venue: Film Festivals
Show Dates: Unknown!
Steinway Grand – Also with HTVBC, this one will be a huge and exciting acting challenge for me – acting in a two-hander film.
Venue: Film Festivals
Show Dates: Should start filming whenever I can jump back to Victoria in Sept/October, I assume!
Vancouver Young Playwrights Competiton / IGNITE! 2012, for The Romantics – I won 1st prize with my play, The Romantics. The prize comes with mentorship by a Vancouver playwright from November through March, and a performance in the festival come May.
Venue: Probably The Cultch.
Show Dates: Performs in May of 2012.
Auditions, auditions, auditions! – Auditioning throughout Vancouver and Victoria. Many ferry rides, trying to secure something, acting-wise, for beyond September. No luck thus far. Which is to be expected. I need to work more on my auditioning prowess.
Venue: Mostly Vancouver.
Show Dates: Never ends. NEVER, EVER, EVER.
The future beyond September is a blank slate, but the next month and a half will be a wild, exciting adventure! Writing, acting, directing, and stage managing for Victoria Fringe (spread over three shows)! Performing a DIFFERENT show for Vancouver Fringe (why, Andrew, why?)! Looking for work and a place to live in Vancouver!
It is said that people of my generation will have more careers than ever before – the world moves too quickly, too insecurely, too excitingly, for many of us latch on to one profession and hold it for 40 years before retiring. That in mind, I thought it might be a good thought exercise to try some long term planning/predicting on my own career threads as they weave through my life.
Essentially, I have just highlighted certain areas that excite me, and am extrapolating somewhat from there to guess at when each thread might assume some degree of prominence.
Note: The year I designate as the year the career starts suggests that it becomes more of a focus in that year – not that the new career eliminates prior careers (I take them as cumulative). For example, I plan on acting all my life – the subsequent careers don’t exclude doing so.
This is far from an exhaustive list.
1986 – Born in Lansing, Michigan, USA
1987 (eight months old?) – Moved to Richmond, BC, Canada
1990 (age 4) – FIRST CAREER – STUDENT – entered kindergarten.
1993 (age 8) – First acting role as the title character in The Littlest Christmas Tree.
1996 (age 10) – Entered Late French Immersion.
1998 (age 12) – Entered Hugh McRoberts Secondary School.Performed in over a dozen theatrical productions while in high school.
2004 (age 17) – Directed Opening Night.
2004 (age 17) – Awarded the Outstanding Theatre Performance Award from Hugh McRoberts Secondary.
2004 (age 17) – My first venture as a playwright – Teenspeak performed Pinecone Wars, an exaggerated, autobiographical story from my elementary school days. Brilliant to experience.
2004 (age 17) – Entered the University of Victoria, in the Writing program.
2006 (age 19) – Missed acting too much.Joined the theatre department as well.
2006 (age 19) – Auditioned for the acting stream. Did not get in.
2007 (age 19) – Assistant stage managed (props) for Wind In The Willows. 31 actors and almost 400 props in the show.
2007 (age 20) – Auditioned for the acting stream. Got in.
2007 (age 20) – SECOND CAREER – SCIENCE FACILITATOR – Second summer co-op work term, as a Science Facilitator at the Telus World of Science. Included designing a puppet show book.
2008 (age 21) –THIRD CAREER – WRITER – Won second place and honourable mention in the Vancouver Young Playwrights Competition – Hullaboo and High School Noir were performed the next summer at IGNITE! 2009. Had script chosen for the CineVic Film Slam – “The Just The Facts Ma’am Show”; the subsequent (really well done) video can be seen here:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CN0ZEJmpIJM .
2008 (age 21) – Acclaimed to UVic Senate as the Fine Arts Student Senator.
2008 (age 21) – Third summer co-op work term, as an Outreach / Tour Assistant at TRIUMF, Canada’s National Laboratory for Particle and Nuclear Physics. Included designing tour signs.
2008 (age 21) – Awarded the Keith Provost Memorial Scholarship in Theatre for possessing Keith’s special qualities such as dedication, a love for acting and playwriting, a humble gratefulness for opportunities, a positive and upbeat nature, a free−spirited and somewhat rebellious side, and an unselfish and modest attitude.
2008 (age 22) – Joined the Impromaniacs.
2009 (age 22) – Elected to UVic Senate as the Fine Arts Student Senator (had to defeat someone else in the election this time).
2009 (age 22) – Fourth summer co-op work term, as an Astronomy Interpreter at the Centre of the Universe / Herzberg Institute for Astrophysics (HIA-NRC).Included making posters. 2010 (age 23) – Acclaimed to UVic Senate as Fine Arts Student Senator.
2010 (age 23) – Fifth summer co-op work term, again as an Astronomy Interpreter at the Centre of the Universe / Herzberg Institute for Astrophysics (HIA-NRC). Included making posters for guest speaker events.
2010 (age 23) – Won the Martlet Short Fiction Competition for A Journey of Barren Landscapes.
2010 (age 23) – Won the Keith and Shirley Wagner Prize for Writing – Most outstanding achievement in the field of dramatic writing, stage play, radio play, or script.
2011 (age 24) – Won 1st Prize in the Vancouver Young Playwright’s Competition for The Romantics, to be workshopped, then performed in May 2012.
2011 (age 24) – Performed with Sin City Improv. Huge highlight.
2011 (age 24) – Won UVic’s Humanities, Fine Arts, and Professional Writing Co-op Student of the Year award.
2011 (age 24) – Graduation from the University of Victoriawith a BA in Writing.
2011 (age 24) – Graduation from the University of Victoriawith a BFA in Acting.
2011 (age 24) – Performedself-writtenWilliam vs. The World (then William Fights The World) at the UFV Director’s Festival in Chilliwack. First time ever performing a longer piece of my own writing.
2011 (age 24) – Act in the film Unsound Innocence with Hungarian Television – my second project with them.
2011 (age 24) –FOURTH CAREER – ACTOR
2011 (age 24) – Audition for Bard on the Beach.
2011 (age 24) – Directing BFA: The Musical! for the Victoria Fringe Theatre Festival.
2011 (age 24) – Performing self-writtenWilliam vs. The World at the Victoria Fringe Theatre Festival.
2011 (age 24) – Learn how to drive.
2011 (age 24) – Move to Vancouver area.
2011 (age 24) – Performing self-writtenThe Mad Hatter’s Tea Party at the Vancouver International Fringe Festival.
2011 (age 24) – Return to the Telus World of Science? (Hopefully? I need to contact them this week about seeing if that’s a possibility).
2011 (age 24) – Otherwise, work to pay my rent partly through extra / background performer work.
2011 (age 25) – I make my plays easily accessible online for cheaply licensing performances.
2011 (age 25) – Act in film Steinway Grand with Hungarian Television, in Victoria.
2011 (age 25) – Physically strengthen myself, so I can better remind people somewhat of a young Marlon Brando. 🙂
2012 (age 25) – Find a film and TV agent.
2012 (age 25) – Audition for Stratford.
2012 (age 25) – Take singing lessons.
2012 (age 25) – Perform at additional Fringe Festivals. Perhaps for several years.
2012 (age 25) –The Romantics is performed as part of IGNITE! 2012.
2012 (age 25) – National Voice Intensive in Vancouver
2012 (age 25) – Perform with Bard on the Beach (Hey, I can dream! And I have performed in six productions of Shakepeare’s plays in the past three years).
2013 (age 26) – Either joins a long-form improv group, or creates one.
2013 (age 26) – Get a short story printed in a well-respected literary journal.
2014 (age 27) – Go down to the States for the TV pilot season.
2014 (age 27) – FIFTH CAREER – STAGE MANAGEMENT – I would love to do more of this. So long as I can act and write elsewhere as well. 🙂
2015 (age 28) – become financially self-sustaining off theatre, film, TV,internet, and writing work.
2017 (age 30) – either get my masters (in acting? Playwriting? Directing?), or enter a conservatory?
2018 (age 31) – First published novel.
2025 (age 38) – If unmarried, may choose to adopt.
2029 (age 42) – SIXTH CAREER – DIRECTOR
2035 (age 48) – SEVENTH CAREER – POLITICIAN – Run for some form of elected office.
2048 (age 61) –EIGHTH CAREER – VISUAL ARTIST
2052 (age 65) – I defeat cancer in hand-to-hand combat.
2063 (age 76) – Canada secedes from Quebec. I have little to do with this.
2084 (age 97) – Final stage appearance.
2085 (age 98) – Witty and wise, die a serene death.
Any thoughts? Do you think this is a valuable exercise?
This summer, I have been blessed with the opportunity to direct a show for the Victoria Fringe. And not just any show. A seven-person show. And not just that – it’s a musical. An original musical. What. A. Treat.
I am, of course, talking about BFA: The Musical! Cue blurb:
Phil has the tools to become a novelist; he has a freshly awarded Bachelor of Fine Arts from UVic, an artist girlfriend, and a penchant for boxed wine. Under family pressures to attend law school, he questions what BFA really stands for – through the majesty of song. Features music by local artists, including The Chris Ho Show and Immaculate Machine!
It is proving to be quite the marvelous adventure.
First, some background: I was not a directing student at UVic. I wanted to take the class, but I couldn’t fit it in with the two degrees I was already pursuing (and just this April, finished – a BFA in Acting and a BA in Writing).
The last show I directed happened two years ago, at my church. 30+ children from age 3 to 14 or so in a self-written play based on stories from the book of Luke. With that play, I learned the importance of identifying and highlighting what parts of the script the actors will really enjoy: Ten year old boys love to yell at their parents while pretending to be possessed by demons. Five year olds have great fun pretending to be pigs, then squealing, running offstage, and making whatever adorable noises they think drowning pigs would make. Oh, and everyone can enjoy the meditative edge of a good group storm-making scene with claps and slaps and snapping fingers. I learned I could manage a large group by trusting my instincts, which in this case meant dealing with large groups of children as though they were individual characters (so that a group of actors became a ‘crowd’ character for several scenes, as well as the storm, and so forth). Blocking them as a single character meant visualizing them like they were a school of fish.
Before that, my last directorial stint came in grade 12 when I directed a show called ‘Opening Night’. In retrospect, casting a nervous, uncertain-of-her-own-abilities actor as the starring role character, who happened to be a nervous, uncertain-of-her-own-abilities actor, was perhaps compounding problems upon problems, but I thought the end result went well enough for high school theatre. Well, for one performance, anyway. And we only had two. For the second, well… our high school theatre shared a wall with the gym, and there happened to be a basketball game that evening. THUMP. THUMP. THUMP. BZZZZZZZZZZZZZ. I don’t know how so many basketballs can bounce off one wall throughout a single game, and the buzzer was none too friendly. And the sound kid used the wrong CD, so we had birds chirping in the living room instead of a doorbell. Several times. Oh, and part of the set fell down. A large part. And I believe a prop broke. And people came in rather late, through doors very visible (and blinding) to the audience.
Okay, so that performance was a gongshow.
But I learned more than a few things from that rehearsal process. First, I learned how crucial it is for actors to have confidence in their work. Or at least in the production. And I learned how dear and darling and valuable it is to cast actors who put their all into making a show work. I also learned the importance of casting wisely, and with some caution – I like to give an actor a challenge, but I need to make sure it’s one I know I can help them conquer. And my wonderful drama teacher, Ms. JudyAnn McCarthy, showed me how to read a comedic text and find the physical comedy that may not be immediately apparent on the stage. (The show had a bumbling maid.)
Then, this January, came the day of submissions for the Victoria Fringe Festival. The Vic Fringe, while mostly sticking to a lottery draw as all Fringe Festivals do (where the performing companies are chosen, essentially, out of a hat from all the submitters), also features an early bird draw, where the first 10 people to show up at their door on the final day of submissions get in automatically.
I wanted to perform a one man show of my own, for the first time ever. So I planned. I set an early, early alarm clock so I could get on my bike and ride over there, to arrive at around 5:30am. Their doors open at 10am. I figured that would be early enough. But as I slept, it snowed. One of the three snowfalls Victoria experienced all winter. My bike isn’t equipped for snow, and I don’t have another vehicle, so I was stuck waiting for the first bus of the morning, and when I arrived at 6:30am… there were at least 15 people already in line. My hopes were seemingly dashed. But hey, it’s a line of dedicated theatre practitioners, so I decided to network, to say hello to old friends, and to meet new ones, and as I was doing so, two fellow writing students, Meghan Bell and Natalie North, shouted out to me. They were seventh in line. They had an idea for an as-of-yet unwritten show. A musical. Built around characters newly graduating with potentially useless BFA degrees (as we were). They knew I was in the theatre department. They needed a director. They asked.
How could I say no? Why would I?
So from one closed door (not arriving early enough), another opened, and I was given the opportunity to cast, co-design, and direct a bright, fun, silly, vibrant musical. Heck, and even that other door opened up, when new Fringe spots became available, so I now have a one-man-show, William Vs The World, performing in Fringe at CCPA. 🙂
But back to BFA. This is the first opportunity I have had to direct trained actors (from both CCPA and from UVic’s theatre program). My first chance to really work with a production team, including Jess Shead, who is an excellent choreographer and actress. And the experience has been SO intellectually rewarding, figuring out how to use my repertoire of acting tricks and improv games to help my cast understand and build their characters, how to use my own prior acting experiences as fodder for successfully staging certain scenes and for keeping the audience’s attention trained in the right locations… and I love it. I truly do. It is a truly collaborative atmosphere, and I treasure it dearly. But what I’ve enjoyed most, are the epiphanies.
The moments where the right idea seems to just happen, to conjure itself in the mind. I can see where I’ve learned this or that from prior experiences, and it’s rewarding and satisfying in its own way to put my training and gained knowledge into practice, but that satisfaction grows to a new level when those sparks of inspiration just seem to happen of their own accord.
It can be as simple as adding a character into a scene or switching a prop, to as grand as demanding a specific scene be added, that seem to make all the difference. Why I’m so struck by these moments is because I can’t identify why I thought to try these things. And THAT is what is so exhilarating, because if I can help build this play with inspired thoughts whose roots I can’t determine, then that gives me a renewed confidence in myself, that I can trust I WILL have the right solution to whatever hiccup we come across.
I believe in this show. It will be funny, fantastic, marvelous, and unlike anything I have ever been a part of. And though my directing resume may be slight, I know I can be up for the task.
Through a contact I made being a Student Caller for UVic (calling prospective UVic students and asking them if they had any questions about campus or their departments), I was asked to answer a few questions for a Student Profile piece of publicity. I thought it might be worthwhile to share my answers here as well.
1. Why did you choose UVic for your studies?
Wanting to stay in BC and pursue a BFA, my choice came down to UBC and UVic. UBC’s campus was a large sprawl, and with my family living in Richmond, I would have been commuting for an hour each way, to and from school, every day. I didn’t want my university education to feel like a job, with a long bus trip every time I wanted to reach campus.
When I visited UVic, the size of the campus felt right. I liked the feel of the campus, both in the layout and in the intangible sense of place that it has. I’m fond of describing Victoria as a city that pretends its a small town – people walk slower here, in less of a hurry, with less stress. It’s nurturing.
Coming to UVic gave me the independence from my family that I needed to grow as a person, the institution gave me confidence in what they would teach me, and I felt free to explore a wide variety of interests, taking electives all across the campus.
1B. What topics/areas of your academic program are you passionate about?
I came to UVic uncertain whether to pursue a Writing degree, or an Acting degree. I chose Writing, and a year and a half later, realized I had made a mistake – I missed acting dearly, while still enjoying my writing. So I enrolled in the theatre department as well, engaging in concurrent degrees.
I am passionate about creating memorable characters that audiences can breathe with, can understand. Potent characters that audiences relate to in a way that sparks insight. Self-knowledge. I once had someone break down into tears over a play I wrote about letting go of one’s childhood, told from the perspective of the imaginary friend. Those tears, that emotional release, is the biggest compliment I have ever received.
So I’m passionate about helping people with my art, any way I can.
2. If you travelled from outside British Columbia, what made you choose BC? Was the West Coast environment a factor in your decision?
I came from within BC. That said, not being entrenched in Ontario snow, or melting under the sun of the American South, is quite the benefit.
3. What has been the best part of studying at UVic so far?
Engaging in the campus communities, be they the marvelously tight-knit theatre department, or the more reserved writing department, or the compassionate Peer Helpers, or the positive Students for Literacy, or the ambitious political slates, or even the university senate itself – a community comprised mostly of faculty that I was privileged to be a part of for three years.
Within the acting stream, it’s hard to choose a specific class, as most courses build off each other, with acting, voice, and movement classes through the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th years of the program. So I’ll cheat a little and choose the performance credit I received for acting in Twelfth Night in the department. The show was an amazing collaboration between dozens of individuals, creating a passionately fun production that sold out every night, with line-ups an hour before each show, and was critically acclaimed. It was professionally, socially, academically, emotionally, and personally so satisfying. I was gifted with an incredible role, Malvolio, and the final emotional moment of the play. I won’t ever forget the experience.
4. What advice would you give others who are considering studying in at UVic or in British Columbia?
Connect with campus communities. Go join clubs, get into politics if that’s your thing, volunteer, audition, whatever’s your bag, make the effort to connect in every way you can. My first couple of years on campus, I didn’t, and I found myself somewhat lonely. But when I became engaged with everything happening around me, that’s when the campus came alive, blossomed into a vibrant, spirited entity that I shall miss dearly.
4B. Is there anything you wish you had known when you were thinking about UVic in your grade 12 year?
I wish I had known how easy it would have been to really explore the campus… I wish I had gone during a school day and just wandered around, maybe snuck into one of the larger classrooms, asked students and professors what they thought of the place.
5. Have you gotten involved in any on-campus extracurricular activities (clubs, volunteering, employment) while at UVic?
I have! My two degrees took seven years – plenty of time for on-campus extracurriculars. I played a few collaborative storytelling sessions with the Games Club; I volunteered with Students for Literacy, reading with elementary school children on campus for one year, and at their elementary school another year; I volunteered with Peer Helping for three years, providing one-on-one counselling and learning skills support for students on campus, while also being paid during that final year, as a Peer Helping Student Coordinator.
I twice ran to be a director at large for the UVSS, but wasn’t elected either time. On the flip side I ran three times – and was elected or acclaimed each time – as the Fine Arts Student Senator for the University’s Senate. I worked 7-15 hours per week on campus for six years as a lab supervisor for the Studios for Integrated Media – a workstudy position in the Fine Arts computer lab. I also, for five years, served as an editor for the Writing Student Union publication, This Side of West.
I acted in over a dozen shows on campus both with the theatre department and through groups like the Big Ideas Club. For one year I worked as a Study Leader for PEAK UVic, leading study groups for first year students. I also spent a couple of weeks phoning prospective students, answering any questions they had about UVic.
So yes, I became involved. 🙂
6. Have you gotten involved in any off-campus extracurricular activities (clubs, volunteering, employment) while at UVic?
Through UVic’s co-op program, I was able to find full-time employment through five summers of my degree. I worked first as a Granville Island Ambassador in Vancouver, directing lost tourists. The next summer, I got a co-op job as a Science Facilitator at the Telus World of Science in Vancouver, encouraging curiosity in children and performing a Grossology centre stage show which included making fake snot and putting a fake wound on a child’s arm, before feeding fake ‘poop’ (really just cocoa powder, oats, and water) to a professor character.
After that, my next summer sent me to TRIUMF, a laboratory for particle and nuclear physics, where I served as a tour guide. Quite the learning curve for a Fine Arts student, but I enjoyed it.
My following two summers were then spent at the Centre of the Universe, a public outreach centre at the Herzberg Institute for Astrophysics. So I went from exploring the insides of atoms to explaining the outer reaches of space. Glorious.
I have also done a fair bit of acting off campus, including currently acting in Sin City Improv, a weekly, improvised soap opera.
7. What do you like to do when you’re not studying?
The same things I was doing while studying – act and write! Though as I am now graduating, I may finally find the time to do some reading, perhaps attempt to paint something.
8. Do you intend to stay in BC or Canada after you have graduated?
I do. I mean, if Los Angeles wants to fly me down to film a movie, I suppose I’ll let’em, but I’m coming back. 😛
9. What do you think you would miss most if you left?
For Victoria, specifically, I’ll miss the nurturing atmosphere, the environmental awareness, and the temperate weather. But to be honest, what I’d miss most are the warm, loving, talented people. My friends, my colleagues, my communities.
10. Do you have any other comments or experiences you’d like to share about your time in Canada, in Victoria or at UVic?
The heart of any place is its people. No matter where you are, if you can find a warm, positive, nurturing group of people who push you to become better, then that place can become a community, can become a home. I found this at UVic, and I’ll be sad to finally cross that stage, accept my degrees, and walk away.
(forenote: I wrote this on the ride into Chilliwack. I have actually had a most excellent day with all these fine people. But my comments still stand.)
(addendum: at the end of the weekend, I wrote a companion article: Why you should write a One Man Show. Oh, and the violet haired woman? Amazingly, as we didn’t even get off the bus in the same city… she was on the greyhound bus on the ride back. I asked her to be certain she was the same person. I then had a lovely chat with a middle-aged woman from Nanaimo.)
Why not to do a One Man Show.
I used to daydream about one day getting on a bus, and travelling to a new city (Portland sprang to mind, or any small rural town) where no one knew who I was. Of starting fresh, behaving and being an ideal me, untethered from all the prior instances of who I’d been. It wasn’t a positive daydream, persay. Just a recurring thought. I wanted to know if this new community of strangers would embrace me, or if it all would just be a lonely experience.
A test of who I am as a person, I suppose.
Coming to UVic almost fit this bill, but a good eight or nine members of my high school’s graduating class came along with me, and for those first two years as a Writing student, outside of the Theatre department, I mostly hung out with some of those same students, or people they had introduced me to. I never really integrated with my res building’s crowd.
The Phoenix Theatre Department was another close fit to the daydream, but by then, I had enough roots elsewhere on campus (and I was still engaged in the Writing degree) that I felt firmly grounded. And the lives of theatre folk revolve around forming communities and collaborations, so some of those connections happen easier, there.
The daydream – travelling to somewhere where I knew no one, and trying to start a life – arose out of fear. Everything is transitory in this world, including elementary school, high school, university. Heck, even family members move away. I felt I needed to be prepared to be able to step out, alone, and find communities, support, friends, loved ones, wherever I ended up. Because if change happened around me and I wasn’t prepared, that might just break me. No one can live completely alone.
Well, I’m travelling now on a bus to Chilliwack, to a town where I know no one, to perform a one-man-show (William Fights The World) for a few days at the UFV Directors’ Festival. And I’m realizing that if I end up deciding to attempt the Fringe circuit, I want it to be a show with two characters, because… well… while that old worry would be a great challenge for me, it’s not one I want to face. I don’t want to travel alone, to start with a blank slate in every city I come to. I don’t want to be a faceless man in the crowd. I want someone to share in these experiences with me.
And I could have had that, but I shoved it away because I didn’t feel I cared enough about her. Digression.
One of the most courageous moments in my life – if not the most courageous – was on the first day of grade 6, where I committed to starting my life fresh, to becoming a better person. In an attempt to flee from my miserable self, I had joined Late French Immersion. So when I stepped into that grade 6 classroom, it was a new school, a new class, and I knew no one.
The most courageous thing I have ever done was to scan the classroom, see one person not talking to anyone, and to sit down next to him and say hello.
It took every fibre of my backbone to do it.
He became my best friend for two years.
And I’d like to think I’ve grown from that small boy, but sometimes, like now, I could switch seats on this bus and say hello to the young woman with violet hair, sitting across from me. I could. But I don’t.
But I’m only on this bus for another hour. When I introduced myself to Sam Fenn in that classroom, it was necessary – I was to be in that class, with those students, for two years. But if I tour the Fringe circuit, I’ll only be in town for a few short days. Each town. Every city. Is that enough time to connect with people? Is that just enough time to feel miserable about letting them go and moving on?
My time at UVic is done, and much of my community, my class, are already moving on. And I feel like I have already decided that my place isn’t here, in this city, anymore, even though I’m here for at least another four months. But that old worry of a daydream comes back and…
and perhaps because my instinct is not to say hello to the gal with violet hair…
and perhaps because the idea of really connecting with people only for a day or two, and then saying goodbye, makes me sad…
and perhaps because moments seem far more worth living when they are shared…
and perhaps because, unlike in years past, I don’t want to reinvent myself, because I’m beginning to like who I am…
I think I’ll write that Fringe show so that it has someone be there with me.
Today was my graduation day at the Phoenix Theatre at UVic. For 4th year students, that means a whole lot of performing, a ceremony, and a celebration. For me, this meant:
performed a ~30 minute karaoke musical play (including singing ‘Grace Kelly’ by Mika);
performed in a collaboratively-written group movement piece with kerosened chickens, magical pills with potential side-effects that include kermit-the-frog-arms and the plague, and the Child Liberation Program (where, as an emaciated, liberated child, I got to be a lawnmower and a kite, before getting shot down);
performed a self-written/choreographed solo movement piece where I did a blindfolded roll, grew wings, and stepped off a tower to my death;
performed ‘I Don’t Care Much’ from Cabaret’
performed a monologue from Lovers, by Brian Friel, where I spoke of my love for my fiancee and hatred for my father, in an Irish accent;
performed a triumphant monologue as Mozart in Peter Shaeffer’s Amadeus;
and performed my self-written masque – a trek through my non-relationship misadventures, portraying 10 characters in eight minutes, including a riff off The Phantom of The Opera that went something like this:
It is true that, you’re a swearing smoker,
but there’s, something, there that makes me wonder,
your boyfriend’s not too smart,
though you deal drugs, you stir my heart…
is there any chance that you two may just part?
No, nothing between us will ever start…”
All that followed by a celebration ceremony with balloons falling from the catwalk and many, many hugs.
I deal with endings by launching headfirst into new beginnings, new projects, new works. This week, I also performed Theatreshorts and my second week as part of Sin City Improv, and applied for a couple of jobs, confirmed my involvement in a small theatre festival at the end of April… I’m doing that. Heck, after the graduation ceremony, I went to a rehearsal for an orchestra/choir performance I’m dancing for, tomorrow. I’ll keep moving, keep trying to get involved.
But these other engagements aren’t replacements. They’re new, but they’re not the way of life that being a student is, going to classes with the same people, day in, day out.
I’ve been at UVic for seven years. Both of my degrees end this month. SEVEN YEARS. I’m only 24. That’s almost a third of my life. That I’m letting go of.
“This production of Twelfth Night, I’ve gotta say right off the bat, one of the best I have ever seen… it has got high energy, the cast is eminently likeable… and most importantly, it is memorable… Everyone speaks perfectly, enunciates clearly, and they’re kind of grooving to the text; they know what they’re saying. ”
“Andrew Wade’s nasally prudish, stick-in-the-mud Malvolio is one for the ages. He is a suit among amongst a stage of puffy shirts, flared pants, and velvet jackets. He is the one character who just doesn’t get it… He is the guy you want to give a ginch pole to in the schoolyard, but at the same time you just want to hug him and say everything is going to be alright. Wade turns him into the most sympathetic prig I have ever seen…
“Kesinee Haney, she was so good, the way she quipped her whip-smart banter with her superiors, gently mocking them, and the way she sang the lead on a whole lot of songs, she’s a commanding presence out there.”
“It’s trippy, it’s moving, it’s funny… You know, the final scene almost brought me to tears, even though it had this sort of triple wedding thing going on. When the hurrahs subside, there’s poor Malvolio, he’s centrestage, ringed by joyous lovers and wellwishers, he’s a beaten man, Gregor, he’s a man on the verge of a nervous breakdown, and he’s crying real tears, and while he’s crying, the whole cast bursts out into ‘All You Need Is Love’, joined by the audience, the night I was there. You can’t take your eyes off Malvolio in the middle of all this. It’s beautiful and awesome.“
“During Wednesday’s preview performance, the obvious standouts were Cobi Dayan as Sir Toby and Andrew Wade as Malvolio — both amusing and lively.”
“Twelfth Night wasn’t ever intended to be taken too seriously. Hardy’s direction is witty and slightly irreverent, and seems to encourage a welcome genial warmth from the cast.”
“As the boozing, cavorting (and sometimes dope-smoking) Sir Toby, Dayan exhibits welcome comic chops. He captures the character’s blend of the dissolute and the fun-loving, making him the irresistible rascal he needs to be. And Wade does well as Malvolio, who’s Sir Toby’s opposite. The actor carried himself with a certain stiffness in posture and gesture — he provides the “dignity” that must be present, in order for us to enjoy his fall.”
“Koury’s Cesario is well-balanced, with his (or her) affection for Orsino occasionally bubbling to the surface but being quickly subdued, with Edmundson and Volke also delivering quality to their leads. But some of the best moments arguably came from the supporting characters and sub-plots. Cobi Dayan as the booze-soaked Sir Toby and Andrew Wade as Olivia’s stuck-up servant Malvolio provide much comic relief.“
“The University of Victoria Phoenix Theatre’s Twelfth Night, or What You Will most certainly is fantastic.”
“…rows of smiling faces revealed each time the dreamy, psychedelic lights swept across the sold-out opening night crowd…”
“Fencing duels with golf clubs; backflips, somersaults, chase scenes across a revolving stage – there was enough energy bounding about the set to make even the laziest ex-hippy want to get up and smile on their brother. With court musician Andrew Gillot churning out musical punch lines – in the form of a well-timed riff here, or opening bars to “Day Tripper” there – barely a moment in the show wasn’t used to its fullest.”
“Following Koury’s wholly convincing (and rather charming) final moments as Viola and Andrew Wade’s hilarious unravelling as the love-duped Malvolio, the lively cast proved themselves worthy of filling seats for the last nights of Twelfth Night.”
“At that level, which is, you know, sort of pre-professional level, you can really start to see and recognize the students, the actors, who are going to be the stars of the future… I thought the guy that played Malvolio, it was Andrew Wade, and Sarah Koury, who played Viola, you just watched their eyes, they never broke, they never looked nervous, it was just so comfortable for them… the guy who played Fabian, Mik… people who belong onstage.”