U of Waterloo radio goes off the air

The University of Waterloo radio station is off the air after students voted against paying $2.50 per term to support it. According to its website, CKMS 100.3 Sound FM started as a cable station at the university in the 1970s and is Ontario’s third campus FM station. In February 2008, students voted to remove the $5.50 per term fee that went to the station.

“There are 68 on-air programmers and seven [on the] board of directors,” said CKMS vice-president Selene MacLeod. “These reflect numbers of people who paid their membership fee and kept their volunteer cards up-to-date, which I don’t believe is an accurate refection of how many people support the station.”

The station has worked with local business owners and non-profits, supporting independent artists since its inception, added MacLeod.

The vote was close, with 2,005 students voting for the fee and 2,400 voting against. Although 19,000 students did not participate, the referendum had the highest voter turnout in the history of Waterloo’s student union.

“I believe that there are plenty of students that support campus radio and like the rest of us, can’t imagine a campus without a radio station,” said MacLeod. “Maybe the results would have been different if the question being asked was, ‘Is it worth it to you to support the arts, local music, Canadian culture and have opportunities in broadcasting, administration, and governance of a radio station, all for just $2.50 per term?’”

The station’s licence is valid until 2014, and it has been investigating alternative options.

“As long as there is the slightest hope that we can sort out our financial problems, attract advertisers and membership, and keep providing the best in quality, independent radio programming, we’re staying on in some incarnation,” said MacLeod. “I’m frustrated, heartbroken, and deeply disappointed that the students of UW won’t have this resource in future generations—I’m not losing anything, they’re losing a lot.”

Middling Midsummer

Often called Shakespeare’s sexiest comedy, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, as imagined by Hart House Theatre, falls closer to raunchy burlesque than aristocratic theatre. The show, directed by Jeremy Hutton, depicts several love triangles that, as the show goes on, shift, transform, and cross-connect.

In Athens, Hermia is determined to marry Lysander, who returns her love completely. Unfortunately, Hermia’s father is equally determined that she marry Demetrius, who claims to love her just as much as Lysander. Meanwhile, Helena, longtime friend of Hemia’s, was formerly involved with Demetrius but recently rejected by him, and has been pining after him since.

In the forest, there is an equally complex dynamic amongst the fairies. Oberon, king of the fairies, is feuding with Titania, his queen, because she refuses to give him a young Indian changeling. He has his servant, Puck, drug Titania to fall in love with an ass, so he can kidnap the changeling.

Finally, there is a band of handymen or “actors” attempting to put on a play. One of these, Nick Bottom, is the beast with whom Titania becomes infatuated.

These storylines are all tied together by Theseus, King of Athens, who has power over Hermia, Helena, Demetrius, and Lysander, who is a former lover of Titania, and is marrying Amazonian Queen Hippolyta, former lover of Oberon. Their wedding is the reason for the handymen’s play, and the finish of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Since it’s a comedy, I won’t be spoiling it by telling you that all loose ends are tied, fights finished, and love triangles sorted into pairs by the end.

Hutton sets the play in the 19th century and depicts the fairies as gypsies. As such, the sets are appropriate—the play opens on a grey afternoon with a single lamppost. The forest in which the fairies frolic features an elaborate caravan and bonfire. Likewise, the costumes are well-executed considering the direction: the Athenians costumes are distinctly English, and the gypsies’ costumes—full, colourful skirts and scarves for the women and intricate tattoos for the men—show Hutton’s particular spin on the characters in a beautiful and effective way.

Hutton portrayed the fairies as gypsies because he felt they shared many qualities: both groups were peripheral to their societies, and fundamentally transient. He represents gypsy culture as “an imagined culture cobbled together from fragments of the music, dance, art, and fashion of a dozen different regions.” The result is eclectic and engaging song and dance, which is perfectly timed and executed by the fairy dancers.

Unfortunately, the portrayal of the Athenians as members of 19th-century society is at times problematic. The play is whimsical, magical, and openly sexual. But this characterization is jarring, given the emphasis on rationality at the turn of the century; it makes the characters’ emotions and carryings-on seem silly, as opposed to light-hearted, and the sexuality seems juvenile, as opposed to edgy.

Despite this, there is excellent acting on the part of most of the performers. Hermia, played by Adrianna Prosser, is a perfect combination of flighty and melodramatic—a true comedienne. Helena, played by Carly Chamberlain, at first gives an over-the-top, one-note presentation of the woman scorned, but comes into her own in the forest, where she is sincere and deep-feeling.

Andy Cockburn and Andrew Knowlton, playing Lysander and Demetrius respectively, do a very good job, especially in changing from upright gentlemen to love-drugged fools. Andrew Dundass as Theseus, and Thomas Gough as Quince, were both perfectly cast—their characterization and execution were dead-on.

However, the show ends on an unfortunate note. The “play within a play,” Pyramus and Thisbe, quickly digresses from silly to ridiculous. It drags on for far too long, and by the end seems much more for the entertainment of the actors than the audience. Overall, the individual aspects of the show are good: the lighting and sound effects are excellent, the music and dancing engaging, the sets effective, and the acting fine. It suffers, though, from poor direction, which makes the characters and content seem silly and trivial.

A Midsummer’s Night Dream runs at Hart House Theatre through December 5.

‘Out in the Cold’ against homelessness

The weather cooperated for U of T’s first Out in the Cold fundraising event Friday evening. Organizers were anxious about whether it would be a wet and muddy night spent raising awareness about homelessness and poverty. Luckily, fears were put to rest with a beautiful November night, just six degrees Celsius, the warmest night the event has ever had.

Founded in 2007 at the University of Waterloo, Out in the Cold is an annual student-run event held every November. Participants collected pledges towards their attempts to stand the cold for a November night. This year, Out in the Cold took place at the University of Waterloo and the University of Toronto from 7 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 20 to 7 a.m. on Saturday, Nov. 21. All proceeds go to 416 Community Support for Women in Toronto and Lutherwood Families in Transition in Waterloo. The Toronto event was co-hosted by the Underwear Club and the Graduate Students’ Union’s social justice committee.

The event started with an information session at Sidney Smith hosted by community worker Ann Fitzpatrick of the Children’s Aid Society of Toronto. Fitzpatrick shared statistics regarding what Toronto’s underprivileged currently face. The session highlighted that there is both a visible and an invisible homeless problem that has been developing for years in the city, and has only worsened this year due to the country’s recent economic hardships. Families have been hard-hit by the recession, and food bank use is at a record high. With rent continually on the rise, Fitzpatrick stressed that some Torontonians spend between 70 and 90 per cent of their income on shelter.

After Fitzpatrick delivered these sombre statistics to the crowd, the participants were ready for a night filled with discussion and revelry.

At Hart House Circle, the group was greeted with their bedding for the night: cardboard boxes.

“Safety is a focus for us, we want the fundraisers to stay warm and let the night evolve organically” explained Jenna van Draanen, who organized the event, as she bustled from group to group.

In the last three years, Out in the Cold has raised over $8,500, Nick Petten proudly pointed out. With events now taking place at both campuses, the positive momentum is keeping the group motivated. Petten and van Draanen, both Waterloo grads, were confident that they would each raise over $200 dollars each. Another $250 was raised at a pub night event at O’Grady’s Tap and Grill, hosted November 18.

For more information on how to get involved, visit outinthecold.ca.

The all-glowing Bob

Walking into this year’s production of The Bob at Isabel Bader Theatre, I was greeted with a pre-show that featured recorded jazz music and KoLOLas, a down-under takeoff of the infamous LOLCatz. Cute jokes coupled with cute photos ensured laughter in the half-filled theatre even before the lights dimmed. The group behind me started taking bets on the nature of jokes that would be made throughout the evening. I was already hopeful that this was going to be a good night.

The comedy troupe behind The Bob, Victoria College’s annual sketch comedy show, rehearsed for two months to prepare their eclectic, at times shamelessly random selection of sketches. This year’s production was directed by Brandon Hackett and assistant directed by Chris Berube, two veterans of the show.

The title of the production, The All-Knowing Bob, bore little relation to most of the 20 sketches, but did allow for an opening song that effectively smothered the humour of the preshow. Neither overly funny nor catchy, the tune featured a pitchy performance by the cast who missed at least one cue. Multiple members of the cast also experienced projection issues and were difficult to hear even for those seated in the middle of the theatre.

Laughter thankfully returned to Bader with the next sketch, “Snack Attack,” which satirized CBC Kids’ programming and involved a dishevelled Chris Berube screaming to a MIDI version of “Back in Black” as he bounced around the theatre. One of the funniest moments of the night, it helped the show recover from a shaky beginning.

No subject was spared as the sketches unfolded: beauty pageants, rural Ontario, and even David Naylor were targeted throughout the evening. The show was not afraid to take risks, occasionally pushing the envelope with jokes verging on offensive. In the second sketch of the evening, about a time machine, one actor commented that they went back in time and “punched Hitler in the face, but it just made him hate the Jews more.” The show also saw jokes about bulimia and the intolerance of same-sex marriage in beauty pageants.

The humour was still tame compared to the jokes popular at Yuk Yuks or Second City, and some jokes proved cringeworthy because of poor timing or for posing too stark a contrast to the bubblegum “university” jokes that dominated the show’s two hours. Still, it was refreshing to see the group challenge the U of T audience with humour that occasionally fell outside the bounds of political correctness.

Some of the highest points of hilarity in the show were the “bloopers.” The second sketch, “Time Machine,” saw the accidental knocking over and subsequent exploding of a beer bottle. “Theodore Pervert” in the second Act saw the accidental shattering of a wine glass over the stage.

Particular congratulations must by awarded to first-time Bob participant Kieron Higgs, a first-year student from Waterloo who has performed in the Sears Drama Festival and the Canadian Improv Games. Near the end of the first act, he energetically portrayed The Mad Hatter, one of the night’s most memorable characters—only to make a second appearance (to the crowd’s wild cheers)—near the end of the show.

The actor of the evening, though, was without a doubt Brandon Hackett. A Classics and English student planning to graduate in 2010, Hackett’s swan song with The Bob saw him assume the roles of Professor Henry Higgins; Roy, a racist virgin still living with his parents who makes an online dating video; and even a dinosaur doing stand-up comedy. After watching his portrayal of Tyra Banks, in which he donned a dress that revealed enough leg to put most girls at the Brunny to shame, it was unfortunate that the reserved audience did not give him a standing ovation.

When the show ended, the group behind me was upset—many of the jokes they had bet would occur did not make appearances. But my biggest regret regarding The Bob is that by the time you read this review, the show will have already closed. The Bob is unique on campus for its provision of sketch comedy that takes risks and is, for the most part, funny and enjoyable. Sure, the production was a little rough around the edges. But next year, I would encourage you to give Bob a chance.

The Painter’s touch

Of all the techniques a skilled painter must possess, perhaps none is so fundamental as his or her ability to master the art of light and dark. The Madonna Painter is a prime example of this notion, dramatized. Quebec playwright Michel Marc Bouchard’s play, in its English-language premiere at the Factory Theatre, is a carefully shaded composition that is both deeply funny and acutely tragic.

Set in a remote Quebec town in 1918, The Madonna Painter tells the story of a young, handsome priest (Marc Bendavid) who commissions an Italian artist (Juan Chioran) to paint a fresco of the Virgin Mary for the town, believing that the work of art will invigorate the town’s faith and help ward off the outbreak of the Spanish Flu. The arrival of the painter, however, has the opposite result as his presence becomes the catalyst for a number of surprising turns of fate resulting in a crisis of faith for the people of Saint-Coeur de Marie.

The play is refreshingly rife with complex female characters, and the actors in Factory Theatre’s production rise to the challenge of Bouchard’s script, perhaps none more so than Jenny Young as Mary of the Secrets, the troubled town outcast who becomes a most reluctant muse and model to the painter. Young carefully crafts a Mary that is at once melancholy and mysterious and achingly vulnerable, and it is this vulnerability that allows the audience to invest deeply in Mary and her journey. Young and Chioran also share an electrifying chemistry and keep the audience well-engaged whenever they share the stage. Miranda Edwards and Shannon Taylor as Mary Frances and Mary Anne, respectively, also give delightful performances. Edwards’ delivery of a monologue mid-play is nuanced and heartbreaking.

Though Taylor occasionally falters with the dramatic material, particularly at the beginning, her “audition” for the painter is by far one of the most hilarious moments of the production, and her performance grows much stronger from thereon. Of the women, only Nicola Correia-Damude as Mary Louise struggles consistently with the language. Though Correia-Damude clearly respects Bouchard’s script, the formality of her delivery is filled in a sense with an excess of reverence for the poetry in her lines. She is thus at times inconsistent in tone with the rest of the cast, who more successfully balance the richness of the language with the demands of creating empathetic characters. Bendavid, too, has some difficulty, delivering from within a rather repetitive vocal range and cadence that changes little from the play’s start to finish, and detracts somewhat from the overall impact of the young priest’s emotional journey. Bendavid comes alive, however, in his scenes with Taylor; a particular scene showcasing the two towards the end of the play even left some members the audience gasping.

The sound is mostly live, adding to the immediacy of the audience experience. Some of the prerecorded sounds, then, can be rather jarring after one gets used to the frequency of the live sounds being produced. Sue LePage’s set is minimalist: a sky of stars, a forest consisting of tall gold geometric cones topped by branches, a table and chairs on a raised platform in the centre functioning as the set for indoor scenes is simple, effective, and all that is needed to create the world of the play. The ornate gold proscenium at the Factory is cleverly and subtly lighted, giving one the impression of a gilded picture frame.

Though The Madonna Painter is set 90 years ago, the production feels fresh and contemporary. Bouchard’s writing is poetic indeed, but that poetry is also economic and rarely feels indulgent (a testament to the actors who speak it), and is complemented by sharp, witty dialogue and turns of phrase. And despite it drawing heavily upon Catholicism, The Madonna Painter is accessible for Catholics and non-Catholics alike.

With the H1N1 epidemic at the forefront of the contemporary audience’s conscious, the panic and frenzy surrounding the Spanish Flu of 1918 is instantly recognizable and relatable. We find ourselves engaging with the characters not as historical relics, but as people struggling through crises of humanity not at all dissimilar to our own. Above all, Bouchard’s Madonna Painter explores the chiaroscuro of faith—faith in institutions, faith in love, faith in art, and faith in faith itself—skillfully capturing its lightest lights, and its darkest darks and, ultimately, asking us to consider what we would do when we suddenly find ourselves in those bewildering moments of grey.

The Madonna Painter runs at the Factory Theatre through Dec. 13.

Runaway train

Multimedia dance-art show Displacement has enough force to successfully pull the heavy weight of its subject matter, dislocation. Held at the Fleck Dance Theatre as part of Harbourfront Centre’s Next Steps Dance Series, it closed last Saturday after a four-day performance that combined film, musical, visual art, and contemporary dance. Curated by three acclaimed Canadian artists, all immigrants themselves, the show explores the human condition of being uprooted, placed, and displaced.

The show was headed by Vitek Wincza, artistic director of the Hamilton Conservatory for the Arts Dance Company, who firmly believes that “stories of displacement are all around us.” With this all-encompassing openness native to Canada, the show explores the immigrant experience and benefits from the rich experience that the three creators bring. When it opened two years ago, Gary Smith of the Hamilton Spectator commented that the performance “assaults the comfortable notion of what dance, art, and music ought to be.” True to these words, Displacement is one part dance performance, one part theatrical expression, and the rest emotional release.

Displacement features choreography by Robert Glumbek accompanied by scores written by U of T music prof Christos Hatzis and played by the Penderecki Quartet. The show is set against a backdrop of film and art installations by Vessna Perunovich.

Glumbek, a graduate of the Bytom State Ballet School in Poland, echoes the words of Wincza when he states, “all of us have been displaced at some point.” It is through this acute sense of empathy that his emotionally charged choreography is born.

While the use of the suitcase as a prop symbolizing the itinerant nomadic fate of the dancers seemed a bit trite, Glumbek’s choreography easily overcomes the pitfalls of the play’s clichéd movements. He does this by weaving in the stifling feeling of not belonging with the urgency of a boiling kettle. The fantastic red elastic bands serve as props of entrapment that the actors must fight hard to break away from. The tug-of-war that erupts between those who want to remain settled and those who are desperate to escape resembles the up-bow down-bow motion of the violinists performing in the music pit below.

The burden of history hangs heavily in the air. When the dancers yell out each other’s names, this piercing sound feeds the steady stream of suspense that is built throughout the performance. The theatre’s small scale affords the intimacy of seeing a trickle of sweat on a performer’s cheek and hearing the dancers gasp for air.

The moves are reminiscent of the whirling dervishes of Turkey and also the Afro-
Brazilian-influenced capoeira forms. As bodies tangle, embrace, and are torn apart, music composed by Hatzis only adds to the suspense.

Hatzis himself was born in Greece and many of the influences in his music mirror the Canadian immigrant experience. The first string quartet, titled The Awakening, provides strong references to Inuit throat singers and to the locomotive engines echoed in Perunovich’s visual artwork. This influence can be traced back to Hatzis’ personal childhood memories of riding the rail in Volos, his in Greece, with his father who worked as a railway engineer, seeing people on and off the train as it snaked in and out of cities as the main mode of travel.

The second string arrangement, The Gathering, involves chiming Islamic timbre. Although the oriental influence tries to slow down the music — much of which was composed during the war in Kosovo and the bombings in Belgrade — the violent force of the rhythm ignores this intervention and continues to charge forth.

Accompanying the composition and the choreography is Perunovich’s visual art installation, which evolves around the ideas of immigration, separation, and transition. Upon leaving the former Yugoslavia in 1988, Perunovich watched as her home country was broken up into seven different states, culminating in the NATO bombing of Serbia in 1999, which in turn, has left much of her work coloured by her personal narrative of displacement.

The dancers fall gracefully onto the floor, wilting like flowers, after a powerful performance. Certainly, Displacement succeeds as a truly thought-provoking show.

Shooting Blanks

Dave Proctor’s recent book, Blank State Volume Zero: Condopocalypse Now! is more than just a dystopian story about what happens when real estate markets crash (again), artists are left behind in factions, self-expression becomes a weapon, and empty, condo-riddled cities become war zones. It’s also an engrossing read by a U of T grad, putting our city in the spotlight in a very unexpected way. Proctor will be lecturing at Hart House this Wednesday. The Varsity spoke to him about the first book in his planned series.

The Varsity: Blank State satirizes both the Toronto condo market and art scene. Why did you decide to take on both things at once?

Dave Proctor: It started with the art scene being what I wanted to jab at. When it came to trying to figure out how I wanted to create the book’s world, I heard the doughnut-hole theory of economics from a friend [wherein neighbourhoods become prohibitively expensive due to increased pricing], and at that point I was living in Toronto, and condos bothered me. No matter where I lived, there was construction and new developments everywhere that never seemed to be finished. So the condo scene is a bit ridiculous, and the art scene is ridiculous.

TV: So you took on the mutual ridiculousness?

DP: Exactly. I took on the dual ridiculousness.There is much to be said about both.

TV: Your book is, thankfully, fictional, but how much of it can be seen as a possible truth? Do you ever fear something like this will happen?

DP: Every word of this book is entirely possible. As for how much could happen from the condo side—we could get overpopulated. I mean, even nowadays, you see little buildings and strip malls that you thought would be open forever being closed down. Anything could happen. As far as the art scene, I like to be prepared for anything, but the condo side seems more plausible than an art war.

TV: There are a lot of mentions of Toronto streets and landmarks, and the book begins with a hand-drawn map of a part of downtown. Is Blank State solely directed at people who live or have lived here?

DP: It would help to have knowledge of Toronto, as I’m not planning for national distribution yet. But I did send it to a friend in London (England, not Ontario) who sees the same pretentiousness in his art scene, so I like to say that there are universal themes everyone can appreciate. I like to keep the places in Toronto as well-described as possible. Toronto doesn’t get enough of a spotlight in literature. I want to create a living map of the city and connect it to the rest of the world.

TV: What can we look forward to at your lecture?

DP: I’ll be talking about a vague topic: DIY art. I’m approaching it from the perspective of someone who played in a punk rock band, growing up. We knew how to do different things—we put on our own shows, we made our own records…I put out my own book based on that. You can do all these things yourself. I want to talk about DIY versus. mainstream art. The most important thing about creating art is to give it the ability to be criticised.

TV: Condopocalypse Now is labelled as Volume Zero. How many books are you planning on writing?

DP: I am planning on eight. The last will be volume seven. I’ll also be working on some online, free download prequel-type stories.

TV: What inspired you to write Blank State?

DP: A lot of things were set in motion in terms of coming out of the whole music scene and seeing what goes on in terms of the labeling of people and cliques there. There is a lot of nepotism in the Toronto scene—very fine lines of who gets in and who doesn’t.

TV: So it’s like high school.

DP: Yes. Toronto is like high school. Everything is like high school. Based on that observation and applying, perhaps unfairly, the same closed-offness of the art scene, I was inspired to write the book and boil these things to their bare essential stereotypes. So many musicians failed for no reason. And so I began to think.

TV: Is there a message in the book that you want the readers to grasp?

DP: It’s not super obvious in the first volume, but there will be an underlying message of hope—and the possibility of everybody getting along. I want people to just kind of take a step back, and evaluate what they’re capable of doing, and what the people who judge them are capable of doing, and make decisions based on that.

TV: What books have influenced your life the most?

DP: The first book that I ever read in less than one week was 1984. It turned my head around. It was the first book I read without a happy ending. So then I got into the dystopian trilogy—1984, Brave New World, and Fahrenheit 451—and Kurt Vonnegut. I liked to giggle at the disparity of humanity. You know what works are actually really important? Those of Dr. Seuss. They’re fun, important, heartfelt, and critical. In such a basic and wonderful way. I also like Happiness by Will Ferguson, which is about a self-help book that takes over the world. You can see a recurring theme here. I like the really ridiculous, over-the-top fiction the best. Like Slaughterhouse Five.

TV: Do you find any part of writing particularly challenging? What was the hardest part of writing your book?

DP: The hardest part of writing my book was committing to two days at work, not going out, not partying, not doing any extra spending, and making a budget I could live off of. I wrote four days a week. It’s hard to make it your job instead of your whim. But then after that, the writing part went okay.

TV: Any advice for budding writers or U of T students?

DP: You’re an idiot if you think you can’t do this. Anyone can. What your parents told you—what I hope your parents told you—is that you can literally do anything. All it takes is a few phone calls and some legwork and some writing. You can do anything—write a book, make a photography album…This isn’t an unachievable frontier. People make this into an achievement, and I love that, but it’s so doable.

Dave Proctor will be speaking at Hart House on Wednesday, Nov. 25 at 6 p.m. For more information on Blank State, visit woodenrocketpress.com.

Man killed near St. Mike’s

A man was shot and killed early Sunday on the edge of St. George campus, in Toronto’s 53rd homicide. The victim was shot in the back at 3:20 a.m. in front of a condo building at 1001 Bay St., at the intersection of Bay and St. Joseph, the Toronto Star reported. Witnesses said he was in his 30s, wearing a hoodie and what seemed like baggy jeans.

Megan, a resident at Sorbara Hall, was awakened by the shots. “I only heard four shots, but apparently people heard five, so I guess I woke up right after the first one,” said Megan, who asked that her last name be withheld. “Then I heard the guy that was shot screaming, and a woman screaming afterwards, and then it went silent for about 10 minutes.”

Other residents at Sorbara Hall and witnesses who spoke to the Star said they saw an individual who might have been the shooter run down St. Joseph Street and get into a black Honda Civic in front of Kelly Library. Also seen leaving the scene were a white stretch limo, a white Hummer-style limo, and a black 2005 or 2006 Infinity SUV.

A gun was found at Queen’s Park Crescent shortly afterwards and police are looking into whether shell casings found at the crime scene came from the weapon, according to the Star.

“Everyone’s pretty freaked out,” Megan said. “I guess the area seems less secure than people found it. I would go to Tim Hortons, which is two seconds away, but the shooting happened in between here and Tim Hortons so it seems less secure.”

Campus Police declined to comment on their involvement in the investigation.