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.
The Painter’s touch
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.
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.
Colleges fume at UTSU meeting
Tensions ran high at the U of T Students’ Union’s annual general meeting Thursday evening. College council representatives expressed dissatisfaction with UTSU, citing what they regard as inappropriate priorities, lack of transparency, and most importantly, lack of consultation and communication with the colleges. Several St. George students complained of preferential treatment to UTM.So many students wanted to speak—and some spoke at length—that the chair finally motioned to cut the speakers list. It was put to a vote and passed.The annual general meeting was scheduled for 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. It started at 6:45 p.m., because students from UTM were stuck in traffic, and ended around 11 p.m. Steve Masse, president of Woodsworth College Students’ Association, stayed until 9 p.m. “I was here on time and I have to leave when it was supposed to end. By delaying it, they’re disenfranchising me and all the students who came on time,” said Masse.Gabe De Roche, a Trinity student, spoke about what he called a “special arrangement” between UTSU and UTMSU. The bulk of fees that UTM students pay to UTSU are returned to UTMSU. At St. George, students’ UTSU fees are not passed on to college councils. UTMSU is also allotted their own student commons and seat on the Canadian Federation of Students, a privilege that no college councils share in.“Most of their campaigns come from the CFS, and not the other way. A lot of the campaigns do affect St. George. They are student concerns, but they’re being imposed on us, not coming from us,” Masse later told The Varsity, adding that many people on WCSA don’t support UTSU campaigns because they don’t feel connected to them.Masse emphasized that he supports the content of some UTSU campaigns and recognizes that the executive works hard. But he took a step back from UTSU involvement after the Nov. 5 drop fees campaign last year. “I didn’t see the commitment to the St. George campus that I wanted,” he said.UTSU president Sandy Hudson said UTSU’s relationship with CFS is just the opposite. She gave the drop fees campaign as an example. When U of T students wanted to call on the government to let students without immigration status stay in school, CFS liked the idea and included it in their campaign.Francesca Imbrogno, president of the St. Michael’s College Student Union, said defederation is a possibility. “I really can’t speak officially on behalf of my council because we haven’t discussed it, but opinions around SMC are pretty serious because no one sees the cons of defederating,” she said.“A lot of students have been asking me, ‘What does UTSU do for us—why do we even have to be attached to them?’ It’s really hard for me to come up with answers other than health benefits and Metropasses, because on this side of campus we don’t see any benefits coming from them, only detriments.”“The process is very collaborative and from the grassroots,” Hudson told The Varsity in a later interview. She said UTSU has reached out to college councils, going to their meetings. “We’ve told them to come and air your grievances so we could have a working relationship, and they don’t come to any of the commission meetings,” Hudson said. “I don’t think it’s a priority for the folks at the colleges to mend these relationships.”College council reps gave homecoming as an example, arguing that the event would have been far better if UTSU had included them in the planning. Danielle Sandu, VP campus life, responded that aside from a few exceptions, the heads of college councils did not respond to emails and text messages inviting them to get involved.Catherine Brown, president of the Victoria College Student Administrative Council, pointed out that around $500,000 in student fees intended for health and dental care weren’t spent last year. UTSU’s budget auditor confirmed that that money went into UTSU’s general surplus. “I really question the fact that they are profiting off student health care plans,” said Brown. “This is a service they provide and it shouldn’t be surplus for them.”Doly Begum, a St. George student, defended UTSU. Begum said she was disappointed with the divisiveness, saying, “I think we need unity across colleges—we all need to work with each other and the UTSU to make a difference.”
Canada should step up marketing for higher education, group says
International students are worth billions to the Canadian economy. According to a recent report, they contributed $6.5 billion in 2008, surpassing coal or coniferous lumber exports. The report, commissioned by the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada, found a correlation between increasing numbers of international students and growth in international trade as well as direct international investment in Canada.But report results have stated that Canada is becoming a less desirable location even as international demand for education is growing. From 1998 to 2003, international student enrolment in universities grew by double digits each year. Since 2005, however, it has grown less quickly than the average enrolment for all students.As a result, the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada is calling on DFAIT to increase spending on marketing Canada as a hot study destination, from $2 million to $20 million.U of T has 6,563 international undergraduate students, accounting for more than 10 per cent of its undergraduates. The university’s long-term planning “affirms the importance of increasing its national and global presence by recruiting, respectively, more Canadian students from outside the Toronto region and more students from abroad,” according to the Towards 2030 framework document.In 2002, there were 433 international students admitted to U of T’s arts and science faculty. In 2006, this number had nearly doubled to 860.While domestic undergrads at U of T pay between $5,000 to $11,000 per year for tuition, international students pay between $19,000 and $25,000.“When visiting [international] regions we visit high schools, schedule meetings with counsellors, and will at times participate in school fairs,” said David Zutautas, assistant director of student recruitment at U of T.When asked if U of T has increased its recruitment, Zutautas said, “Not really. We have been active and consistent in our activities.”What attracts international students to Canada, and U of T in particular, varies.Miguel Irene, a fourth-year undergrad from Washington, D.C., heard about U of T from recruiters who came to his high school. In his experience, its reputation outside of Canada is nil. “No one has ever heard of U of T,” said Irene. “I mean quite literally, when I say U of T in the States, people think I go to Texas.”Irene doesn’t mind paying roughly three times what a domestic student would, saying he saves around $4,000-$5,000 when total costs are taken into account. “Plus the exchange rate helps,” he said.Keton Motta-Freeman, another undergrad, is a Canadian citizen born in England and raised in Italy. Though he chose U of T by a process of elimination—“I didn’t get into Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Cornell, Dartmouth, or Oxford”—he maintains that U of T has a good reputation abroad. “Western Europe knows it, the States knows it, Canada knows it,” he said. “It’s known as the best school in Canada.”Motta-Freeman, who has not experienced U of T recruiting or marketing efforts, thinks they are unnecessary. “It shouldn’t market itself. A university should be a university. It should teach and research, and if it does those things well, then its reputation will get out there.”
Province funds study abroad scholarships
If you want to go abroad but find it hard to make ends meet, Ontario will pay a portion of your expenses. The province is investing $3.5 million this year in study abroad scholarships, through the Ontario International Education Opportunity Scholarships.OIEOS is a needs-based scholarship open to students participating in an international academic study, work-study, or co-op placement. Nearly 1,400 post-secondary students will receive scholarships this academic year, up from 272 in 2006-2007.U of T will be giving out $2,500 scholarships for students in programs of two months or more, and $1,200 for programs of four weeks or more.Scholarships are awarded based on financial need and academic merit. Special consideration is given to applicants from under-represented groups, including Aboriginal peoples, Francophones, students with disabilities, and those in the biotechnology sector. To receive a scholarship, students must be Canadian citizens, permanent residents, or protected persons.Application forms are currently on U of T’s website. Winter applications are due Dec. 1, 2009. Students participating in other Ontario-sponsored exchange programs, such as the Ontario-Baden Wurttemberg, are not eligible.In addition, the Student Refugee Program will give those from conflict-torn areas an opportunity to study at Ontario colleges and universities. To deliver the program, the province is investing $150,000 a year for three years in World University Service of Canada.
Green Gables, revisited
Last Wednesday, author Irene Gammel discussed perhaps the best-loved orphan girl in Canadian literature with two-dozen guests. Gammel, who published [Looking for Anne of Green Gables: The Story of L.M. Montgomery & Her Literary Classic]1 in 2008 appeared as part of the Hart House Alumni Committee’s dinner series.Born and raised in Germany, Gammel studied at McMaster University on exchange in her second year of university. She researched Anne from 2002 to 2007, publishing Looking for Anne in time for the centenary celebrations of Montgomery’s novel. She is currently an English professor at Ryerson University.Since it was first published in Boston in 1908, Anne of Green Gables has sold over 50 million copies worldwide, been translated into more than 35 languages, and generated a multi-million-dollar tourist industry. Anne is an orphan girl who is sent to two unmarried middle-aged siblings, who had requested a boy, but decide to keep her. Although Anne is ugly, she is smart, imaginative, and a chatterbox. She eventually wins over her adoptive parents and makes friends in the fictional town of Avonlea, Prince Edward Island.Gammel’s talk explored several similarities between Lucy Maud Montgomery and her red-headed fictional character. Montgomery was born in Clifton, PEI in 1874. Raised by her maternal grandparents, she married Ewan Macdonald, a Presbyterian minister, and had two sons. Some scholars argue that her death in 1942, of apparent heart failure, was actually a drug overdose due to her ongoing depression.“Anne of Green Gables became a depository for [Montgomery’s] own childhood,” said Gammel. Montgomery was raised by strict grandparents and suffered loneliness because of the age gap. “[Montgomery] gives Anne the ideal family. That age gap is magically bridged; in fiction the generations connect.” She added that the novel “celebrates that backward glance and is yet a distinct novel on the modern era.”Phillip Khaiat, chair of the dinner series sub-committee, said he was a fan of the spirited Anne. “My wife convinced me to take her to visit the Cavendish shrine in PEI this summer, and I read every word of the panel describing Anne’s origins,” he said. “It was a great pleasure for me to meet the people [Irene Gammel and Jean-Claude] who had created and organized that exhibition.”Said another attendee, “We found the images and magazines from the early 20th century that inspired Lucy Maud Montgomery’s creation of the character of Anne to be particularly fascinating.”