Judy Goldring, Chief Operating Officer (COO) at AGF Management, had a special reason to spend time in the library during her undergraduate career at the University of Toronto. “I loved hanging out at Emmanuel College,” she says. “This will really date me, but Tears for Fears did a video at Emmanuel College, and I loved going into Emmanuel College and saying ‘This is where the video was done.’”Four generations of the Goldring family have attended U of T, including Judy and her brother Blake, both of whom graduated from Victoria University, and both of whom have individually donated over $1 million to the university. The Goldring family has made numerous donations to the university. The most visible signs of its generosity are the recently opened Goldring Student Centre at Victoria University and the Goldring Centre for High Performance Sport, currently under construction on Devonshire. “One of our family principles is to give back to your alma mater,” Goldring explains.Goldring’s experience as a commuter student informed the decision to contribute to the Victoria student centre. “We’re really so honoured and proud and humbled to be able to put a building that we think will help integrate the commuter students, to have a place for not just commuter students but also [residence] students, and it’s a place of meeting.”Goldring believes that the development of projects like the two Goldring centres must involve consultation and dialogue between donors and the administration. The student centre at Victoria created some controversy when it was first proposed in 2008, with students voting in a referendum that approved a $100 ancillary fee to pay for one-third of the $21 million building. Goldring says the decision of students to support the project at the time was inspiring. “I think that’s exactly what donations are all about; that’s exactly why if there’s a vote and people will support it, it’s because they want to make sure they’re improving the time for the student experience after they’re gone, and that’s exactly what we wanted to see happen with the Goldring Student Centre.”The connection to Victoria is obvious, but why high performance sport? Goldring says her father, the late C. Warren Goldring, co-founder of financial firm AGF Management, believed in a well-balanced life. “I did joke with him, ‘There are no Olympians in my side of the family,’” she remembers, “but he was a firm believer about having that element of your life fulfilled, and it is about having all parts of your life in a positive way, and that’s what the Goldring Centre for High Performance does.”Health is a particular topic of interest for Goldring; her husband has Type 1 diabetes, and she has previously co-chaired the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation’s (JDRF) Ride for Research charity event. According to Goldring, the quality of research being conducted at institutions like U of T is particularly important: “In terms of the research excellence that’s done here, you do see organizations like JDRF benefitting from phenomenal research, and research does make a difference in managing diseases like diabetes.”Goldring believes that it is important for students to take care of their health. “You’ve got a lot of pressure; students today are under a lot of stress, and the pressure to perform and succeed in a very competitive environment is a challenge,” she admits. “But it is a good message to get out — to get out and do that, keep active, keep healthy, eat right.”Goldring’s contributions to U of T go beyond the remarkable sums she has donated. She has been a member of the University of Toronto’s Governing Council for four years, serving as its vice-chair for two years before being elected to the role of chair on July 1, 2013. “We’ve spoken about my love of this institution, my fond memories of it,” she says. “My family connection has afforded me the opportunity to get involved, and when the opportunity came around for me to get involved with the council, I was excited to be able to give back.”As Meric Gertler takes over as U of T’s new president, Goldring is leading Governing Council during a period of change for the school, and she looks forward to the work. “Certainly governance, I think, can be helpful in the transition, assuring a smooth transition to support the president and the provost,” she says. “We’re also looking to support, where appropriate, on key defined advocacy issues as the president might define or the administration might define.” Goldring emphasizes that a current key policy initiative for the Governing Council is the implementation of campus councils on the Mississauga and Scarborough campuses, an effort to respond to their growth by increasing decision-making at the local level.Goldring balances her position at the university with what she drily calls her “day job” as COO of AGF Management, a $38 billion asset management company that invests money for clients without the expertise or inclination to do so themselves. Portfolio managers at the company construct investment packages in which individuals and institutions can then choose to participate. U of T itself employs AGF’s services through the University of Toronto Asset Management Corporation. “So it keeps me busy,” Goldring says of her multitude of responsibilities with a smile.“Some would argue there’s no such thing as balance,” Goldring notes, when asked how she manages to keep her complex life in order. “It’s just a very busy time on campus right now, which is great. So right now, the balance is a little imbalanced, but it’s okay. It’s all good.”The discussion eventually turns back to the business of U of T. Goldring shares what she sees as the most significant challenge for universities in Canada. “Broadly speaking, I think for all universities it’s government policy around post-secondary education and sustainability of the framework that we’re operating in,” she says. “It’s one of the more pressing issues; it’s not a new issue, and it’s not going to be solved in a day either.” Still, Goldring is excited about the opportunities for dialogue for the schools leaders going forward, and particularly expressed great confidence in president Gertler.Perhaps she is remembering her days making friends in The Buttery, or reading in her favourite quiet spaces around Vic, or being awestruck by the building in which Tears for Fears filmed a video (yesterday’s Mean Girls and Convocation Hall, one might say). At any rate, there is context that makes the words Goldring utters in conclusion just a little more meaningful. “Enjoy your time here,” she says. “It goes by quickly.”
Meet Judy Goldring
Family of Governing Council chair has donated over $10 million to U of T
A week in the life of a Varsity Blue: Alex Hill
Varsity Blues men’s basketball player Alex Hill discusses a week in the life of a student athlete
Alex Hill is no stranger to a busy schedule. The Varsity Blues basketball star manages to balance a full-time course load, a social life, free time, two games per week, and six days of training per week. Some games take him and his team on long journeys across Ontario and, sometimes, to farther parts of the country.
Hill’s basketball commitments have him training six days a week, from Monday to Saturday. He participates in two-hour practices from Monday to Thursday and light practices on Friday and Saturday: the Varsity Blues’ game days. Additionally, he takes part in individual practices four days a week, and has weight training peppered in
throughout the week.
On the rise: Shah
U of T alumnus turned rapper Shah on being a child of the '90s and moving from Toronto to New York
New York-based rapper, Shah, preaches how security is not synonymous with success, using his life’s own fusion of art and academia to ground the argument. Having graduated from the University of Toronto with a bachelor of commerce and a doctorate in medicine, Shah’s drastic decision to put his craft rather than his credentials into practice has resulted in his debut album, Today, which will be released on November 1. Shah’s ’90s-born, assertive, story-telling lyricism — which he sets to minimalist, ethereal production schemas — reminds modern rap mavericks that a degree shouldn’t be a distraction from riskier, underlying passions.The Varsity: What was it like, making the radical switch from medicine to music? Shah: I always stood out in med school because I looked like the guy who didn’t belong there. I would show up to class in my hoodie and my fitted and only be there to write the exam, then watch the rest of the lectures on video from home. The boat came and went for basketball, so rap was all I had left. I don’t think I surprised too many people with my decision to pursue music. TV: Did you find that your degree distracted you from your passion at all? S: I did things a little differently. You should never take your passion and make it anything less than your main pursuit. In my case, I wanted to secure all my risks before taking the jump, so I finished my degree at U of T, but music was something I was always obsessed with and best at. If I could do it again, I would have dropped school altogether. I realized I needed to be having fun everyday. There, I had limited options. TV: When and how did you first realize that rap was the route you had to take in music? S: I used to rap in high school. I grew up on Nas and Wu-Tang, and the ’90s were definitely their prime. From there, I grew up and started a non-profit organization at U of T, teaching kids how to read and write through rap music, but that only got me closer to the industry. It didn’t put me in it, which is where I both wanted and needed to be. Making the music seemed like my last and only choice. TV: What is it like being a Canadian rapper trying to make it in New York? Are you responsible for your own production? S: One thing you’ll find here is that people want to support other people. It’s that culture of bringing up the entire state with a rapper when he goes platinum. I love Toronto, but there’s an issue with dishonesty. That’s why our mixing process especially is so involved. I have a lot of influence over the creation of the beat, but I can’t execute those pieces. I’m like a four-year-old who found a keyboard. TV: Who made the greatest impact in how you honed your skill?S: I look up to the big guys: Michaelangelo, Julius Caesar, NASA Space Exploration. I always kept in mind that doing things on a grand level can be done by anybody. Napoleon? Short guy, but he made it happen. They remind me that there’s always a better version of myself, but it’s going to be discovered off the beaten path, not that it’ll stop me. I’m an adventurer, discovery is the theme I’m addicted to. TV: What are you trying to achieve through your music, having been in the academic stream and now pursuing an art? S: My music was engineered to appeal to people who want to relax to a sick beat, but without compromising the depth in the lyricism. There’s always that hype that doesn’t require intense analysis, but everything in my work is very intentional. In terms of today, I would say Kendrick Lamar is the closest sound I could compare myself to. Him and his endless love for cyphers, I respect that. TV: Were there doubts starting out, or have you had that moment that put things into perspective? S: There was never a moment where I wanted to give up, but there were moments of frustration where I would ask myself why it was taking so fucking long. The reason it’s taken so long is because I’m proudly a perfectionist, and so is my team. You put people from medicine, finance, and fine art together, you get a varied dynamic and great results.
Bingham dominates in debut track season
The next in our series of profiles of Varsity Blues headed to the FISU Summer Universiade
After an impressive rookie season, Varsity Blues sprinter Khamica Bingham is preparing for the International University Sports Federation (FISU) Summer Universiade in Kazan, Russia next month. Bingham, a media/technology major, was named Varsity Blues rookie of the year, and also won the Ken Giles award for Brampton’s amateur athlete of the year.
Bingham describes her first season with the Blues as “one of my best indoor seasons that I have ever had.” The Blues rookie achieved individual success as well as success as a member of the 4×200-metre relay team. “I managed to run a personal best in the 60-metre with 7.41s, which is really close to my goal of running a 7.3. I was also the first leg for the 4×200-metre relay team, splitting a time of 23.9s. The team was able to break numerous records with a time of 1:36.53.”Bingham attends UTM, lives in Brampton, and trains downtown, all of which make it difficult to manage school and training. But she has learned to balance her commitments. “The varsity experience is a new experience, but I am really enjoying it,” she says. “My coaches Bob and Carl look after me and make me feel [like] part of [the] varsity [environment]. They do a good job keeping me healthy and motivated.”But the track was not where Bingham made her athletic debut: the Blues running star started gymnastics at the age of nine, and by age fourteen she was competing at the national level. “My dad motivated me [to compete] in sports and taught me stuff at home,” she says of her history as an athlete. A third-place finish in the all-around at the gymnastics national qualifiers allowed her to compete at the national competition.. Despite competing with an injury, she was able to finish in second place on vault.In grade six, Bingham won the 100-metre sprint against all of her classmates and was urged by her gym teachers to join the Herb Campbell track and field team. She later went on to win the 100-metre against all of the grade six and seven students who she competed against.“My dad and I knew that I was pretty fast, but just chose to focus on gymnastics,” she said. After quitting gymnastics at the age of fourteen, she joined the Brampton Track Club in September 2010. “I always secretly wanted to do track and field,” Bingham explains. “I [have] always been really powerful and knew that I had some speed from the training in gymnastics.”Although Kazan will be her first international competition as a senior, she competed at the World Youth Championships in Lille, France, finishing fifth overall in the 100-metre race. She describes this as “a great stepping stone to help prepare me for the Canadian team that I made the following year for World Juniors Championships.”Although she was competing with a knee injury at the World Juniors, Bingham finished fifth in the 100-metre with a personal best time of 11.46, missing third place by only one hundredth of a second.Bingham is very proud of how the indoor season ended, and is excited about going to Kazan — mostly for the experience of running against the fastest girls from all over the world. “It will be in a new environment that I have never been in before,” she says.Her goal for the Universiade is to make the 100-metre final, and if she does attain this goal, the focus will shift to winning a medal. “I usually don’t have high expectations [of] myself, but the fact that I’m an ‘underdog’ going [into] the meet pushes me to run faster,” she says. Bingham will be joined in Russia by Blues teammates Alicia Brown and Sarah Wells.Bingham’s goal for the upcoming Blues season is to improve her 60-metre time to 7.3s. She is also hoping that the 4×200-metre relay team can continue their strong record from this season.Ultimately, Bingham is training for the 2016 Olympics in Rio, and hopes to also make the national team that will head to the 2020 Olympics. “Just to be at the Olympics would be amazing,” she said, “but I would … appreciate [the experience even more] if I were to make an Olympic final, or possibly medal at the Olympic Games.”
Blues striker Kovacevic looking to end disappointing season on a high in Kazan
The next in our series of profiles of Varsity Blues headed to the FISU Summer Universiade
After completing his third season with the Varsity Blues, striker Mario Kovacevic heads to Kazan, Russia next month to compete on team Canada’s men’s soccer team at the FISU Universiade.Kovacevic played all 11 of the Blues’ games this season, scoring nine goals, and was named an OUA East second team all-star. In 2011, he ranked fifth in the OUA in goals scored with 11, and was named an OUA first team all-star. His impact on the Blues soccer team has increased significantly from his rookie year, when he played 13 games but scored only a single goal.This past year, the Blues carried a winning record of 8-6-2, but Kovacevic noted that it was a disappointing season compared to previous seasons. “Last year was one of our worst seasons with the Blues in several years,” he noted. “We finished fourth in the league and didn’t make the OUA Final Four. We had a lot of fresh faces, and a very young team. I had a decent season, [but] not as good as my previous season as a Blue.”Despite this disappointment, Kovacevic is looking forward to competing in the Summer Universiade. “I’m pumped to be a part of the team going,” he said. However, with a team composed of players from different universities, he acknowledges that there may be some struggles, when everyone has their own playing style. “It’ll be interesting to see how we gel and come together.”Kovacevic hopes that the team can perform competitively throughout the tournament, and has set high individual goals. “Individually, I really want to be on the field for 90 minutes every game, as you can imagine,” he said. “As a team, I want us to get out of the group stage at least. I’ve been training six days a week trying to get in tip-top shape for this tournament, and really want to impress the coaching staff on the first day of camp.”The road to this point in his soccer career has been a long one for Kovacevic, who first played at the age of four in Croatia. He began playing organized soccer when he was eight years old. “It’s been with me every step of the way since childhood,” he said.However, Kovacevic paused his soccer career for a period of time in his teens. “I really got into volleyball in high school, and played in the OVA for a few years which took me away from soccer,” he explained. “But I got back into it seriously when my volleyball career ended with the end of grade 12.”This is not Kovacevic’s first time playing on a quality soccer team, either. This past year, he played for the Toronto FC Academy team in the Canadian Soccer League. He also had the opportunity to play a few games on the Toronto FC Reserve team in the MLS Reserve League. Along with competing on these teams, he has trained with the Toronto FC first team.Going into his fourth year as a Blue, Kovacevic hopes that the team can find a place at the top of the standings in the OUA. “I expect us to do much better this coming season. Our team has matured naturally, and we’ve gotten some new additions [in] the off season,” he said. “Seeing as this might be my last season as a Blue, I expect it to be my best.”With his chance to compete in the FISU games and approaching his final season competing in the OUA, Kovacevic’s career is set to end on a high note. “I’m being realistic in knowing that unless some sort of miracle happens, my soccer career has reached its pinnacle with this tournament in Russia.”
The man behind the medals
A look at the Varsity Blues’ Brian Lee’s journey to the OUA and CIS swimming championships
For Brian Lee, the Varsity Blues’ second-year swimming sensation, a passion for swimming and athletic prowess in the pool may be genetic.“My parents met swimming for Queen’s University, and it’s been a family sport since I was born,” said Lee, explaining his reasons for deciding to swim in the first place.The philosophy major has been swimming competitively for 14 years, beginning at the Sault Ste Marie Aquatic Club when he was six. After 10 years with the club, Lee made the decision to take his talents south of the border where he enrolled in the Baylor School, a co-educational private secondary school heralded for both its academic and swimming programs. With its multi-million dollar Olympic-sized swimming pool, the Tennessee-area school has a long history of producing competitive swimmers, including US Olympian Geoff Gaberino, who captured the gold medal in the 4×200 metre freestyle relay at the 1984 Summer Games in Los Angeles.So, it’s no surprise that Lee has emerged as one of the strongest swimmers on the team since he arrived at the University of Toronto. In just his first year as a Varsity Blues athlete, he won a silver medal at the 2012 Ontario University Athletics (OUA) championships, and went on to collect a pair of silver medals and a bronze at that year’s Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) championships.That medal haul was only a sign of things to come. At the 2013 OUA championships in Toronto, the Varsity Blues’ men’s swimming team captured the Dougall Trophy and first place, and Lee added to his medal collection a pair of gold medals in the relay events and a pair of third-place finishes in the individual events. Then, at the 2013 CIS championships in Calgary at the end of February, Lee collected a silver medal in the 50-metre breaststroke and a bronze medal in the 4×100 metre freestyle relay. The Varsity Blues went on to capture the Nelson C. Hart trophy, ending an 18-year period that saw a Western team top the CIS every year.Winning the national championship, says Lee, is undoubtedly the moment he is most proud of as a Varsity Blues swimmer. “It was an amazing experience to win like we did, made even more amazing because we’re graduating so many swimmers this year, and it was awesome being able to win with them.”Belonging to a team is an aspect of Varsity competition that Lee has come to love, and that made winning the CIS championship an incredible experience. “Club swimming is an individual sport, but Varsity swimming really makes you feel like part of a team. I’ve never experienced the team aspect of swimming as much as I have here.”It may also be a reason for the team’s success. “Having the whole team behind every swimmer every race made us all feel like we were swimming for something bigger that individual accomplishments,” says Lee. “Despite being close a number of times, I’m extremely happy that we were finally able to bring the trophy back to U of T.”Though clearly skilled in both the relay and individual events, the excitement of relays is something special for Lee. “It does feel awful to swim poorly and let the team down, more so than just swimming poorly on your own,” explains Lee, “Having a team of three guys behind you makes it really easy to feel inspired and have a great swim.”Lee trains once or twice a day provided he has no injuries, which can at times make it difficult to keep up with academics, he admits. “The coaching staff is extremely flexible concerning class hours and when you’re available to train though,” he explains. “Our meet schedule is determined ahead of time, which gives us a bit of time to prepare.”As a sprinter, Lee swims fewer metres and trains less often than swimmers in other disciplines, since his focus is on short distances and speed as opposed to endurance.Lee plans to stay in Toronto over the summer, as most Varsity swimmers do, in order to train and stay in shape for the upcoming season, which will see the University of Toronto host the CIS championships and try to defend their title.“We had a lot of support from parents and alumni that made swimming at home an exciting place to be during the OUA finals,” says Lee. “Hopefully next year when we host the CIS finals we’ll get the same support and more.“The biggest goal is to win the CIS championships for a second year in a row. The meet being held at home makes it mean even more to us.”
Food for thought
Bloorcourt restauranteurs talk about the art of collaboration in Toronto’s food scene
ACTINOLITEWho: Claudia Bianchi and Justin Cournoyer, co-owners of Actinolite.What: Actinolite is a cozy, 30-seat restaurant inspired by European cooking, specializing in fresh ingredients with a seasonally rotating menu.Claim to fame: Certain items (such as the pavlova) get reintroduced by popular demand, but the menu is probably best known for its novelty — it changes frequently to accommodate what’s fresh and in season, so it’s rare to see the same item twice.Where:
View Larger MapFoodspeak: For Bianchi and Cournoyer, it’s all about communication and collaboration. As head chef, Cournoyer often tries to open up the dialogue about food to people who don’t work in the industry. As Cournoyer says: “You can learn from anyone. That’s my biggest thing.” Recently, he asked his Sicilian neighbours whether they’d eaten bottarga (a dried, cured fish roe), and how it was prepared. They told him about being served bottarga “with grapes and bread when we were working in the fields,” so he developed a menu based on that response.Bianchi tells me how much she and Cournoyer enjoy using their food expertise to collaborate with other industries. For example, they recently worked with Fuze Reps (a Toronto-based agency representing photographers and other artists) to host a ‘Bang’ themed event at the event space Metropolis Factory. “We had to work with Metropolis and the decor of this warehouse, and we had to then collaborate with the photographers and all of their works so that the food worked for all of their pieces,” she says. “‘Bang’ and ‘Rock’ were, I think, the two themes, so the food had to ‘bang’ as well. We did some things with pop rocks.”Thanks to Bianchi’s experience with the Top Chef television series, she was able to create a pop-up kitchen in a couple of days that included satellite ovens and refrigerators. She describes the experience as “an amazing collaboration of an agency, reps, photographers, interior designers — it was a lot of fun!”971 Ossington Ave. 416-962-8943. Tuesday–Saturday 6–10 pm
DISGRACELANDWho: Shawn Macdonald, owner of Disgraceland.What: Disgraceland is a music-based bar that offers, in addition to the usual meat-based pub fare, a bevy of vegetarian and vegan options.Where:
View Larger MapClaim to Fame: The “accommodating comfort food,” which includes extensive options for both vegetarians and vegans, and the $14 pitchers of PBR.Foodspeak: As a vegan, Macdonald knows how difficult it can be to find hearty vegan and vegetarian meals in Toronto. “You know when you go to a restaurant with a group of people and there’s always somebody who can’t [eat meat], so they only get to eat appetizers all night? Well they don’t have to worry about that here. We have lots of vegan options, vegetarian, and meat.”Macdonald maintains a healthy scepticism about the food scene that’s been emerging in Toronto over the last few years. “I think there’s maybe too much of a [discussion] going on,” he says. “Because you get all of the Food Network followers and it turns everyone into a ‘foodie.’ Everyone thinks they’re one of those guys who critiques food, that they know more because they take whatever they see on TV and use it as their own vocabulary and their own sensibility or their own experience.”“So they talk about things ‘finishing well’ or ‘pairing with this’ and about 10 years ago — no, two years ago — ask anyone what that was about and they wouldn’t have a clue.”He says this with a laugh, though, and adds that one advantage is that more than ever people are starting to consider what’s going into their food. “I think people are talking about fresh ingredients when they want to ‘eat better,’ so I think it’s maybe teaching people to watch what they eat or to at least investigate what the ingredients are maybe, and I think that’s good.”965 Bloor St. W. 647-347-5263. Monday–Friday 4 pm–2 am; Saturday–Sunday 11am–2 amBAKERBOTSWho: Rosanne Pezzelli and Christopher Stopa, co-owners of Bakerbots Baking.What: Bakerbots Baking began as a specialty cake shop that grew into the local go-to spot for quality homestyle baked goods and ice cream.Where:
View Larger MapClaim to Fame: Special-order custom sculpted cakes, and their ice cream sandwiches, which are made from their homemade cookies and ice cream, and are available year-round.Foodspeak: Pezzelli and Stopa love that people in Toronto are talking about food — especially if the food is theirs. “We haven’t spent one penny on advertising,” Pezzelli says. “We don’t even have a business card, but word about what we do, and the quality of our product has spread rapidly, in a very organic way.”Both owners credit their customers for the fact that pictures of their food, a few of their recipes, and numerous reviews of their store exist on the Internet. Pezzelli adds: “People know we care very much about what we offer. They aren’t afraid to ask questions, or to push us on an issue, or to share their own personal experiences. I have a sacred collection of recipes that I’ve built up through customers who wanted us to re-create their grandma’s walnut cake, sugar pie, butter tarts — stuff that made them giggle growing up.”When asked about her collaborations with Sam James Coffee Bar, Bellwoods Brewery, and her brother Arthur (who creates the ice creams), Pezzelli says: “When you admire and respect what someone else has created, and you know they’ve put themselves into what they’re sharing, you want to get involved. We’re all similar in that we depend on word-of-mouth and the quality of our products to sustain and grow our businesses. It’s always great to sit with Sam and Luke [from Bellwoods Brewery] and dream up food ideas, to get excited about what will get people talking.”205 Delaware Ave. 416-901-3500. Tuesday-Thursday, 6–10 pm; Friday: 4–11 pm; Saturday, 11 am–11 pm.; Sunday 11 am–10 pm
Native tradition, new theatre
Discussing community, ceremony, and cacao with director Dr. Jill Carter
Comfortably perched in her desk chair, Dr. Jill Carter laughs as she huddles around the warmth of the large Second Cup coffee that she holds in her hands. “Sorry about that!” she says smiling, having just been bombarded with a myriad of questions from eager students waiting outside her office.Carter, who identifies herself as Anishinaabe-Ashkenazi, is a faculty member in the Aboriginal Studies department at U of T. She also describes herself as an actor, a writer, a playwright, a student, and a mentor. While lecturing is her full-time job, she makes sure to include time for her greatest passion, the theatre, and for the stories that can be created on stage.As an integral part of Native Earth Performing Arts’ newest production, Chocolate Woman Dreams the Milky Way, Carter knows all about stories. The play incorporates creation stories of different groups of indigenous peoples from all over the Americas — specifically the Haudenosaunee (Great Lakes region), Rappahannock (Virginia), and Guna (Panama) peoples — in an attempt to reclaim indigenous cultures through art. Focusing on the elemental females portrayed in these stories, the play is centred on Chocolate Woman, a Guna feminine spirit associated with the cacao plant.Carter, who recently received her Ph.D. from the Drama Centre at U of T, is the remount director of Chocolate Woman Dreams the Milky Way, and has been involved with the play since the beginning of its production. Nestled in the warmth of her office on a blisteringly cold day, she spoke to The Varsity about Native Earth Performing Arts, and the role of theatre in the reclaiming of indigenous cultures.
THE VARSITYHow did you become involved with Native Earth Performing Arts, Canada’s oldest professional native theatre company?
DR. JILL CARTERI suppose being a young native woman, I was drawn to them… My first experience with Native Earth was seeing Tomson Highway’s The Rez Sisters, and I remember very clearly how it galvanized me. I came up in a time when a lot of Native artists came up — you know, people who wanted to be theatre professionals [but were] not seeing their role models and… Not seeing ourselves at all on stage. And if we did see ourselves on stage… or saw what purported to be us on stage, we often saw some very ugly pictures, so it wasn’t something to be proud of. Seeing The Rez Sisters changed everything, and it changed everything for a lot of native artists, but also for mainstream [theatres]… It really put Native Earth on the map.
THE VARSITYSo you think Native Earth Performing Arts has been instrumental in jump-starting Native theatre?
DR. JILL CARTEROh I would say so… Although it had its financial struggles, it has been the cornerstone, I think, of native theatre in Canada. It’s been the place where artists got a voice, and where artists could become developed. They have a Young Voices program, and in that program they invite young people who are interested in playwriting… to work with professional dramaturgists… and they do a lot. I mean, they help young native artists through every stage in their careers. It is really ground zero, so to speak, still today.
THE VARSITYOne of the mandates of Native Earth is to encourage the use of theatre as a form of communication and dialogue. How or why do you see this as being especially important in communicating experiences unique to native peoples in contemporary society?
DR. JILL CARTEROh, that’s such a layered question! Twenty years ago, Canadians did not know who [natives] were. Canadians had an image of us, [but] they knew nothing of us… So having our artists come out and speak to Canada in our voice, about our concerns and through our lens was and is still crucially important today… To be the one who tells your story, that’s important. It’s interesting though because the issue has changed. Yvette Nolan [former artistic director of Native Earth] said, and I think quite rightly so, [that] at one point, the struggle — or the question — was, ‘Who gets to speak?’ Now the question is, ‘Who is listening?’ Is anybody listening? It gets awfully exhausting, educating the main populace… And many [artists] are pushing back against that and their plays are not necessarily for mainstream Canadians. Mainstream Canadians are welcome to come, to receive, to be affected, to learn, but their plays are for their own people.I often think of theatre as urban ceremony, in the sense that it unites a scattered body politic. The best of it creates communitas; it creates that sense that we in the audience are connected to each other… The best of it offers real healing, and permanent transformations, in that we can come away knowing something we didn’t know before… I mean, I’m not saying, ‘Go see a play’ and you’re fine! But, go see this play and something begins to work within you, that medicine begins to work within you. I think it can also be a gateway to our culture. So many of us have been separated from our communities, our languages, and a venue like this can be a gateway in. It can get us understanding a little more about ourselves and [make us] curious, eager to push further and go further.
THE VARSITYThere is a lot of silence surrounding the Native community in Canada, especially for the average citizen who doesn’t go out of his or her way to become informed. Do you see Native Earth playing a role in filling that silence?
DR. JILL CARTERI think it is, but it’s one piece of the puzzle. We don’t necessarily live in a theatre-going nation… So there are those that love the live experience and who come to see the theatre. But there are many who don’t, and we know that, and that’s certainly been an issue with Native Earth, an issue that is shared by theatres across Canada. The one thing you hear from [Canadian theatres] is the struggle, dare I be crude, to get bums in seats, and to bring people out… So there is always that struggle and certainly Native Earth has not been immune to that. But when we think of how many people in Toronto will be touched and educated by a piece, [it’s] not many. So Native Earth is part of something that must be larger. However, the thing about Native Earth is that in its support of plays and artists… it allows that work [to maintain] life after the production… These plays are published texts, they have a life in remounts and on tour, other theatres take it up, and I think this can all be traced back to the ministrations of companies like Native Earth.
THE VARSITYCan you tell us a little bit about the idea behind Chocolate Woman Dreams the Milky Way, and how it goes about reclaiming Indigenous cultures through art?
DR. JILL CARTERI’ve been involved with Chocolate Woman since its inception in 2007… It began before that however as a drive, or a need that Monique Mojica [the play’s author] had. Monique was going through a very serious… Time in her life. [She] required healing, required something to get up and go on, and began to look back at Creation stories, and the elemental females of Creation. And I say Creation stories and elemental females, because Monique is Guna and Rappahannock… She is also by marriage and adoption Haudenosaunee. Since she has all of this cultural material to draw on, the show is an interweave.Chocolate Woman is a Guna figure, an elemental female, I hesitate to use the word goddess because it’s not the same thing, but she is this feminine spirit that is associated with the cacao. Cacao for Guna people is a medicine… But it can also work at you from the outside in, can shield you from your enemies. So this cacao is really important. [Mojica met] with a Guna consultant and traditional teacher, who taught her these songs and stories. Rather than adopting Western theatrical form, she went back to tradition and ceremony to figure out how to… tell an ancient story to a contemporary audience, with contemporary expectations, in a contemporary venue, but to be able to affect the audience as an original rendering of the story would have affected traditional people.