This is our house

Various facilities take on name “U of T House” during Pan Am games

This is our house

With the Pan American games only days away, Toronto — and especially U of T — has gone into preparation overdrive, rushing to ensure that the city’s venues are in perfect competition shape to host some of the world’s best athletes.

As one of the largest universities in Canada, it’s not all that surprising that a significant number of U of T alumni and student-athletes will take part in one of the greatest international competitions the Americas have to offer. In order to commemorate the achievements and enduring sacrifices of our athletes, a number of U of T buildings will bear the honorary title of “U of T House” for the duration of the games. As such, the Goldring Centre, the Instructional Centre at U of T’s Scarborough campus (UTSC), and the Eastern Common Room at Hart House will host a variety of events and exhibitions designed to pique the interest of students and visitors, and promote the games and U of T.

Changing the Change-Room

If you’ve visited any of the athletic facilities on campus recently, you’d be hard-pressed not to notice the multiple banners and posters advertising U of T’s newest initiative, the “Change Room Project”. The first of its kind at U of T, the Change Room Project endeavours to tackle issues of equality in sport “[The Change Room Project] bring[s] awareness to the barriers to participation that are still facing LGBTQ people in our communities” said Virginia Ise, communications manager at Hart House, “The stigma [still] exists in people’s minds about who should be able to compete in mega-games.” This news should come at no surprise considering the amount of homophobic rhetoric that surrounded the 2014 winter Olympics in Sochi, as well as the amount of recent controversy surrounding former Olympic gold medal winner Caitlyn Jenner.

Thus came the decision for U of T to collaborate with Dr. Caroline Fusco, a professor from the Kinesiology and Physical Education department, in order to help conduct interviews with U of T students, student-athletes, staff, and faculty regarding their experiences in the locker room. With hope, added Ise, “the project will bring more awareness and reflection in an effort to shift both the social and physical aspects of locker rooms to be more inclusive.”

Athleticism meets Art

The second major “U of T House” exhibition that will be unveiled for the Pan Am games is the aptly titled “The Flesh of the World” exhibit. Inspired by the Pan Am games and the work of Maurice Merleau-Ponty — a philosopher of phenomenology — the exposition will investigate intrinsically complex views of the human body — including its behaviour during athletic activity. “The works span across various media” added Ise, “including film and video installation, sculptures, framed photographs, drawings, paintings and performances.”. The exhibition will be hosted at the Justina M. Barnicke Gallery at Hart House and the Doris McCarthy Gallery at UTSC.

Finally, what would a major American sporting competition be without a little “Music from the Americas”? In the exhibition, live music will be performed every day of the week during the games from one to two PM in the Map Room at Hart House — showcasing music from a variety of Americana backgrounds; from blues, jazz, and R&B, to the more exotic Zydeco, Cajun, and Salsa — to cite but a few.

For Andrew Arifuzzaman, the chief administrative officer at UTSC, the “U of T House” projects present truly exciting opportunities for students and Torontonians alike, “The [U of T House] experience [is] something that people do not normally experience” said Arifuzzaman, of UTSC’s commitment to organize — on top of these exhibitions — spaces equipped with couches and televisions for students to view the games together, “It will be a place [for students] to come get the U of T flavour of the Pan Am games”, he concludes.

From this initiative alone, its clear that U of T is going the extra mile for the Pan Am games. Major sporting competitions like these constitute an unbelievable experience, and are a rare occurrence, so go out, enjoy the games and the incredible exhibitions U of T has put together — it’s worth it.

Asexy and they know it

U of T hosts annual Asexuality conference

Asexy and they know it

The 2015 North American Asexuality Conference (NAAC) took place June 20 and 21 at U of T. It was put on by Asexual Outreach, a non-profit organization that supports and empowers people identifying as asexual.

Asexuals, who sometimes refer to themselves as “aces,” comprise an estimated one per cent of the population. The conference brought together around 300 aces, LGBTQ+ service providers, and activists for two days of keynotes, workshops, panels, and community building. The open-forum “unconference” portion of the weekend featured topics such as Feminism and Asexuality, Queer-Platonic Partnerships, and Asexuality and Religion.

Brian Langevin is a U of T equity and sexual diversity studies student. He is also the co-founder of Asexual Outreach, and organized the NAAC. The Varsity interviewed him the week leading up to NAAC 2015.

When asked what “asexual” means, Langevin replied, “The easiest way to define it would be an asexual person is someone who does not experience sexual attraction to other people,” adding that “Before 2001 when David Jay founded asexuality.org, and even still today, aces lived their entire lives feeling like they were broken. Or like there was no one like them, and probably almost all of them never met anyone else who had the same experience.”

According to Langevin, one of the issues faced by aces is the idea that their lack of sexual attraction should be “cured” medically. “Obviously if you were to try to do that to a gay person there would be public outcry, but people don’t really see the connect there.” This sentiment is borne out fictionally in an example of another issue, namely representation of aces in the media. Langevin cites a problematic episode of House in which a patient identifying as asexual is “cured” of asexuality by removal of a tumor near his pituitary gland. This resolution affirms the doctor’s mistaken opinion that “everyone loves sex unless they’re sick, dead, or lying.”

Anthony Burton/THE VARSITY

Anthony Burton/THE VARSITY

Langevin is a social justice leader working for societal acceptance and inclusion across the entire ace community. This involves a stated intention to centre people who have been marginalized. An excerpt from the NAAC mission statement on asexualoutreach.org reads, “We strive to center and empower members of the community who have been silenced, erased, and left out. This especially includes people of color, people with disabilities/disabled people, and survivors of trauma and abuse.”

He notes that asexuality is harder for society to understand than homosexuality. “With asexuality [people] are like, but how do you not experience something that everyone else seems to?” And of course, it’s a two way street: he says “It’s as difficult I figure for non-asexual people to understand not experiencing sexual attraction as it is for asexuals to understand sexual attraction… because I’ve never experienced it there’s no way to contrast it with what I experience.”

Langevin first noticed he was different from non-asexual people in middle school when his classmates were developing crushes on each other. They would ask “Who do you think is hot?” and ‘If there was one celebrity you could bang, who would it be?’” When Langevin was faced with the question “Who do you like?” He would respond “‘I don’t like anyone, and that wasn’t an acceptable answer, for whatever reason, so I ended up making up people, often, to appease their curiosity… people saying oh he’s so hot, she’s so hot and I just don’t get that, I don’t know what you mean.’”

Langevin’s message to his fellow U of T students is this: “Regardless of your understanding of the ace community or how much time you want to invest into exploring the ace identity, it’s super important that you accept people and accept their identities regardless of if you’ve heard of them before.” To the ace students he says, “Know that there are other people out there like yourself” and that there are “Resources, and places you can go [at U of T] where you will feel welcome in your identity and people will respect you.”

Streeters: Pride Parade 2015

Pride-goers put their partying on pause to tell us about their experiences at Toronto’s annual Pride Parade

Streeters: Pride Parade 2015
Zarin Tasnim and Malone Mullin/THE VARSITY

Zarin Tasnim and Malone Mullin/THE VARSITY

We got drunk on Church Street and everybody broke into a dance in the pouring rain. It was a giant puddle and everyone was raging.”

-Ryan (left), Graham (right)

Zarin Tasnim and Malone Mullin/THE VARSITY

Zarin Tasnim and Malone Mullin/THE VARSITY

This is our first Pride – nothing wild has happened yet. We’re enjoying ourselves, though.”

-Beth and Rainer

Zarin Tasnim and Malone Mullin/THE VARSITY

Zarin Tasnim and Malone Mullin/THE VARSITY

“I’ve gone every year since I was a little kid [when] my dad took me. Everyone’s crazy here; I love it.”

-Kai (left), Didi (center), Erika (right)

Zarin Tasnim and Malone Mullin/THE VARSITY

Zarin Tasnim and Malone Mullin/THE VARSITY

Last year, being at the front [of the parade] and having one of the guys come up to me and start kissing me…I was like ‘whoa, this is crazy!’ But I love it because you’re hot and topless!”

-Albert

Zarin Tasnim and Malone Mullin/THE VARSITY

Zarin Tasnim and Malone Mullin/THE VARSITY

“[Pride is] about equality. Everyone should be able to live how they want to live. It’s just a big reminder of that.”

-Ariana (left), Julia (second from left), Alyssia (second from right), Kit (right)

Zarin Tasnim and Malone Mullin/THE VARSITY

Zarin Tasnim and Malone Mullin/THE VARSITY

I’ve been doing [Pride] for about ten years now, in all different weather. This year is pretty rainy but last year’s Pride was probably the best it’s ever been. So many people, so long, so big – it was just to the max and it was the best time ever.”

-Kim

Zarin Tasnim and Malone Mullin/THE VARSITY

Zarin Tasnim and Malone Mullin/THE VARSITY

It’s our first Pride – we’re from Mexico. We got the wigs there.”

-Greta and Julie-Beth

A blast from the past

Spadina Historical Museum hosts much-anticipated 20s themed garden party

A blast from the past

Through no fault of its own, last Sunday’s highly anticipated Gatsby Garden Party at the Spadina Museum was somewhat anti-climatic. The event’s Facebook page had reached preposterous heights of web circulation — hitting 50,000 online “attendees” by the time June 28 finally rolled around.

Needless to say, the turnout was significantly lower than the event page had anticipated. Apart from lousy weather, the date in question was stacked with various other events taking place across the city, ranging from the annual Pride Parade to a stressful Game of Thrones cosplay battle and a Gatsby party doppelganger happening in Trinity Bellwoods park. Thankfully, those who actually did make it out for the Spadina House’s 20s themed party were greeted with a lovely, if slightly soggy, jazz-age bash.

On the outside, the Spadina House grounds were sprinkled with men in tuxedos and women in dresses casually strolling about the lavishly decorated courtyard. Against the period backdrop, the sights and sounds of the garden party consisted mainly of poorly executed New York accents, and a profusion of group selfies.

The inside of the Spadina House was more reminiscent of a high-school house jam; the stairs were packed with people pushing and shoving their way to the top or bottom, while occasionally a vaguely-familiar face would pop out of the crowd as you tried frantically to put a name to it. Like any good house party, the vibe led to an all-around enjoyable time, despite sweeping bouts of claustrophobia and the sporadic desire for a glass of water.

Benefitting from the smaller turnout then had initially been anticipated, the Gatsby Garden Party was a victory for history-buffs hoping to relive the glory days in ‘20s fashion.

Sandy Ma/THE VARSITY

Sandy Ma/THE VARSITY

By the numbers:

Attendees on the Facebook event: 50,103

Tickets sold: 1,600 (at capacity)

Actual turnout: 1,042

Food trucks serving poutine: 2

People Suck is a must-see at this year’s Fringe Festival

Co-writers Megan Phillips and Peter Cavell skewer the entire human race in their all-too-relatable musical

People Suck is a must-see at this year’s Fringe Festival

Megan Phillips and Peter Cavell mince no words with the name of their new Fringe Fest show, People Suck. The title is a rather broad insult, but let’s face it — we all had it coming.

Phillips and Cavell knew the scope of their project would be large when they joined forces to craft a series of musical numbers that poke fun at the many shortcomings of everyday people. In People Suck, no stone is left unturned, from flakes, to selfish lovers, to revolutionaries on the subway, everyone gets their comeuppance. On opening night last Wednesday, the show earned a standing ovation from its sold-out audience, and it is clear why. People Suck is gutsy, entertaining, and meaningful; it is independent theatre at its best.

A few hours before the show, I met Phillips and Cavell for light drinks at the Victory Café on Markham Street. As soon as we begin chatting, the pair’s rapport, which has been in the making since they began doing improv together at the University of Western Ontario a decade ago, became clear immediately in the way each builds upon the other’s ideas.

“At this point, I’ve worked with a bunch of people, and I know what I’m looking for in a [writing] partner,” says Phillips. “I think it’s really nice to set some ground rules… of where we want to go [creatively]. It’s kind of like a marriage.” Turning to Cavell, she adds, “Like, you could be my creative husband.”

Cavell picks right up on the joke: “You’re totally my comedy wife.”

Their artistic marriage seems healthy, especially given the story of how People Suck first began. About a year ago, the two of them were brainstorming at Cavell’s Toronto studio when Phillips brought up an idea for a new show. She laughs, remembering how instantly the idea clicked with Cavell. “It was literally, ‘Let’s write a song cycle!’ ‘What’s it called?’ ‘People Suck.’ ‘I’m in.’”

Adding to their momentum was the fact that each of them had already mounted successful shows at Fringe Festivals in the past. Phillips made waves in 2013 and 2014 with her all-female sketch show, Strapless Comedy, which was a hit at Fringes across Canada. Cavell, who is also a Musical Director at the Second City Training Centre, brought his musical improv chops to the Toronto Fringe with The Soaps, an improvised soap opera that had consecutive successes in 2012 and 2013.

For People Suck, Phillips and Cavell recruited some of the most beloved performers on the Toronto comedy scene, all of whom have performed at Second City and knew Cavell personally. According to Phillips, because the cast members were already friends, “[The] trust… was already there, so we could just get straight to work.”

That said, Cavell points out that with People Suck, he and Phillips were trying to do something different than the type of current-events-inspired comedy revues that populate the Second City main stage. With many of those shows, Cavell notes, “It’s good [material], but six months later it’s not topical anymore.” While Cavell has no problem with such productions, when it came to People Suck “[Megan and I] thought, ‘We want to write something that has legs to it, something that can stand on its own and be funny, but reveal something at the same time.’”

In that respect, People Suck delivers. At the heart of the show’s humour is a mismatch between form and content: the show hijacks the broadway musical style we associate with peppiness and optimism to instead convey dark truths about human behaviour. The result is sardonic showtunes like “People Suck (Except When You Want Them To)” — Allison Price’s unforgettable, Chicago-esque solo number about her inability to find a partner of any gender who is willing to go down on her.

Phillips and Cavell could have settled for stacking their show with sure-fire winners like Price’s protest song, but instead they go further, pushing the concept into experimental territory. Reviewers who describe the show as non-linear should think again, since it actually charts a clear trajectory in tone, from dark comedy through to downright tragedy. Simultaneously, we watch as the complainant of each successive number becomes increasingly aware that it is, after all, not the failures of other people we really need to worry about.

This kind of experimentation from theatre artists at the top of their game is rare, and the Fringe Fest is one of your best bets for finding it. So don’t be a flake: get out and see this show — and any others that interest you — while you still have a chance.

People Suck plays at the Randolph Theatre as part of the Toronto Fringe Festival until July 11.

Reviewing the Basement Revue

A diverse range of performances leads to an entertaining night for Jason Collett’s annual Basement Revue

Surrounded by woodchips and sawdust, Luminato’s festival hub is carpeted with artificial grass and outlined by plywood cut-outs of trees – perhaps the same trees that were chopped down in order to make the cut-outs in the first place.

Jason Collett’s Basement Revue is an arts show curated by the Canadian musician himself. The annual showcase is known for leaving its performance line-up a mystery, allowing for endless possibilities and surprising guest appearances.

Collett opened the show with a solo number; after the vastness of David Pecaut Square, Collette and his song ushered the small audience into an ambience of intimacy. The room was dimly lit, and the small tables perfectly arranged — close enough to talk to neighbouring audience members, but far enough away to maintain a measure of privacy. In addition to the fake candles on each of the tables, the room was lit with standard stage lighting, a disco ball, and four projectors positioned behind the stage.

The first act of the night was Canadian author and poet David McGimpsey reading from his latest poetry collection: Asbestos Heights. The poetry relied upon an inversion of expectations: McGimpsey infused high literature with pop-culture references and crass turns of phrase like “unfuckable is the new 30.”

The night offered an array of performances ranging from independent music to literary readings. Following McGimpsey was Lynn Crosbie, an author, Globe and Mail columnist, and U of T English professor, reading from her new book, Where Did You Sleep Last Night. The novel is a raunchy, magical realist love story that, intriguingly, doubles as Kurt Cobain fan-fiction.

This was followed by a weird fusion of music and theatre. The music was supplied by Snowblink, an unconventional three-piece providing an ethereal and occasionally melodic soundtrack to a ‘metaphysical physician’ played by Torquil Campbell, who would prescribe a treatment for the subject, delivered musically by Snowblink.

The next band, Las Cafeteras —described as playing traditional immigrant music — was a fusion of a variety of cultures with modern American music. Alongside the group’s traditional instruments, a hollow wooden box was used as percussion for a rhythmic dance. The dancers stomped with hard, heavy shoes in an intricate, percussive display that was magnificent to watch. The band’s obvious delight in performing was infectious; Las Cafeteras stole the show and the crowd clapped louder and longer for them than for any other act.

The show should have ended at this point, but unfortunately, the next act slated, through no fault of their own, could not match their unique energy. However, “The Best” were an excellent cover band, and for their set the tables were pushed back to make room for a dance floor, where performers and audience members could dance together.

The Basement Revue’s eclectic line-up contributed to the show’s success, allowing for enough variety to maintain the audience’s attention throughout the evening. The intimate venue and the elaborate setup made for a night of new experiences that were both intellectually stimulating and just plain fun.

Students criticize new loan repayment program

Aeroplan miles can now be used to pay off debt

Students criticize new loan repayment program

Ontario students can now pay off their debts using Aeroplan miles in a new initiative being rolled out by the Government of Ontario, the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP), and loyalty program Higher Ed Points.

Not everyone is pleased with the scope of the debt-repayment initiative however. “This program is short sighted and attempts to solve a really serious issue of mounting student debt with a Band-Aid solution,” said Rajean Hoilett, chairperson of Canadian Federation of Students-Ontario (CFS).

Aeroplan-affiliated credit cards typically offer one mile for every dollar spent. The miles are then transferred through Higher Ed Points into tuition credits in $250 increments. In order to obtain the minimum $250, a student must rack up 35,000 miles, which means spending $35,000. According to the program, students can use Aeroplan miles that friends and family have accumulated towards their credit.

The CFS criticized the program for mostly benefitting higher-income families. “ In a climate where even middle-class families face an alarming financial crunch, the largest benefits of the Higher Ed Points will be reaped by high-income families who can afford steady consumer spending,” the CFS wrote in a media release.

Dave Ansari, a third-year U of T student receiving OSAP, feels this program is unfair because it requires students to have Aeroplan miles. “Student debt should be tackled through more government subsidies for tuition cost,” said Ansari. “The government is doing this as a cop out from giving people actual cash.”

According to Hoilett, “[the program] turns an entire generation’s economic insecurity into a loyalty program that asks them to spend money they don’t have.”

Although the University of Toronto is not currently one of Higher Ed Points’ participating institutions, the program aims to have every Canadian post-secondary institution on board in the future.

President Gertler appoints new urban advisors

Initiative aimed at strengthening partnership between U of T and city of Toronto

President Gertler appoints new urban advisors

University of Toronto president Meric Gertler has appointed Shauna Brail and John Brodhead as new urban advisors, in hopes of strengthening the relationship between the university and the city of Toronto.

As a major centre of research and innovation, U of T plays an important role in shaping Toronto’s cultural and political landscape.

“The University of Toronto has been committed to graduating well-educated citizens who work and live in the GTA, stimulating the economy through innovation and community involvement. The institution has also had a hand in city-building by affecting Toronto’s physical landscape and by contributing the efforts of its talented faculty and students towards tackling local social and economic issues,” said Gertler on U of T’s relationship to Toronto.

Brail and Brodhead

Brail is a senior lecturer in the urban studies department and has been involved in creating experiential learning opportunities for undergraduate students, such as internship courses that match students with local organizations. She has also had experience working both within the government and the private sector, and hopes to use this experience to partner more civic organizations with the university and its students.

“[We] anticipate there being additional opportunities for students to participate in community engaged learning opportunities, through internships, placements, and collaborative university-community research initiatives,” said Brail, adding that students will have opportunities to engage with, and learn from, government agencies, non-profits and other civic organizations, which will give them access to contacts and work experience.

John Brodhead is a fellow at the Mowat Center for Public Policy and the current executive director of Evergreen CityWorks, a non-profit organization that focuses on solving urban environmental issues and promoting further understanding of urban processes. According to Brodhead, his focus areas are transport and housing.

John Brodhead.  Accelerate Collaborating for Sustainability Conference 2014 (Toronto, ON) by The Natural Step Canada is licensed under CC BY 2.0​ ​​​

John Brodhead.
Accelerate Collaborating for Sustainability Conference 2014 (Toronto, ON) by The Natural Step Canada is licensed under CC BY 2.0​ ​​​

“My hope is that by working with Dr. Brail and others in the university, we can engage students even more directly in the city building issues that they care about,” said Brodhead. “The U of T student body is a huge resource for this city and this region, and we need to ensure we are maximizing every opportunity we can to work with them on these critical issues.”

The student role 

When asked to comment on president Gertler’s new initiative, Abdullah Shihipar, president of the Arts and Science Student Union, said that Gertler’s latest initiative to increase the partnership between U of T and Toronto is a positive one.

“Being better integrated with the city should definitely be a priority of this university,” said Shihipar, who emphasized that part of U of T’s integration with the city should be an opportunity to become more active citizens by empowering marginalized communities in Toronto.

“Addressing transit, the high cost of housing, food security and other social justice issues in the city will have a positive impact on students and the issues they face,” said Shihipar. “We live in and around this city as well and there is considerable overlap between what is a student issue and what is a city issue.”

Gertler hopes that his initiative will attract even more of the world’s top professionals, students, and academics to the U of T community.

“This initiative definitely serves an enlightened self-interest because the more that the university can do to improve the quality of life in the city, the easier it will be to recruit great students and faculty. We have a lot of analytical power that can be used to help people and local organizations,” he said.

According to Gertler, though learning, research, and relevant work experience opportunities will be directed at undergraduate students for the time being, he hopes to extend the opportunities to graduate students, especially those in departments with urban interests, including the Munk School of Global Affairs, and the School of Public Policy.