The New York Times hosts Art of the Book Review panel at U of T

What makes a good book review and what goes into the process of book criticism?

<i>The New York Times</i> hosts Art of the Book Review panel at U of T
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In collaboration with U of T, The New York Times (NYT) hosted a panel about the art of the book review, focusing on the overall ethics and guidelines of book reviewing, as well as what makes a ‘good review.’

The event took place on November 30 at Isabel Bader Theatre and featured Jennifer Szalai, the NYT’s nonfiction book critic, and Randy Boyagoda, a U of T English professor and principal at St. Michael’s College.

Describing her experience as a book reviewer and the differences to those of news reporters, Szalai said, “There’s news value in these books and so when I review books, news value’s part of it, but it’s about reviewing the book, it’s about criticism. It’s about thinking what it is that the writer is trying to do.”

Szalai also spoke of the inner workings of being a reviewer, touching on subjects such as an embargo book, which “is a book that the publisher has decided not to release any advance copies of to reviewers.”

She also described how major book publicists and publishers try to get critics and editors to sign non-disclosure agreements, which is against NYT staff guidelines. Critics at the NYT are also not allowed to review books from current and former work colleagues.

The panelists also discussed how readership affects the process of book reviewing and how book culture remains an integral part of the industry. Boyagoda drew on his experience as an English professor, emphasizing the importance of book reviewing in contemporary literary studies.

“It is important for contemporary students of literature, of ideas more generally, to have a sense of what they’re studying in class is meaningfully connected to what’s going on in the world at large,” he said. “There’s a continuity between what’s going on in terms of a syllabus and then the kind of culture at large. And if we don’t see that… then all that matters are those that are dead already and I think a lively book culture kind of fails, and the people who are studying it today aren’t committed to thinking about what’s going on in terms of contemporary fiction and nonfiction.”

Szalai said that bias, particularly from readers, makes it difficult when giving a fair opinion. Social media makes it especially hard, as reviewers can face direct criticism for an honest review.

“I think that the main thing about the reviews, especially the reviews that run in the Times, is that you want the review to be fair,” she explained.

She acknowledged that people define ‘fair’ in different ways, “but ultimately, you don’t want the reader to think that there’s some sort of ulterior motive on the part of the reviewer, whether it’s to promote a friend on the one hand, or if it’s an enemy, to really take their book down,” she said.

During the Q&A session, one audience member asked a question about the genre bias of book reviews, mainly those of history and politics, and what would constitute any non-political book to be reviewed.

“I think it would depend on the book,” said Szalai.

“Sometimes I will notice that I’ve just done week after week after week of books having to do with history, politics, social issues, and for myself as well as for the readers, I think it’s nice. It’s helpful also for them to understand my sensibility better if I speak to a book that’s not about that.”

Boyagoda related the question to his experience reviewing a book outside his expertise of literary fiction.

“It was a great intellectual palate cleanser from, in my case, literary fiction… and I had readers… who came up to me and said, ‘It was really interesting to see you writing about this instead.’”

“That makes it a break for the reader, but it’s also a break for the critic; it’s kind of like a reset, in a way… whether it’s politics or literary fiction,” said Boyagoda.

Sam Tanenhaus, a former editor at the NYT and a visiting professor at U of T, moderated the panel. The NYT’s Canada bureau chief Catherine Porter and University College Principal Donald Ainslie delivered opening and closing remarks.

“Now is the time to act”: Faculty of Law students sign open letter against rising tuition

Petition garners 400 signatures from students, alumni

“Now is the time to act”: Faculty of Law students sign open letter against rising tuition

India Annamanthadoo came to the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Law in the hopes of pursuing a career in public interest law, and working in areas such as international human rights law and legal aid work.

Since arriving, however, Annamanthadoo has become increasingly worried about being able to go into those fields given concerns over the high cost of tuition and increasing student debt. She also noticed that many of her friends in the faculty forgo those fields, which tend to be on the lower end of the pay scale, in favour of careers in the higher paying field of corporate law.

“Many of my peers and I came to U of T Law because we were enticed by the prospect of working in these areas,” she wrote. “But what I’ve come to realize is that those options are only viable if you don’t have debt from your undergrad and your parents are paying for your law degree.”

She added, “The situation is only getting worse, with tuition set to pass $40,000 next year. It was clear to me that now is the time to act.”

This academic year, Annamanthadoo and 14 other students and alumni helped launch Barriers to Excellence, an initiative to persuade the faculty to “implement a moratorium on tuition increases past $40,000 per year” until certain conditions outlined in an open letter addressed to Dean Edward Iacobucci are met.

These demands include a comprehensive financial review of the faculty with publicly accessible results. Based on the review, Barriers to Excellence demands that the faculty commit to specific initiatives to control costs and protect the allocation of financial aid, such as guaranteeing assistance to low-income applicants upon admission offers and a long-term plan for affordable tuition.

The name is modelled after the faculty’s Campaign for Excellence without Barriers, a project launched this year aiming to raise $20 million for financial aid.

To date, the open letter has over 400 signatures from current students, alumni since the class of 1971, and several organizations, including the University of Toronto Students’ Union and the Law Students’ Society of Ontario.

“Obviously this is not a campaign for current students,” wrote Annamanthadoo. “We’re already here, paying six [figures] for a law degree. This is a campaign for future students.”

In a statement to The Varsity, the faculty noted that Iacobucci has had two in-depth discussions of the budget, tuition, and financial aid at Faculty Council, the governing body of the Faculty of Law.

The council is composed of the dean, full-time faculty members, the Chief Law Librarian, the Assistant Dean of the Juris Doctor Program, elected student representatives from each year of the program, and two graduate students.

The statement continued that, subject to U of T approval, Iacobucci will aim for a four per cent increase in tuition next year, rather than five per cent, the maximum allowable amount.

In response, Alexandra H. Robertson, a third-year law student also involved with the campaign, wrote that the move was an “important first step.”

“It will be the first time since 2006 that the faculty has not increased tuition by the maximum allowable amount,” she wrote. “Students have been advocating on this issue since the early 2000s and feel like their efforts have been in vain. We believe this development means that the Faculty is hearing student and alumni concerns about tuition, financial aid, and law school accessibility.”

Robertson added, “Obviously our goal is for the demands in our letter to be met by the Faculty, which hasn’t happened yet, but we’re heartened that the Faculty is clearly listening to what we’re saying.”

UTSU hires new General Manager after five months

Previous GM left after two months on the job for unknown reasons

UTSU hires new General Manager after five months

After five months, the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) has hired a new General Manager following the departure of Michelle Lee-Fullerton, who left the position after only two months on the job.

In a statement emailed to The Varsity, UTSU President Anne Boucher said that the new General Manager, whose name has not been disclosed yet, will start work on December 10.

“We’ve followed a thorough and extensive hiring process for the General Manager,” Boucher said.

“A General Manager plays an important role in the day-to-day and success of the UTSU,” Boucher said. “So it’s important to us that the position be filled not only by the most qualified & capable candidate, but by one who respects and works in line with the UTSU’s core principles.”

The reasons for Lee-Fullerton’s departure were not revealed “due to legal constraints, and out of respect for the individual,” Boucher said at the time.

The General Manager post was created this year to replace the Executive Director position and is meant to serve as a link between the student union’s executive team and the operations staff, as well as to help oversee special projects.

Tka Pinnock, the most recent Executive Director, left the UTSU at the end of the last academic year, after three years.

Since Lee-Fullerton’s departure in July, the regular duties and responsibilities of the General Manager have been taken up by Boucher and UTSU Vice-President Operations Tyler Biswurm in their capacity as members of the management committee.

The General Manager position is particularly important to helping the UTSU develop the long-awaited Student Commons, a student-run centre that is currently slated to open in April, after it was delayed twice from its original September opening. The Student Commons has been in the works for 11 years.

In the absence of the General Manager, former UTSU president Mathias Memmel was contracted by the organization for Student Commons planning and basic financial responsibilities.

“His financial responsibilities include payroll, record keeping, and the issuing of cheques — essentially ensuring that employees get paid, and clubs and levies receive disbursements owed,” Boucher explained.

“His Student Commons-related duties include preparatory tasks i.e. coordination of renovations, liaising with those active on the project (e.g. architects, consultants, etc), and producing operating plans that reflect the UTSU’s vision for the building.”

Memmel’s continued role within the UTSU past his presidential term raised questions from members at the Annual General Meeting, particularly because his role was not well-defined at the time.

“I understand the UTSU’s decision to contract out work to a former executive was met with skepticism at our Annual General Meeting, which alleged that it is improper for him to report to me,” Boucher said. “I don’t believe for a second that this would be a concern if I were a man. To question my authority and ability as a female President to manage a former leader is offensive.”

Internal Commissioner pushed out by Graduate Students’ Union General Council

Alexandrova voted out of office, Executive-at-Large to take up duties until by-election

Internal Commissioner pushed out by Graduate Students’ Union General Council

The University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union (UTGSU) General Council pushed out Internal Commissioner (IC) Lynne Alexandrova at a meeting on November 26 after a vote to vacate the office of the IC.

The duties of the IC will be taken up by Executive-at-Large Maryssa Barras until a by-election in January.

Citing Article 9.1 of the UTGSU bylaws, the Executive Committee sent notice to Alexandrova that there were suspicions that she was not properly fulfilling her duties as Internal Commissioner in October.

In contradiction of the bylaws, Alexandrova did not circulate a report on her ongoing initiatives before an executive meeting on October 16, where the executive brought its concerns to her, although she told The Varsity that she had done so before the November 15 meeting. At the same October meeting, the Executive Committee resolved to hire a mediator to “address Executive Committee team dynamics and communication issues.”

A month later, at an executive meeting on November 15, Finance Commissioner Branden Rizzuto motioned on behalf of the Committee to hold an irregular meeting of the General Council on November 26, and to vote on the vacation of the IC position at that meeting, citing a failure of Alexandrova to fulfil her duties.

All members of the Executive Committee voted to pass the motion, except for Alexandrova who was absent due to an illness.

In an interview with The Varsity, Alexandrova contended that she was not given sufficient warning that this meeting would occur and did not have sufficient strength to “stand up to ungrounded anxieties causing confrontational measures.”

She believes that, had she attended the meeting, she might have stopped the Executive Committee from invoking Article 9.

The Executive Committee, in a statement to The Varsity, claimed that the decision to hold a vote on the IC’s office did not result from the explicit intention to vacate the office. Ultimately, the General Council and Board of Directors made the final decision on the matter.

Tensions had been growing between Alexandrova and other members of the Executive Committee for some time. Alexandrova alleged that she was ignored or avoided by other executives throughout her term and blamed a structural conflict between her own “pedagogical paradigm” and the existing culture among UTGSU executives as cause for the strained relationship — specifically, a culture that supported returning executives without room for outside or “different” perspectives.

Alexandrova claimed that the Executive Committee was out of order in using Article 9.1 of the UTGSU bylaws to hold a vote on vacating her now former office because she was not properly notified that she was not fulfilling her duties.

The bylaws require that the executive accused be allowed a platform to address the rest of the Executive Committee, and while this occured at the October 16 executive meeting, Alexandrova contended that she was not clearly informed that the Executive Committee sought to address her performance as IC at this meeting.

While accused of failure to adequately perform her duties, Alexandrova wrote to The Varsity that she sought to add “some creative, content contribution… [to] encourage content discussion about what the Union’s leadership should be about, and the Union.”

She continued that she believes the vote to vacate her position is part of a larger deconstruction of the IC position that has been ongoing for years, and that the UTGSU “might reach a point where student-elected executives don’t matter” — this is in reference to what Alexandrova saw as encroachment of the staff members, including the Executive Director, on the duties of the IC and the “corporatization” of the UTGSU.

Editor’s note (December 3, 3:34 pm): This article originally stated that former UTGSU Internal Commissioner Lynne Alexandrova circulated a report on her ongoing initiatives before an executive meeting on October 16 at which the executive brought its concerns to her. In fact, she did not. The Varsity regrets the error.

Editor’s note (December 3, 5:50 pm): This article has been updated with additional context on the motion passed by the Executive Committee on November 15 to hold an additional meeting and vote on the vacation of the Internal Commissioner position on November 26.

UTMSU AGM 2018: Online voting stirs debate

Motion rejected due to fears of inaccessibility, hacking

UTMSU AGM 2018: Online voting stirs debate

A motion to implement online voting for University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU) elections was rejected after arousing lengthy debate at the UTMSU’s Annual General Meeting (AGM), with attendees questioning whether it was safe and accessible.

The motion was the only item submitted by a member outside of the executive and thus the last item on the agenda at the AGM, which was held on November 29.

Submitted by Ethan Bryant, the motion cited what Bryant saw as the “toxic nature” of past UTMSU elections, whose “competitive nature… [left] students open to being harassed by campaigners.”

The motion stated that “the openness and accessibility of elections should be a top priority for the UTMSU.”

Bryant called for the UTMSU to consult with the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) — which already uses online voting — and implement the procedure in its upcoming April elections and every election thereafter.

“I put forward this motion because of accessibility,” Bryant said. “Online voting would increase voter turnout because instead of voting at polling stations on campus, students can vote anywhere on or off campus as long as they have a device and an internet connection.”

“Student elections for all positions, in the past, have been criticized for their toxic nature and have been negatively competitive despite the election officer’s best efforts,” Bryant continued. “Online voting would close the door on any harassment of voters or ballot system, which the current system does not do a good enough job of stopping.”

Bryant said that both Governing Council and UTSU elections already take place online, and that online voting is environmentally friendly since it doesn’t use a lot of paper.

UTMSU Vice-President Equity Leena Arbaji opposed the motion. “Easy and accessible are not the same thing. If we want to make voting more inclusive, then we should be working toward improving our current structure instead of starting from a new system.”

Arbaji added that online voting would bring up its own accessibility issues, as not all students have access to a reliable internet connection or devices.

Arbaji’s speech was followed by those of more than 15 students, some in favour of online voting, others against it.

Members in favour of online voting cited anxiety when confronted with in-person campaigners, the lack of access to voting by commuter students, and poor voter turnout as reasons to support online voting.

Members against the motion cited possible online hacking, the inability to verify voter identity online, the risk of online voting turning into a popularity contest, the effectiveness of in-person communication with voters, and the issue that not all students have access to laptops or smartphones due to financial implications as reasons to oppose online voting.

A 2011 study from Elections British Columbia found that there have been “no documented cases of hacking of Internet voting systems in a public election” based off of studies of elections across Canada, Europe, the United States, Australia and India.

UTMSU President Felipe Nagata was also against online voting, saying that with in-person voting, candidates “have to convince [students] to get out of their way, go show their T-Card, go cast a ballot, and that’s a process.”

“That process comes with conversation, it comes with student engagement, it comes with a bigger and better thing that adds value to your vote as a student, as a citizen, as a student at UTM.”

“I don’t think this system is perfect. I think we have many flaws,” Nagata acknowledged. “I’m down to fix the system that we have in place. It’s been in place for a long time and I believe it’s working because students are voting.”

UTMSU elections have consistently had low voter turnout, with only 13 per cent of eligible students voting in the last election.

Ultimately, the question was called to end discussion and move directly to a vote. The motion was defeated and the meeting was adjourned immediately after.

Online voting has been a hotly debated topic among student unions at U of T. The Scarborough Campus Students’ Union recently discussed the option before deciding to reject it, citing a risk of coercion and lack of research into the topic. The Canadian Federation of Students also rejected online voting at its National General Meeting in the summer for similar reasons.

UTMSU AGM 2018: Separation from UTSU approved, online voting rejected

The Duck Stop reports $3,000 deficit, The Blind Duck reports surplus

UTMSU AGM 2018: Separation from UTSU approved, online voting rejected

The University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU) held its Annual General Meeting (AGM) on November 29, which included questions to executives, a presentation of financial statements, and a rejection of online voting.

The meeting was called to order over an hour later than expected, at 6:25 pm.

UTMSU President Felipe Nagata began by giving his presidential address. Nagata outlined the past victories of the UTMSU, including the recently passed Course Retake Policy and the September Orientation, and expressed his wish for a more united campus.

“Our goal is to make our campus feel like home to everybody, but we realize that it takes a lot more than just six execs in the UTMSU office. We need all of your help,” Nagata emphasized. “Regardless of the backgrounds, of our stories, of our experiences, of our beliefs, of our political stances, of our approaches to issues, we should be speaking as one united voice.”

Nagata’s address was followed by an executive question period. Attendees approached the microphone and asked questions.

Student Michael O’Judice questioned Nagata regarding Executive Director Munib Sajjad’s official position in the UTMSU. He asked why Sajjad, despite being an unelected staff member, spoke for the UTMSU at the recent Canadian Federation of Students AGM.

“[The UTMSU team] often gather before the meeting and we plan everything out, so we come up with one united voice,” Nagata replied. “Regardless if you’re staff, exec, we allow everybody to speak together at those meetings.”

“[Sajjad] has pretty much the same opinions on things that we do as well, so I don’t think it’s a problem,” Nagata added, but also said that he would be willing to discuss the matter further with the student.

UTMSU Vice-President Internal Yan Li then presented the 2017–2018 audited financial documents.

Li reported that The Blind Duck, the UTMSU’s student pub, had a surplus last year, whereas The Duck Stop, the UTMSU’s convenience store, had a loss of approximately $3,000.

She said that the union’s goal was to break even by the end of this fiscal year. Li then moved to appoint the auditor for the next fiscal term. Glenn Graydon Wright LLP was re-appointed as the UTMSU’s auditor.

The next motion was the endorsement of the separation of the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) and the UTMSU, which has been a topic that has dominated both unions’ discussions in recent months. The two unions entered into the Associate Membership Agreement in 2008 for the UTSU to represent UTM students at a central advocacy level.

“We recognize the fact that [the] UTMSU… understands the needs and the wants of the students at UTM better than a student union that is situated downtown,” said UTMSU Vice-President External Atif Abdullah.

“UTM students actually pay into [the] UTSU, which is a society fee, and 15 per cent of that is kept by the UTSU’s membership fee. That fee coming back to the UTMSU means improved bursaries, more bursaries for students on this campus, [and] more clubs funding.”

Tyler Biswurm, UTSU Vice-President Operations, approached the microphone after a brief discussion regarding Abdullah’s statements, proceeding to read aloud a statement from UTSU President Anne Boucher endorsing this separation.

“It is in the best interests of UTM students to be fully represented by a students’ union that is on-site and is therefore in a better place to understand the needs of the students on the Mississauga campus,” read Biswurm. “In addition, the agreement between [the] UTSU and [the] UTMSU wrongly takes away rights from the UTMSU to fully represent UTM students.”

The motion to endorse the separation of the unions passed unanimously.

The next motion, and the only motion not moved by an executive member, was to implement online voting during UTMSU elections. Moved by Ethan Bryant, it caused lengthy and divisive debate, with students ultimately deciding to reject online voting.

Among the members to speak were Vice-President University Affairs Andres Posada, who said that the motion had given him much to reflect on, and Vice-President Equity Leena Arbaji and Nagata, who both opposed the motion.

Watching my team from the stands

The life of an injured athlete

Watching my team from the stands

Injuries suck. As an athlete, the worst thing I’ve ever experienced is being told that I can’t play. Throughout my years of competing in high-performance field hockey, my most difficult moments are when I’m forced to watch my team play from the stands.

No injury of mine has been more difficult to cope with than the concussion I sustained in an August pre-season match against the Calgary Dinos while preparing for the 2018 Varsity Blues field hockey season. With 30 seconds left on the clock, I reached out my stick to trap a loose ball when someone knocked into me. I didn’t know if she had come from beside me or behind me, but I knew that my neck and my head hurt. As I fell to the ground, the half ended and, with some assistance, I waddled uncomfortably to a seat on the far side of the bench, away from the team. As I sat frozen still with the floodlights stinging my eyes, only one thought entered my mind: this is not happening.

I knew what a concussion felt like. My season ended one game too early in 2017 when a ball smacked me in the eye, leaving me with a nasty black eye and a moderate concussion. Sitting on the bench while our therapist asked about my symptoms and tested my memory, I tried my best to downplay how I was feeling and score perfectly on the tests — but I soon knew it was over. Based on my sensitivity to the bright back-campus lights, my difficulty focusing on the words that the therapist kept repeating, and the general sensation that I was spinning, I could tell I was concussed. After the game, my teammates repeatedly asked, “You’re okay right?” to which I responded, “Yeah, don’t worry, my neck just hurts a little,” attempting to convince them I was fine as a way of trying to convince myself too.

A doctor’s appointment the next day confirmed what I already knew but refused to believe: I had a concussion. In the weeks following my injury, I spent time away from the team — missing meetings, practices, and weightlifting sessions. Focusing on my rest and recovery, I still had two weeks before the regular season started to get myself back into the lineup. Those two weeks passed, and despite my dedication to my rehabilitation program, I achieved minimal progress. The team traveled to Waterloo to open the regular season and I stayed at home. Part of me was sad to be missing the start of the season, while part of me was relieved. I knew my concussed brain couldn’t handle the bus trip, the game, or the emotional experience of sitting out of our season opener — a moment I had looked forward to and trained for over the past nine months.

As the season went on, I stayed home while the team traveled. After a month of sitting out, it became clear that I would not step on the field for the 2018 field hockey season. I mourned this news for weeks. I sobbed as I sat at home every night knowing that my team was on the field without me; because of the severity of my symptoms, I wasn’t even allowed to go watch. Maybe I was so upset because it was my fourth season and I felt like I was reaching the peak of my career, or that I devoted most of my summer to training for the season more than I ever had before, or because I’m a captain and I felt that I was letting my team down more and more with every game I missed. Likely, all three reasons, combined with my concussion symptoms, trapped me in a gloomy haze of mourning over field hockey. I was unable to look at pictures, read game recaps, or look at my stick without choking up.

It was not until the final weeks of the season when I embraced my role as an injured player. Due to several other injuries throughout the season, a group of injured players began to emerge — some of whom were also concussed — and we helped each other navigate the difficult experience of sitting out. We formed a community of support, always there for each other because we had a shared understanding of how brutal injuries can be. My fellow injured teammates and I helped the team prepare for games and kept them focused. We cheered them on as loudly as we could from the stands, and we were the first ones to comfort them during tough losses. I felt more a part of the team during these weeks than I had earlier in the season, when I still pictured myself on the field.

Despite never attending a practice or stepping on the field in a game, this season taught me the importance of every member on the team, no matter how seemingly small their role. I learned that I am a valued member of our team, even if I’m at home in bed during practice or in the bleachers at the game. Watching this season from the stands also made me realize how much I love field hockey. Watching my teammates thrive on the field was inspiring and I wanted nothing more than to be out there with them. I still look forward to the day when I pick my stick back up.

Perhaps most importantly, I realized how much I take my health for granted. With my days full of uninterrupted dizziness, difficulty focusing, and struggling to do any basic exercise without provoking symptoms, I long for the healthy field hockey player I used to be. I picture the athlete who enjoyed her afternoons in the gym weightlifting with her team, her evenings and weekends at the field, and sharing in the collective struggle of the climbing machine with her friends. I know she’ll be back soon and I can’t wait.

Theatre review: SMC Troubadours’ Pacamambo

Pacamambo is not for the faint of heart but it appeals to the human need to process trauma

Theatre review: SMC Troubadours’ <i>Pacamambo</i>

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

On the penultimate Thursday, Friday, and Saturday of November in the basement of Alumni Hall, led by director William Dao, the St. Michael College Troubadours staged a praiseworthy performance of Wajdi Mouawad’s Pacamambo.

Dao’s Pacamambo left the audience with much to contemplate on the nature of death, as well as the role of narratives in shaping subjective reality.

The constraints imposed by last-minute stage changes did not stop the crew — being confined to a small classroom — from creating an immersive universe for the audience to inhabit for the next hour and a half.

Under these impositions, their creative considerations only seemed to grow, resulting in a hypnotic setting that departed from the distance created by the traditional stage. By positioning the audience around the performance, the former were invited to act as jury for the interrogation to come.

The story focuses on a young girl named Julie (Eiléanór O’Halloran) as she attempts to make sense of the death of her grandmother (Rachel Bannerman). At the request of her therapist (Ahlam Hassan), the child guides us through her trauma and we come to understand why she was found three weeks later looking over the dead body of her grandmother.

“Tell me your story,” her therapist urges — and more importantly, what in the world is Pacamambo?

Julie intently informs the audience that Pacamambo is the question and it is the answer; it is the land where everyone is everyone, the land of universal empathy.

As the faint lights fade into silence, chilling vocalists vested in white gowns flood the quiet room. The irfinal notes echo through the room to set the tone for the sombre realities that follow. From her very first lines, O’Halloran’s delivery captivates the viewer and she aptly manipulates the stage through her portrayal of a young child processing trauma. She flawlessly captures the convictions of childhood and draws the audience into a nostalgic attentiveness. They wait on her every breath out of sheer curiosity — what could the young, vulnerable, and sad possibly have to say about grief?

Grief, trauma, and a child’s unwillingness to let go of the past: Pacamambo is not for the faint of heart. To alleviate the audience from the deeply emotive plot, Julie’s dog (Joanne Perez) appears from time to time to break the fourth wall, eliciting a few chuckles from audience members, and providing the rest with a chance to catch their breath and remember that with death, there is still life.

These brief moments are quickly set aside as the audience come to face Julie’s encounter with Death (Olivia Regimbal, Amanda Gosio, and River Pereira), whose authority can be sensed in its every sentence and through its every glance. As Death speaks, no one dares make a sound. At last, Death arrives, and perhaps will inform us too, of our own mortality, leaving us more confused than Julie, who at least holds an answer.

Dao’s portrayal of the incoming of Death, as well as an individual’s attempt to derive meaning from the incomprehensible is most remarkable as it brutally projects the latter upon the audience.

Pacamambo beautifully overwhelms. Our senses meet a cacophony of movement upon a layer of hollow lamentation; everyone speaks, yet not a thought can be heard. Chaos and panic find harmony within the small space.

Despite the team’s perceived necessity to intervene on the original text around the topics of anti-Black racism and mythologized trauma, Dao and his cast navigate the limitations of exploration and provide a platform for the discourse surrounding colonization in the land acknowledgement before the performance.

Dao and the Troubadours offered a memorable representation of Pacamambo to remind the audience that the land of universal empathy can be here and now, and that kindness and compassion can be found even amid these incessant winter days.