Chizoba Imoka discusses Black education at 2018 Hancock Lecture

OISE student stresses importance of “pluriversal” world, recognizing diverse cultures

Chizoba Imoka discusses Black education at 2018 Hancock Lecture

The 17th annual Margaret Hancock Lecture, titled “Black & Educated? Unveiling the Contradictions & Redesigning the Future,” featured Hancock Lecturer Chizoba Imoka and moderator Dr. Kofi Hope. At Hart House on January 23, Imoka spoke about key issues facing today’s Black youth, primarily focusing on the effect of colonialism on the education system.

Imoka began by recognizing the history of Black people, who made it possible for her to gain a platform. “A little over 200 years ago, people like me were slaves,” she said. “How we evolved from there to here has really been because of the vision, the courage, and the persistence of many Black people who did not give up.”

She also stressed the importance of providing space and platforms, such as the Hancock lecture, to Black people.

“For me, what it has meant to be Black and educated has meant being uprooted from my cultural heritage and being forced to take on a Eurocentric perspective,” she said. “And that has prevented me from transforming the world, transforming my continent, transforming Canada at the time and the place that I thought was necessary.”

She recalled a specific instance when her advisor told her that she was not eligible for a particular scholarship because he assumed she did not go to school in Canada, “an assumption based on [her] skin colour.”

She elaborated on how the effects of colonialism are still present in Nigeria. In 1969, the country held its first conference regarding Indigenous education, in order to design an education system better suited for postcolonial Nigeria. “After the conference, what changed? Nothing.”

“[The] language of instruction remained English, even though there are 250 ethnic groups in Nigeria, and 400-plus languages,” said Imoka.

She suggested a shift from a universal world with common understandings of religion, philosophy, and art to a world with a melting pot of ideas and cultures.

“We need to move to a pluriversal world, where all the diverse cultures and epistemologies of the world that we shut out as a result of colonialism… We need to bring them in and create a world where all the multiple knowledge systems and all the philosophies start to form the world,” she said.

Hope delivered a short speech containing examples of his own personal experiences in education to end the talk, and he reiterated many of Imoka’s points.

“When you think about people of African descent, we know certainly that educational systems can perpetuate anti-Black racism, but they can also provide social mobility, and a platform for us to overturn oppression,” he said.

The Hancock Lecture was first launched in 2001, with the goal of igniting conversation and debate among the public about issues deemed important by youth. Originally named Hart House Lecture, the event was renamed in 2007 in honour of Margaret Hancock, the first female warden of Hart House.

Editor’s Note (February 2): A previous version of this article incorrectly state that Imoka’s father was an immigrant to Canada.

Hart House to include accessible entrance in Arbor Room renovation

Donations being solicited for funding of project

Hart House to include accessible entrance in Arbor Room renovation

Hart House is seeking donations to help fund a full renovation of the Arbor Room, located on the building’s south side, including an accessible entrance. The renovation is part of an effort to increase Hart House’s accessibility, which has already included adding a ramp on the east side facing Queen’s Park.

Hart House Warden John Monahan explained that when the Arbor Room’s last food provider’s contract expired, renovation plans were already in place due to the floor sloping “dramatically towards the centre of the room.” According to Monahan, around the time of that contract expiry, Hart House was undergoing an accessibility review, which recommended more accessible entrances to the building.

“The Arbor Room, being so important and integral to the house, being at the front of Hart House really, right there on Hart House circle, that had always been dependant upon stairs, and therefore was not accessible to everybody,” said Monahan. “So since we were going to be repairing the Arbor Room anyway, we took the opportunity to expand the work to look into the feasibility of creating an accessible entrance into the Arbor Room.”

Monahan said that renovations on classic, neo-Gothic buildings can be expensive. Hart House receives roughly half its operating budget from student ancillary fees and roughly half from business revenue, including room rentals, catering, weddings, and fundraising.

“There are donors, we believe, that share our commitment to making spaces like Hart House more accessible for everybody,” he said. “We would rather have that money to spend on accessibility than have to depend upon the revenue provided by student ancillary fees. We’d rather put that money towards supporting the programs and activities that students really associate with Hart House.”

Students and community members can donate online. The donation page references “maintaining the heritage character of the building” while making it more accessible. Hart House will be working closely with the university’s property management and capital projects departments, recruiting engineers, architects, environmental assessors, and heritage consultants to assist in designing the new entrance.

“100 years ago, people didn’t have the same appreciation or same approach to accessibility as they do now. So we certainly don’t want to sacrifice accessibility at the altar of historical authenticity,” said Monahan. “At the same time, we don’t want to in any way mar the entrance to Hart House with a design that is going to fight with the heritage character of the rest of the building or the other buildings at the university for that matter.”

POUND classes hosted at Hart House

New fitness class incorporates drumming

POUND classes hosted at Hart House

Upon arriving to POUND, I saw a few faces who had come to try something new, in addition to a few who had already heard about the new workout craze. The sun shone through the beautiful Hart House gym windows as we waited for the class to start. We were greeted by trainer Melissa Mazzucco, who instructed us to grab a mat and a pair of neon-green drumsticks.

If you’ve got no idea what POUND is, you’re not alone. The new fitness phenomenon combines the intense rhythm movement of drumming with common exercises, which makes the workout extremely engaging and helps one build their own sense of rhythm. POUND is an excellent substitute for cardio. It involves repetitive movement that takes place on the spot. This form of exercise is great for those who don’t want to get involved with running, which is a huge bonus for those who are wary about knee injuries.

This year, Hart House began hosting POUND as a part of its drop-in fitness programs. The class takes place every Friday from 9:10–10:00 am in the lower gym.

I’ll be honest — at first I expected actual drums, but I then realized that would have been way too heavy for the trainer to carry to class. The music started, a remix of Nina Simone’s “Feeling Good,” and we began hitting our drumsticks together in unison with the beat. We then launched into a variety of movements up and down, side to side, and began hitting our mats by squatting and drumming at the same time. Many of the exercises involved lunging backward and forward, and side to side, squatting up and down, then eventually doing some core work. These exercises mainly tackle the leg, gluteus, and abdomen muscles. I was certainly very sore the next day, and I felt that this class effectively promoted us into doing many, many squats.

POUND was founded by former drummers Kirsten Potenza and Cristina Peerenboom. As Mazzucco told us, they were looking for a new form of exercise when they took it upon themselves to take their drumming skills to the next level. They began incorporating all forms of fitness movements with the use of drumming sticks, hitting off various surfaces while inducing movement and following the rhythm of the music. It turned into an international organization that continues to update its routines with new music and new moves.

A great quality of the class is that it’s in the morning – the perfect time for people to begin their day.

Mazzucco has a background in dance training, is certified in many forms of fitness training, and is certain to expand your knowledge to beyond that of the class alone.

Traditional gymgoers may hesitate at first taking one of these classes. I used to play a lot of intense sports and worked out occasionally, but once I took a Zumba class, I was amazed to see how tired I was afterward.

One can certainly equate the intensity of these rhythm classes to that of traditional exercises. POUND runs at an intense rhythm. Like Zumba, you are constantly moving to the beat of the music that won’t slow down until the end of the class. What’s great about both POUND and Zumba is that you feel like you’re dancing the entire time while getting in a great workout.

Overall, these classes are great for accommodating to the needs of people of all abilities and ages. The instructors insist on this to make sure that you don’t feel an absolute need to keep up with everything. The instructor will help adjust exercises in a manner that accommodates to any level one feels comfortable with.

A preview of this weekend’s U of T Drama Festival

From pho to family, and everything in between

A preview of this weekend’s U of T Drama Festival

Now in its twentieth year after its resurrection in 1993, the University of Toronto’s annual Drama Festival has returned to Hart House Theatre this weekend. Since its founding in 1936, the Festival has launched the careers of many, and serves as a showcase for students, especially now in its 15th year of accepting only original student work. 

Playwright and actor David Yee will be adjudicating this year’s festival. Yee is a playwright-in-residence at Tarragon Theatre, and has been awarded the Governor General’s Literary Award for his work carried away on the crest of a wave. The student productions are eligible for awards including ones for technical achievement, playwriting, and best direction.

Read on for a preview of each of the nine shows that will be performed as part of this year’s U of T Drama Festival. 

Thursday, February 9

  • Family Portrait / St. Michael’s College — Troubadours

Family Portrait is a deeply personal look at familial trauma; playwright and director Kat Hatzinakos hopes the audience will be able to see their own family reflected in the characters.

Of the inspiration for the play, Hatzinakos says that the story is based on her own family’s history, and that she “found it remarkable that although we never openly discussed our trauma, we discovered other outlets for telling our story.” By channeling the pain and difficulty of her family’s experience into a new medium, Hatzinakos hopes to bring the story back to life.

  • Swipe Right / Woodsworth • Innis • New • Drama Society (WINDS)

Inspired by the alternately comedic and aggravating aspects of online dating, Swipe Right attempts to bring a “cheeky” perspective to the more discriminatory aspects of dating apps.

Savana James, who cowrote Swipe Right along with Mackenzie Stewart, says she hopes the audience identifies not only with the characters who face discrimination within the play, but also the ones doing the discriminating. Director Nicole Bell echoes this sentiment, saying “having the audience connect with all the characters on stage will hopefully help people see that sometimes what people say can be hurtful, regardless of intention.”

  • Just the Fax, Ma’am, Just the Fax / UC Follies

This marks Lucas Loizou’s fourth year participating in the Drama Festival, and his first year having submitted his own original work. He describes Just The Fax as a “world made up of fragmented dreams” that explores the tensions between our psychic and social lives, the fantasies we conjure for ourselves, and the characters in our lives.

“That’s where magical realism lies,” he said. Loizou also described director Deniz Basar’s vision of the play as a portrait in cartoonish and bright colours, while “encouraging a goofy, clownish atmosphere.”

Friday, February 10

  • Mama / UTM Drama Club

Shaquille Pottinger says that Mama was inspired by his desire to tell a “uniquely Black” story — one that serves as a showcase for the “many talents of Black artists who study at this very institution.”

Director Fuchsia Boston says that Mama might seem like a deceptively simple play about a conversation between two sisters. However, the structure of the play gradually reveals new depths to each of the characters, some of whom have dark histories. This served as an anchor for Boston, who aimed to have the actors “highlight reasons their characters are human and how they can connect to them.”

  • A Lullaby and an Apology / Woodsworth • Innis • New • Drama Society

The second offering from WINDS is a story that aims to respond to the problem of bigotry and overgeneralization in the media in the name of realism.

Playwright Cy Macikunas says that the play was written with the goal of telling “a story with diversity that isn’t about the tragedy of being different.” He also acknowledged the opportunities offered by the festival, saying “I just think it’s a brilliant idea, theatre made by and for other students. It provides a platform that many of us wouldn’t have, or wouldn’t attend otherwise.

On the takeaway for viewers of the play, Macikunas said, “If I wanted to make anything clear, it’s that this world we’re in is always changing, always falling apart, and it’s okay to look after yourself first, and it’s okay to be falling apart.”

ARTS_U_of_T_Drama_Festival_Precoverage-PHOTO_COURTESY_OF_GRACE_MANALILI-Trinity_College_Dramatic_Society_TCDS_production_Suzanne

PHOTO COURTESY OF GRACE MANALILI

 

  • Suzanne / Trinity College Drama Society

When asked about his inspiration for Suzanne, writer and director Jonathan Dick describes one image, at length — a photograph of a woman clutching the chest of a girl to whom the woman’s son’s heart had been donated after his death.
“I remember feeling so touched… I found that sentiment really quite beautiful, that idea of hearing the heart of a loved one beat one more time,” Dick said.

He also explained that many of the people who impact us the most are our loved ones, leading Suzanne to ask the question: what do we do with the things they leave behind? Without giving too much away, Dick said he hopes viewers come away with not only an emotional response but also a resolve to discuss organ donation with their loved ones.

Saturday, February 11

  • A Perfect Bowl of Phở / Victoria College Drama Society

Writer Nam Nguyen was inspired to write A Perfect Bowl of Phở after reading an article that discussed the more intriguing elements of the history of the traditional Vietnamese dish, leading him to realized that “pho was interesting enough to write about.” What resulted was a humorous musical touching on the Asian-Canadian experience that includes songs such as “Vietnam Pimpin’” and “Refugee Flow.”

Director Abby Palmer also noted the timing of producing a show about immigration, saying that upon reading the script, “it was… evident that this story of Asian-Canadian youth, historical characters, and refugees needed to be told in Toronto, right now.”

NATHAN CHAN/THE VARSITY

NATHAN CHAN/THE VARSITY

  • Touch / UC Follies

Marium Raja’s Touch centres on Florence, who has difficulty making contact and forming connections with others. Raja says, “the need to reach out to someone but not knowing how to, the ease of touching someone who you have a strong connection to — these are things that everyone I know has dealt with at some level.”

In casting Touch, Raja emphasized diversity, wanting the characters to reflect the people she had come to know at university.

  • Monsters / UTM Drama Club

Monsters aims to examine the weighty topic of sexual assault with compassion. Director Kailtyn White says that audience will find the use of movement in the play compelling. “I was lucky enough to work with women who are incredibly connected to their bodies and understand how to tell a story through them,” said White.

While the crux of the play is to be taken seriously, White also noted that “if we were to make Monsters a straight drama, it would be draining.” Instead, she aims to incorporate elements of humour without being disrespectful towards an story that, though is a reality for many, is often underrepresented in media.

The U of T Drama Festival runs at Hart House Theatre from February 9-11.

The Camera Club in focus

The Hart House Camera Club hosts its 94th Annual Exhibition of Photography

The Camera Club in focus

Arriving early, I wandered through the Hart House halls in search of photographs displayed at the Hart House Camera Club’s 94th Annual Exhibition of Photography. I came across one entitled Existence Y’all, by Joshua Payne Smith; a dancer floats delicately at the top of the frame in between swaths of bright, white light.

As I continued, a monochrome print entitled It Grows by Anastasiya Martyts caught my eye. The photograph is of a pale neckline with a floral tattoo, its ink creeping out from the frame like a vine. 

Founded in 1919, the Camera Club has continuously consisted of a full-service darkroom and instructors offering courses to both students and the general public.

Rick Palidwor, the program advisor, tells me that the Camera Club currently has about 90 members. William J. Dowkes, U of T alumnus and namesake for several Camera Club awards, tells me that its membership peaked at 400 about 20 years ago. Palidwor attributes this decline to developments in technology. With the advent of digital photography, he says, people lost interest in making prints. Dowkes doesn’t hesitate to credit technological advances with the development of the art form though.

Dowkes reminds me that the W.J. Blackhall Award for Altered Images rewards digitally altered photos and adds that there has been a resurgence of interest in analog photography among young people in recent years.

As viewers began to gather in the hall, I stopped in front of a submission titled Field in Winter, by Stefan Ferraro. The photograph depicts a lone wooden hut that sits in a desolate frozen field. Isolation, by Art Chow, depicts another lone dwelling — a ramshackle cabin with broken boards jutting out like crooked teeth beneath a barren tree.

Dowkes walked me through the history of the awards being given out that night. Noting an absence of photographs of campus life, Yousuf Karsh, world-renowned portrait photographer, who Dowkes says was involved in photographing student theatre productions, became the namesake for the Campus Life Images award. The K.B. Jackson Award, says Dowkes, was established by a U of T physics professor who petitioned the faculty to establish an engineering physics program. The program has since become the current undergraduate engineering science program. Dowkes himself is the namesake of the awards for the categories of People, Places, and Nature.

Palidwor introduced me to two members of the Camera Club. Dowkes, they tell me, was a student in the sciences. One of his photographs entered in tonight’s competition — an old sepia-toned print of students gathered on a lawn on campus with surveyor’s tripods — may as well have been a photograph of his class. When asked about membership, they say that attendance at events fluctuates. The club holds ‘photography walks’, where members roam en masse around the city taking shots. Most recently, the group walked along ‘graffiti alley’ near Queen and Spadina. They hold regular ‘salons,’ where members offer criticism of each other’s work. 

All photos are on display outside of the East Common Room of Hart House until April 17.

Theatre review: Boeing Boeing

Hart House Theatre's final production of the season is buckets of fun

Theatre review: <em>Boeing Boeing</em>

The latest show to grace the Hart House Theatre stage is Marc Camoletti’s hilarious Boeing Boeing, a French play directed by Cory Doran and translated by Beverley Cross and Francis Evans.

The single-set farce takes place during the mid-20th century in the Paris apartment of womanizer Bernard (Brandon Gillespie), an American-born businessman who believes he’s discovered the secret to happiness: juggling multiple relationships at once.

When an old classmate named Robert (Andrei Preda) comes to visit Bernard, things quickly go awry as a series of flight cancellations and early landings find all three of Bernard’s secret fiancés — all flight stewardesses from different airlines — landing in Paris to spend the weekend with their “one and only” on the very same day. Robert, Bernard, and his sour-faced maid, Berthe (Jill McMillan), spend the majority of the play trying to weave all three girls in and out of the apartment without them noticing each other, in a desperate attempt to keep Bernard’s absurd scheme afloat.

The play’s incredibly comedic writing is matched only by the cast’s stellar performances. The show is packed to the brim with buffoonery, filled with clever and often crude humour yielding sidesplitting responses from the audience. The jokes that didn’t resonate — and there were a few — were likely due to my own obliviousness rather than the gag itself.

Truthfully, it’s hard to point out a cast member that steals the show, as each member of the six-person cast makes their own case for why they deserve special recognition. Brandon Gillespie’s Bernard is prone to freak-outs, despite his initially calm and collected demeanor.

Jill McMillan’s Berthe is the play’s closest thing to a rational thinker, delivering a myriad of one-liners and fair share of mild panic attacks. Eliza Martin and Katie Corbridge are Gloria and Gabriella, Bernard’s thickly accented brides-to-be from New York and Italy, respectively. Shalyn McFaul takes command of a lot of the show’s physical comedy as brutish German flight attendant and third fiancée, Gretchen.

Robert devolves quickly from the wholesome, straight-edge audience stand-in to perhaps the craziest of the lot by the end of the play. Perhaps Robert’s character is a reflection of the audience in more ways than their initially skeptical surrogate. The crowd slowly begins to accept throughout the play, much like Robert, the absurdity of the situation being presented on stage, finding himself encapsulated and feeling like an accomplice in this dilemma.

The play makes a compelling case for the power of having a live audience as well. In the program, director Cory Doran writes that the insanity of Boeing Boeing can’t be fully understood and appreciated without a sane audience sitting in total awe of these characters’ ridiculous decisions. In an age of digital streaming and private viewing, it’s unique and refreshing to find one’s own chuckles drowned out by the laughs of the surrounding crowd; Boeing Boeing delivers that rarity. 

The opportunity to see a play that focuses on such an isolated yet extraordinary premise — especially one where two thirds of the roles are played by women, who are so rarely featured in lead comedic roles — should not be missed. Boeing Boeing is a show that feels right at home at Hart House Theatre, as its light hearted comedy and nature is sure to resonate with theatregoers young and old.

Boeing Boeing runs at Hart House Theatre until March 5.

Theatre review: Into The Woods

Hart House tackles Sondheim to kick start the second half of the season

Theatre review: Into The Woods

Featuring a cast of nearly twenty actors, Into The Woods, directed by Jeremy Hutton is a fairy tale menagerie and musical in which a series of familiar faces — Cinderella, Jack (of beanstalk fame), Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, a witch, a couple of princes, a baker and his wife — find themselves in the woods, their classical stories overlapping as they each pursue their wishes.

Cinderella wishes to go to “the festival,” but is forbidden by her evil stepmother and stepsisters from going; the baker and his wife, the characters that drive the action of the story, wish to have a child, but first they’ll have to ‘reverse the curse’ that the witch has placed on them. To do this they journey into the woods and collect some of the most iconic items of fairy tale lore, including a golden egg and Little Red Riding Hood’s cape.

The first act of Into The Woods is rather benign. Everything is running smoothly, and all the characters have their wishes fulfilled. It’s what happens in the second act that truly defines the production. Suddenly, the comforting, generic world of fairy tales crumbles, and the characters begin to appreciate the repercussions of their actions — consequences that are often ignored in typical fairy tales. The characters are forced to band together or fall apart and must learn how to live and define themselves in a world more real than that of the first act.

Hart House’s performance is well executed. The audience will find the large cast refreshingly entertaining, especially in a smaller venue. The most memorable parts of the production are those featuring most or the entire cast, as they are uniquely choreographed on stage and feed off of each other’s energy.

There are parts, however, that seem rather forced, and with a cast so large, it is perhaps unsurprising that some actors are stronger than others, particularly when they must command the stage alone, or with only a few other actors to back them up. It is during times like these that delivery of dialogue becomes trying, and is only relieved with the start of another musical number. 

Michelle Nash and Saphire Demitro, playing Cinderella and the witch respectively, both give strong performances, embodying their characters in a convincing and well-constructed manner. The entire cast have considerable singing abilities, and the score is generally well performed.

Most notable is the set itself, which almost takes on a character of its own throughout the performance. The set features a collection of clocks and moving parts that embody the idea of automation driving the first half of the production. When the story takes a turn in the second half, the set is again put to good use — the clocks crumbling and crashing, symbolizing the disintegration of the comforting fairy tale world. 

The explicit dichotomy between the world of ‘happy-ever-afters’ and the ‘real’ world is a point well understood by Hutton. Into The Woods is a production that, much like the fairy tales it encompasses, appears innocuous on the outside, but contains, as Hutton writes, “a depth of complexity and thoughtfulness that is utterly compelling, and worth exploring time and time again.”

Into The Woods runs at Hart House Theatre between Jan. 15-30

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