Onward to a “Disability Justice Revolution”

Reviewing Sarah Jama’s timely Hart House Hancock Lecture

Onward to a “Disability Justice Revolution”

On March 14, U of T community members eagerly attended the annual Hancock Lecture at Hart House’s Great Hall to listen to Black disability activist Sarah Jama, whose talk was entitled “Moving Toward a Disability Justice Revolution.” The event was originally scheduled in February, during Black History Month, but was delayed due to severe weather conditions.

Jama is a Hamilton-based community organizer and a co-founder of the Disability Justice Network of Ontario (DJNO), an organization that seeks to “[create] a world where people with disabilities are free to be.” The DJNO does advocacy work, runs workshops and focus groups, and reports on various relevant policies and legislation. They seek nothing less than complete personal and political self-determination for people with disabilities in Ontario.

Jama was commanding and dynamic as she spoke forcefully to the room, pulling no punches and refusing to sugarcoat her language. She condemned the various superseding structures that have made life untenable for so many people with disabilities, including the role of specific anti-disability politicians, like Premier Doug Ford.

Part of what was so powerful about Jama’s speech was her ability to paint a holistic picture of the state of things that produce marginalization. “At the end of the day, all of the struggles that we care about are intertwined,” she insisted. 

Jama tied capitalism with ableism by asserting that it is the former’s unnuanced focus on productivity and individualism that devalues the lives of disabled people. She linked the legacy of colonialism with ableism by explaining how the enslavement of Africans constructed them as disabled in order to excuse their subjugation and to pathologize their desire for freedom.

But just as these legacies of domination are interconnected, so too must the work of resisting them be intertwined. Jama stressed the importance of building coalitions between seemingly disparate aims. “These conversations [are] tied back to the root cause of people not being able to create spaces or have their voices heard, and that matters to people [of all stripes],” she asserted.

All activism, whether it be for anti-racism, LGBTQ+ rights, or disability justice, is grounded in the desire of these communities to be able to exist freely and unapologetically in a society that actively works to marginalize and silence them.

Jama acknowledged that, as students, we have an unprecedented level of freedom afforded to us, and with it, the ability to make connections with others, get involved in social issues, and do activist work. She advised that on the campus level, we should start by learning about and involving ourselves with spaces that we don’t normally occupy. It is important to make ourselves uncomfortable and to ask questions.

In these ways, we can disrupt normalcy and learn to work with each other. As students, our aim is to not only learn about the world, but to engage in bettering it. This involves disrupting our perspectives and learning about disparate experiences and ways of being.

The systems that are in place have been made and maintained through human effort and are not timeless or impervious. They can therefore be dismantled through human effort.

Jama’s words are timely. We live in a time when governments worldwide are issuing austerity measures. Politics are increasingly divisive and many of us are becoming cynical and disenfranchised. In Ontario, the government’s attacks on the Ontario Student Assistance Program, public health care, Ontario Works, and the Ontario Disability Support Program, as well as the termination of the Basic Income Pilot, are all part of a larger project to undermine the lives of the province’s most marginalized people.

In this burning world, a lot of activism tends to be centred around rage and anger. This is a valid reaction, but approaching social issues from a place of cynicism only has so much potential for growth. “Figuring out how to organize from a place of love,” insisted Jama, is the crucial first step.

Indeed, we must love those around us — especially if we don’t understand their experiences. Only from this place can we move toward a revolution. As Jama noted, the institutions and structures that oppress and silence us desire us to be divided and pitted against each other, because they know that if unified, we will become a dangerous force.

The Hancock Lecture closed with moderator Loren Delaney reciting a poem with the line, “Underneath this skin, bone, and blood is you, me, us, and them, dressed as others.” To seek justice and move toward a revolution, we need to acknowledge our commonalities and learn to depend on each other, while resisting the superseding structures that seek to divide us to navigate activism and the world from a place of love.

Meera Ulysses is a second-year Equity Studies and Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations student at New College. She is The Varsity’s Current Affairs Columnist.

Theatre Review: Hart House’s Hair

As their 2018–2019 season comes to a close, Hair graces the stage

Theatre Review: Hart House’s <i>Hair</i>

In 1968, the musical Hair took the Broadway stage by storm with its representation of the counter-cultural, anti-war, hippie movement. Featuring powerful rock anthems, crude language, fluid sexuality, and of course, the infamous nude scene at the end of “Where Do I Go?”, it seemed to be almost as controversial as it was likeable. Now, on its 50th anniversary, Julie Tomaino’s directorial take on the show is as moving today as it was back then.

Hair, written by Gerome Ragni and James Rado, music by Galt MacDermont, takes the audience into the “Age of Aquarius,” following a group of long-haired, love-loving, drug-consuming teenagers in their fight against the rising political conservatism of their time. As high-school dropouts, these teens fight against conscription into the Vietnam War — joining the resistance through the anti-war peace movement of the 1960s. The central conflict of the show follows Claude (Christian Hodge) as he wrestles with the decision of whether or not to resist the draft as his fellow hippie friends have.

Though tentative at first, Hodge’s depiction of Claude was breathtaking; Claude transformed from a young, selfish boy to a complex man before our very eyes. His goofy movements in “Manchester England” vastly differ from the contemplative young man questioning “Where Do I Go?” by the end of the first act.

There truly was not a weak member of this cast. Berger (Andrew Perry) hilariously kicked us off with “Donna” removing his pants and breaking the fourth wall, making the audience feel strangely comfortable in an otherwise uncomfortable scenario of being seen in a crowd full of people. Marisa Dashney’s portrayal of Sheila, a political activist and lover to Berger, was beautiful and heartbreaking. Her moving performance of “Easy to Be Hard” resonated with the audience on a whole other level in the shadow of the #metoo movement.

But what makes this show stand apart were the smaller pieces of the puzzle; the ensemble. This “tribe” brought the energy of the room up with their colourful costuming, hilarious depiction of drug use, and their nailing of intricate harmonies in songs like “Aquarius” and “Hair”—  I have to take a moment to mention Kevin James Doe’s show-stealing depiction of old woman, Margaret Mead in one of the most memorable scenes of the show — the audience will be thinking about his long note in “My Conviction” until the end of time. Although the content of this show is inherently political, it is also jam-packed with comedic moments thanks to the supporting characters’ high energy, literally.

Thinking about the message of the show, it’s strange how a show about hippies and the Vietnam war can speak to a contemporary audience. Hair stripped all of the modern fear of offensiveness away — again literally — to say something unfiltered. With songs like “Coloured Spade,” “I’m Black/Ain’t Got No,” and “Three-Five-Zero-Zero,” this show speaks to the realities of its time period in the most authentic way it can – proclaiming “I’m black,” “I’m pink,” and “I’m rinso white” in an entirely unapologetic manner.

The audience literally jumped when Claude made his pivotal entrance in full army getup and short hair, and when he is repeatedly shot by a gun on stage. Hair is striking in the risks that it takes, but I think those risks paid off. I know they did.

This short escape into the “Age of Aquarius” may be just what we all were looking for: a little more peace and some good old fashioned legal marijuana.

University of Toronto’s Drama Festival 2019

Another year of excellent student theatre

University of Toronto’s Drama Festival 2019

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The beginning: Hart House hosts the annual U of T Drama Festival

Ranking from best to worst: The 2nd Annual 2018 McGill Drama Festival took centre stage, with An Other Tries To Speak: A Theatrical Mixtape and Jews in Baseball: The Musical following closely behind.

The U of T Drama Festival is a wonderful showcase of student talent, with one-act shows entirely written, produced, and performed by students, who give up whatever free time they have outside of classes to create dramatic art. But, as often as such restrictions produce incredible creativity, the three shows that kicked off this year’s festival did not rise to the occasion.

Jews in Baseball: The Musical — independent submission by Angelo O. O’Leary and Lenny Rosenbloom

The first show of the night and of the festival was Jews in Baseball: The Musical, an independent submission from audience favourites Tristan Bannerman and Leo Morgenstern, operating under the pseudonyms of Angelo O. O’Leary and Lenny Rosenbloom. The show functions in the realm of metatheatre, beginning with the musical’s ending, and morphing into a pseudo Q&A with the playwrights, led by New York Times theatre critic Noah Goldman (Funké Joseph), who does a good job of keeping his cool while Morgenstern and Bannerman play comedians. If it sounds a little messy, that’s because it is.

There are funny moments, certainly, but Morgenstern and Bannerman’s comedic efforts are overall hit-and-miss, and it is unclear what the show is ultimately about, if anything at all. Is there a comment on Judaism and Judaic identity buried somewhere within? If so, it is truly buried. A misplaced Holocaust joke that could have functioned as commentary on the lack of knowledge that millennials polled about the genocide display merely served as yet another attempt at generating rather inappropriate laughter. Perhaps the show is meant to be ‘theatre for theatre’s sake,’ in which case it has its funny moments, but even those feel forced.  

Morgenstern and Bannerman are clearly talented writers and actors who work well together, but this show fails to exhibit the full extent of their abilities. While Jews in Baseball can be funny and creative, it can also feel like a vanity project. Overall, it feels like the show needs more time in the workshop stage before hitting the stage stage. In terms of production, there are no notable elements; the set is sparse save for a few chairs, a table, and a carpet for the interview portion of the show. A brief shining moment is the appearance of Gianni Sallese as the charismatic mayor in the musical Jews in Baseball that opens Jews in Baseball: The Musical. I know — it’s confusing.

An Other Tries To Speak: A Theatrical Mixtape — Ember Island Players

Following the attempt at metatheatrical comedy was the Ember Island Players’ drama, An Other Tries To Speak: A Theatrical Mixtape. This performance was composed of a series of vignettes, each of which seemed to question the grander theme of identity — particularly, Asian identity. Unfortunately, the Ember Island Players chose a very difficult form to portray on stage. Vignettes function well if there is a clear overarching theme that comes through, such as in Amazon’s TV series The Romanoffs, or if they are given a framework within which to make no sense. Of these vignettes, Nam Nguyen’s “F*ck the Ch*nks” and Sam Zhu’s “PTA” most clearly asked questions of how past experiences and other people’s actions influence our own identities while Wilfred Moeschter’s “Clean Whites” provided an amusing commentary on the often racist content available on networks like Fox News. Although their attempts to portray the intangible aspects of identity are appreciated, Priyam Balsara’s “Farramoor” and Shi Yi’s “Cafe au Lait” were the most confusing by far.

While An Other Tries to Speak is commendable for its attempts to embody the grand themes of identity and belonging, it falls short of this goal and leaves the audience in a state of confusion instead. The production does not clearly ask questions of yearning or discovery, thus failing to induce such self-reflection in the audience. Perhaps with some refinement, these questions could come through more clearly. Staging is overall strong, with a good use of sparse props. An enjoyable musical performance concludes the show, and perhaps most clearly articulates what it means to be Asian-Canadian: a phenomenon of both knowing and not knowing your own culture — the song is sung in an Asian language that the onstage narrator admits he cannot understand. A strong performance by Moeschter stands out, but is lost in the overall confusion of the drama.

The 2nd Annual 2018 McGill Drama Festival U of T Improv

Concluding the evening was a production by U of T Improv titled The 2nd Annual 2018 McGill Drama Festival. It must be noted that it is challenging to compare improvisational theatre performances with other productions that have been written and repeatedly rehearsed for the purpose of this festival. Improv is, well, improv. Nonetheless, this show managed to rise to the top of the evening. Another metatheatrical commentary, this time on the drama festival itself, the show was structured as an evening at the McGill University Drama Festival, where three dramas would be performed.

The show began with a welcome from the McGill Drama Festival coordinators, mimicking the very opening of this year’s U of T Drama Festival. As is typical of improv, the audience was enlisted to determine what the three performances would be. “Lesbian Speed Date from Hell,” “The Bottomless Pit in the Back Corner of Nick’s Speak Easy,” and “Arcadia” were selected from the six possibilities listed in the program, although none of these titles were in any way suggestive of their content. Regardless, each skit was quite funny, and the performers played off each impressively. Backgrounds were projected onto the screen at the back of the stage for a rough idea of location, although these settings were prone to change, as is the style of improv. Apart from these projections, the show did not make use of any props — again, in the style of improv. The performers mimed any necessary props, a tactic that functioned perfectly well and left no yearning for stage props.

Due to the nature of the show, nonsense was to be expected, and it overall worked quite well. The skits were followed by pseudo-adjudications, cementing their metatheatricality in a coherent and amusing manner. Nonetheless, it is hard to imagine this production qualifying for any of the awards that will be presented to festival performances. Best direction? It’s there, but merely as a guiding framework for the performers. Playwriting? Again, pretty minimal. The reproducibility of this show is highly questionable. Best performance, maybe? No one is on stage long enough! It is perhaps ironic then that The 2nd Annual 2018 McGill Drama Festival still managed to rise to the top in terms of quality for the evening.

So, the Drama Festival began with a few bumps along the way, but what truly matters is that it exists as a platform for students to showcase their creative energies. There are strong elements in all of these shows that could find a better outlet in a different production.

— Hannah Lank, Varsity Theatre Critic


The middle: three new productions took to the stage Friday night for the festival

Ranking from best to worst: After Icarus, Statistics, Outstretched

The second night of U of T’s annual drama festival was held at Hart House Theatre on Friday, with three new one-act plays performed.

For one weekend every February, the drama festival provides a showcase for young talent to present original work by writing, directing, producing, and performing their own plays. It is an important and accessible way for students to see their ideas come to life and showcase them to an audience on a large stage. In this way, inspired young artists are able to create and share in a remarkable few evenings of art.

This year, the festival was adjudicated by Autumn Smith, an artist, innovator, director, curator, educator, and former adjudicator of the National Theatre School. As a professional in the industry, Smith was on hand every night to offer valuable feedback for each performance. Smith also conducted the awards ceremony after the final performances on Saturday night.

The shows are competing for a number of awards, including the IATSE Local 58 Award for Technical Achievement, the Donald Sutherland Award for Best Performance, the Robert Gill Award for Best Direction, the Robertson Davies Playwriting Award, the President’s Award for Best Production, and Awards of Merit. There is also a Viewer’s Choice Award, which gives the audience the chance to vote for their favourite production from each night.

The three hour-long plays featured on Friday were Statistics, Outstretched, and After Icarus, which covered a range of topics and themes, from scientific discovery and perseverance in Statistics, to loss and relationships in Outstretched, and resilience and the fight for freedom in After Icarus. Identity and memory played large roles in all of the plays.

After Icarus — the UTM Drama Club

Written by Max Ackerman and directed by Mackenzie Burton, this show is a parable on captivity and how it can be both a blessing and a curse. In After Icarus, the two main characters, Abe (Kael Buren) and Moe (Mo Zeighami), leave the dystopian regime that they’re living in to pursue a life of freedom in the outside world, while recalling the good and bad memories of their old home.

The show feels more like a movie than a play and is reminiscent of post-apocalyptic films like the Hunger Games. It portrays the struggle for power between people and government through war and death, and effectively demonstrates how, in some situations, we must leave the comfort of our homes to be safe. The actors were confident and comedic in their roles, while a moody set design and sound effects added interactive elements that made the audience feel like a part of the story.

Of the performances on the second night of the festival, After Icarus stood out as the most noteworthy show overall. The production was cinematic and captivating from beginning to end, with incredible performances by Buren and Zeighami. I believe it deserves to win the Donald Sutherland Award for Best Performance for its high quality in delivery, character development, interaction, and overall performance.

Statistics — SMC Troubadours

Where Shreya Jha’s script and gorgeous score were accompanied by Anastasia Liu’s direction, Statistics tells two interconnecting stories. At King’s College London in the 1950s, scientists work to discover the structure of DNA; the scientists are mostly male, apart from bright female scientist Rosalind Franklin (Violet Allmark). In 2017, U of T students Rose (Chloé Gétaz) and Angie (Elena Matas) are dealing with medical school applications and other university responsibilities. Rose looks to Rosalind as inspiration, as both are faced with the pressures of learning, growing, and pursuing science.

The show was performed as a musical, complete with a full orchestra at the back of the stage and characters singing for much of the dialogue. The storyline was a familiar one for university students, especially for those studying life sciences. Accurately reflecting the misogyny of the previous era, the script was smart and empowering, paying close attention to the details of its scientific subject matter while also proving that science students can do art too.

With its relatable story plot and musical components, Statistics was the second-best show of the night . I predict that this play will receive the Robert Gill Award for Best Direction for its achievement in artistic and technical quality of direction and transitions, as well as its clearly articulated storyline.

Outstretched — Trinity College Drama Society (TCDS)

Structured in five memory monologues, Outstretched was directed by Jennifer Dufton and written by Emily Powers. It follows Hyatt (Ezera Beyene), who delves into the past of his late sister Diana (Tuhi Sen) to learn more about her and find closure after her death. This leads him to Kate (Hannah Fleisch), Diana’s first love, and both characters are forced to come to terms with the death of their loved one.

Centring on loss and how we grapple with loss as human beings, the play was well-written and poetic in its use of language, although it could have integrated some more upbeat and lighthearted tones. While Outstretched was enjoyable and well done, it came in last out of the three plays for its repetitive scenes and overall lack of entertainment.

—  Khyrsten Mieras, Varsity Theatre Critic


The end: And just like that, it’s over

Ranking best to worst: Lone Island Lovers stood out alongside the magical Cordelia and the heart-wrenching Honey Lemon Green Tea

Alongside its clear skies, Saturday night marked the end of the trilogy of evenings dedicated to the showcasing of ambitious young talent eager to make their debut upon the Hart House Theatre stage.

Rather than the throat-cutting clash one might expect from the offspring of our university, the modest gathering of actors and audience assembled as a community in a commendable effort to support artistry.

Abby Palmer, one of the two festival coordinators, began with a land acknowledgment for the ground upon which Hart House Theatre stands. She spoke about the importance of the drama festival to encouraging students to find their voices and giving them professional tools to make their ideas accessible and understandable to a wider audience.

When asked in an interview by The Varsity afterward about the importance of the event, Palmer wrote, “Each show has so much heart bursting out of it, and that feeling alone is worth dozens of tickets. Additionally, shows that have been in the festival have gone on to have long and flourishing lives outside of U of T, so it’s actually pretty great theatre, too.”

Cordelia — UC Follies

Director Nicole Bell and playwright Lauren Lacey invite the audience on a journey of dynamic interpersonal relations where we encounter our first protagonist, Cordelia. A young woman with questions that come to burden every being endowed with reason, Cordelia is concerned with the burden of choice in the face of the inevitable tensions created by a culture of responsibility and agency constantly confronted by uncertainty and endless possibility.

Likewise, the minimalism of the setting as well as the easygoing humour both support the essence of the production to reflect the culture of a time when the fleeting nature of every moment propels one along, with eyes to the stars, all the while trapped on the ground with constrained motion. Perhaps it is from this that the necessity to appeal to perspective and constellations arises; it is an attempt to locate substance and depth upon the plane of reality.

Scene after scene, each is acted with enough presence to capture the audience’s attention for an instant, none endowed with the power to make them stay — intermission is almost reminiscent of a further installment of the play.

Lone Island Lovers — SMC Troubadours 

Following the short break, we come face to face with five figures seated before a self-designed space demarcated by white canvas tents, each a segregated island with a resident desperate to forge an identity of their own by establishing relations with the world outside themselves.

And yet, in spite of the relations we cultivate through ties of time and space, ultimately, we remain but islands of our own, loose clusters of sand drifting along the waves, yet never entirely in control of what is to come our way. Lone Island Lovers reflects this reality through the exploration of desire in the form of repressed sexuality.

Mick Robertson’s intricately woven writing illustrates our innate desire to extend our possibilities and surpass the limits of the individual. Through the collective, one hopes to inherit the abundance of the other as well. One after the other, through their rapport with one another and in passionate confession, Lady and her loved-ones unveil their longings and attempt to negotiate a space for themselves once unrooted from their dormant states.

Honey Lemon Green Tea — Victoria College Drama Society

The festival concludes with similar sentiments in Honey Lemon Green Tea, an exploration of mental illness and identity written by Bailey Irene Midori Hoy. Despite these sombre themes, the audience remains cheerful as warm applause fills the auditorium; the merit of the undertaking and the significance of its participants supplants that of the content itself.

Yet, beyond mere entertainment, if we are to notice the concerns addressed by each production and take into consideration their intentional selection, we may gain a clearer perspective into the concerns of the youth of today. Viewing these youth beyond the millennial imagery, a neat justification for symptoms that have only come to take shape from an environment over which they have little control and did not create comes to form.

Through theatre, we may amend the perceptions acquired from representation through representation itself, for art alone expresses the inexpressible and offers a voice to those who seek to convey that which goes beyond speech. Amid this shared language, perhaps we can at last begin to forge a path towards understanding, of both ourselves and that which lies outside us, to eventually establish new possibilities surrounding a reality in which we find ourselves in a constant struggle to find place.

AND THE AWARDS GO TO…

  • IATSE Local 58 Award for Technical Achievement: UC Follies’ Cordelia
  • Donald Sutherland Award for Best Performance: Frosina Pejcinovska — Lone Island Lovers
  • Robert Gill Award for Best Direction: Will Dao and Ahlam Hassan — Lone Island Lovers
  • Robertson Davies Award Playwriting Award: Emily Powers — Outstretched
  • President’s Award for Best Production: Lone Island Lovers

The highlight of the night, Lone Island Lovers, directed by William Dao and Ahlam Hassan, brought home three of the five awards, including best direction, best production, and best performance to the electrifying Frosina Pejcinovska. SMC Troubadours’ triumph leaves little surprise, for the application of every aspect of the production suggests that they have much deserved their prize, instilling the audience with hope that one day we may recover some of the texture sacrificed in our everyday haste.

Past politics and theory, lamentation and ideology, the drama festival hosted by the university is the coming together of a community, an assembly of individuals from across the nation to pursue a shared passion for theatrical expression — a conglomeration of actors, directors, writers, and artists to whom a chance to speak is at last granted. In the end, the festival reflects the very necessity of establishing relations in a world that has come to prize individuality and offering spaces within which one may pursue one’s exploration of boundaries.

— Elaine YJ Zheng, Varsity Theatre Critic

Campus Police have apprehended Hart House threat suspect

Apprehension follows yesterday’s community alert

Campus Police have apprehended Hart House threat suspect

Following yesterday’s alert about an individual apparently threatening action against Hart House, Campus Police announced today that the person in question has been taken into custody.

According to the community alert, Campus Police suspected a man by the name of Bojan Landekic, who is said to have previously trespassed on U of T property.

Toronto Police are involved in this matter and further information will be released as it becomes available.

Campus Police warn of threat against Hart House

Police looking for suspect, increasing security presence

Campus Police warn of threat against Hart House

Campus Police are warning the U of T community about a recent online threat that references a potential action against Hart House.

According to the community alert released today at 12:00 pm, Campus Police suspect a man by the name of Bojan Landekic.

He is described as male, Caucasian, approximately 40 years old, and 175 centimetres tall. He has a slim build, brown eyes, shaved head, and is partially blind.

Campus Police says that he has trespassed on University of Toronto property.

Officers will be patrolling throughout Hart House and the surrounding areas, and there will be an increased security presence.

Toronto Police are also involved in the investigation.

If you see this person, do not approach him but contact Campus Police immediately at 416-978-2222.

Tri-campus Gym Breakdown: Hart House

How to stay active at Hart House

Tri-campus Gym Breakdown: Hart House

Working out is hard. U of T is hard. Between countless hours of class, readings, and assignments, who has time to work out? You do.

Whether you live downtown or commute, there is one place where you are always welcome to work out — Hart House.

The gym and rec centre is located in the heart of UTSG, steps away from University College and a short walk from Convocation Hall. Included in sessional fees, the Hart House Fitness Centre is free for all students attending the university in a given session.

Hart House Fitness Centre is open from 7:00 am to 11:00 pm on weekdays and 7:00 am to 9:00 pm on weekends, allowing students plenty of time to work out, even with their hectic schedules. The Hart House pool schedule, however, is staggered on weekdays: 7:00–9:00 am, 11:00 am to 2:00 pm, and 4:00–10:30 pm. Due to weekly water maintenance, it is only open from 10:30 am to 8:00 pm on weekends.

Hart House also has a variety of fitness options available. This includes a weight room with all the free weights and machines needed for bulking season, several rooms dedicated to cardio for burning calories, as well as a basketball court, a squash court, and various studio rooms that are free to use in between classes.

If you don’t like working out on your own, are not sure what to do in the gym, or simply want to learn a new skill in 2019, Hart House offers a variety of classes that everyone can join, regardless of skill level. Classes include but are not limited to swimming and scuba, yoga, Mitzvah, Pilates, cycling, martial arts, archery, and running.

If you are interested in learning a skill but want individual attention, members are able to pay for private workouts with professional trainers. The impressive staff of Olympians, world-class runners, bodybuilders, yogis, and kinesiologists will make sure you never feel lost in the gym, as someone is always there to guide you through your fitness journey.

Going to the gym isn’t all about lifting heavy weights, drinking protein shakes, and running till you can’t feel your legs, though. It’s about staying active, feeling good, relieving stress, and living your best life. The Hart House Fitness Centre understands and embodies these values. Hart House is a gym for everyone; a welcoming place that will encourage you to push yourself. Take advantage of all the things you pay for — don’t only use that money for your mind, invest in your body as well!

UC Follies’ B-Side rocks the Stage at Hart House this November

The show’s creator discusses making a show about records in the digital age

UC Follies’ <i>B-Side</i> rocks the Stage at Hart House this November

From November 30 to December 1, the UC Follies will be at Hart House for a two-night performance of B-Side: A Rock Cabaret. The show is a grand musical experience that will take you back in time with classic rock records you love and lesser-known songs for you to discover and fall in love with.

The Varsity wrote to Jocelyn Kraynyk, the show’s creator, about her inspiration for the show, nostalgia for rock music, and listening to records in the world of online streaming.

TV: So many people listen to music digitally, on Spotify and Apple Music — why did you decide to create a show about records instead?

JK: The simple answer as to why I created a show inspired by records is that I find digital means of listening to music passive. Don’t get me wrong, I am in love with my iPod and I might actually die without my Apple Music, but I think it’s important to acknowledge how easy it is to become complacent about listening. Many a time, I have found myself in a playlist loop where I don’t realize I’m listening to music that I don’t really like or care about. With records, the act of listening becomes so active. You carefully choose what record you want to listen to. You engage with the music in the ceremony of putting the record on and the needle down. If your mind is focused on other things, the record waits for you to reengage at the halfway mark. I think that level of immersion lends itself well to a theatrical endeavour.

TV: Where did you get your inspiration for B-Side?

JK: I was so thrilled when the Follies asked me to create a show and I celebrated by going to my favourite record shop and picking up a heap of new music. When I got home, I put on my new Pat Benatar and rocked around my living room basking in the amazing vocals and bopping tracks. Two things happened while I listened to that record: 1. I found a couple songs that I had never heard before but fell totally and completely in love with, and 2. I heard songs that I forgot that I loved and it felt like coming home. That is how I found the concept for this show — thanks Pat. For me, B-Side is all about celebrating the songs of amazing artists that don’t get the same amount of play as other classic rock, as well as celebrating better known songs that were put on the B-Side of their record. Some of the songs in this show are ones few people will know — but everyone will love — some are songs everyone will know and can sing along to, and some are songs that people will hear, be flooded with memory, and fall in love [with] all over again. 

TV: How did you choose what songs to include in the show and why did you choose rock music?

JK: Listening to hundreds of classic rock songs to find the perfect setlist was torture — just kidding, I was in my glory. I love that shit. I ended up deciding to centre this show around songs that explore young love and relationships – the good, the bad, the ugly, the horny. It connects every song and performance and reined me in — if I didn’t have that connecter, the show would be hours long instead of the sleek 55 minutes it is now. B-Side has an unclockable flow and energy. It’s dynamic. It’s energetic. It’s magnetic and it demands to be seen!

As an artist and a consumer, I love the feeling of nostalgia. For me, it serves as escapism and when I perform or listen to music from or reminiscent of the 60s, 70s, and 80s. The flow and intensity of it allows me to let go and live in its palpable energy. That feeling is what I want for my audiences and that is why I gravitate towards rock. 

TV: What is a song or performance in the show that stands out to you? 

JK: As far as what song or performance stands out, I’m going to give a pageant answer: every single song and performance stands out. When creating this show, we wanted to make sure that every performer got their moment to shine, and shine they do! We have been incredibly fortunate work with this incomparable group of people. Every single one of them owns the stage and I challenge anyone watching not to be warmed to the core by the joy and energy that radiates off of them when they sing. They are a beautiful unit. Hart House is an intimidating space. It is huge and can be daunting for performers — I say this from experience: that stage is scary — but we don’t fear the stage, we dominate that stage. The passion and excitement from our cast fills the theatre from the dressing rooms to the very last row. 

 

Checkmate

Hart House Chess Club successfully hosts first-ever Ivy League Challenge

Checkmate

It was a gloomy morning on Friday, November 9. I sat in the Hart House South Dining Room waiting to experience my first chess tournament. As a childhood fan of chess, I was looking forward to the tournament — even if I was a complete outsider to the world of competitive chess.

Held on U of T soil, the first-ever Ivy League Challenge took place from November 9–11, bringing together top university chess players from across the continent. Teams from Yale University, Harvard University, the University of Michigan, and Princeton University travelled to Toronto to participate in the three-day event.

“We have invited some of the best chess schools, the best universities in the northeast,” Panayoti Tsialas, Tournament Director and Hart House Chess Club’s Fundraiser Executive, told me.

“I would dare say that this is the second strongest student competition, probably in the continent, based on the strength of the people who are participating.”

The tournament

As each round officially began, the room would fall silent. Many players donning sweaters from their respective universities would periodically stand up, stretch, and walk around, glancing at other matches or grabbing a glass of water.

The tournament followed World Chess Federation (FIDE) rules and procedures. Each opponent had an hour and a half of time to play; this left plenty of time to think deeply about the game, analyze the board, and wait for an opponent to move.

Players received one point for winning a match, a half point for a tie, and zero points for losing. If a team’s combined score was higher than 2.5 in a round, the team received one match point. A half match point was awarded if the combined score was two, and zero match points were awarded if the combined score was 1.5 or less.

The Ivy League Challenge had six teams of four — two U of T teams and one team per visiting university — with two alternate players.

Team chess is different from individual chess, U of T student and FIDE Woman Grandmaster Qiyu Zhou told me. In team chess, players care about the collective result of the team over their individual games.

“Regardless of whether you think that your individual position is promising, if your team would need just half a point in order to get to two points [and a] half… you might agree to withdraw precisely for the team to win,” she said. Riskier strategies, Zhou informed me, reflect on the whole team.

Co-captain of the Princeton chess team Aaron Balleisen said that participating in chess tournaments is “way more fun when you’re doing it with other people,” noting that his high school did not have a chess team.

The tournament was also broadcast live through chess5.com. Broadcasting the games made the tournament accessible to a greater number of people who could follow and comment on matches as they happened.

“It can be a very exciting sport to watch,” Tsialas said, “because unlike football or other sports where, by watching, you don’t exactly participate… in chess you can make your own calculations as the game goes on. You can actually sort of bring yourself to the position of the player.”

Hart House Chess Club is the oldest chess club in Canada. KAITLYN SIMPSON/THE VARSITY

Players, teammates, students

Unlike some schools, the players who competed in this tournament are not offered chess scholarships. This means that school comes before chess, and it can be challenging for the players to find time to prepare for tournaments like the Ivy League Challenge.

“When you’re in [kindergarten to grade 12] you’re a lot more active in tournaments — just the way your life is structured. But once you get to college, it becomes a lot harder to play,” second co-captain of the Princeton team Isaac Martinez told me.

Martinez’s thoughts were echoed by most of the players I spoke to.

University of Toronto Team B captain Nikita Gusev said that practising as a team can be difficult because “everyone has busy schedules and most of us do stuff on the weekends too, like teaching chess or a lot of part-time jobs.”

U of T was fortunate to have Zhou — a first-year Trinity student hoping to double major in economics and math — on our team. Having won her first medal at five, Zhou is now a FIDE Master and Woman Grandmaster in chess. The 18-year-old started playing competitively in Finland and has participated at the Women’s Chess Olympiad — known as the Olympics of chess — as part of team Canada since 2014. In 2016, Zhou won the Canadian women’s chess championship.

Given her background and how frequently she travels and plays games, Zhou said that most of her peers know her as “the girl who plays chess,” and the Ivy League tournament presented an opportunity for Zhou’s peers to watch her play.

When I asked Zhou how she prepared for the tournament, she said that, for most players, “preparation is something that has accumulated over several years.” Despite school being her focus, Zhou did try to complete “a couple of puzzles here and there” during reading week.

Zhou was also the only woman to compete in the 24-player Ivy League tournament.

“I’ve been pretty much the only woman player playing in tournaments since I was five, when I won the Finnish National Championships, [which] is for under-10 boys,” Zhou said. “As the only female in most men’s tournaments, it’s sort of empowering in the sense that I really want to get other women into playing [chess], but also I’m proud of the fact that I’m able to compete on the same level as a lot of these top male players.”

The Princeton team celebrates their victory. KAITLYN SIMPSON/THE VARSITY

The results

In the end, U of T came in fifth and sixth place. After a three-way tie leading into the final round, Princeton came in first place, Michigan and Harvard tied in second, and Yale came in fourth.

Gusev said that the U of T teams were “definitely underdogs” in the competition, but they put up “a good fight.”

The top four individual board prizes were given out to Martinez — who won all five of his games — Princeton’s Kapil Chandran, and Michigan’s Mark Heimann and Safal Bora. The best game of the tournament was awarded to Atulya Shetty from Michigan and Chandran.

When the award ceremony was finished, in typical chess tournament fashion, a charity blitz tournament followed. In the blitz, each player had a mere three minutes to play and the games progressed quickly. Members of the public were welcome to participate.

A community game

The University of Toronto Chess Club was founded on October 24, 1895, at University College. Predating Hart House, the club’s 123-year-history makes it the oldest chess club in the country. Today, the Hart House Chess Club welcomes all. The club currently has 82 members and, in addition to hosting and participating in competitive chess tournaments, it provides weekly lessons, casual tournaments, and lectures.

The Hart House Chess Club hopes to build on the relationships that it established with other universities and continue promoting chess on and off campus through the tournament in future years.

Throughout the weekend, I asked players and organizers how they got involved in chess and why they continue to participate in it. Hart House Chess Club’s Alumni Chair, Ben Hahn, expressed a common sentiment: “Chess is in my blood and I don’t think I can get rid of it. I’m probably just an average player, but I enjoy the game, I enjoy the people, and I enjoy the environment.”

While observing the tournament, I came to agree that chess is much more than an individual game. It’s a collective experience — one that I was grateful to observe.