Hart House drop-in: Striking a yoga pose

Yoga is a mix of strength training, relaxation, and balance

Hart House drop-in: Striking a yoga pose

Walking to campus at 8:00 in the morning is hardly the image of an ideal Monday, yet entering the exercise room at Hart House felt like a fresh start to a productive day. Despite being held so early in the day, Morning Yoga Flow was full of welcoming energy from over 20 people of all ages and fitness levels. The yoga teacher, Celton McGrath, was calm and encouraging, setting the scene with relaxing music as he instructed everybody through the morning routine.

Hart House drop-in classes are a great way for U of T students to explore different aspects of fitness for free. They run on all days of the week, with classes ranging from sport conditioning, to flexibility and balance, and aerobics. This week, I tried Morning Yoga Flow, a vinyasa-based class open to all levels of fitness.

Yoga has many misconceptions, including the idea that it’s all about stretching. McGrath was quick to demonstrate that yoga is a mix of everything, such as strength training, relaxation, and balance. Through variations of planking and squatting, downward dog, and moments of unsteady warrior poses, I was surprised to find my core being engaged and I was constantly excited for the next move.

During the 50 minutes of yoga, modified and altered poses were offered to accommodate beginners, such as myself, and challenge those who were more experienced. This was helpful, and I felt comfortable enough to take the opportunity to test my balance and flexibility and make the most out of this shared experience. Needless to say, the supportive environment put me in a positive frame of mind for the rest of the day.

For those who are new to yoga, or even fitness, McGrath said that yoga is a good place to start in terms of physical activity. He noted that the experience allows you to gain insight into yourself and your body, as well as provide you with the confidence to try other physical activities. He also mentioned exploring different routines in each of his yoga classes.

During a period of the day usually associated with groggy musings, this class allowed me to take some time to myself, mentally relax, and be physically well. It is easy to find yourself caught up in the stress of academics, but a quick drop by this morning class can make your day that much brighter.

Heathers: The Musical: the first production of Hart House’s 2018–2019 season

The cult classic tackles themes of rape culture, eating disorders, teen suicide, and gun violence

<i>Heathers: The Musical</i>: the first production of Hart House’s 2018–2019 season

From September 21 to October 6, the dark teen comedy Heathers: The Musical will be performed in Hart House. Heathers celebrates its 30th anniversary this year; when it was first released in 1988, it was groundbreaking with its discourse surrounding contemporary topics.

The Varsity sat down with Justan Myers and Emma Sangalli to discuss character development, gun violence, and performing in the historic Hart House.

The Varsity: For both of you, this is your first time working at Hart House Theatre ­­— what is that like? It’s a historic space; how has the process been?

Justan Myers: Working in this space is incredible. I’ve been mostly in Toronto working in smaller blackbox­-esque theatres, so it’s great to have this wide open space. There’s so many different ways to use it, and with our incredible set, just finding so many cool ways to bring the audience into the world has been really fun.

Emma Sangalli: It feels like a real established theatre. It’s old, you can feel the history, and that’s beautiful ­­ just knowing there have been so many passionate artists in this building doing what we’re doing. And our director has been using it very creatively.

Justan Myers: It’s really cool to have that juxtaposition of how old and how experienced the space is versus how many emerging artists are in this production —­­ kind of that combination of youth and freshness, but then also this foundation.

TV: Can you tell us a little bit about the characters you’re playing?

JM: So, I play Jason “JD” Dean. He’s the typical social outcast —­­ he’s moved schools a lot and he doesn’t have any friends, so Veronica sort of captures his attention. Little does she know that he has a lot of unresolved problems from both his childhood and the way he’s grown up that leads him to influence her into some bad decisions later on in the show.

ES: Yeah, Veronica is not popular at the start of the show —­­ she’s kind of dorky, very smart, a little bit of an old soul. She ends up becoming popular and her whole story is kind of discovering the cost of popularity, I would say, and realizing it’s not worth it.


TV: This play is based on a film, the 1988 cult classic, Heathers, which many people say played a role in defining its generation. Are you looking to the movie, or past productions, to inform your rehearsal process?

JM: Yes and no. The characters are so much more fleshed out in the musical that it’s really its own work in a sense. I know my character changed a lot, because in the movie he’s a little 2D. ­They don’t give him a lot of super relatable moments. In the musical, they gave him more backstory, something for the audience to grab onto. So, in a sense, yes, because there’s so many of those iconic lines they took from the movie that you want to nail because the audience just knows them, but the character work itself had to come more from our own basis.

ES: At the end of the day, the part of you that’s an actor and the part of the character that you find through research just sort of come together, and you’re able to find the thread. It’s a little difficult, because the movie was quite a bit different from the musical in terms of, I would say, undertone. In the movie, there’s a little bit of ambiguity on whether [Veronica] is a good guy or a bad guy until closer to the end. Whereas in the musical, she’s kind of the belle of the show, as our director likes to say. ­­It’s pretty clear that she’s got a strong moral compass from the beginning. So definitely we had to look at as much source material as we could find, but you also have to dive into the text that the writers of the musical give you and flesh out the characters on the page, because it really is quite a bit different from the movie.

TV: Was there any moment during rehearsals when you had to really step out of your comfort zone or do something you’d never done?

ES: One of the most famous songs in the show is “Dead Girl Walking.” For me in terms of comfort it was definitely a step, because I have never played a romantic role and it’s basically a full, simulated sex scene onstage. So, it’s very much like, we had to come into rehearsal with all our guards down ­­— throw those fears out the window, be a professional actor, and just do it. But it’s so nice working with Justan, because I’m so comfortable with him.


TV: This show deals with a lot of really pressing contemporary issues like bullying and suicide —­­ who do you hope sees this show? What would you want them to take away from it?

JM: I think it is very important for teens to see this show, especially with increasing gun violence and hate crimes and things like that. It’s so easy to become desensitized to that because of media and everything, so to just get a real —­­ I mean, ‘real,’ it’s a musical —­­ but [it’s] a more grounded perspective of what these issues are.

ES: It’s funny because when you think about Heathers, you wouldn’t think of words like ‘solution’ and ‘hope,’ but that was something I really took from the writers’ notes of the musical ­­— that’s really what it’s about, solutions and hope, and it really tries to answer all of the problems that it brings up. I think it’s important for anyone to see this show. There are people that maybe shouldn’t see this show, because there’s a lot of heavy stuff in it, but it is cushioned by humour and by good-­heartedness. I think it’s an important story for this day and age, and for this city specifically. For Toronto in the last year, a lot of stuff has happened and because of social media we all know about it right away. It’s hard when you go on social media and all you see is another shooting, another truck driver. We all care, and want to do something, but sometimes we don’t know what to do ­.­

JM: It feels bigger than us.

ES: I think the beauty of this show is that it boils it down to a very simple solution:­­ be kind to the person next to you, offer them a hand, and include them. That’s a big one in this show. Be a friend, you know? That’s something very tangible, that we can all do every day, that will hopefully help change the amount of bad things we see happening. So, in that case, I do think it’s really important for anyone who can handle this type of subject matter to come see it, because it really does give you some inspiration, and also some tools to go out into the world and make it beautiful.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Planet 50:50 conference emphasizes female empowerment in the entrepreneurial world

The event at Hart House was hosted by multiple U of T clubs

Planet 50:50 conference emphasizes female empowerment in the entrepreneurial world

On Saturday, March 3, the Gender Equality: Planet 50:50 Conference was held at Hart House. The event was hosted by the UN Women of University of Toronto, the Eastern African Students’ Association, Her Campus U of T, and the University of Toronto Students’ Union.

The event on women and gender empowerment was UN Women’s first academic conference — hopefully with many more to come. Proceeds from the event, which had a suggested admission fee of $5, went to the nonprofit organization Girl Up, which funds United Nations programs that promote the health, safety, education, and leadership of girls in developing countries.

The event showcased a wide array of speakers, who all had something different to contribute to the arena. Speakers were categorized into three different themes: “Women and the Media,” “Women in Power and Decision Making,” and “Human Rights and Women.”

The main organizer of the event was Julia Mogus, the president and founder of the UN Women club. Mogus and the other members of the UN Women executive wanted to draw attention to local leaders in the community who were challenging norms, breaking the glass ceiling, and empowering other women.

The first speaker was Zaina Moussa, a fourth-year Communication Technology major. Moussa talked about how she discovered her passion for entrepreneurship after being a vendor when she was 10 years old. She started an event planning business when she was 19, called Zuri Curated Ladies Events.

Moussa’s company creates women-only events to promote women in entrepreneurship and celebrate diversity. The latest event she is promoting is ‘The Second Annual Run The World Ladies’ event on April 28, which will showcase and support local “girl bosses,” as well as feature a diverse fashion show and a female empowerment speaker to inspire attendees.

Another speaker of note was Ani Castillo, a local artist who creates art that emphasizes body empowerment and breaking gender norms. Castillo discussed her childhood in Mexico and how she got her start as a cartoonist for a local newspaper. She then met her husband on MySpace, which is what brought her to Toronto.

Castillo was open about her struggles of transition as an immigrant in a new country, which was one of the motivators behind her now popular cartoons and artwork. With her husband, she has co-founded Miniature Massive, a communications firm, and also currently works at Metro News Canada as an artist and cartoonist.

Other speakers included Shahab Madhi, the founder of BLACKORCHID, a clothing brand that uses pop culture to create positive representation of Muslims; Darine BenAmara, the founder and CEO of EasyPoli Consulting and The Smart Woman, which support the advancement of gender equality in the workplace; and Susan G. Enberg, an independent documentary film director and photographer whose work focuses on social change and human rights.

The final speaker at the conference was Hanen Nanaa. Nanaa discussed how she had to pause her education in 2012 because of the Syrian civil war. She also detailed her experience of moving to Canada in February 2017. Today, Nanaa supports others — especially women and youth — to be active in their community and follow their dreams.

Overall, the Planet 50:50 conference was an eye-opening and liberating experience. Hearing such personal stories of female empowerment was encouraging, and it was a privilege to witness the work the speakers do, not only for their own communities but for the progress of gender equality and women as a whole.

Premier Wynne talks minimum wage, mental health at Hart House

U of T visit part of town hall series before 2018 election

Premier Wynne talks minimum wage, mental health at Hart House

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne visited Hart House on March 1, delivering a keynote address and participating in a moderated discussion hosted by the Hart House Debates & Dialogues Committee. The event was largely focused on student-related subjects.

The discussion and Q&A period with the audience, led by Debates & Dialogue Committee student chair Aceel Hawa, focused on the province’s minimum wage increase and issues of mental health.

During her address, Wynne emphasized the significance of publicly funded education, which she described as “the most important” government responsibility. “I’m in politics because I believe that there is inherent unfairness in our world — that’s a reality that we deal with,” she said. “I came into politics because of my deep commitment to publicly funded education.”

Wynne also spoke to the controversial decision to increase the minimum wage to $15 by January 2019. The change, she said, was balanced with a decrease in small business taxes from 4.5 per cent to 3.5 per cent as well as youth hiring subsidies. She added that the minimum wage change is closer to providing a living wage for GTA workers and was instituted during an opportune time of economic growth.

Audience members expressed concern that the government had failed to deal with employers sidestepping the minimum wage increase by cutting worker benefits and breaks. In response, Wynne said the number of Ministry of Labour inspectors visiting businesses had been increased to ensure that improvements for workers would materialize.

“The vast majority of employers are following and complying with the law, but we’re very determined to make sure that happens,” said Wynne. “If we find that it’s not, we’ll move ahead with making more changes.”

Another topic addressed by Wynne during the Q&A session was mental health. She said that the government had a clear plan to put more money into support on campus and in the community. “You will see, as we move forward, we are going to make more investments to provide more practitioners, more places for people to go to find mental health supports.”

The Premier’s visit was part of a series of town hall-style events that have recently focused on issues relevant to postsecondary students. The province will take to the polls in a general election in June 2018.

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.”




  • 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.”



  • 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.