Summer everlasting

Reflections on time and its flashes

Summer everlasting

On my last night at home, walking up the street with my sisters, I felt the air turn. It rained earlier that day; the storm drains were thick with bloated apples and poached leaves. In this way, the end-of-summer shift came and then it stuck. 

For the past few days I’ve acted like an idiot, going up to people and saying, ‘It’s all over, I can’t believe it, I blinked and it was gone!’ But I mean it every time. Summer ends and everyone fakes bemusement. We love to tell each other about it, commiserate, look at each other and throw up our hands: how did this happen! How did we let it happen, again?

In early August my family drove over to Prince Edward Island, as we’ve done for over a decade, where we prostrate ourselves under the red sun and eat shellfish. I wrote in my journal every day, sitting on the beach. I recorded minutia: woke up (okay sleep), made coffee (bitter), went swimming (cold but no jellyfish), ate peaches (ripe). When I read the entries now, sitting on my bed in Toronto, I can close my eyes and feel it — the security of a routine with only good steps, the sanctity of unconditional time. But then I’m back in my apartment, my roommates are playing Red Dead Redemption 2 in the living room, it falls away again. 

I stayed at a friend’s cottage for a few cold days in June. It sits on a Québec lake, rimmed with pine trees and rich liberals’ summer homes. We sat on the screened-in porch every evening, candles melting down to the table, bugs humming dumbly beyond the light. For dinner, we made zucchini peeled off into long, aquatic strands; corn, peaches, and cheese tossed in a wide bowl; and fresh pasta inlaid with tiny tomatoes and showered with green herbs. I ate it all and hardly felt fat after. Drunk in a wicker chair, I remember thinking: if I have kids, they won’t have this. 

Last December I applied for an academic excursion to Germany, when my hair was still falling out and my life felt very narrow. In May, I sat on a plane beside strangers and woke up in Frankfurt. We went to learn, so I listened in community centres, felt engravings on synagogue walls, and walked with eyes up. We ate Friday dinner at a Chabad house and I listened to the Rabbi’s daughter speak five languages through her tiny mouth. Then everyone got drunk and we struggled home. Was that me? Walking around Berlin with wet feet?

This July I turned 21. I went to Halifax to see my friends from high school: a splintery group of girls-now-women with boyfriends and jobs and vague plans. They live in lofty student houses that make my Chinatown bedroom seem small and mean in comparison. The heat slouched over us all weekend, so we slept with the windows open. Everyone goes to the same bars in that city, where unwashed girls in barrettes sit pressed up against one another in booths, eyes blurry. I see myself there: opening birthday presents beside a lake, wearing a bathing suit in the backseat of an ancient Volvo, flinging myself into people I love… somehow it happened and then didn’t. 

Walking around the neighbourhood I grew up in feels like pulling weeds from a vegetable garden. One pull: this is the store where someone, who in joyful delusion I loved, works. Another: this is the church where, in a white dress, I took first communion. The minutes all roll together and over themselves. I look up and the sun’s moved, look down to more green. Time isn’t graceful but nor is it cruel; it’s an endless, uncaring unfolding. Is 21 too young to feel swept up? 

I spent my last June and July in Israel, trying to learn Arabic. My dorm room had metal shutters and a special area with a blast-proof door. On Saturdays I walked to East Jerusalem, where the shops stayed open, and I drank orange juice in cafés cornered by electric fans. I took a bus to Bethlehem and felt despair eat into my feet, my breastbone, my hips. If you stood in the right place, the horizon never ended — but if you stood in the wrong place, it never started. All I saw everyday was the same beige-brown landscape over and over. Looking at it made me panic. The heat made me panic. I stopped eating and started running. I changed my flight, I left early, I still dream about it. 

When I got back from Israel last August, I spent most of my time on my mom’s front porch. I drank wine out of plastic Ikea cups and slept during the afternoons, curled up on a tiny chair like a dog. I tried to wash it all off me, spread out my hair and pick out the rotting strands. My skin, tanned and freckled from the desert, flaked off. And my hair did eventually fall out that winter anyway, from what my doctor called a “latent trauma response,” what my hairdresser called “too much bleach,” and what my mom called “well, what do you expect?” But everything else stuck. 

It’s tempting to put bookends on things, keep the unruly standing straight, etc. While I know anyone can turn a few flashing moments into a line, forcing teleology onto my life doesn’t make me feel more secure about it. Did May lead to June? Did Frankfurt lead to Summerside? Masada to Tel Aviv? Try all you want, but I’m not believing it, Bibi, baby! 

So this is all I can say of the past four months: I spent a lot of time in my underwear, I felt devout joy and divine sadness, I would not do it over, but I know I will live it again. 

U of T’s declassified school survival guide

We’re getting closer to the start of the school year so here are some tricks of the trade to get you started

U of T’s declassified school survival guide

So, you’ve made it to the University of Toronto — congratulations! Whether you’re a native to ‘The Six’ or a newcomer to the big city, U of T welcomes you to an exciting new academic and social frontier. That being said, you’ve just arrived at the country’s largest postsecondary institution, which can be a little intimidating. To help you get settled, here are my top tips to get you through your first semester.

1. Find your crew

Get involved! Transitions are always easier when you join ready-made groups of people that share your interests. Interested in geopolitics? Check out the United Nations Society! Want to get involved in dance? Audition for the Silhouettes Dance Company! Heck, you can even contribute to The Varsity! There are over 1000 clubs at U of T, and Clubs Day makes it easy for you to pick and choose a group that is right for you. Don’t miss your opportunity to explore interests and meet new people during the “Week of Welcome” hosted by the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) at King’s College Circle.

If you’re a student at the St. George campus and in the Faculty of Arts & Science, try getting involved in your college. The college system forms smaller communities within this large institution, making it less daunting. Each has its own culture, government, and set of clubs. Why not look into college-specific activities and institutions to help yourself feel more at home in your own little corner of the university? Most colleges boast their own publication; for example  The Gargoyle at University College, and The Strand at Victoria College. And always remember to keep an eye out for events throughout the year and during your college’s orientation week.

2. Explore the city

Take advantage of our location — we are in the biggest city in Canada, and Toronto is bursting at the seams with things to see and do. Each neighbourhood in Toronto has a diverse culture, and with it a wealth of student budget-friendly things to do on weekends and after class. Take a stroll through Kensington Market, check out the Art Gallery of Ontario (free if you’re under 25), or visit the animals at Riverdale Farm. As you discover all that Toronto has to offer, you’ll begin to feel more at home in the city.

3. Study (unfortunately) 

It can’t all be fun and games: you’ve come to an academically-rigorous school, notorious for its high course loads and subsequent unofficial nickname, ‘U of Tears.’ That being said, there are plenty of resources available to help you succeed. For example, take advantage of the aid centres for disciplines like statistics, economics, and philosophy, and check out your college’s writing centre for help with essays. Your registrar is also always there to help, so book an appointment or visit during drop-in hours to sort out your degree planning. Finally, don’t forget that there are 42 libraries to choose from at U of T, so do some sleuthing and find the right one for your studying needs.

With all that Toronto and the university has to offer, first year can be incredible, but it can also be very overwhelming. If you are feeling particularly stressed by school or the transition into first year, check if your college, department, or program offers counseling services, or contact a Distress Centre of Toronto at 416-408-HELP (4357). 

Best of luck and a warm welcome to U of T!

What to do when you’re about to start university

Work smarter… not harder

What to do when you’re about to start university

Starting university can be daunting, especially at a school the size of U of T. But don’t worry, navigating first year and setting yourself up for an amazing undergraduate experience isn’t as hard as it seems — just follow these ten steps to make your life a whole lot easier. 

1)   Go to office hours: Office hours are so important, whether they are your teaching assistant (TA)’s, or the professor’s. Often all evaluations in first year classes are graded by TAs so it’s best to get to know them and understand what their marking style is like as soon as possible. It’s amazing how much it can help to have your TA actually know your name when it comes to asking for help or advice on assignments or tests. While professors and TAs can seem intimidating, they are often really accommodating. Remember, they are here to help you, so take advantage of every opportunity you can get. 

2)   Sit at the front of the class: Again, having a professor recognize you can go a long way. Seeing a student take initiative and actively participating in their education can really impress your profs and may grant you some leniency later on if you need an extension or think an assignment was unfairly graded. Since class sizes are so big in first year, it can be tempting to sit at the back and scroll through Facebook all class long, and sitting at the front may just be the deterrent you need to actually pay attention. 

3)   Go to clubs fair: I stand by the fact that clubs fair day is the most important day of first year. Getting involved on campus, beyond going to class, is much more important than you may imagine, especially if you’re a commuter. It can be really easy to feel isolated at U of T due to its sheer size. Finding a smaller community of like-minded people will make it so much easier to meet new people and make friends, especially if you find the idea of talking to people after class just a bit too daunting. U of T has hundreds of clubs for any interest you can possibly think of, and dozens of them are waiting for you to join them at the clubs fair, so go! 

4)   Do your research: U of T has a lot of invaluable resources for students, but it often doesn’t do a good job advertising them. Doing a quick search for different resources such as writing, math help, career advice, or scholarships and bursaries can be incredibly useful. The earlier you’re able to find the resources you need, the better prepared you’ll be for the year ahead. 

5)   Enroll in a seminar: As previously mentioned, U of T is huge, and first year classes especially are huge. If you think the transition from high school to university might be challenging for you, U of T offers a variety of first year seminars through the first year foundations and college one programs that are made to help with this transition and can help you, again, feel a bit less isolated on campus. 

6)   Take a class on a subject that you’ve never heard of before: When I was in first year I had no idea what sociology was, but after taking a sociology class as an elective, I loved it so much that I decided to major in it. Even if you know exactly what you want to study at university, take a class in something that is foreign to you. Not only can it help you fulfill those breadth requirements, but you may just find a new passion or interest that you’ve never thought of pursuing before. 

7)   Get off campus: This is very important if you’re living in residence in first year. Toronto has so much to offer and there is always something going on in the city. When you spend every waking hour on campus, it can start to feel a bit suffocating. Take some time off to explore the city and discover new places beyond Sidney Smith and Robarts.

8)   Get familiar with the career centre: This is one thing I wish I had done sooner. The career centre is amazing. Whether you know what you’re going to do with your life until you retire or if you’re just taking it day by day, the career centre can help you navigate your degree and get you on the best track towards getting a career you’ll love. They also have real jobs. The work study program is incredibly useful to allow students to get work experience while accommodating their school schedule. They also have a variety of job shadowing programs that can help you discover different career paths you might be interested in. 

9)   Become best friends with your registrar: The registrar can really save your life. Have an issue about enrolling in a class? Need to drop a class? Need information about scholarships and bursaries? Do you just have no idea what you’re doing with your life? The registrar can help you. Every college registrar has an academic advisor that is there to help you navigate the treacherous waters that are undergrad at U of T. Use them. 

10) Go to class and actually do your readings on time: Just do it. It can be so easy to slack off when you don’t have parents or teachers nagging you to go to class and do your homework, but save yourself the mental breakdown when finals are coming and stay on top of your classes and work. You’ll thank yourself later when you can actually get a good night’s sleep before your first exam instead of staying up all night trying to catch up.

A letter to the graduating class of 2019

There’s no rush to figure it out — your time will come

A letter to the graduating class of 2019

My own post-grad period was filled with self-doubt which bordered on intense self-hatred, with confronting situations I thought I had already overcome, and with a desire for a seemingly-impossible better life.

If I have one piece of advice for those who are about to become graduates, it’s that you need to give yourself time. This can apply to any number of things: from finding a job, to getting into grad school, to figuring out what you want to do with the rest of your life.

You’re so young, and I know how ridiculous this must sound. I felt it was ridiculous too, but there is no rush to figure any of these questions out. I know it seems that way because you’ve either got people you want to make proud — looking at you, diaspora students — or you want to save the world as soon as possible. 

I want you to waste daylight. I want you to know that it is okay to spend time existing plainly, without a purpose. I want you to know that someday you will miss the times when you had nothing better to do than sit around and watch Netflix or listen to music. 

One day, you’ll be on a packed train, finishing up your morning commute, and silently cursing yourself for not reading your book in a more comfortable setting. You’ll miss waking up to the rain falling at 11:00 am. These moments that seem like curses of an uncertain period are actually moments you can spend starting to heal. 

You worked so hard in university, regardless of the cGPA you graduated with. Things will happen eventually; do not try to rush into doing things that may not be the best for you. Never try to bury your emotions — talk or write about them. Know that you are not alone in your fear of the future. The best years of your life are yet to be finished, and there is nothing more important for your well-being than taking care of yourself. 

Your time will come. And whenever it does, I know that you will make the best of it. Figuring yourself out is a learning curve; there is no use in wishing that things would be perfect immediately. I’ve learned that the best thing about the unknown is that, in a way, it will stay with you forever. Even when we think we have things figured out, things can change overnight. The best thing for you is, and will always be, to live your life without trying to find the light at the end of the tunnel. It’ll come to you eventually. Just trust yourself, and live your truth in the meantime.

So, for all the 2019 grads, take the time to go for a stroll around Toronto, especially if you’re planning on moving away. You’ll miss it.

Tips for first year: if you’re afraid, you’re doing it right

Fear Factor ain’t got nothing on being a freshman

Tips for first year: if you’re afraid, you’re doing it right

If you’re entering the University of Toronto as a freshman, there are a few assumptions someone could make about your high school experience: you must have been the right combination of keen, stalwart, and lucky. You must have been a fairly good student in at least one of the many offered subjects. And you must have done something to make yourself stand out from tens of thousands of other applicants.

Maybe your acceptance letter came as a surprise. Possibly it didn’t. Either way, you now find yourself faced with the reality that your right-place-right-time-ness has yielded results. University is starting and everything before it is inconveniently wrapping up.

When I was in that position — suitcase in one hand, acceptance letter in the other, hailing down felicitations — I wasn’t feeling proud, overjoyed, or even relieved below the surface. I could feel the tunnel of well-wishes close up behind me as I was dropped face-first into my future. 

Jesus, I was scared out of my mind.

Seeing welcome materials curtly acknowledge my “apprehension”, my “nerves”, or, if they were feeling particularly brave, my “anxiety”, made something inside me sour. 

The word was fear. Plain and simple.

In one of the best classes I ever took, I would later learn that the words people use to describe things are paramount to the way they feel about them. It’s a shame that few people openly acknowledge that every student arrives at the pearly gates of U of T exhausted, bewildered, and scared out of their minds, because recognizing that fear allows first years to be, despite themselves, a special kind of brave.

University is an investment opportunity in academia. It’s essentially a store that sells you the right set of circumstances to do something with your brain. It’s a tired cliché, don’t get me wrong, but the thing to get from university isn’t the degree.

The second that you step on campus, you will be fighting every inch of your body screaming at you to go back to what you know. This will be true for the first class you attend, and every class after it. However, it gets easier: with every bit of coursework, midterms, socialization, you practically will feel yourself changing.

You might not feel it then, or in the weeks or months that trundle by, but one day you’ll look down at your robe and your diploma, taking pictures at convocation, in a city you’ve grown in and with, and wonder how you ever could have been afraid of that new beginning.

So please have hope. Be afraid. Feel the fear.

You’re braver than you think.

And just to help out with the little things, stick these tips in your back pocket, they might come in handy:

  1. Buy used textbooks from upper-years. You need books, they need cash: it’s practically symbiotic.
  2.  Robarts might be a peacock, but it is a turkey.
  3. Take the walk or bus ride to Staples for school supplies. The Bookstore is lucrative, but you’re better than that.
  4. Go to the gym, if not for fitness, then for distraction.
  5.  Go to a few Varsity Blues games. They’re always cooler than you think they’ll be.
  6. When you get a mark you don’t like, let yourself grieve. It’s a process. 
  7.  If you’re bored of your locale and want to see more of the city, traveling to the other campuses is like stepping into another town altogether.

And with all that being said, consider this a warm welcome class of 2023. Trust me — you got this!

The Varsity’s summer send-off playlist

For the hour after golden hour… and every hour after that

<i>The Varsity</i>’s summer send-off playlist

Jumping into the new school year is exhausting. Between course selection, tying up loose ends, and trying to make the most of the weather — when it’s not so oppressive — we trudge into September with well-worn bags under our eyes.

Not to worry, though, because this summer The Varsity’s Arts & Culture section has handpicked 10 summer jams to cure your end-of-summer blues and give you an extra spring in your step. No, we are not approved by the Food and Drug Administration, and no, our research on this matter is not published — yet. But these songs are guaranteed to work wonders on a brain wracked with the exhaustion of doing nothing for four months! 

Peruse our prescriptions below. Take them with a spoonful of sugar if you must, but, either way, relax to the beat of a summer well spent, starting with the exuberant chords of Sir Woman.

Sir Woman’s single, “Highroad,” matches bright, upbeat R&B motifs with a brass section fit for any open-air jazz bar. Her lyrics float in and out of sweeping melodies that build into a cheerfully sunny musical narrative bustling with self-love and gumption, matched only by Lizzo herself.

Complementing the gentlewoman is the effervescent Kaiit, performing “Miss Shiney,” an expository R&B perusal into her artistic process with beats reminiscent of ’90s hip hop, with an 808 drum to boot! Her consistent flow and ad libs add structure to an otherwise weightless song. Its minimalist production value, despite itself, manages to fill the room with gorgeous volume.

Look no further than “Seventeen” by Peach Pit for an accompanying aperitif: a cool beach rock serenade that will leave you bouncing your foot despite yourself. Its charming chord progression keeps the song simple enough to love on the first listen, while its vocals grant it a unique calling card that makes playing it again a pleasure.

Kevin Abstract of BROCKHAMPTON wields a syrupy-sweet rhythm guitar in “Peach,” bouncing along to a steady snare-kit beat that whips the whole ensemble into a warm summer daze. You can practically see this song lounging on a Muskoka chair. 

Contrasting the rolled-back instrumentals of Abstract’s performance, Ocean Heights’ “Out the Way” leans into production and instrumentation to administer a dose of smooth, pop-R&B perfection. Ocean Heights’ vocals drape over the crisp melody like caramel, complementing its layered manufacture to produce one sweet earworm.

“U Used To” by Charlie Burg embraces the cool tones of summer’s palette, propping itself up on pop-y notes and synth-shades to paint a fresh image of a summer fling. Don’t let its high production fool you — its acapella ad libs break through the chorus to give Burg’s foray into summer a sincere and palatable note.

Similarly sincere but with an added tender glean, the abstracted “Freakin’ Out on the Interstate” brandishes Briston Maroney’s distinctive voice alongside killer guitar and a meaty bassline to deliver an experience evocative of those erratic summer nights.

And what kind of mixtape would it be without songs to dance wildly to?

“Honestly” by The Bantams forms one edge of a rug-cutting triad completed by Hounds’ “Shake Me Up” and The Lost Boys’ “Sober (feat. Griff Clawson).” All three bank on their upbeat tempos and lyrics to get you on your feet and moving to summer’s final beats. 

Strewn throughout the mixtape, these songs bring you back to basics to remind you what the best summer music’s all about.

With these songs you’re practically destined to make it through the first two weeks of school. Don’t worry if it’s a slow start to begin with — just think of it as a slow burn to a climax worth waiting for.

So what are you waiting for? Get out there and soak up the summer! We at Arts & Culture will catch you on the flipside!

Summers are meant for The Beaches

Discussing the band’s past, present, and future

Summers are meant for The Beaches

Traversing the roads of Toronto in an all-black SUV is one of Canada’s newest and most exciting rock bands. While they are not yet a household name, the group did spend an entire day going from one interview to another. It’s no surprise that people cannot get enough of The Beaches, and yes, they’re named after the Toronto neighbourhood — The Beaches — which they call home. 

The band, which consists of Jordan Miller’s vocals and bass, Kylie Miller’s lead guitar, Eliza Enman McDaniel’s drums, and Leandra Earl’s keyboard and guitar, officially started in 2013 with their first studio album released in 2017. Since then, the band has continued to grow their success through hit music and captivating live shows. 

For one of their many interviews that day, The Beaches sat down with The Varsity to discuss their newest EP, opening for some of the biggest bands in the world, and snacking on tour.

The Varsity: Firstly I’d like to congratulate you on your new EP, The Professional. Can you tell me a bit about it and how it came together?

Jordan Miller: The Professional is really exciting. It came together really fast. We’ve had a few crazy years where a lot of things have changed for us, so we’ve been really inspired. Our last album, Late Show, was sort of a collection of four years worth of material. The Professional — excluding “Lame” — was essentially written in the last six months. We’re really excited about it.

TV: Having known each other for many years at this point and finally getting the recognition and accolades that you deserve, can you speak on the challenges individually or as a group that you’ve faced in the last couple years?

Kylie Miller: I think right now rock music hasn’t been as prevalent, which is disappointing. So being an all-female rock band in this time has been a little bit challenging, but it’s also been exciting because we’re starting to see younger people become interested in rock music and coming to live shows and supporting this whole movement. It’s kind of like a rose and a thorn.

JM: We’re definitely a unique band in that we play everything live. We’re dedicated to making sure that our performances are unique each time we play the songs. We’re creating an experience, not just pressing a button on a computer.

TV: Do you think it’s an untraditional or traditional way of doing it?

JM: Well, it used to be the traditional way, but it’s sort of become weird, you know?

KM: Yeah, it’s a dying breed.

Eliza Enman-McDaniel: We’re trying to bring it back. Women are the most rock ‘n’ roll thing right now because there aren’t enough women in rock ‘n’ roll. So, that in itself, being a woman in rock ‘n’ roll, is just the coolest.

TV: Toronto in recent years has pushed out a high-level of musical talent. How has this city helped to shape you, apart from just your band name?

KM: I think we are so lucky to be able to live in this city and to be able to go and experience shows here. We have a really great community of Toronto musicians and friends in bands, and we all support each other. It’s really kind of helped us grow individually, as friends, and as a band.

JM: There’s a totally collaborative and supportive music scene here. People go to each other’s shows… share each other’s music and offer advice, and help when it comes to making choices within your own career or even with your own songs.

KM: And this doesn’t really happen in a lot of other places. For instance, in Los Angeles, New York, even Montréal, everything is really competitive, and yet in Toronto, everyone is really supportive.


TV: Last year you won the JUNO Award for Breakout Group of the Year. Tell me about that experience, going up and accepting your award. It seems almost like you were surprised that you won.

JM: It was such an honour to be recognized by our community and peers. I think it was especially an important moment for us because we’ve been sort of a band for about four years, and a lot of our friends have graduated from university and are coming back to their families with degrees. And so we got to come back and sort of give our parents this sort of symbol of all the work that we’ve done.

TV: 2018 was a big year for the band. Apart from the JUNO Award, you also released a couple of hits. I’m also interested in hearing about your experience opening for the Foo Fighters and playing at the Rogers Centre.

EM: That show was crazy for so many reasons. When I walked out by myself as we opened our show, I walked out to 55,000 people. I sit down and this massive full pint of beer comes hurtling through the air, knocks one of my sticks out of my hand — and I’m playing at the time. I have to find a way to get my second stick. So, it was a mess.

KM: It really kind of was crazy because that’s never happened to us as a band before. It was eye-opening, and it proved that we can be put into really shitty circumstances. But somehow we’re that close and that connected as a band that we can just pull through and not let that affect our performance.

TV: What do you hope to achieve, learn, or experience when you open for other big bands, for instance, when you opened for The Rolling Stones in June?

JM: Something that’s very interesting between The Rolling Stones and The Glorious Sons is that I’ve heard that they both have… an improv-ish type of show; it’s not a very formulaic set. They don’t really pick a setlist until like 20 minutes before their show. Sometimes they’ll do super long jams in-between songs even though they won’t plan for it, but they’re like such tight performers that they’ll just sort of be able to look at each other and do stuff that’s very spontaneous like that. So, it’s interesting to see how our sort of theatrical, sort of prepared, cohesive set works with their more jamming sets. 

EM: I think just being able to play rock music in front of a crowd that’s there for rock music, and to expose our music to people who haven’t heard our music before. Just keep trying to keep rock music alive. I think that’s what’ll be the best outcome.

TV: Do you have a goal in mind for the end of 2019? 

EM: We’re planning on releasing another body of work, hopefully by the end of the year. I’d love to just tour, travel to more places, and play for more audiences that haven’t seen us before and just keep touring.

Leandra Earl: Canada has been very nice to us, but moving toward the UK and the US are a goal.

KM: We have a lot of support here — it’s amazing — but it’s also important to establish yourself in other places. So, going to Europe, going to the UK, maybe going to Australia at some point early next year, and then hitting the US again for a headlining run.

LE: Take The Beaches worldwide — ‘International Beaches.’

TV: Before you go, I have one final question. Following your Twitter, I’ve noticed your go-to fast food is Taco Bell. What is your go-to Taco Bell order?

EM: Crunchwrap Supreme and a side of a Soft Beef Taco.

JM: Crunchwrap Supreme with Ghost Pepper Sauce.

EM: Oh, Fire Sauce, always!

LE: The whole tour I’ve been having two crunchy beef tacos, but on the last day, I tried a Crunchwrap Supreme — and woah! That hit me. So next time, it’s that.

EM: We’ve been telling her all along it’s the best thing, but she had to try it for herself.

KM: Crunchwrap Supreme, and always Dr. Pepper. Always. That’s the best thing.  

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

The Professional was released on May 16, 2019. 

All the world’s a stage: from campus theatre to New York, and now across the pond

U of T alumni direct and take their play, zounds!, to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival

All the world’s a stage: from campus theatre to New York, and now across the pond

Veronika Gribanova and Jacob Levitt are both U of T alumni, and were heavily involved in the theatre scene during their years on campus. Now, they are transferring their love of the arts and their directorial skills across the pond this summer to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival ⁠— the world’s largest festival for arts and culture. 

They sat down with The Varsity to discuss their show, zounds!, their directorial relationship, and the jump from campus theatre to New York. 

The Varsity: Firstly, what is zounds! about? 

Veronika Gribanova: zounds! is a comedy about the Greek gods during the Trojan War, set in the present. In the ninth year, when Aphrodite is injured in battle, Zeus puts the gods under house arrest on Mount Olympus.

Jacob Levitt: Think Big Brother: Greek Gods edition. It features 13 gods, Helen of Troy, and a Greek chorus, and is a political comedy about power, love, and (literal) sacrifices.

TV: That sounds brilliant. I bet it was fun to write. Can you expand on the creative process of how zounds! ended up at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival?

VG: I wrote it for my company in New York, Floor Five Theatre Company. We knew we wanted to put on a show with a large cast, because the company had 27 people at the time, so I wrote this 18 person play — which was a bit insane. I mean, everyone kept telling us this was a stupid thing to do. But our company is nothing if not strong-willed, so, against all odds, we premiered the show in the Atlantic Stage 2 and had a sold-out run. Then, because that wasn’t difficult enough, we said: “let’s take it abroad.”

TV: You are both co-directing zounds!. Did you know that you would be taking on this massive project when you first met on the U of T campus stage?

JL: We knew from the moment we first worked together that our dynamic was of a nature one might call “productively dysfunctional.” So we pushed that dynamic to its logical limit and did as many shows as we could together.

VG: With Jacob and I, it was hate at first sight. So we thought it would be funny to keep working together. I directed Jacob in Trojan Barbie for the Victoria College Drama Society, then we directed Jesse Eisenberg’s Asuncion for The St. Michael’s College Troubadours. 

JL: Then we took our talents to the Toronto Fringe Festival with Veronika’s own piece, Lover Lover.

VG: And now we’ve arrived at my play zounds!. I’ve since moved to New York and mostly work there, so I had to convince Jacob to not only come to Edinburgh but to come to New York for the rehearsal process.

TV: Other than U of T campus theatre, what else have you done to help get you ready for the Fringe?

VG: I’ve actually worked on a few shows for the Toronto Fringe. Those were a good warm-up for this… although I don’t know how much we can really be prepared. The Edinburgh Fringe has over 3,000 shows each day and is the largest arts festival in the world. That’s a bit daunting.

JL: It is truly massive, and trying to find our foothold in it all will probably be our biggest challenge, second only to the rehearsal process itself! But it is an occasion to which we are willing to rise. So yes, daunting, but also exciting.

TV: What has the transition from campus theatre to theatre in the big, real world been like?

VG: People don’t yell as much in the professional world. That’s something that surprised me when I left university. Campus theatre has a lot of stressed-out people yelling. At one point, I was one of them! My lovely stage manager Shashwat Sharma told me to stop freaking the actors out. Everyone is quite calm on professional productions and on shoots. The other big difference is that now I have to fund my own work. I miss that campus funding, yo!

JL: It’s also refreshing to work with a cast and crew that is almost if not entirely made up of people dedicated to establishing their own career in professional theatre. Also funding.

TV: Can you describe your directorial journey? What steps have you taken from directing campus shows at U of T to directing a show for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival?

VG: Well, besides our show Lover Lover in Toronto, I’ve been working on productions in New York for the past few years. I’ve mostly been writing, acting, and producing, but doing a bit of directing as well, primarily on film. 

I wrote and directed a web series called Art is Dead that’s now being released (also co-produced with Berenice Odriozola), and wrote and directed a short called November Burns Red that’s now in post. And I recently graduated from Atlantic Theater Company’s 2.5-year conservatory program ⁠— the training and teachers there were really spectacular. So I feel as prepared as I can be for something as big as this.

JL: For me, it started with a job at a summer camp as a creative and cultural director, where I had to help write, produce, and direct half a dozen shows over the course of a summer term. Throw in some directorial roles with Veronika, a few avant-garde performative murder mystery events, and one might call me a bit of a directorial journeyman.

TV: How did taking zounds! to the Fringe Festival come about?

VG: After I finished the Toronto Fringe in 2017 I said, “I’m never doing another Fringe Festival!” And I actually don’t remember how this happened. I know someone in my company suggested it sometime last year. Then, when we closed our production of the show in December, we felt it wasn’t the end and wanted the play to have another life. So our team of three producers ⁠— including myself, Berenice Odriozola, and Ana Guzmán Quintero ⁠— applied this winter, and were accepted by theSpaceUK to perform in one of their venues.

TV: Why is community in theatre so important? 

VG: In our individualistic and ego-driven culture, collaboration and connection are rare. I’ve been blessed with these challenges in my artistic life. And it is a challenge. Collaboration, connection. It is sitting in a room with the 25 other artists in your company and remembering why you decided to come together. It is remembering to meet each other again. It is listening. It is killing your ego. Every day is a new chance to fail at all of the above challenges, and I feel lucky to have this chance.

JL: The size of an ensemble production like this one can in a way form its own microcosmic theatre community. The characteristics of a successful production can then mirror the characteristics that one should want and expect in a theatre community as a whole. Trust and respect, while buzzwords, are at the heart of any good production. I know I like to see bravery in the decisions actors make, while in equal measure seeing their restraint and support of the cast and crew around them.   

TV: And what about the cast and crew? 

VG: As for our cast and crew ⁠— we have a talented pair of sisters in our cast! Ana Guzmán Quintero plays Athena and is also one of the producers, and Luisa Guzmán Quintero joins the cast as Helen. Ana studied alongside me at the Atlantic Acting School and Luisa studied at The Lee Strasberg Institute, which teach pretty much opposing acting techniques. I’ve always found it funny that they chose such vastly different schools. I’m so excited to have both of them on the team! I’m also especially grateful for Berenice Odriozola, who is acting as Demeter, for producing the show and acting as Head of Marketing for the whole company. She’s the busiest lady I know but wears all her hats so well. 

TV: Are you nervous for the Fringe? Excited? Awestruck? Tell me all of your feelings… but only in three words.

JL: Only three words. That’ll be tricky. Three words? Okay. Got it. First word: “Inspiring.” Second word: “Huge.” Third word: “Once-in-a-lifetime.”

VG: What he said.

TV: How can tickets for zounds! be bought? When is it being performed?

VG & JL: Tickets can be bought here! It’s being performed from August 2 to 10 (blackout August 4) in Edinburgh at theSpaceUK.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.