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Theatre Review: VCDS’ Mamma Mia!

Gimme Gimme Gimme another run of this fun show

Theatre Review: VCDS’ <i>Mamma Mia!</i>

Mamma Mia! is canon of musical comedies, rocket-fueled by sheer thrum and pulse of toe-tapping, sing-along-tempting ABBA. It’s fun. Whether it’s Sophie’s impossible goal to bring together three men, any of whom could be her biological father — strangers Sam, Bill, and Harry — the idyllic Greek island setting, or any of the flamboyant supporting characters, this is a fun musical. And above all else, beyond its foibles, the Victoria College Drama Society’s (VCDS) production of Mamma Mia! was fun in turn.

VCDS’ production, which ran from March 7­–9 at the Isabel Bader Theatre, was directed by Ronan Mallovy. On March 9, the theatre was packed with the usual audience composition of parents, friends, and theatre fans — likely jealous that they weren’t themselves members of the chorus. The audience’s tone was upbeat as the musical began slightly late, and there were occasional cheers and shouts as fan favourites and friends took to the stage.

The production was largely carried by a few standout performances. Lisean Henry brought a palpable vibrancy and momentum to her performance as Donna, Sophie’s fiercely independent mother and former lover of her three potential fathers. Alexandra Palma as the seductive, vain, and reliably lively Tanya had an unmistakable energy and stage presence that proved a nice foil to the performances of Lisean Henry and Elizabeth So, who played Donna’s other friend Rosie.

Gianni Sallese, a familiar face in campus theatre, played one of Sophie’s potential fathers, Sam Carmichael. His recognizable physical presence and movement, as well as natural humour, was on full display. Kody McCann (Bill Anderson) and Leo Morgenstern (Harry Bright) were also excellent additions to the named cast. The chemistry between the three fathers was amusing and they maintained high energy throughout their time on stage.

Special mention must also go to Carter Holmes as Pepper, staff member at the small hotel Donna owns. He brought a spring and comedy to the stage that managed to stitch together the scenes we all wished would hurry up a bit until the next big number.

The music direction, led by Emma Wallace, kept the tempo of the show moving along at pace and brought a swollen sound in all the right places for the big numbers. The tight proximity of the band to the actors on stage, at a close stage left, added to the casual tone of the performance generally.

However, while the set design was on theme and the fly-set window panes and plants were a nice touch, the cast’s interaction with the set pieces was lacking overall. When they did interact heavily with the set, there was a sense of clumping and some issues with voice projection in the conversational elements of the musical. In the more dramatic scenes, there was little interaction with the set at all, and the space taken up by the set could have been better used by the well-choreographed cast.

In addition, perhaps to the end of showcasing the admittedly solid vocal talents of the leading cast, the fact that some of the greatest tunes of the musical, namely “Mamma Mia” and “Dancing Queen,” were performed by a small ensemble was a real and regrettable shame. Whenever the cast and chorus at large were on stage as one, the energy in the room was tangible and electric. When they were absent, there was a real question of how there could be so little energy on stage with so many people waiting in the wings undoubtedly wishing they could join in.

The performance largely underused the cast and chorus for the big vocal performances. While the leading cast were impressive, songs like “Mamma Mia” and “Dancing Queen” are meant to be belted aloud and put the crowd under a spell. Instead, the energy in these teasingly low-tempo performances fell starkly flat.

The best part of Mamma Mia! was the end — and this isn’t meant in a snarky, holier-than-thou critical sense. The finale of the show is well-known: a full-ensemble performance of the biggest show tunes to, usually, a standing ovation, as was the case on March 9. The end felt like the very first time the energy level in the room was absolutely cranking, and songs like “Mamma Mia” and “Dancing Queen” had me mouthing the lyrics, whereas their performances during the core show had me somewhat distracted.

All in all, it would be a good wager that most, if not all, of the audience left Mamma Mia! having had fun. And beyond careful and persnickety critiques, if that isn’t a worthwhile goal of campus theatre, then what is?

University of Toronto’s Drama Festival 2019

Another year of excellent student theatre

University of Toronto’s Drama Festival 2019

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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

Theatre review: VCDS’ The Importance of Being Earnest

Student theatre cleverly tackles the theme of identity in its second play of the season

Theatre review: VCDS’ <em>The Importance of Being Earnest</em>

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

The Victoria College Drama Society (VCDS) received resounding laughter and applause from pleased audiences with director Rachel Bannerman’s interpretation of The Importance of Being Earnest.

Arguably one of Oscar Wilde’s finest plays, it is his playful response to William Shakespeare’s serious question to audiences: “What’s in a name?” Wilde’s answer? Everything.

In Earnest, Jack Worthing, our main protagonist, is in love with Gwendolen Bracknell, but he has been passing off as Ernest Worthing instead — a lie which, it seems, comprises a large part of Gwendolen’s love for Jack.

Meanwhile, Jack’s friend Algernon Moncrieff has plans to secretly go visit Jack’s ward Cecily in the country so as to woo her — a plan that ends up with him also passing himself off as Ernest, a name that Cecily, like Gwendolen, places much importance upon. What happens when their real names are found out? That, of course, is much of the fun of Earnest, as are its other characters, namely Lady Bracknell, a typical Victorian mother character exposing both the monotony and falsity of Victorian morals. Add in a black handbag, a lot of muffins, and a couple of diaries, and you have the wonderful play that is The Importance of Being Earnest.

What makes Earnest so hilarious is that it is a world where everything is inverted: characters say the opposite of what you would expect them to say, but with all seriousness. For example, Lady Bracknell, who has been visiting a friend of hers who is recently widowed, notes that the woman looks “quite 20 years younger.” The play is chock-full of such clever bits, and this comprises its hilarious nature.

Bannerman’s production understands that Earnest is ultimately a play of identity, where the central question is “Who am I?” It is a play that laughs at the absurdity of nothingness, of a purposeless existence, and fills that void with beauty and wit.  In assembling a cast of mostly women and changing the character of Mr. Jack Worthing to a Ms. Jack Worthing, Bannerman brings the play into the twenty-first century in a manner that is quite fitting for the play’s central question of human identity.  

The cast is, overall, quite strong, with some standout performances. Gianni Sallese as Algernon Moncrieff is an excellent decision, and his skill with the character often outshines Sylvia Woolner’s Jack, with whom he is often on stage.

Kara Austria’s Lady Bracknell maintains the veneer of Victorian high society while treating the character with just enough irony to result in a truly wonderful performance. Carmen Bezner Kerr’s Gwendolen Bracknell and Kenley Ferris Ku’s Cecily Cardew also both display the actors’ full awareness of the wit of the dialogue, which they play into very well.

A clever set design, which changes three times during the show, helps to keep the stage interesting and the audience engaged. Overall, Bannerman makes good use of the stage, and characters are constantly moving, sitting, running, and taking up space, which is very entertaining.

Some moments that could have been further emphasized include the classic encounter between Cecily and Gwendolen during tea, which is quite hilarious but could have been further drawn out. This is, of course, a minor detail, and is outweighed by the many other clever directions, including the very funny aside when Algy and his servant Lane plug their ears.

As is often the case, the VCDS offers audiences a well-rehearsed, clever production of a classic play that is well worth seeing. You’ll leave with many good laughs and an appreciation for the clever wit of Oscar Wilde that is not lost upon this production team.

Theatre review: VCDS’ Twelfth Night, Or What You Will

The final show of the 100th season pays homage to an early production

Theatre review: VCDS’ <i>Twelfth Night, Or What You Will</i>

For the final play of its 100th season, the Victoria College Drama Society (VCDS) chose a production of Twelfth Night, Or What You Will. The show runs for two and a half hours, with a 15 minute intermission.

Notably, the same show was first put up by VCDS a century ago, with an all-female cast. “We re-mount it to celebrate our past and to look to our future as we continue to grow,” Executive Producers Alyssa DiBattista and Leora Nash wrote in their producers’ note.

During their introductory statements, DiBattista and Nash also pointed out how appropriately coincidental it was for opening night to fall on International Women’s Day.

Directed by Maya Wong, VCDS’ Twelfth Night is aesthetically cohesive, thanks to the clean and naturalistic set designed by Wong and Artistic Designer Abby Palmer. Often, student productions use similar ‘classic’ sets that are meant to be timeless. It was refreshing to see VCDS use wooden furniture, IKEA chairs, and even plants to create a modern stage.

The plot of Twelfth Night revolves around Viola (Kashi Syal), who falls in love with Orsino (James Hyett), who is in love with Olivia (Jasmine Cabanilla), who mistakes Viola for a man and falls in love with her. Madness, of course, ensues. Ironically, the chemistry between Syal and Cabanilla is palpable, perhaps more so than either of their chemistries with Hyett.

Admittedly, the show’s modern context is a bit confusing, as the hierarchal relationships between the characters are never fully explained. The blocking of the play also falls lacklustre at times, with multiple actors simply standing in a line during certain scenes.

However, Cabanilla sparks laughter every time she used her cell phone as a prop, and Wong creatively modernizes the traditional Shakespearean sword fights written into the play, with choreography by Jade Elliott McRae. 

Maria (Nicole Bell) and Sir Toby (Jacob Levitt) are especially strong characters, thanks to Bell and Levitt’s performances. The two deliver their lines with such ease that the audience can clearly understand Shakespeare’s jokes. The scene with Maria, Sir Toby, Sir Andrew (Braden Kenny), and Fabian (Maher Sinno) tricking Malvolio (Ryan Falconer) is particularly delightful to watch.

An original score composed by Music Director and Composer Sam Clark and Assistant Composer Wilfred Moeschter also makes this classic love triangle story unique. With the harmonizing voices of Percy Thomas and Yasmine Shelton, the musical interludes are gorgeous.

Overall, Twelfth Night is an aesthetically pleasing production featuring strong actors and a uniquely creative production team. For the love of VCDS, do not miss the end of this historic season.

Twelfth Night, Or What You Will will run at Isabel Bader Theatre until March 10.

Disclosure: Kashi Syal is The Varsity‘s Associate Arts & Culture Editor.

Disappearance of funds at VCDS stirs suspicions of theft

$800 missing from cash box in locked VCDS office

Disappearance of funds at VCDS stirs suspicions of theft

Sometime between October 31, 2017 and November 10, 2017, $800 in cash went missing from the Victoria College Drama Society (VCDS) cash box, located in a locked office. According to the society, eight members of VCDS have access to the office, located within the larger Victoria University Students’ Administrative Council (VUSAC) office, as do housekeeping staff and the VUSAC president. VCDS believes the money was stolen.

While cleaning their office during the fall reading week, VCDS co-producers Alyssa DiBattista and Leora Nash discovered the empty cash box, but they originally thought nothing of it.

“We assumed that our Chief Financial Officer, George Wilson, must have deposited the revenue from our first show into our bank account. Later in the month (before our second show), however, George went to count the amount in the money box, to be used as a float for our second show, only to find that there was only the small amount I had seen during reading week,” wrote DiBattista.

Wilson wrote that much of the money allegedly stolen had been “inherited by past years executives who often kept cash from shows in the office,” assuming the cash was revenue from past shows. Most of that money was deposited into VCDS’ bank account, but the money in the cashbox at the time of the supposed robbery was kept as float for the VCDS production of Colours in the Storm, which ran in mid-October of last year. The $800 consisted of the float cash and one night’s revenue from the show.

DiBattista clarified that the VCDS exec assumed that the money was stolen because only she, Nash, and Wilson deal with money or the cash box. “We didn’t want to conclude that the money had been removed illicitly but it became more and more clear to us; no one else had used the money box on official business since the end of our first show. At some point, it just disappeared, and the only reason we could conclude was that someone got access or had access to the office, and took the money.”

The incident has resulted in the VCDS employing stricter policies regarding how it handles its cash. “While there have always been official policies on money handling and counting, there had never really been anything specifically addressing money in the locked VCDS office,” said Wilson. According to Wilson, the new policy is that no cash will be left unattended in the VCDS office, and the drama society will now be using VUSAC’s safe or VCDS’ own bank account whenever possible.

Additionally, non-VCDS members will not be allowed in the office outside of normal hours, and keyholders will only be allowed to enter the office for VCDS purposes. “Our fall production of The Drowsy Chaperone occurred under these new policies without incident, and we believe the policies will continue to succeed,” said Wilson.

DiBattista claimed that there was a history of stolen money within the VUSAC office. “However, this was the first time money was stolen from inside a private, locked office at VUSAC and it was also the largest amount of money stolen, so we felt the need to respond thoroughly. We feel extremely disappointed because the purpose of having an office for our organization is to have a safe and useful space, but that’s been compromised, and it feels violating,” wrote DiBattista.

The co-producers brought up the matter at a VUSAC meeting but were advised that there could not be an investigation. They were asked to consider more secure methods for storing funds that must remain in the office for short periods of time.

As to why there was no investigation, VUSAC President Zahavah Kay said, “Ultimately it was decided that the best and most practical solution was to improve security moving forward. VUSAC has supported this decision by recommending all levies purchase safes for their offices, limit key sharing, and keep the office locked at all times.” VUSAC itself has also increased security by decreasing the number of office keys distributed, as well as limiting after-hours access to the office.

As of press time, there is no update to the identity of a perpetrator, and Campus Police have not been informed of the alleged theft.

Correction (January 8): a previous version of this article incorrectly stated that only eight people have access to the VCDS office, and that the cash box was locked. In fact, the cash box does not have a lock, and eight members of VCDS, as well as the VUSAC president and housekeeping staff, have access to the office. 

Theatre review: VCDS’ The Drowsy Chaperone

A look at a world more glamorous than our own

Theatre review: VCDS’ <i>The Drowsy Chaperone</i>

The Victoria College Drama Society’s (VCDS) recent production of The Drowsy Chaperone was absolutely incredible. The show was written by Bob Martin and Don McKellar in 1998 as a parody of musical productions from the 1920s, and it featured music by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison.

Directed by Meredith Shedden, the production combined the magic of a bygone era with comedy, singing, dancing, romance, danger, satire, and blindfolded rollerblading antics.

The play’s events took place on the day of the wedding between star personality Janet and her fiancé, George. The central premise of the show was keeping the groom from seeing his bride, and this is where the cast of quirky characters play their part.

The set transformed from a 1990s living room to a glamorous 1920s wedding mid-show; it continued to switch back and forth throughout the play, pulling the audience in and out of the fantasy created by the narrator, Tom Fraser, who pulled the show together with his witty commentary.

The set’s French doors opened and immediately engulfed viewers in a magical time. The detailed costumes were particularly notable, full of lace frills, elaborate wedding dresses, luscious velvets and furs, coats and tails, and sequins.

Drowsy‘s incredible cast pulled off iconic numbers, like “Show Off,” wonderfully. Ryan Falconer was perfectly sleazy in the role of Aldolpho the ‘Latin lover,’ with his self-titled solo, “I am Aldolpho,” drawing rowdy laughter and applause. Arin Klein and Jamie Fiuza were excellent as a gangsters-turned-pastry chefs vaudeville duo, and Lucinda Qu was a show-stopper with a wonderful vocal performance as Trix.

Best of all, Olivia Thornton-Nickerson, who played Drowsy herself, was truly a star. She was funny and glamorous, showing off her incredible voice and stage presence in an enchanting red velvet ballgown. Her rendition of “As We Stumble Along” was hilarious and awe-inspiring.

Drowsy was a complete pleasure to watch, and it transported the audience into a world more glamorous and more musical than their own.

Victoria College Dramatic Society celebrates its centennial

Theatre organization commemorates milestone with a seasonal focus on Canadian heritage

Victoria College Dramatic Society celebrates its centennial

The Victoria College Drama Society (VCDS) is celebrating its centennial season by focusing on bringing the works of Victoria University and University of Toronto alumni to life. Since its founding as the first drama society of Victoria University in 1918, the VCDS has developed into a platform that strives to provide the experience of drama to U of T community members of all disciplines, ages, genders, and cultural backgrounds.

The selection of plays for the centennial season leans heavily on drama, exploring the development of Canadian heritage and the meaning of a uniquely Canadian identity. Leora Nash, one of the VCDS’ two Executive Producers, told The Varsity that the idea to focus on a celebration of Canadian theatre and its relevant themes came alongside the Canada 150 celebrations this past summer. Nash and co-Executive Producer Alyssa Dibattista began planning the centennial last year.

Of the many diverse play proposals submitted by potential directors, Colours in the Storm, written by  Jim Betts and directed by Shannon Dunbar, was chosen to kick off the season on October 19. The musical follows Tom Thomson and his struggles as a painter, from his debut in Algonquin Park to his mysterious death. The show focuses not only on an “iconic” Canadian artist, wrote Nash, “but also looks at the evolution of conservation… and the beginnings of what we might consider some of Canada’s iconography (lush nature, outdoors).”

Contrasting with Colours in the Storm, which inhabits a more traditional perspective on Canadian identity, the play Lady in the Red Dress will display a more contemporary representation of our culture. Written by David Yee and directed by Jasmine Cabanilla, the play is a modern-day noir unfolding within the context of the Chinese-Canadian redress movement. “[It] comments on the state of diversity and inaction in our history,” Nash stated.

The season will also include a production of Bob Martin and Don McKellar’s musical The Drowsy Chaperone, a parody of American musical comedies centring on the wedding of an oil tycoon and a Broadway star. Despite the show being a late addition to the season, Nash believes that it complements the other selections well, as it embraces a classical musical spirit. The final production of the VCDS’ 2017–2018 season will be a production of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, the first production ever put on by the society.   

Nash stated that the VCDS is “very proud” to be including so much Canadian theatre in its season. The group has also been working in conjunction with Victoria University alumni on outreach efforts, including advertising, and on a centennial subcommittee focusing on planning and event logistics. A closing gala, to be held in March, will honour both alumni and current students involved in the VCDS and Victoria University theatre.

Rent

If you missed VCDS's production of Rent, it was at the expense of some exceptional performances

Rent

In its final production of the year, the Victoria College Drama Society took on a staple of the Broadway canon. Jonathan Larson’s Rent is a rock musical that has found its place in history as the quintessential depiction of bohemian life in late-1980’s Manhattan. 

The action focuses on roommates Mark (Katie Pereira) and Roger (Michael Henley), and their neighbour Mimi (Mirabella Sundar Singh), who takes a liking to Roger. The guys are in conflict with their ex-roommate and now-landlord Benny (Winston Sullivan), who found wealth through marriage and abandoned his bohemian lifestyle. Benny demands that his former friends help him to suppress a rally planned by Mark’s recent ex-girlfriend, Maureen (Nithya Garg), against the clearing of a lot occupied by homeless New Yorkers in exchange for forgiveness of their rent. 

With the help of her current girlfriend Joanne (Hannah Lazare), and recent couple Collins (Roddy Rodriguez) and Angel (Aaron Hale), Maureen’s rally continues, causing Mark and Roger to be locked out of their building. A series of conflicts ensue, as the group struggles with poverty, HIV diagnoses, drug addiction, and encroaching injustices brought on by consumerism and intolerance of their gender and sexual identities. 

The production unfolded on an unassuming yet appropriate set. Adorned with graffiti and distinctly unkempt, the stage evoked a sense of New York City non-conformity. The pop-art computer projections behind the stage were hard to miss, as they often obscured the actors’ faces. 

Director and choreographer Shak Haq succeeded in lending a politically charged, slightly anxious energy to the production. Media clippings from the time that the musical was first staged added authenticity and political weight to the plot.

The greatest strengths of Haq’s direction and choreography revealed themselves in large group numbers. The intimate physicality by the company in “Contact” pulled on all the viewers’ senses. “La Vie Boheme” and “Rent” also profited from a passionate sense of solidarity and a fearlessness of the slightly obscene. 

The show lost energy at moments of transition where it relied too heavily on blackouts, and cast members frequently exited and entered the stage with no apparent motivation.

The show could have used many more technical runs to iron out glitches; Henley’s microphone was dysfunctional for the first act, and lighting queues often lagged, compromising the pace of what should be an energetic show.

Garg delivered a standout performance as Maureen. She portrayed the rash, self-absorbed siren convincingly, while never failing to delight listeners with her polished, energetic singing. The questionable blocking of “Take Me or Leave Me,” which involved an office chair and a stripper’s pole, was saved by the superior singing of both Garg and Lazare. 

Sundar Singh’s Mimi found her stride in the second act, where her coy charm and vocal talent captivated the audience as well as Henley’s character. Hale stole the show with his dance performance in “Today 4 U,” while he and Rodriguez brought chemistry to the stage early on in “I’ll cover you.” Despite microphone problems, Henley delivered a consistent performance as Roger. Pereira’s acting as Mark shone, and they tied the production together nicely with thoughtful, well-executed monologues.