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Age of Arousal hits Chilliwack stage

What happens when sexual equality and old-school romance mix?



By Christopher DeMarcus (The Cascade) – Email

Print Edition: January 8, 2014


What happens when sexual equality and old-school romance mix?

Written only seven years ago, Age of Arousal by Linda Griffith has become known as an essential Canadian play. The work is an adaptation of English author George Gissing’s The Odd Women, taking old feminist issues and giving them what has been described as a contemporary voice.

Set in 1885, the play wrestles with both the economic and cultural upheavals caused by the first wave of feminism. The word “arousal” in the title is as much about questioning sexual roles as it is about sex itself. Back in the 1880s, women in England greatly outnumbered men. With low marriage prospects for the time, many women were forced to question their identities.

The UFV production of Age of Arousal features a cast of six student actors and more than 20 students working on its production crew, and is directed by Ian Fenwick, long-time professor and previous department head of theatre at UFV. As Age of Arousal ramped up into final rehearsals, rumour stirred among theatre students that this would be Fenwick’s last play before retirement.

A week before the play was set to open, Fenwick brushed the rumour aside.

“I don’t know where that rumour came from. I’ve been doing this a long time, but I plan on continuing as a director,” Fenwick said.

Fenwick explained that since the play was set more than a century in the past it allowed students to “explore a different time and different social norms.” This exploration also allows students to uncover different identities of themselves.

“This was a well-chosen play for us,” he said. “It’s wonderful for students to take it on.”

Despite the strong sexual context of the play and the contrasting Fraser Valley stereotype of a more conservative culture, Fenwick said he didn’t think this production would ruffle any feathers.

“During the director’s festival, when students are asked to direct, one student directed Vampire Lesbians of Sodom,” Fenwick said with a smile, noting the sometimes surprising open-mindedness of the Fraser Valley. “As far as I know, every show was well attended.”

Fenwick noted, however, that there have been some rare times when the traditional theatre audience was not fond of what UFV was putting on.

“Every once in a while we get a letter from an audience member that says, ‘I’m not coming back,’ but that’s rare. We are in a progressive community that has open dialogue,” he said. “Different ways can be mutually possible.”

As The Cascade reported in October, theatre professor Bruce Kirkley has been working on a proposal for a theatre major. At the same time, the provincial government has made deep cuts to post-secondary education.

“It impacts us and will increase class sizes,” explained Fenwick. “Ultimately, the students will have less.”

For now, the theatre department continues to utilize some the province’s best facilities at UFV’s performance theatre on the Yale Road campus, despite administration’s attempts to sell the property. “[These are] facilities that any institution would be proud of,” Fenwick concluded.

Age of Arousal opens this week at the Yale Road location, and all students should note the new “rush ticket initiative” that lets students get tickets at the door — if the show isn’t sold out — for only $10 with a valid ID. Otherwise, tickets can be ordered in advance by anyone online or through the box office. Opening night is January 10 at 7:30 p.m.

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