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Vaudeville, aboriginal struggle and kicking it old school

While students settle into the rhythm of a new semester, the team that makes up the theatre department at UFV has already been at work for months in preparation for the 2012/2013 production season.



By Alexandra Schuurman (Contributor) – Email

Print Edition: September 19, 2012

While students settle into the rhythm of a new semester, the team that makes up the theatre department at UFV has already been at work for months in preparation for the 2012/2013 production season.

They are now the sole department occupying the Chilliwack Yale Road campus; nevertheless, faculty, students, volunteers and enthusiasts alike have pulled from all sources of creativity to make this season as varied and successful as the last 32.

First to hit the stage is Once in a Lifetime. Ian Fenwick, theatre faculty member and the man in the director’s chair for the first production, believes the 1930s-style comedy to be the perfect fit to kick off the season.

“I specifically chose it because we knew we were going to be orphaned here this year,” laughed Fenwick. “We wanted to start off with something that was bold and brash and fun that involves a lot of students and audience members who want to come and see a fun play.”

Revolving around the beginning of the talking pictures, the play follows a group of vaudevillian performers who make their way to Hollywood hoping to cash in on the innovation. Involving 24 actors and over 70 characters all aiming to make it big in the film industry, Fenwick said he expects a high-energy performance (including a three-part harmony from a police man, bell boy and electrician).

The second production of the season is traditionally reserved for slightly more daring pieces, and this year Tompson Highway’s Ernestine Shuswap Gets Her Trout takes that spot.

This show, though not immediately recognizable to most, promises to be one of the highlights of the year. It is being performed at the tail end of Highway’s artistic residency at UFV, and it is the directorial debut of the theatre department’s newest faculty member, Heather Davis-Fisch.

The play, in description, is simple. In 1910, four women (each representing a different aboriginal first nation) work to prepare a meal for visiting Prime Minister Sir Wilfred Laurier. But as the play progresses, Davis-Fisch explained, the storytelling and experimental narrative structures bring to light a part of British Columbian history that we don’t really talk about.

“It’s an awesome, really public way to show the impact of indigenous cultures on Canadian culture. The script is amazing; it’s a little edgier than his other work. I think it pushes audiences a little more.”

Compared to the familiar structures of the other productions this year, Davis-Fisch described the structure of Ernestine Shuswap as “pretty out there. For audience members outside the department, it’s a good way to see the range of what Canadian theatre is … without having to drive to Vancouver.”

The desire to appeal to departments outside their own is echoed by Bruce Kirkley, currently the head of the theatre department. While the theatre has always been geographically separated from the bulk of the student body on the Abbotsford campus, Kirkley said, it has never lost track of the desire to appeal to the widest audience possible.

“As a university program we want to try to choose plays that are meaningful, and hopefully they’re on different course syllabi so that it has a tie in for other departments,” Kirkley said. “But we know it has to have sufficient appeal to find its audience [at the box office] as well.”

Probably the best example of this mantra can be found in Kirkley’s selection for this year’s Shakespearian production of The Merchant of Venice.

As one of the more controversial comedies in Shakespeare’s collection, the main draw of the piece lies in the mysteries the audience is left to ponder when the curtain closes.

“The characters are so compelling and so interesting,” Kirkley said. “It’s a fairy tale motif with a wonderful humanity, and it gets us asking questions.”

While the three main stage productions often share the most publicity, by far the most student-friendly event is the annual Directors’ Festival.

A fringe-styled event showcasing student one-act plays from throughout the semester, Theatre Student Association President Cait Archer explained that it’s not just catered to theatre students.

“Of course we encourage our friends and family to come, and I know most theatre students will recommend plays to their classes as well,” Archer said. “It’s the kind of edgy entertainment students are looking for. And there are certain things you can’t do on [television] that you can do in a theatre!”

More information on specific show times for each production are available online, or by calling the box office at 604-795-2814.

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