The plot of Government Inspector is a classic case of mistaken identity.

When a young civil servant is mistaken for a high-ranking government inspector in a small town in Czarist Russia, fear ensues when the town’s governor and government officials clamour over the consequences of their wrongful actions. Though the satirical play by Russian and Ukrainian dramatist and novelist, Nikolai Gogol, originally premièred to mixed reviews because of the slanderous ridicule of the Russian government, it was Emperor Nicholas I that enjoyed it the most and encouraged continued performances. Now 150 years later, Government Inspector’s comedic approach to the themes of self-deception and lawlessness is as powerful today as it was when it was first produced.

Ron Jenkins went with the David Harrower adaptation of Government Inspector, and he and designer Colin Jenkins have created a timely political satire full of bright colours and off-the-wall characters. Hear Ron and Colin talk about their ideas behind the set and costume design in this production of Government Inspector.

We asked actors; Jacob Holloway, Jaimi Reese and Sarah J. Culkin how the set and costume designs influenced their performances.

Ron and Colin get into more detail on how directors and designers work together in theatre.

Now that you’ve heard more about the process of putting a play together, Jacob, Jaimi and Sarah think you should go see one!

The theatre experience is different every single time because YOU are in the audience.

Just think of how much funnier this will be when you are watching it surrounded by your friends who will also be laughing.

Government Inspector runs each evening at 7:30 p.m. February 9 – 18, 2017 in the Timms Centre for the Arts (87 Avenue & 112 Street). For the full creative team, show dates and ticket details, see www.ualberta.ca/arts/shows/theatre-listings/government-inspector

Presenter: U of A Studio Theatre
Event Title: Government Inspector
Dates: February 9 – 18, 2017 at 7:30 p.m.
Matinee Thursday, February 16 at 12:30 p.m.
Venue: Timms Centre for the Arts, University of Alberta
Single show tickets: $12 student, $25 adult, $22 senior, available online and at the Timms Centre box office one hour before each performance.

Music director in front of a stage full of students performing at High School Honour Band Weekend at the Winspear Centre

The Winspear Centre saw a record number of high school students on it’s stage at this year’s High School Honour Band Weekend concert.

On Sunday, February 5 more than 200 of the most elite high school music students gathered in Edmonton for a weekend of lessons, workshops, rehearsals and networking.

a student playing a cello

Photo by Epic Photography

Epic Photography was on hand to take photos, so if you, your friends or family participated in the weekend, you can browse the gallery and purchase prints here.

The program and program notes can be found online here.

Students performing music on the Winspear stage

Photo by Epic Photography

*Feature photo by Epic Photography

Colin Winslow on the set of Government Inspector

Hello and welcome to another edition of Talking Theatre.

I’m Alex Donovan and today I’m joined by Colin Winslow, Set and Costume Designer for Government Inspector by Nikolai Gogol, a satirical play currently running at the Timms Centre until February 18.  You can read an excerpt of our interview here, or listen to the podcast for the full experience!

Some of the cast of Government Inspector

Photo by Ed Ellis

You have quite the storied career, I was hoping you could share some highlights with us.

It’s been a very long career. I was actually born on a small farm in a remote part of – in the middle of England. It was quite clear I was never going to be a farmer. At the age of 11, I was taken to the theatre by my parents and decided I wanted to work in the theatre. The big problem was how on earth I was going to do it! Much of family, that weren’t farmers, were school teachers. My parents thought it would be very nice if I were to become a school teacher. So I devised a rather nasty plan. I remember I was 17 and I was cycling home one night and I worked out exactly how to do it. I would tell my parents I would become a teacher to please them, but I wanted to become an art teacher. This meant I would have to go to an arts school and they asked me where, and I said Canterbury has quite a nice art school. This was very good because it’s a nice respectable cathedral town but I knew they had a theatre there. A repertory theatre. So my first day I dropped my bags where I was staying, found the theatre, went round to the stage door and knocked. I said I’m a student, is there anything I can do to help? And they said, oh yes indeed! In the paint shop, we’ve just opened a show, and we have dozens of dirty buckets. I scrubbed them! You’ve never seen cleaner paint buckets. I almost flunked my courses at the art school because I was round there every night helping paint scenery. Weekends, long holidays I stayed over and worked there. When I graduated, I came round and asked if they had a job for me and they said yes, indeed. So I worked there as a scene painter and assistant designer and worked there for three years, becoming a designer. So I literally got into the theatre by the back door.

You’ve worked in a lot of a different countries, Scotland, England, Holland, the US, and more. What are some of the differences working here in Canada?

There’s a great difference I’ve found. I’ve had to earn a living, enough to make the rent. For that reason, a lot of my work has been commercial theatre, where frankly, artistic standards are secondary to getting bums in the auditorium. I’ve had to work primarily technically, making sure it comes into budget and will fit into whichever theatre it tours to. Also, it seems extraordinary to have such a long period for rehearsals and such a long period for setting the show up onstage that we do here. In England, I was used to doing the presentation on the first day of rehearsals, they’d then read the play and start putting it on its feet. If you were lucky you’d maybe get three weeks of rehearsals and then you may be getting the scenery up on the stage overnight Sunday, dress rehearsing Monday morning and opening in the afternoon. It’s been that sort of thing. So it’s been a great luxury here to focus a bit more on artistic standards rather than just the business of theatre. But business of theatre pays the rent, or at least my rent!

Could you talk to us a bit about what your design process is?

The design process changes for the nature of the shows and conditions you’re working on. I probably would not approach a production of Hamlet or King Lear in the way I would approach this one. This play, Government Inspector, is rather extraordinary because I’ve done a lot of Russian classics, I’ve designed this one before, and in my experience it’s suffered greatly from very respectful translations. People tend to say lines like “pray, will you take a seat?” Whereas in this version they say “park your ass”! So the fact that it’s done in very colloquial, rather vulgar language at times, means you approach it in a very different way. I wasn’t at all interested in historical accuracy. Ron Jenkins, who’s a friend, we’ve worked together before. One of the first things he said to me was “this isn’t Downton Abbey”. I didn’t find it necessary to do any research into the costumes, I don’t know what the period looked like it’s just what I felt, what I’ve seen them like. We decided it should look a bit like Russia some years ago but that’s about it. That actually gave me a lot of freedom. It’s also very iconoclastic, it’s very rebellious… which is nice, because I believe the original production way back in 1836 was pretty shocking. It really was! And so in a way we’ve got something of the same shock value in this production. So that meant we go very very colourful, and very very crude in a way. It’s the first time I’ve done a completely yellow set. When I started working at Canterbury as a scene painter, one of the things I was told was you can’t have yellow on the stage because it’s an inherently nasty colour and doesn’t work in the theatre. That’s why the set is basically yellow from top to bottom! And I suppose I was looking for a sort of toy town feel. Originally I wanted the mayor’s house to open up like a doll’s house so that when they audience comes in they’d see the front and it would open up. We couldn’t do that because of budget essentially. We’ve replaced that with a projection of the outside which works fine.

I know most of these actors quite well and I barely recognize them, could you talk a bit about the costuming choices?

It’s very much character driven and that’s what I tried to do in the costume design. Most of the actors are wearing an extraordinary amount of padding over various places to give different shapes to the characters. They actors are of course very young while most of the characters in the play are elderly and doddery. I think it probably helps to hide their youthful figures and helps to make them feel a little less comfortable than they would be skipping around in jeans and a sweatshirt. I have to say I’m so very proud of the work wardrobe has done on this and the workshops as well.

Now that the set and costumes are in the space, what is the transition like from your page to the stage?

Doesn’t quite go like that. Theatre is a collaborative art form. I take that to the nth degree. Right from the very start if I have an idea I go to whomever is involved, and in this case we had an idea from the start that in the hotel room (it’s supposed to be the worst hotel room in Russia) that a train goes past occasionally and the whole set bounces up and down. Ron thought that would be quite funny. Before I did anything else with it I went to talk to Darryl, our master carpenter, how do we do this? And he did some work on it. He’s got more expertise than I do on these sorts of things. And talking about the form of padding and costumes I went to wardrobe first to ask what is involved, so if you’ve got any sense then you use the expertise of all the people around you. This is collaboration. I’ve never been the type of designer who goes and says “I want this, this is how I want it”. Because if you do that you’re on very shaky ground because you’ve got a whole group of people around you who’ve got a vast amount of experience in all sorts of different fields and you’re an idiot not to use it, really.

I think that’s the beauty of working in this kind of university level, there’s so many people with so much expertise here. I imagine this collaborative process eliminates any type of surprises when the set is put into the theatre?

Well there shouldn’t be any surprises. Except that after a great many years as a designer I still get, every show I’ve ever done, I get a slight surprise when I walk into the workshops. My first reaction is, oh my god, isn’t it big! But that’s because I’ve been working on a half inch/foot scale model for a long time on my desk and I’ve got used to those tiny little bits. Of course it’s much bigger when you see it for real!

 

If you found that interesting then give a listen to the whole podcast below or at Talking Theatre on iTunes. Until next time, this has been Alex Donovan giving you a glimpse behind the world of theatre creation. Thank you to my guest Colin Winslow, and get yourself to the theatre to see Government Inspector!   

Government Inspector runs each evening at 7:30 p.m. February 9 – 18, 2017 in the Timms Centre for the Arts (87 Avenue & 112 Street). For the full creative team, show dates and ticket details, see www.ualberta.ca/arts/shows/theatre-listings/government-inspector

Presenter: U of A Studio Theatre
Event Title: Government Inspector
Dates: February 9 – 18, 2017 at 7:30 p.m.
Matinee Thursday, February 16 at 12:30 p.m.
Venue: Timms Centre for the Arts, University of Alberta
Single show tickets: $12 student, $25 adult, $22 senior, available online and at the Timms Centre box office one hour before each performance.

Photo of characters on set for the Studio Theatre performance of Government Inspector

A Look at the Life of the Playwright

Portrait of Nikolai GogolNikolai Vasilyevich Gogol was born in 1809 in a small town in Ukraine called Sorochintsy. At the time, Ukraine was a part of the Russian Empire. Gogol struggled to find purpose in his life at a young age and experimented with a number of different vocations with mixed results. In 1828, he went to St. Petersburg to try his hand at civil service but realized he did not have the money nor the connections to succeed. In an effort to gain recognition as a writer, he self-published a poem he penned in high school. Its reception was so remarkably horrible that he burned all the copies and considered moving to the United States. Gogol decided instead to do some soul searching in Germany. When his money ran out, he returned to St. Petersburg and accepted an ill-paying government job.

Gogol stumbled upon the success he had been craving in his youth while working at his government job. He published a series of volumes titled Evenings on a Farm near Dikanka, which chronicled his memories of growing up in rural Ukraine. The whimsical nature of his writing captivated the Russian literary world. The sudden fame he encountered placed him in the sights of Russian poet, Aleksandr Pushkin, who would become one of his closest friends and gave him the inspiration for the Government Inspector, as well as Gogol’s most famous novel, Dead Souls. Through a special order from the Tsar, the Government Inspector was performed on April 19, 1836. The weight of the reactionary press and officialdom was too much for Gogol, who ended up leaving Russia for Rome after the play was produced and stayed there until 1842.

Gogol fought with depression for much of his life, and in his later years, he became deeply religious due to his friendship with a churchman, Matvey Konstantinovsky. This friendship proved fatal to Gogol’s creativity. Konstantinovsky convinced Gogol that his writing was sinful and following his advice, Gogol burned the unfinished manuscript to the second part of Dead Souls (a planned trilogy). He fell sick immediately afterwards and died in severe pain nine days later in 1852. Despite the difficulties Gogol faced in life, he had an immense influence on Russian literature, influencing the likes of Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Leo Tolstoy.

The History of the Play

Portrait of Emperor Nicholas IGogol had the opportunity to sit in on the rehearsals for the first production of the Government Inspector, but was dismayed at how the actors were playing the piece for cheap laughs. He insisted that truthful depictions would be much funnier and his initial fears were realized when the play premiered to mixed reviews. The audience had never seen a play like this before and many felt it was slanderous towards the Russian bureaucracy. Emperor Nicholas I, on the other hand, enjoyed the play, stating “That was some play! Everyone received their comeuppance; and me most of all.” Gogol felt that the Emperor and the audience had misinterpreted the play and would go on to do a rewrite in 1842. The revised version received its first production after his death in 1870.

The Government Inspector has been performed countless times since its inception in 1836. The most famous production is Vsevolod Meyerhold’s 1926 staging that made heavy use of expressionism and symbolism. The version you will see this evening was adapted by David Harrower in 2011 for London’s Young Vic Theatre. It was warmly received by critics, with Michael Billington of the Guardian commenting on how “Gogol’s play exists at a tangent to reality and boldly confronts endemic corruption with a form of certifiable self-delusion”. Despite the hardships of Gogol’s life, his play has continued to make people laugh for over one hundred years.

19th Century Russia at a Glance

At the time of the Government Inspector’s inception, the Russian Empire covered three continents and had a population of 125.6 million people, making it the third largest population in the world. The Empire was at a crossroads of history, torn between pursuing modernisation and retaining its traditional values, two themes prominent in Gogol’s work. The Napoleonic Wars took a major toll on Russia despite their victory in expelling Napoleon’s forces. The war gave Russian Officers a chance to travel freely to Western Europe where they witnessed the economic growth being enjoyed thanks to industrialism. This sparked uprisings against the autocratic Russian government, which were ultimately contained but led to Nicholas I implementing a doctrine called Orthodoxy, Autocracy and Nationality (1833). He demanded loyalty to the Tsar and the Orthodox Church.

Russia was severely over governed in the 1800s. The size of the nation meant corruption was rampant because it was difficult to regulate the individual provincial administrations. Government employees would often hire friends and family and bloat the already overloaded government with more workers. The society was broken up into four categories: the clergy, nobility, urbanites and rural dwellers (serfs or peasants). These four categories had numerous subdivisions that were nearly impossible to keep track of and the rural dwellers felt the brunt of the system’s taxation. To give an example of the ludicrous titling system, when Gogol moved to St. Petersburg he was considered as “minor nobility belonging to the fourteenth class”. The Russian Empire was overthrown in the revolution of 1918, replaced by the Soviet Union which fell in 1991, and established the Russian Federation that still exists today.


Government Inspector runs each evening at 7:30 p.m. February 9 – 18, 2017 in the Timms Centre for the Arts (87 Avenue & 112 Street). For the full creative team, show dates and ticket details, see www.ualberta.ca/arts/shows/theatre-listings/government-inspector

Presenter: U of A Studio Theatre
Event Title: Government Inspector
Dates: February 9 – 18, 2017 at 7:30 p.m.
Matinee Thursday, February 16 at 12:30 p.m.
Venue: Timms Centre for the Arts, University of Alberta
Single show tickets: $12 student, $25 adult, $22 senior, available online and at the Timms Centre box office one hour before each performance.


Sources:

Billington, Michael. “Government Inspector – Review.” The Guardian, 2011, https://www.theguardian.com/stage/2011/jun/10/government-inspector-review, 2017. Lavrin, Janko. “Nikolay Gogol.” Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2012, www.britannica.com/biography/Nikolay-Gogol, 2017. Penford, Adam. “Resource Pack – Government Inspector.” The Young Vic Teachers Programme, 2011, http://www.youngvic.org/sites/default/files/documents/Resource_packs/Government_Inspector_Resource_Pack.pdf, 2017.

Feature image by Ed Ellis.

 

Hello and welcome to another issue of Talking Theatre!

I’m joined today by Ron Jenkins, director of Studio Theatre’s upcoming play, Government Inspector, by Nikolai Gogol running February 9 – 18, 2017 at the Timms Centre for the Arts. You can read an excerpt of our interview here, or listen to the podcast for the full experience!

Can you tell us a bit about your background as a theatre artist?

I started in theatre back at what is now called Cape Breton University. I was planning on pursuing a law degree at the time and was in the middle of my Arts undergrad. They were doing Hamlet and the guy playing Fortinbras got mono and couldn’t be in the show. My English professor asked me if I wanted to be in the show and I was hooked from there! The law degree fell by the wayside at that point. I started as an actor and was mostly acting up until 1999, when I left acting to concentrate fully on directing. So for the last twenty years, I’ve been concentrating on writing and directing.

What drew you to this play?

The first time I read it was back in university. I’ve always wanted to direct this play and when Kate asked me to direct it for Studio Theatre I was thrilled. I think it’s a really funny, great piece. It’s a masterpiece! I love Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Bugs Bunny, Richard Pryor, and I think Nikolai Gogol is one of those masters of that type of comedy.

You mention Chaplin and Keaton, and this play is very much a period farce, so what are some of the challenges of dealing with a comedy of this age? Have you had to update anything?

I think we have. This is an adaptation of the original by David Harrower, who’s this brilliant Scottish playwright that has done his own work in terms of updating the show. This version was presented in 2010/11 at the Young Vic Company in London and I know they took a wild 70s mishmash approach. We’re staying more to the traditional side, but we’ve updated it in our own way in terms of the comedy. But when this play was first performed in 1836, Gogol didn’t know whether it was going to be well received or not. It wasn’t until the Tsar gave his ok that it was considered a success.

It seems the Russian audience at the time didn’t really know what to make of a show like this.

Exactly. I think it’s really funny, biting and great satire. I think that’s the key. Gogol wasn’t happy with the first production either, he felt like these actors were playing people like caricatures. And I think I agree with him, so that’s been our goal to avoid that since the beginning of rehearsals. We’ve tried to strike this balance with the characters so that it’s not just hijinks because there is a great story to be told. And that’s been hard, to strike that balance. We’ve been working on that for the last week or so and that’s where we are now. Comedies are hard too; if you don’t earn it, then it won’t work.

Speaking of rehearsals, what is your preferred style of working? Do you do a lot of table work, or do you like to get up on your fight right away?

Not a lot of table work. We’ll spend the first two days at the table and then we’ll start putting it on its feet. I’ve always believed, whether it’s right or wrong, plays are meant to be played. Actors want to get up and feel the play and work with the other actors. I think these are great young actors who do all the work at home and come in very prepared. So I like to put it up on its fight right away so we can get the play going. It’s been fun and very hard, which is the best place to be in.

Getting to work with students can be great because they’re steeped in a program that emphasizes doing the work. What are some of the joys and challenges of working with students?

This is, I think, the fourth show I’ve directed here. The students are always very well prepared and I’ve worked with many UofA grads in the professional world after they graduate as well. These roles are a big challenge for them; the whole play is a big challenge in fact. I think they’re rising to that challenge and they work hard to work on their craft. In another few months, they’ll be leaving the school to hit the boards and try to find work and find their technique. It’s a pleasure to come to work here every day and work with these actors.

I was wondering if you could talk a bit about what design approach you took with this show? You mentioned that you’re setting it in 1836 unlike some of the more wild adaptations like the Young Vic. What spurred that decision?

Well, coming back is always great because I get to work with Colin Winslow again who is just a wealth of incredible knowledge and such a pleasure to work with. Colin and I talked a lot about the play and the approach we wanted to take. I didn’t want to do my version of the play because I don’t know what my version is. I know what Gogol’s version is and it’s simply a room – the story takes place in the Mayor’s house, in the tiny little inn with the room under the stairs. I just felt like adding all of this other stuff to it, not that new designs for this play aren’t sophisticated and add something to it, but I didn’t want to put anything on it. The story’s great, the characters are great and I didn’t think we needed to do anything else but that. Colin has this book in his thousand, ten thousand or so library, called On the Estate – it’s a collection of watercolours that this woman had painted of this Russian Estate in this small town. It was before the 1917 revolution and it was this quiet country life look at what Russia was like in the 1840s and 50s. We’re a bit out of time era wise, but we’re trying to keep the integrity of that and let Harrower’s adaptation of things take care of the more modern elements.

To hear the rest of the interview head on over to the Talking Theatre podcast or click below to listen right here! Follow us on iTunes at Talking Theatre. 

Government Inspector runs each evening at 7:30 p.m. February 9 – 18, 2017 in the Timms Centre for the Arts (87 Avenue & 112 Street). For the full creative team, show dates and ticket details, see www.ualberta.ca/arts/shows/theatre-listings/government-inspector

Presenter: U of A Studio Theatre
Event Title: Government Inspector
Dates: February 9 – 18, 2017 at 7:30 p.m.
Matinee Thursday, February 16 at 12:30 p.m.
Venue: Timms Centre for the Arts, University of Alberta
Single show tickets: $12 student, $25 adult, $22 senior, available online and at the Timms Centre box office one hour before each performance.

Russian military outfit outline on green background

Government Inspector – Director’s Notes by Ron Jenkins

“Don’t blame the mirror if your face is lopsided.” – Nikolai Gogol

I first read the Government Inspector in 1983 at Cape Breton University when I was taking my undergraduate degree with a major in Political Science. I had no intention of going into theatre at all. I was going to finish my B.A. and then go to Law School. Or so I thought. I had only been in one play, Hamlet. I didn’t actually play Hamlet. I played Fortinbras because the actor who was supposed to play Fortinbras had contracted mononucleosis and couldn’t do it. So my English Professor, Liz Boardmore, roped me or semi-sort of roped me into playing the part because she liked the way I had read in class. Or that’s what she told me. Anyway, I did the part and I was hooked. On theatre. The first one is always free.

I started spending more time at the theatre, acting and reading plays, talking about the theatre, talking about how art could change the world and how I wanted to be a part of that. I was consumed and the thoughts of Law School started to dim. I was still taking all these excellent Political Science classes but I wasn’t nearly as interested. I still had to write papers and keep up with my reading but I mostly just wanted to read plays.

So. We have to write a paper about corruption and it is here that I first came into contact with Gogol’s masterpiece, Government Inspector. I had mentioned to Liz that I had this paper due and how I wasn’t that interested in Political Science anymore, and that I was thinking about changing my major and how I just wanted to read plays. She suggested I read this excellent play that dealt with corruption in Russia in the early 1800’s called Government Inspector. So I did. And for that I am eternally grateful.

I love this play as much as I did when I first read it in 1983. It is a sharp, biting, funny, and wicked satire about corruption, bribery, and of the hollow longing for life in St. Petersburg. It is an indictment and love letter simultaneously to the country and the people Gogol loved. And I am thrilled to have the opportunity to finally direct it. Thank you to Kate Weiss and the Department of Drama for inviting me. I have had an incredible time over the last five weeks working with these incredible students. I hope you enjoy the show as much as I’ve had directing it.

I did end up writing the paper. Scored very high. But I didn’t go to Law School.

Thank you,

Ron Jenkins

Headshot of Ron Jenkins

Government Inspector runs February 9 – 18 at 7:30 p.m. in the Timms Centre for the Arts (87 Avenue & 112 Street). For the full creative team, show dates and ticket details, see www.ualberta.ca/arts/shows/theatre-listings/government-inspector

Presenter: U of A Studio Theatre
Event Title: Government Inspector
Dates: February 9 – 18, 2017 at 7:30 p.m.
Matinee Thursday, February 16 at 12:30 p.m.
Venue: Timms Centre for the Arts, University of Alberta
Single show tickets: $12 student, $25 adult, $22 senior, available online now and at the Timms Centre box office one hour before each performance.

Great design transforms Canadian books into works of art

When the e-book revolution began, there were dire predictions about the book industry, most heralding the imminent death of the printed book. Now, a decade on, the printed book has not only survived, it is thriving, and the reason may have everything to do with design.

While e-book sales have stagnated, print books continue to be in high demand, in part because the traditional paper format is familiar, but also because readers recognize and appreciate books as material objects that are visual, tactile and in many cases, works of art – as illustrated by the 34th Alcuin Society Awards for Excellence in Book Design in Canada exhibit currently on display in the FAB Gallery.

Sue Colberg, associate professor of design studies and curator of the exhibit, attributes the endurance of the printed book to great design, and the 43 award-winning books chosen by the Alcuin Society (out of 230 submissions from 98 publishers) represent the highest achievement in this field.

“I’ve noticed that of the books that are produced, in particular those sent in for the competition, [publishers] are putting a lot more behind a few in terms of very high production values and attention to detail,” says Colberg. “There’s some beautiful stuff here!”

The Alcuin Society jury considered books (published in 2015) in eight categories: Children’s, Limited Editions, Pictorial, Poetry, Prose Fiction, Prose Non-fiction, Prose Non-fiction Illustrated and Reference. Once the selection was made, the books competed in both the Leipzig and Frankfurt international book fairs before moving on to the Canadian consulate in Tokyo and finally, back to Canada.

Good book design must meet or exceed the expectations of multiple audiences, and according to Colberg, this means asking and resolving a lot of questions. “Know the field and where the book will be placed,” she says. “Sometimes it’s wise to go with the visual language of that field and have it look like it’s visually connected to that genre. Other times, it might be better to do something visually quite different that will stand out as apart or unusual. And of course, publisher and author expectations. Becoming familiar with the text to get the flavour of the writing, the tone. Is it very simple, straightforward, clear kind of expression or is it very poetic and lyrical? All these things give the designer a sense of what kind of imagery might be used, the colour palette and what typefaces might be selected.”

Children’s books are always the most popular category in the annual exhibit, says Colberg, singling out the first prize winner, Dasha Tolstikova’s A Year Without Mom (Groundwood Books, Michael Solomon, designer) for its “really nice treatment, integration and pacing of type and illustration.”

A Year Without Mom (Groundwood Books, photo: TJ Jans)

Colberg points to designer Andrew Steeves’ work as another standout in the categories of Poetry, Prose Fiction and Prose Non-Fiction. As co-founder of Gaspereau Press, Steeves creates books of “elegant design”, such as the beautifully realized Brief Reincarnation of a Girl, I Am What I Am Because You Are What You Are and German Mills: a Novel Pertaining to the Life and Times of William Berczy. “The letterpress polymer plates are pushed into the paper — a fluffier hand-made paper which leaves a kind of impression embossment,” says Colberg. “There are always a number of Gaspereau Press titles in the mix.”

A Brief Reincarnation of a Girl (Gaspereau Press, photo: TJ Jans)

One of Colberg’s former students, Natalie Olsen (’08 BDes), received three honourable mentions for A Revision of Forward, We Can’t Ever Do This Again and The Swallows Uncaged. “Even as an undergrad student, I could tell Natalie had a sensitivity to type,” says Colberg. “And she’s a self-confessed book nerd so I thought: hmm, that’s a combination of attributes that bodes well to becoming a good book designer!”

Colberg herself is a multiple Alcuin Society book design award winner and jury member. In March 2017 she will resume her role as a juror, reviewing the latest crop of beautifully designed books published in 2016.

Sue Colberg, photo: TJ Jans

Exhibition title: Alcuin Awards for Excellence in Book Design in Canada 2015 exhibit

Exhibition dates: until February 11, 2017

Venue: FAB Gallery (1-1 Fine Arts Building)

Gallery Hours: Thursday to Friday 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.

Saturday 2 – 5 p.m.

Admission: Free:

Read more about the Alcuin Society exhibit (from 2015) here.

Click here to view the catalogue.

Photos by TJ Jans.

 

Celebrating Canada on the Casavant

On Sunday, January 22 at Convocation Hall, saxophonist, William H. Street, and organists, Marnie Giesbrecht and Joachim Segger, kick off Canada’s 150th anniversary year with a selection of Canadian solo and duo works, including Celtic Impressions and From the Musical Memoirs of a Canadian Organist, and the premiere of Passage du Temps, all by renowned Edmonton-based composer, Jacobus Kloppers.

COMPOSER NOTES

By Jacobus Kloppers

I started composing in the 1960s as an organist steeped in the music of J.S. Bach, the Romantics and the neo-classic compositions of the 20th century. Harmony, counterpoint, classic structures and functional dissonance form the basis of my music, which can be described as Neo-tonal or Neo-Romantic. The majority of my works are written to be played in the church service but I also wrote some music for the concert hall such as the ones performed today.

Celtic Impressions for Solo Organ (2003/04)

This Celtic Suite for Organ was commissioned by Gayle Martin in 2003. It is based on a selection of Scottish folk music provided by her as well as my own impressions from visits to Scotland, its beauty and ruggedness, its music, energy, colour, a country full of memories of courage, struggle, joy and pain. I selected eight pieces to serve as themes for the four movements: two Strathspeys (Mvt. I), two Airs (Mvt. II), two Jigs (Mvt. III) and two Marching songs (Mvt. IV) as basis for the work. These materials, as well as the way they are traditionally performed, are naturally stylised in an organ idiom. The first two movements are performed today.

The first movement’s main themes are loosely based on two reels (Strathspeys): Over the muir among the heather (origin unknown) and Mrs. Fordyce of Ayton’s Strathspey (by Robert Mackintosh, late 1700’s). The movement is in Sonata-form with a slow introduction and concludes with the two themes combined in a semi-contrapuntal manner.

Two Airs from the Southern Uplands, On Ettrick Banks (words from Ramsay’s “Tea-table Miscellany”, 1724; the Air, from the Orpheus Caledonius, 1725) and Ae Fond Kiss (famous poem of Robert Burns, 1792; melody, from a later period), inspired the slow movement, which is in a Rondo form. Both airs have a haunting quality of the bittersweet of love: On Ettrick Banks, of two lovers in the early evening glow on the banks of the Ettrick river envisioning a promising future; Ae fond kiss, of the painful parting of two lovers.

The Organ in Convocation hall

The Organ in Convocation Hall. Photo by TJ Jans

Passage du Temps for Alto-Saxophone and Organ (2016)

When my esteemed colleagues, Drs. William Street and Marnie Giesbrecht, approached me with the request for a new piece for Alto-Saxophone and Organ, I thought of honoring them by creating a motif/theme with some reference to their names. I chose the first and last letter of their last names (G, S, T, T), transcribed into English, German and French letter names as g – E-flat – B – b. This motif, especially the interval of the falling or rising major third/diminished fourth or expanded as an augmented chord, is heard directly or in an oblique way in all three movements. In the first movement, Passacaglia and Fugue, the four-note motif is expanded into a twelve-tone theme, though treated in a tonal fashion. In the second movement it has a more lyrical character; in the last, it appears as a more figurative theme with cluster chords.

The title, Passage du Temps, is not so much a reference to music as a time art, but a homage to some of the great compositional devices and styles since 1700 to which I feel indebted. From the contrapuntal techniques by Bach in I, the quasi-ostinati accompanying a cantilene by Vivaldi and Bach (II, main theme), the French Romantic organ genre pieces (II, middle section) to the more “edgy” neo-Classic style of the early 20th century.

Suite From the Musical Memoirs of a Canadian Organist for Organ Duet (1993)

This Duet Suite for Organ was commissioned by CBC for Joachim Segger and Marnie Giesbrecht 1993, premiered at the New Music Festival in Edmonton 1994 and included in the performers’ CD Dancing Ice, 1994. Since there was a request by the performers to include some Canadian content, I decided on:

  1. Depicting elements from my experience as church organist dating from almost four decades (though they are things all organists experience), i.e. playing for morning and evening services, for Christmas and weddings (including the dilemma to choose wedding music), dealing with the question of traditional music versus the modern praise bands in church; also portraying, with some humor, the sudden pitfalls an organist may experience such as a stuck note on the organ or a reed pitch out of tune.
  2. Reflecting, tongue-in-cheek, some of the themes that Canadians struggled with in 1993, namely a national recession, the question of Canadian identity and possible separation of Quebec, but, on the bright side, the success of ice hockey and the Maple Leafs winning the Baseball World Series. Various musical quotes from O Canada (Owe Canada), God Save the Queen, the French National Anthem as well as crowd cheerleading motives from the electronic organ at ice hockey arenas are heard as sort of light-hearted Leitmotifs. All of these are heard in the final movement called Postlude as a Toccata, followed by a Canadian Fugue in three sections.

Presenter: The Department of Music
Event Title: Celebrating Canada on The Casavant: Organ and Saxophone music by Canadian composer Jacobus Kloppers
Date: Sunday, January 22, 2017 @ 3 p.m.
Venue: Convocation Hall
Admission: $10 student/senior | $20 adult

Portrait of Stephanie Bahniuk

Hello and welcome to Talking Theatre!

I’m Alex Donovan and today I’m joined by Stephanie Bahniuk, the Costume Designer for Studio Theatre’s recent presentation of Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare. You can read an excerpt of our interview here, or listen to the podcast for the full experience!

Welcome! Do you mind giving a bit of an introduction on your background as an artist?

Sure! I actually started theatre design while I was in high school. My school had a great theatre arts program where the students did all the design and building of the elements that went into the school play. I actually started doing costume design then and did costumes for three shows there. I really liked visual art and loved the theatre (I was a performer for a while), so design seemed like a natural path after finishing high school. I started looking for programs and saw that the UofA had a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Theatre Design program, applied, got in and was here for five years completing that. It’s a unique program because it’s one of the only ones that combines all three elements of set, lighting and costume design. So I graduated almost two years ago and now I’m doing the freelance design career which is always interesting and fun.

How did you get involved with this production?

I was actually approached by Kate Weiss, Chair of the Department of Drama. She sent me an email saying she had a design opening and wanted to know if I was interested. It was the coolest offer because I’ve loved my time here and as a part of the BFA program we assisted on the Timm’s stage, but we never actually got to design a show on the Timm’s stage so that was a really great opportunity. I got brought in a little late in the game; it was a sudden opening, so it was a very condensed process but I was just so excited to be a part of the show.

What is your first step as a designer when you take on a show?

To read the script first, of course. [laughs] That defines what the requirements of the show are, how many characters, how many costumes are needed, and so on. I wasn’t super familiar with Twelfth Night so I had to read that first and go into a bunch of discussions with the director, Ashley Wright. They had already set the concept for the show in production meetings that I wasn’t a part of. But it was kind of nice coming in with a set idea that I was then able to play in.

Could you walk us through what your process is like?

I have a bit of a different process for every show that I take on which is part of the fun of this job. Every show has a different challenge with it and requires different things of you. I started this process by talking with Ashley and he shared his ideas with me. He had this great idea where he wanted it set as a play within a play, these are players presenting Twelfth Night. He wanted it to be very interactive and wanted the characters to be themselves at the top of the show. The actors would come out at the beginning and interact with the audience as themselves. He also didn’t want to set it modern day for a number of reasons. I think within the show the servant master interaction gets tricky to define in a modern setting. And he just really liked the style lines and aesthetics of the nineteenth century. So he wanted a travelling troupe and they all have their own personalities and wear what they would be wearing in the dressing rooms. They come out during the beginning of the show and warm up so it really is like they’re coming straight from their dressing rooms.

There was a beautiful variety of colour in the show. How do you like to use colour in your work?

I like to be very specific with colour and use it to define certain characters with it. Colour was very important for this piece because the stage was black. So I had to really make them pop from the background which got a little tricky. It all started from Olivia’s character because Shakespeare has two specific colour requests in this show. Olivia is mourning her brother so she is in all black and Malvolio has yellow stockings. A pretty vibrant yellow to be funny. I started with Olivia and knew she was going to be the darkest character on stage but still wanted to use fabrics that would make her pop from that background. I tried not to use very much black within other characters so that they would stick out. Ashley and I started talking about the colours of the nineteenth century, a lot of charcoal’s, navy’s and blacks. It was pretty neutral. But men also had vibrant vests and patterns which is how we brought different patterns in. We came up with something that had pops of pinks, reds and blues but against a neutral palette. We also looked into vaudeville and what they wore. It has a bit of a vintage clown feel to it.

I do this podcast to help people learn about what goes on behind the scenes. What do you think are some elements people aren’t aware of about design work?

The specific reason I like costume design aside from set and lighting is the interaction with the actors. I think a lot of people don’t realize there’s such a bond between the costume designer and the actors. Fittings are my favourite part of the process because the actors get to put on these clothes. It often helps the actor because they get to see how these clothes feel, move and how they’ll influence their character. We have great discussions about their costumes and what their characters would actually wear. For Chayla Day, who played Viola for example, she had a lot of movement scenes and she was wearing this big skirt so we talked about how she would do the rolling around and dancing in that scene. Even going into tech week the actors will be coming up to me with questions and suggestions to enhance their work. I don’t think people quite realize how important that costume designer and actor relationship is.

If you want to learn more about the process then take a listen to the podcast on Talking Theatre!

Hear more about the Studio Theatre production of Twelfth Night in Alex’s interview with Director Ashley Wright

Full details of the show can be found on the show page.

Megan Warkentin feature wall

Megan Warkentin’s exhibition, Playing With Fire, is the final visual presentation for the degree of Master of Fine Arts in Painting.

Photo by Cindy Couldwell

Photo by Cindy Couldwell

Your exhibition is currently running at FAB Gallery and showcases an interesting subject matter. How did the idea for Playing with Fire come about?

Initially, in my search for intriguing images to paint from, I came across images and videos of the British sport  “cheese rolling”. I found the images striking, and my reaction to them complex. I created several paintings related to the images I found. This then lead me to many other images and videos of stupid, dangerous stunts. That, however, was really just a launching point for this body of work. The subject matter and style of the works I have created have evolved throughout the course of my time in the program, though I consider all of those paintings as one body of work, tied together by the common theme and subject matter.

Detail of "Rolling" by Megan Warkentin. 2015. Oil and acrylic on canvas.

Detail of “Rolling” by Megan Warkentin. 2015. Oil and acrylic on canvas.

What led you to become so fascinated with stunt performers?

In my work, I have always been drawn to elements of absurdity, and these types of videos are the height of absurdity, I find the idea that someone would put themselves in a situation where they know they will become injured to be bizarre and incomprehensible. In my work I have also often been interested in a viewer’s emotional response. I find these types of videos fascinating because as a viewer, you involuntarily cringe in bodily empathy, but you also cannot really help but laugh, even though someone is being injured. It brings out a viewer’s cruel side. I feel kind of bad about watching them but also cannot help but be fascinated.

Photo by Cindy Couldwell

Photo by Cindy Couldwell

Can you tell us about the process behind composing your paintings?

When I began painting at the beginning of my first year in the program, I was more closely representing the collaged photographic sources that I was using. Through the course of my time in the program, it has been my goal to be more inventive. One still image can be painted in an infinite number of ways which would all have different effects. In my process, I explore different methods and styles of painting to discover what meanings can be created and try not to have too many preconceived notions about what a painting should look like in the end. I adapt the images I choose in my works to heighten the surreal and nightmarish aspects and to evoke feelings of senselessness, disorientation and helplessness.

2 Warkentin Paintings on the wall in FAB Gallery

What can viewers expect to see when they visit FAB Gallery?

Viewers can expect to see a collection of dynamic, brightly colored works that vary in scale and style. I have composed them with the goal of creating depictions that are more representative of a subjective experience than one that is photographically accurate. I also prefer to create works that allow the viewer room for their own interpretation of it. I am interested in what a work means to them. I believe that there is not necessarily one correct interpretation for a work of art. The viewer always completes the picture with a site of synthesis or resolution. I want the viewers to find the works beautiful in the sense that they are striking, but not pretty.

What do you hope Gallery visitors leave feeling after viewing your work?

My goal as a painter is to create works that are striking and compelling both in form and subject matter that will affect viewers emotionally and leave space for contemplation. I am not interested in telling viewers what to think about any given subject matter, but to give viewers a place to confront their own emotions about it.

Presenter: FAB Gallery
Event Title:  Megan Warkentin: Playing With Fire
Date: December 6-22, 2016 and January 3-7, 2017
Venue: FAB Gallery (1-1 Fine Arts Building, University of Alberta)
Admission: Free