BFA Acting class of 2015 in A Dream Play by August Strindberg, adapted by Caryl Churchill. Photo by Ed Ellis.

A Dream Play dramaturgs and director let imaginations wander over Strindberg’s text

David Kennedy

David Kennedy

As a production dramaturg on the upcoming Studio Theatre’s A Dream Play, I engaged in a discussion with director David Kennedy, and my fellow dramaturgs John Battye and Dana Tanner-Kennedy, about the creative process behind staging this strange and beautiful play.

Rohan Kulkarni: Firstly, how did you arrive at choosing A Dream Play?

David Kennedy: It’s a play I’ve long admired. It’s wide open in terms of interpretive possibilities, and I find my imagination gets fired up by the freedom to create in dialogue with a master text. I also identify with Strindberg’s rather melancholy view of the human condition. And Caryl Churchill’s adaptation for ten actors is perfectly suited to this class. Sometimes there are plays you’ve always wanted to do, and suddenly the right occasion presents itself.

A Dream Play is designed by Zsofia Opra-Szabo as her MFA in Theatre Design thesis production. Photo by Ed Ellis.

A Dream Play is designed by Zsofia Opra-Szabo as her MFA in Theatre Design thesis production. Photo by Ed Ellis.

Rohan: In what way do you interpret (and stage) Strindberg’s vision of the dream?

David: To me the dream is life. It’s not a play about dreaming in the literal sense of the word. It’s about existence as a kind of dream. The play employs the dreaming state as a metaphor for the disorienting and dislocating nature of what it means to live in the world. So it was important to think about staging life, in all its messiness and complication. That called for a deep investigation of inner life, which of course goes beyond mere psychology to encompass the irrational. It also means we tried to steer clear of clichés we often associate with the dramatic presentation of dreams. For me a dream consists of sharp juxtapositions of often-unremarkable stuff. Or at least, it seems unremarkable at the time.

Dana Tanner-Kennedy: What interests me most is why Strindberg, in particular, wanted to stage the dream. Where did this impulse come from? During Strindberg’s moment in history, there was a growing interest in the staging of the subjective human experience. This came in opposition to the explorations of bourgeois family life, and the kind of socially minded realism that we see, for example, in some of Ibsen’s work. Strindberg was influenced by both of these kinds of theatre. He became interested in the dream state, and the mystical realities behind everyday experience. He managed to marry the two traditions in his work, which seems paradoxical, and it is.

John Battye: When we talk about dreams in theatre, which in itself is a platform for imagination, we open up an interesting conversation. There is something curious about Strindberg’s decision to combine Naturalism and Symbolism, and he moves away from the idea that the universe is a knowable and accessible entity. Trying to concretize the subjective is very exciting, and is rife with contradictions, but it is what we grapple with in everyday life. Much like the hairpin in the play, it’s perfect and impossible at the same time.

A Dream Play is designed by Zsofia Opra-Szabo as her MFA in Theatre Design thesis production. Photo by Ed Ellis.

A Dream Play is designed by Zsofia Opra-Szabo as her MFA in Theatre Design thesis production. Photo by Ed Ellis.

Rohan: What has the dramaturgical process for this production been like?

John: Working with David and Dana, who have a strong feel for art and theatre history, we were pulling literary and visual art from a number of different eras. There is, therefore, no specific time period to this production. We brought material from classical to contemporary art movements, which lends a unique character to the visual and intertexutal memory of the piece.

A Dream Play is designed by Zsofia Opra-Szabo as her MFA in Theatre Design thesis production. Photo by Ed Ellis.

A Dream Play is designed by Zsofia Opra-Szabo as her MFA in Theatre Design thesis production. Photo by Ed Ellis.

Dana: And in addition to all the research we did, we spent a significant amount of time diving into the text to discover its complexities. We met over the course of a few months, sat around our dining table, and just talked about the play. We let our imaginations wander, and brought up anecdotes whenever the text related to our own lives. It was a process of imagining and associative thinking.

And once we got into production, it was about interfacing with the actors. We interacted with their process, and our goal was to help them get inside the text in a sensual, kinesthetic and embodied way.

John: For example, Hunter, who plays the role of the Quarantine Master, wanted to get a real sense of living and working in a quarantine zone. We gave him a short documentary on Ebola and how it was to work in affected areas during the outbreak, which helped his creative process. It’s about finding the right connections that spark the imagination.

A Dream Play is designed by Zsofia Opra-Szabo as her MFA in Theatre Design thesis production. Photo by Ed Ellis.

A Dream Play is designed by Zsofia Opra-Szabo as her MFA in Theatre Design thesis production. Photo by Ed Ellis.

Rohan: How has your first experience at the helm of a Studio Theatre production been? What will the audience take away from this production of A Dream Play?

David: This is indeed my first experience at Studio, and I’ve very much enjoyed the contact with the students and staff. I was trained in a similar kind of conservatory environment, so to be here as faculty is a real treat. I also love the space itself, which of course we’re using in a rather unconventional fashion, with the audience on the stage. That’s been a real challenge, but a welcome one. As for what an audience takes away, I don’t think about that when I’m working. I have to stage something that makes sense to me and then hope it speaks to others. If I do well, everybody comes away with something different.


A Dream Play is designed by Zsofia Opra-Szabo as her MFA in Theatre Design thesis production. Photo by Ed Ellis.

A Dream Play is designed by Zsofia Opra-Szabo as her MFA in Theatre Design thesis production. Photo by Ed Ellis.

Presenter: U of A Studio Theatre
Event Title: A Dream Play by August Strindberg. Adaptation by Caryl Churchill.
Dates: March 26 – April 4 at 7:30 p.m. No show Sunday.
$5 preview Wednesday, March 25 at 7:30 p.m.
Matinee Thursday, April 2 at 12:30 p.m.
Venue: Timms Centre for the Arts, University of Alberta
Single show tickets: $11 student, $22 adult, $20 senior available online now at TIX on the Square and at the Timms Centre box office one hour before each performance.

Directed by David Kennedy, A Dream Play is Zsofia Opra-Szabo’s MFA Theatre Design thesis, featuring the work of the BFA class of 2015, including BFA Acting performers, BFA stage management, BFA theatre design and BFA technical theatre students.

For full cast, creative team and production team see show page:

David Kennedy

David Kennedy is an Assistant Professor in the University of Alberta’s Department of Drama and the Associate Artistic Director of Connecticut’s Westport Playhouse, where he has directed Nora, Loot, Tartuffe, Suddenly Last Summer, Beyond Therapy, and Dinner With Friends. Prior to Westport, he was on the artistic staff of Dallas Theater Center as Associate Director and then as Acting Artistic Director. For DTC he directed The Misanthrope, Glengarry Glen Ross, Moonlight and Magnolias, Thom Pain (based on nothing), I Am My Own Wife, and The Violet Hour, as well as readings of many new plays. He was also the founding Artistic Director of Halifax’s Milkman Theatre Group (1992-1999) and the Artistic Director of New Haven’s Summer Cabaret (1998). In addition, his directing work has been seen at the Wilma Theater, Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey, Clarence Brown Theatre Company, The Hangar Theatre, The Old Globe Theatre’s Graduate Conservatory, Asolo Rep Conservatory, University of Rochester’s International Theatre Program, Prospect Theater Company, 78th Street Theatre Lab, and Ship’s Company Theatre.

John Battye

John has recently completed his MA in Drama at the University of Alberta, and is continuing to attend the university in order to complete a PhD in Performance Studies. Originally from Ontario, John has worked as a dramaturg, improviser, and director; notably at the Blyth Festival, Magic Box Productions, and the Canadian Improv Games. In Alberta, John has pursued dramaturgical work in the New Works, Canoe, and StageLab Festivals. His research specializes in Canadian theatre and Digitally-mediatized performance.

Dana Tanner-Kennedy

Dana is a sessional instructor in the Department of Drama and a professional dramaturg. Credits include Stravinsky’s The Soldier’s Tale (Carnegie Hall, NY); Hamlet (with Paul Giamatti, Yale Repertory Theatre, CT); Urge for Going (The Public Theater, NY); Nora, Loot, Suddenly Last Summer, and Dinner with Friends (Westport Country Playhouse, CT); Psychos Never Dream (Kitchen Dog Theater, Dallas); Romeo and Juliet and Othello (Shakespeare Dallas). She is a former Literary Associate for Yale Rep and a former managing editor of Theater magazine. Dana spent five seasons in the education department at Dallas Theater Center, serving as Associate Director for two, and worked in the literary offices of Atlantic Theater Company and The Public Theater in New York. She currently teaches play analysis in the Summer Conservatory for Actors at Yale University.

UAlberta alumni company Foolspectrum Theatre invite clown community to monthly E-Town Clown Cabarets

UAlberta alumni invite local clown community to open rehearsals and monthly performances

On the last Wednesday of every month, from September through May, Fool Spectrum Theatre hosts the E-Town Clown Cabaret where local artists in the clown community get a chance to perform works in progress for a (hopefully) rowdy and raucous audience.

“It takes a lot of guts for our local clown community to step up to the challenge, and having a large and inviting audience makes it all the better,” says UAlberta alumna and Fool Spectrum Theatre co-founder Morgan Nadeau (‘12 B Ed).

Nadeau hopes to see some new faces out for the upcoming E-Town Cabaret and invites current UAlberta students, grads and anyone else interested in clowning around to attend one of the two open rehearsals she hosts each month with fellow UAlberta alumni Bill Yong (‘14 BA, ‘12 B Ed) and Barry Bilinsky (‘12 BA).

UAlberta alumni Bill Yong, Morgan Nadeau and Barry Bilinsky, run Fool Spectrum Theatre, a clowning theatre company in Edmonton.

UAlberta alumni Bill Yong, Morgan Nadeau and Barry Bilinsky, run Fool Spectrum Theatre, a clowning theatre company in Edmonton.

“We find the open rehearsals help us develop the cabarets. We meet new performers and we all benefit from working along side our peers.”

If you are interested in performing at the next E-Town Cabaret, the criteria is simple: it must be clown.
The Fool Spectrum company, all trained by University of Alberta’s clowning experts Michael Kennard and Jan Henderson, have come up with a simple definition for clown.

“It must be physical, character-based, and you have to have fun while doing it!” says Nadeau.

Photos by June Photography courtesy of Fool Spectrum Theatre.

Presenter: Fool Spectrum Theatre
Event Title: E-Town Clown Cabaret
Date: Recurring on third Wednesday of the month.
Next cabaret is Wednesday, March 25, themed around Nothing. How can we explore the concept of nothing-ness?
Time: Doors at 6:30 p.m. Show at 7:30 p.m.
Venue: Evolution Wonderlounge, 10220 103 Street, Edmonton
Admission: By donation.

For more information about Fool Spectrum Theatre and the E-Town Clown Cabarets:
Twitter: #yegclowns #FoolSpectrum #EtownClownCabaret

Detail of a print from the From Time to Time portfolio

Printmaking legend, Professor Emeritus Walter Jule, credits his former students with helping to drive the evolution of print-based art

Although he’s been featured in more than 250 international exhibitions, has artworks in more than 60 permanent collections worldwide, is inducted in the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts, nothing delights UAlberta printmaker Walter Jule more than recounting the career trajectories of his former students. Having taught in UAlberta’s Department of Art & Design for more than four decades, the professor emeritus has a great deal of material to draw from.

Walter Jule showing some of the pages from the show - From Time to Time.

Walter Jule showing some of the pages from the show – From Time to Time.


So when the American-based Southern Graphics Council announced Jule as the 2015 Excellence in Teaching Award recipient, and invited him, the first artist outside of the United States to be bestowed with the prestigious honour, to exhibit a solo retrospective of his work at the upcoming SGC 2015 conference in Knoxville, Tennessee, it was no surprise that he was quick to steer the conversation about his greatest impact on the evolution of print-based art towards featuring the work of UAlberta printmaking alumni worldwide.

Detail of a print from the "From time to time" portfolio.

Detail of a print from the “From time to time” portfolio.


“Since 1970, over 70% of all international graphics prizes that were awarded to Canadian artists have been won by artists associated with the University of Alberta as teachers or students,” Jule explains proudly. “The primary reason I am receiving this award is because so many of our graduates from the University of Alberta printmaking program are teaching now all over the world. They pursue projects together and now we have students who are the students of our former students.”

_MG_2715For the exhibition, Jule has organized a printmaking portfolio called From Time to Time, featuring artworks by 26 of UAlberta’s most distinguished printmakers from 1975 to 2008.

A number of the alumni have already booked an exhibition of the portfolio show at their respective university galleries for the coming year. UAlberta’s Print Study Centre will also receive an edition of the show to hold in its collection for prosperity.

The artists featured are an impressive list of who’s who in today’s printmaking-sphere, including current UAlberta Art & Design professor Liz Ingram and Canadian Research Chair and Centennial professor Sean Caulfield, and other alumni who have together won more than 90 major international awards, and gone on to exhibit their work and hold teaching appointments throughout North America, Europe, Australia and Asia.

As Jule puts the finishing touches on From Time to Time and prepares the exhibition for shipping to Knoxville this week, several past conversations with students through the decades come to mind.

He recounts with a chuckle a favourite exchange between his longtime print studio technician Robin Smith-Peck. “When Robin handed in her resignation she said it was time for her to become a grad student because she was the only one around here who understood my critiques.”

“It was true!” laughs Robin Smith-Peck who worked alongside Jule as an etching technician in the 1980s. In 1981 it was Jule who encouraged Smith-Peck to establish SNAP – the Society for Northern Alberta Printmakers with fellow UAlberta print shop technician Marc Siegner. Smith-Peck went on to complete her MFA at UAlberta in 1989 and was recently inducted with Siegner into Edmonton’s Cultural Hall of Fame.

“Sometimes the students could be quite perplexed, asking ‘what does he want?’” recalls Smith-Peck. “But what Walter wanted was the student to engage with him in conversation, and to come to some kind of awareness and understanding of their own work. He was never an instructor saying you should fix this or you should do that.”

Detail of a print by Marna Bunnell. From the "From time to time" portfolio.

Detail of a print by Marna Bunnell. From the “From Time to Time” portfolio.


“I’m not interested in dogmas. I am interested in helping to create an environment that is so diverse and interconnected that students have a chance by plan or by stumbling to connect with an inner predilection – something that is authentic about their creative aspirations. That’s where the teaching kicks in,” says Jule.

Throughout Jule’s career and into his retirement, if that is what his current back-to-back schedule of international engagements as exhibitor, curator, juror and guest speaker can be called, he has upheld an unwavering commitment to the act of conversation as being the source or locator of artistic genius or insight. And these conversations with Jule continue to inspire alumni years later.

“It is almost like you have Walter’s voice in your head, so even when you are working in your own studio, by yourself, and in my case that’s a trailer in Yellowknife, it is often like I am having a conversation with Walter about the work,” says Smith-Peck.

Michelle Murillo's page in the From Time to Time portfolio.

Michelle Murillo’s page in the From Time to Time portfolio.


This story was originally published on the Faculty of Arts’ companion blog, Work of Arts. Look for a recap of Walter Jule’s Southern Graphics Conference 2015 keynote address, “Survival Tips for Young Artists in Changing Times,” and a post about Walter Jule’s impact by FAB Gallery manager, Blair Brennan coming soon.

August Strindberg, photo by Robert Roesler, 1881

August Strindberg, photo by Robert Roesler, 1881.

The Author of A Dream Play

written by U of A Studio Theatre production dramaturgs Rohan Kulkarni, Dana Tanner-Kennedy and John Battye

August Strindberg was a man divided. A protean and prolific artist and a dabbler in chemistry, alchemy, and the occult, Strindberg’s career as a writer blossomed in the late-19th century when his native Sweden awoke to the clarion call of Modernism. In his early plays, such as The Father and Miss Julie, he embraced the tenets of Modernism’s first movements—Realism and Naturalism—exploring themes of crime, heredity, and the effects of environment on human character. The man who wrote A Dream Play, however, was one changed fundamentally by a descent into madness.

In 1894, after his second marriage failed, Strindberg moved away from his family to Paris. There he spent time in avant-garde circles, where he became enamored of the Symbolists, whose work was an ideological break from the Naturalist style with which he was familiar. Shunning the Naturalist obsession with external reality, the Symbolists turned their gaze inward, endowing their plays, poems, and paintings with mystical resonances in an effort to lift the veil that covered the mysteries of life and unlock the secret codes of the universe.

Between the anxiety of a life in poverty, and an increasing interest in and fear of the occult, Strindberg suffered a series of psychotic breakdowns. Much like the biblical figure Job, Strindberg thought himself persecuted by misfortune and hardship. In his literary autobiography Inferno, Strindberg writes about the feeling of some mysterious or malevolent force tampering with his destiny. After a succession of crises Strindberg went to Austria to see his daughter, an event that triggered a new intellectual and religious upheaval within him.

The 1890 photograph "The Ghost of Bernadette Soubirous," by an anonymous artist, is an eerie example of a multiple exposure image used in creating so-called "spirit photography." This turn-of-the-century obsession with capturing the unseen world was one that Strindberg shared.

The 1890 photograph “The Ghost of Bernadette Soubirous,” by an anonymous artist, is an eerie example of a multiple exposure image used in creating so-called “spirit photography.” This turn-of-the-century obsession with capturing the unseen world was one that Strindberg shared.

As he awoke from this period—which he termed his “Inferno Crisis”—Strindberg reevaluated his beliefs and his place in the world. Inspired by his readings of the 18th century Swedish mystic Swedenborg and the 19th century German philosopher Schopenhauer, he now believed in a benevolent Creator who punished humanity to impart greater understanding and expected them to fulfill life’s duties and obligation with devotion. Strindberg concluded that his punishment, the earthly hell of his Inferno Crisis, was meted out because of his own attempt at isolation.

This new outlook caused a radical reimagining of his dramatic writing. In his post-Inferno period of artistic ferment, Strindberg experimented wildly with form and content, effectively marrying the Naturalist desire to capture objective experience with the Symbolist desire to render the subjective in external space. The dream, and the attempt at making it a concrete reality, becomes the subject of some of his later works—Ghost Sonata, To Damascus, and A Dream Play.

Honouring Strindberg’s vision behind staging the dream world, and adding her unique style to it, Caryl Churchill adapted A Dream Play in 2005 for the National Theatre in London. The University of Alberta Studio Theatre production features that adaptation, which strips down the text and employs Churchill’s characteristically crisp language to capture the essence of the dream as she imagines it.

Presenter: U of A Studio Theatre
Event Title: A Dream Play by August Strindberg. Adaptation by Caryl Churchill.
Dates: March 26 – April 4 at 7:30 p.m. No show Sunday.
$5 preview Wednesday, March 25 at 7:30 p.m.
Matinee Thursday, April 2 at 12:30 p.m.
Venue: Timms Centre for the Arts, University of Alberta
Single show tickets: $11 student, $22 adult, $20 senior available online now at TIX on the Square and at the Timms Centre box office one hour before each performance.

Directed by David Kennedy, A Dream Play is Zsofia Opra-Szabo’s MFA Theatre Design thesis, featuring the work of the BFA class of 2015, including BFA Acting performers, BFA stage management, BFA theatre design and BFA technical theatre students.

For full cast, creative team and production team see show page:

Hello, Canada, opera fans on campus and in E-town land!

Elizabeth Turnbull.

Elizabeth Turnbull.

Before I chatted with Elizabeth Turnbull about the Opera Night in Canada program going up in Convocation Hall tonight and Friday, March 13, 2015 at 8 p.m. in Convocation Hall, I didn’t realize there was a vast repertoire of Canadian operas.

Although Canadian operas tend to be relatively young when compared to the more classic European offerings, like our multicultural nation, Turnbull explains that Canadian opera works are diverse, covering a wide-range of regional themes and filled with quintessential Canadian humour and colourful characters.

“I think it is important for us to recognize and celebrate what is unique about our own culture,” says Turnbull. “We are fabricated from so many different strands of ethnic backgrounds, and that forms something really unique, and distinctively Canadian. Through our art, we look at ourselves and we understand ourselves.”

Turnbull says it is important for students in the University of Alberta opera workshop to be exposed to newer works.

“We need to take part in the living, breathing version of our art form. Sometimes people think of opera as being antiquated with people running around in period wigs and things. Of course, that’s part of it. But there are a lot of wonderful, new works being created.”

Opera Night in Canada Highlights:

Farewell, o Fragrant Pumpkin Pie from Leo, the Royal CadetSchoolofOpera_OperaNightinCanada
Recognized as one of the first Canadian operas. Music written in 1889 by Oscar Ferdinand Telgmann. Libretto by George Frederick Cameron.

Bath Scene from Svadba by Anna Sokolovic
Serbian folk songs at the centre of a young women’s stagette celebrations.

Quartet from Zeus and the Pamplemousse, by Jeff McCune and Michael Cavanagh
A series of opera cliches strung together for school tours.

Prelude from Hannaraptor by Allan Gilliland
Explores dinosaurs and the badlands.

A Trio from The Bachelor Farmers of the Apocalypse by Michael Cavanagh & Neil Weisensel
Set in an unnamed prairie town. One-act chamber opera written in 1993. A rural, gothic, horror loosely based on Riders of the Apocalypse.

Church Quartet / Finale from Ines by James Rolfe
Premiered in 2009. Transplants the Portguese legend of prince Pedro Carmona to Toronto. The prince is a surgeon and his upper class wife, Constanza, is sick of the dreariness of winter.

Presenter: University of Alberta Department of Music
Event Title: Opera Workshop – Opera Night in Canada
Dates: Thursday, March 12 and Friday, March 13  at 8 p.m.
Venue: Convocation Hall, University of Alberta
Admission: By donation.


UAlberta acting grad now Taiko drummer and grad advisor in UAlberta Music 

Twilla MacLeod. Photo by James Lyall. Posted with permission from Twilla MacLeod.

Twilla MacLeod. Photo by James Lyall. Posted with permission from Twilla MacLeod.

Guest post by Carmen Rojas

We have the coolest staff in the Fine Arts departments at the University of Alberta. Take Twilla MacLeod (’00 BFA Acting). She currently works full time as the Graduate Advisor in the Department of Music and somehow finds the time to perform and teach taiko drumming as part of the Booming Tree Duo.

Twilla is one of the female artists on deck to perform at SkirtsAfire herArts Festival March 5 – 8, 2015, in conjunction with International Women’s Day. This multi-disciplinary Arts Festival, founded by UAlberta drama grads Annette Loiselle (’89 BFA Acting), Nadien Chu (’06 BFA Acting) and Sharla Matkin (’96, BA Drama), features the work of women and takes place in the heart of Alberta Avenue (118th Avenue), a community that is reinventing itself and growing as Edmonton’s newest arts and dining district.

Q: How did you start taiko drumming?

A: I first saw taiko drumming while living in Japan for a couple of years. I didn’t have an opportunity to try it there, but as a performer I was very drawn to how powerful the women who played appeared. When I came to Edmonton I took workshops with Kita no Taiko, Edmonton’s community group. I played with them for five years before breaking off and forming Booming Tree with Greg Shimizu.

Q: How did the Booming Tree Duo come about?

A: In 2008 my partner, Greg Shimizu, and I were asked to contribute to the sound design of a Fringe production called Anime, using taiko and small hand percussion instruments. After that we were commissioned by Concrete Theatre to write a short kids’ play for the Sprouts Festival where drums were part of the soundscape. On the heels of that festival, several other performance opportunities and collaborations presented themselves, so we decided to become our own entity.

Q: Booming Tree is celebrating its 5th anniversary this year (congratulations!). What have you enjoyed the most?

A: I have enjoyed sharing taiko with people who have never experienced it before. It’s a very visceral art form, very emotional, despite the lack of narrative. Also, the duo format is extremely challenging. As a player you are always very exposed and you have to keep the energy going or the whole thing falls apart.

The constant training and trying to improve has taught me that I am stronger than I think I am.   One of the statements in our publicity package is that we play to celebrate the strength and power of the human form. We’ve held on to that from day one, and it’s something we keep coming back to. Greg suffered a very serious concussion two and half years ago that he is still recovering from, so his journey with taiko has really changed. A lot of things are more challenging now than they used to be. Some of things we do that were commonplace before his accident are now victories every time we do them. So, those words “strength” and “power” have taken on a deeper resonance as well.

Q: What has surprised you most about the journey you’ve taken as artists over these past five years?

A: I can’t believe the width and breadth of things that we’ve been able to do in such a short time.  We were looking at our show spreadsheet a few weeks ago and we realized that we have performed over 200 times. We have travelled. We’ve been in a Travel Alberta commercial.  We’ve collaborated with ProCoro. We were part of the soundtrack for “The Great Human Odyssey.” We’ve been flown through the air while drumming. We’ve been teaching and are doing more and more of this all the time.  We have been incredibly lucky.  I knew we’d be playing, but I never would have expected that we would be as busy as we are.

Q: Booming Tree doesn’t just perform; you’re also extremely active as teachers and mentors to other performers. Why is this important to you?

A: This style of drumming seems to really enable people of all ages to express something that is deep inside themselves. Sound is energy, and these drums make a lot of sound, they change the way a room feels after they’ve been played. I particularly love working with women, and seeing them experience taiko. And, when you have groups of people coming together and locking into a rhythm, they carry each other and in doing so they become stronger. It’s hard to describe, but it’s an incredibly beautiful, transformative thing.

Q: Are there any upcoming performances you’d like people to know about?

A: We will be performing at the Skirts Afire Her Arts Festival, at the A-Line Variety Show on March 5th at 7:30 p.m. We will also be teaching a kids taiko camp (ages 8-10) during spring break through Concrete Theatre (details on the Concrete Theatre website).

For more information about Booming Tree, visit their website.


Q & A with UAlberta Music’s Artist in Residence

Violinist Yue Deng has performed with the likes of Michael Bublé and Randy Newman, in famed concert halls like Carnegie Hall. She’s recorded with renowned French pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet and performed on albums with Barbra Streisand, Dionne Warwick and Willie Nelson.

But she loves to teach as much as she loves to perform. That’s what drew her to the University of Alberta’s Artist in Residency post. “It gives me the opportunity to do both.”

I chatted with Yue Deng in advance to her mainstage concert aptly titled, From China to Canada, about her musical journey from Hebei, China, to our Convocation Hall in Edmonton.

Yue Deng

Yue Deng

Q: You demonstrated superb talent as a violinist at a very young age, winning first prize in the National Violin Competition in China at the age of eight. Why did you start playing the violin as a child?

I was in the first generation of Chinese children born under the One Child Per Family policy. For the first time after the Cultural Revolution, parents had the resources and the time to provide good education for their child. For my parents, it was very important to them that I receive the best education possible and supporting music education was a part of that goal.

It still wasn’t all that accessible to study Western music. The first few months of learning the violin, I had to share a violin with another neighbour. The instrument went back and forth.

Q: Do you remember loving the violin right from the start?

Yes. I really loved it. After I won that competition when I was eight, there was a documentary made about me. It was long ago! But I watched it recently and I saw how I used to write about my violin. How it was my dear friend. It does whatever I want it to do. (laughs)

Q: You were accepted as a full scholarship student to attend the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing at nine. Was it difficult to leave your parents when you were so young? Were you homesick?

At that time, each year they held auditions across the country and they only took six violinists per year. It was very vigourous training and extremely competitive. I was a boarding student from age nine on.

We had to sign up for our practice hours each day and each day during the time you signed up for, a teacher would spontaneously open your dormitory door to make sure you were practicing.

I remember being a child and wanting to do something else, something more fun than practicing. We developed these games with one hand so that you could still be working on your strings on the one hand and playing with a toy or a game or reading book with the other. I remember hearing the door open and throwing the book on the top of the bunk and starting to practice really hard. The silly stuff. (laughs)

We had classes in the morning and practice in the afternoons. There were orchestra rehearsals. No chamber music, just orchestra and private lessons. We had jury probably twice a semester.

Strangely, I didn’t get homesick. I really enjoyed being independent although I’m not sure I always got a lot of practicing done. My parents would take the train in to check on me and would discover I wasn’t getting it done. (laughs)

Q: What did your parents do for a living?

My mother was an electrician. My father worked for a construction company, in the transportation department.

Because of the Cultural Revolution – when they were teenagers – they read Mao’s poetry. So for them, to work in the factory and to work for the people, that was the most important thing. They gave up education to join the workforce. But when I was born, they realized education was the most important thing and really wished they had gone to college.

I think I am the first person in my whole extended family to receive post secondary education.

Q: Tell me about your time as an undergraduate at Oberlin Conservatory of Music?

I wanted to study there with Professor Taras Gabora. He is actually coming to the University of Alberta to give master classes here in a few weeks. He originally comes from Saskatchewan and he had an extremely successful teaching career with his students in all the major orchestras around the world.

I would say Oberlin was educational utopia. Not only can you get the best education there in the liberal arts, but the comeraderie amongst your peers was really eye opening to me. In China, I experienced competitiveness at a very young age.

Q: After pursuing your graduate studies at Juilliard, what drew you to the Artist in Residency post at the Unversity of Alberta’s Department of Music?

It was the colleagues that really attracted me here: Jacques Després, Guillaume Tardif, Patricia Tao and Marnie Giesbrecht – we have all performed concerts here together and they are very inspiring and world-class.

I also get to work with students which I find very engaging. I want to be a bridge between the community here and the university, so that we can develop a strong music student body. I also hope to draw more students here from China.

Q: What was one of your most memorable performances?

I always try to make every concert memorable, but there are two that stick out in my mind. Julie Andrews read my bio while introducing me at the Tribute Concert for John Williams and Ginny Mancini. I was asked to memorize that piece within 24 hours. And when I premiered my first composition at a concert in Carmel, California, I noticed Clint Eastwood in the audience. I was star struck!

Presenter: University of Alberta Department of Music
Event Title: From China to Canada
Featuring: Yue Deng with Patricia Tao and Colin Ryan
Date: Friday, February 27 at 8 p.m.
Venue: Convocation Hall, University of Alberta
Tickets: $10 student, $20 adult, $15 senior available at the door or in advance from Yeglive

For full program details see show page:

The Scan and the Mirror, Darian Goldin Stahl. In progress.

Fusing my sister’s MRI scans with my own bodily impressions

Sisters Devan Stahl (left) and Darian Goldin Stahl (right).

Sisters Devan Stahl (left) and Darian Goldin Stahl (right).

My works concentrate on the complex emotions that accompany a medical diagnosis of chronic illness and the status of our fallible bodies. I am most interested in the psychological impact of what is revealed by internal medical scans. I aim to express the affect of these scans by bringing them to the skin’s surface to re-humanize their anonymous and alienating qualities.

This artwork is a collaborative process with my sister, Devan Stahl, who is a PhD candidate in Bioethics and has multiple sclerosis. I incorporate her magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans, in which the inner anatomy is translated into black and white images of the brain and spine. Next, I join these scans with surface impressions of my own skin, which are created by pressing my body into charcoaled paper. The translation through printmaking breaks down the imagery and adds a scan-like graininess to the prints. The works are ultimately printed into film, which recalls the original MRI scan material.

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My bodily impressions are created passively, without anticipating the finished image or making any alterations by my hand. Working this way, my body is separated from my mind; likewise, my sister’s MRI scans reveal bright spots without regard to her mind’s wishes. The union of our “scans” creates an ethereal, semi-transparent figure. I then place this apparition within domestic spaces or lying in seas of grey to evoke the MRI scans’ aura. The resulting pieces depict a figure that is ghostly, pulled apart, or monstrous—qualities that point to the tension she feels with her body.

I hope that viewers will identify with this figure, and come to find that we all carry anxiety about the functionality of our bodies and, more broadly, our mortality. Although the motivation behind my work is to depict living with MS, disability is an experience that crosses all ethnicities, genders, and classes. Impairment is an experience we all have, either in the short-term breaking of a bone, long-term illness, or the breakdown of our bodies through aging. When audiences see my work, even though they do not know my sister, they feel her and are filled with a shared, connecting reflection over the state of our ever-failing bodies.

Darian Goldin Stahl

Darian Goldin Stahl

Darian Goldin Stahl

Darian Goldin Stahl is a  Master of Fine Arts in Printmaking candidate at the University of Alberta. She has been a primary instructor at the U of A in printmaking and fundamentals. She received her Bachelor of Fine Arts in Printmaking at Indiana University Bloomington in 2007. Her research includes living with chronic illness and anxiety over the failing body. Darian has exhibited in numerous galleries around the world, including Colorado, Ottawa, Alberta, British Columbia, Georgia, Indiana, Boston, Slovakia, Egypt, and China.

Event title: HABITUS by Darian Goldin Stahl, MFA printmaking final visual presentation
Exhibition dates: February 24 to March 21, 2015
Opening Reception: Thursday, February 27 at 7 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Venue: FAB Gallery (1-1 Fine Arts Building, University of Alberta)
FAB Gallery Hours: Tuesday to Friday: 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Saturday: 2 p.m. – 5 p.m.
Closed Sunday, Monday and statutory holidays
Admission: Free.

The Threepenny Opera. Photo by Ed Ellis.

by Kendall Savage

The slapstick antics of Charlie Chaplin’s memorable character, ‘The Tramp’, have touched hearts around the world, and influenced generations of performers. The childlike innocence, dirty ill-fitting clothes, and overly polite mannerisms of a clumsy fool have gleefully enchanted us for over a century. The Tramp’s endless search for love and acceptance, in a time of great political and financial struggle, represent the everyman’s journey to find happiness and comfort in a greedy bourgeois world. This is precisely why Bertolt Brecht admired and befriended the Clown.

Did Brecht borrow directly from the master of slapstick?

Photo by Ed Ellis.

Photo by Ed Ellis.

In Paul Flaig’s article Brecht, Chaplin and the Comic Inheritance of Marxism, he says Chaplin was considered one of the most avid attendees to Brecht shows, and Brecht’s concept of theatrical Gestus was visibly influenced by Chaplin’s unique use of gesture in film. Both artists shared the belief that the working man needed to flourish alongside the bourgeoisie, with Brecht advocating a Marxist ideology, and Chaplin being a humanist. For example, Chaplin’s film City of Lights (1931) and Brecht’s play Puntila (1948) both depict the working class individual fighting for survival, while cast in the shadow of a drunken millionaire who only befriends the lower classes while intoxicated. Though friendly in a stupor, the bourgeois character in both works is quick to revert to his greed and dominance.

Similarly, Chaplin’s The Great Dictator (1940) and Brecht’s The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui  (1941), released only months apart from each other, are both caricatures of the Nazi regime and Adolf Hitler. These tragic farces are remarkably alike on the surface, and will no doubt reveal further overlap upon close analysis. Perhaps deep in his heart Brecht wanted to be a Clown, constantly searching for love and acceptance? He was certainly aware of, and admired, Chaplin’s work. But Brecht’s liberal use of Chaplin’s material can be humoured, because, as the latter said, “In the end everything is a gag.”

Flaig, Paul. “Brecht, Chaplin and the Comic Inheritance of Marxism.” Brecht Yearbook 35 (2010): 39-58. International Index to Performing Arts Full Text. Web. 26/01/2015

Panovski, Naum.  “Arturo Ui vs. Hynkel”. Skopje; Masedionia, 1996. Web. 26/01/2015.

Kendall Savage

Kendall Savage

Kendall Savage

Kendall Savage hails from Montreal, Quebec and thrives among the circus folk. She has studied with Phillip Gaulier, Francine Cote and John Turner of Mump and Smoot. She is honoured and humbled to be learning the craft of Clowning from her mentor Mike Kennard, the other half of Mump and Smoot. Currently she is part of the MFA Theatre Practice program here at the University of Alberta.

Presenter: U of A Studio Theatre
Event Title: The Threepenny Opera by Bertolt Brecht. Music by Kurt Weill. Libretto translation by Marc Blitzstein.
Featuring: UAlberta BFA Acting Class of 2015 with visiting performers, BFA stage management, theatre design and technical theatre students.
Dates: Until February 14, 2015 at 7:30 p.m.
Venue: Timms Centre for the Arts, University of Alberta
Single show tickets: $11 student, $22 adult, $20 senior available online now at TIX on the Square and at the Timms Centre box office one hour before each performance.

Director Brian Deedrick. Conductor & Musical Director Peter Dala. Sets & Lighting Design Robert Shannon. Costume Design Robyn Ayles.
Sound Design Brian Maxwell. Choreography Marie Nychka. For full cast, creative team and production team see show page:

The Threepenny Opera. Photo by Ed Ellis.

As Revealed by Nikki Hulowski and Natalie Davidson
Interview by Daunia Del Ben

The Threepenny Opera is, undoubtedly, Brecht’s most celebrated play. Mounted more than 10,000 times, translated in more than 18 languages and performed all over the world, Brecht’s masterpiece remains a universally entertaining show.

The success of The Threepenny Opera is largely attributed to the play’s music. Written by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill, the songs were, and still are, covered by talented singers. “Mack and the Knife”, the most popular song of the play, became famous in the United States in 1956 through Louis Armstrong’s interpretation and, since then, many artists such as Bobby Darin, Frank Sinatra and more recently Michael Buble have performed their own versions of the song.

Is this success just a matter of fortune? Nikki Hulowski (playing the part of the notorious Jenny) and Natalie Davidson (street singer) don’t think so.  These two promising actors in the Studio Theatre 3-Penny-Opera,Ballad Opera1production of The Threepenny Opera reveal the secrets of its lasting popularity.

Natalie: “The play’s sexy and dangerous aspect is what makes it so catchy. This is a reflection of our capitalist society where the people who exploit their iniquities become successful. The character of Mack the Knife perfectly fits this description: he is beloved because he is good looking and attractive, but really he is a terrible person.”

Sexy and dangerous are not only aspects of the play but also characteristic of Nikki.

BFA actor Nikki Hulowski as Jenny in The Threepenny Opera. Photo by Ed Ellis.

BFA actor Nikki Hulowski as Jenny in The Threepenny Opera. Photo by Ed Ellis.

The actor who interprets the fiery Jenny tells us about her daring side: “I love adrenaline. I am trained in the use of weapons like guns and knives and I grew up hunting.” Nikki believes that “the ingredients that make The Threepenny Opera immortal are similar to the ones that Shakespeare used: love, greed, lust, and betrayal.”

Nikki also comments that, “The rhythmic nature of the songs allow singers to play.”

Natalie agrees: “It is a very well written piece of opera; the music is repetitive enough that jazz artists gravitate towards it because it is easy to play within the structure, while also creating their own sort of thing.”

If The Threepenny Opera is so successful for its sexy and dangerous aspects, the Shakespearean ingredients and the potential for wide interpretation of the music, we hope that these elements will pave the way for Nikki and Natalie, bringing them a lot of success.

Daunia Del Ben

Daunia Del Ben

Daunia Del Ben

Daunia studied drama at the Academy of Teatro Cristallo in Trieste, the Italian Academy in London and Bat Improv School in San Francisco. She graduated with a major in Art of Communication from the University of Trieste. She performed from 1994 to 2001 with Teatro degli Asinelli in Trieste. While residing in France, she discovered “Business Theatre” (a new concept of corporate training that employs Theatre).

Upon returning to Italy in 2005, she opened “Teatro dell’Eco”, a company modeled on the business theatre concept. She has been the artistic director for 7 years, writing dramas, acting and directing. In 2012 she moved “Teatro dell’Eco” from Italy to Edmonton where she is now based. In 2013 she founded a new company, “Teatro dell’Eco” based in Edmonton. She partnered with Nino Signore and his “Dramanation” theatre company. Together they have written, directed and performed Greek Chopsticks on Spaghetti Tales and The Nino and Nina Show. She wrote, directed and performed The Importance of Garlic and Notes from the Sky. Since 2013, Daunia has taken part in four Edmontonian Festivals with her productions. She will debut in spring at Citadel Theatre with a new play called The Garpires.