Tag Archives: event

Homelessness: It’s Complicated

Home is a Beautiful Word

A play collected and edited by Joel Bernbaum

Directed by Michael Shamata

The Belfry Theatre, Victoria

January 7-19, 2014

Reviewed by Joy Fisher

The complexity of homelessness in Victoria B.C. shines like a multifaceted gemstone catching the sun one facet at a time in the world premiere production of Home is a Beautiful Word now playing at the Belfry Theatre.

Commissioned and directed by the Belfry’s artistic director, Michael Shamata, the play is the product of two years of hard work, most notably by playwright/journalist Joel Bernbaum, who interviewed more than 500 people from all walks of life and perspectives, including many homeless people, and then edited the resulting 3,000 pages of transcript into a two-act play that holds its own as both a work of art and an exploration of a persistent social problem. 

Five actors, two women and three men, give voice to 58 individuals in this production of “verbatim theatre”—where all the lines are taken exactly from the transcripts of the interviews. The actors leaned heavily on their dramatic skills to distinguish one speaker from another, and this effort was augmented by changes in costume, positioning on stage and the timing of entrances and exits. One particularly effective example of stagecraft was the use of a rotating stage to simulate a car tour of the downtown neighbourhood conducted by one interviewee.

In spite of this careful attention to craft, however, it was sometimes difficult for the audience to keep track of changes in speakers, although some stood out more clearly than others.   

The expressed intention of the play is to allow theatregoers to see homelessness from a “new perspective.”  For this reviewer, that new perspective came from an interviewee whose story emerged gradually as the play progressed. This person had opened a beauty school, but unanticipated incursions of street people into his facility eventually ruined his business and he lost his own home after he defaulted on his business loan. He emerged from this experience with his own perspective changed, considering the possibility of a new career in the helping professions. What set him apart from the homeless, he believed, was that he still had his “pride.”

Other vignettes that stood out included a monologue by the mother of a homeless woman who described the anguish she experienced because of her daughter’s precarious situation and another of a homeless woman who felt shamed in her daughter’s eyes when she didn’t have enough money to pay for her groceries and had to leave them at the counter.

The play provides no easy solutions to homelessness, but it offers an opportunity to encounter the problem in all its complicated thorniness.

The theme of “pride” and “shame” emerged more strongly in the “afterplay” discussion, when two people rose to share their experiences of homelessness. The woman complained that the play didn’t depict the “positive” aspects of homelessness. She had been banned from many hostels because of her outspokenness, she said, but had found acceptance among her homeless compatriots. When she voiced criticism of some in the homeless “industry,” a number of audience members, presumably working in that industry, rose en masse and left.

The man, who said he suffered from a brain injury, spoke at length about his personal travails. In both cases, members of the audience grew restless at what they clearly considered disruptive behavior and eventually drove these speakers from the hall.

In the play program, Michael Shamata compliments Joel Bernbaum for his “humanity and generosity.” He “made it possible for everyone to feel safe enough to share their most intimate stories,” Shamata said. The interactions during the afterplay discussion stood out in sharp contrast.

 Joy Fisher graduated from the University of Victoria in 2013 with a BFA in writing; she is a member of the Playwright’s Guild of Canada.







Cleese kept crowd engaged

By Curran Dobbs

A master of black humour and vocal critic of “mindless good taste,” British actor John Cleese was nonetheless a class act in his one-man show, “Last Time to See Before I Die” at the McPherson Playhouse recently.

The show, while continuously infused with Cleesian wit, wasn’t strictly comedic. Regaling the audience with his life story, starting with how his parents met, walking the audience through his childhood and his pre-Python days, and movie career, Cleese offered bittersweet moments as he remembered with fondness friends and family who had passed on.  When Cleese recalled David Frost,  he started to tear up, infusing the show with some pathos and creating a humanizing element that would have been absent had the show been strictly comedic (or strictly dramatic).

Admittedly, throughout the show, Cleese didn’t seem too energetic, but after all, he is 73. Nevertheless, the time flew by;  when he announced that he had kept us for about an hour and it was time for an intermission, it came as a surprise. Considering my tendency to fidget and check my watch constantly when sitting for long periods of time, I was impressed.

The second half of the show was mainly a discussion of offensive or black humour.  Cleese talked about it being passed down from his mother, and explored reactions from audience members, mainly to Fawlty Towers and A Fish Called Wanda. Cleese reported that during the test screen for A Fish Called Wanda, the three bits the audience identified as the funniest bits were also the  bits that were identified as most offensive.  He also made much more use of video clips in his second act.  Many of the clips were familiar to Cleese fans, from the previously mentioned shows as well as Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Showing the clips took some of the strain and effort out of filling up the second half while entertaining the audience. Again, I sat through the second half without checking my watch.

The show ended with a standing ovation, with members of the audience eventually clapping in rhythm to The Liberty Bell song from Monty Python’s Flying Circus. The man hasn’t lost a thing at 73 – except the usual, youth, original hair colour . . . I would certainly recommend this show for anyone who appreciates dry humour.


Curran Dobbs is a local reviewer and comedian.  

“Everything” worth writing about, poet says

By Liz Snell

Emily McGiffin’s bright-eyed, earnest face contained no pretension. She spoke her poems with confident resonance, but also vulnerability, as if they were letters written to a close friend, not intended for everyone else in the room. She seems like the kind of person you’d meet in a small town or on a farm; when she speaks, you feel she’s not just wasting words to impress you, but is sharing a homespun and heartfelt wisdom.

Her poetry is full of solitude’s topography: one person leading the blind speaker through a fog, someone living in a car and playing solitaire. Wild mountain landscapes butt against domestic acts like woodcutting and carding wool. Her writing, both on the page and spoken aloud, conveys a tension between closeness and distance.

Victoria poet Carla Funk, who conducted the evening’s Q & A at the Open Space event, asked McGiffin which three dead poets she’d invite to dinner. McGiffin bowed out of the question, saying she knows little of classic poetry, and instead cited her favourite “dead poet” poems: “Dover Beach” by Matthew Arnold, “Ode to Autumn” by John Keats, and “Fern Hill” by Dylan Thomas. These poems encapsulate both the joy in and loss of an Eden-like, harmonious world, a theme close to McGiffin’s own writing. One gets the sense that she’s attempting to write her way into the feeling of home, struggling to trust in a tenuous place: “And when, walking through the enormous and solitary land,/you grow hungry for company, you will find it underfoot…”

McGiffin began “fiddling with lines” of poetry in high school. She took writing courses at UVic as a side to her focus on geography and biology. Of studying writing she says, “It might have had an impact in that I never really did anything with my biology degree.”

Now pursuing a PhD in environmental studies at York University, McGiffin seems to still be searching for ways to explore the relationship between her scientific studies and her poetry. “I’d like to find a way that they can talk to each other a bit more.”

McGiffin initially struggled to see her creative writing as a worthwhile pursuit: “Poetry’s kind of a marginalized art form… It took a long time to feel it wasn’t something I was just doing on the side.”

To an audience member who asked, “How do you know what’s worth writing about?” McGiffin replied,  “Once I decided anything was worth writing about, it became less of a question of what was worth writing about – everything is.”

McGiffin recently moved to Toronto from Smithers, B.C., where her writing was often influenced by the Skeena River, which has been threatened by coal mining. She spoke of her concerns about conservation, and how we view the world in terms of “resource management.” In response to such environmental destruction, does McGiffin’s writing take a stance of hope, or despair? She’s not sure. “The question is, is there hope for humans? I don’t know.”

Liz Snell is a Victoria writer

Open Word: Readings and Ideas: Emily McGiffin

First reading: Wednesday, October 9, 2013, at 12:30 p.m., University of Victoria, Fine Arts Building, Room 209
Second reading followed by interview with Carla Funk: 
Wednesday, October 9, at 7:30 p.m., Open Space
Admission by donation, books available for purchase, cash bar.

Toronto writer Emily McGiffin will read from her new book Between Dusk and Night as part of the literary series Open Word: Readings and Ideas. The event is hosted by the University of Victoria Department of Writing and Open Space. Her book of poems considers the human relationship with the earth during the current environmental crisis, and the intimate relationship between humans themselves. Local poet Carla Funk will interview McGiffin after the 7:30 p.m. reading at Open Space.


Po’ Girl Awna Teixeira tours with solo album

Awna Teixeira and Jennifer Louise Taylor
Sunday, June 2, 2-4 pm
Spiral Cafe, 418 Craigflower RD, Victoria
$10 at the door

Awna Teixeira has toured the world from Africa to Spain and back again with internationally renowned roots band Po’ Girl. She is currently doing a tour in support of her first solo album, Where the Darkness Goes. With a uniquely sultry voice and incredible songwriting, Teixeira brings beautifully styled music to the world.

She joins popular local folk musician, Jennifer Louise Taylor, for an afternoon show this Sunday, at Spiral Cafe.

SALT New Music Festival starts Saturday

SALT New Music Festival and Symposium
May 25-June 2
Open Space, 510 Fort Street, and UVic School of Music

The SALT New Music Festival and Symposium is a one–week event, occurring from May 25 to June 2, taking place at Open Space and the University of Victoria School of Music.

At the University of Victoria School of Music  you can find a week’s worth of free lectures, colloquia, and masterclasses. At Open Space, three stunning concerts–including seven world premieres–will take place. The event’s hosts, The Tsilumos Ensemble, have invited world–class experts in contemporary and electronic music to join them in Victoria present audiences with new sonorous adventures in contemporary music.

The concerts will consist of local musicians such as Max Murray, a tuba soloist originally from Victoria and now based in Berlin alongside many esteemed international performers such as the Quasar Saxophone Quartet (Montreal, QC), the award-winning Ensemble Dal Niente (Chicago, USA), and Experimentalstudio (Freiburg, Germany).

This iteration of the SALT New Music Festival and Symposium will premiere three new compositions by Wolf Edwards (Victoria, BC), Steven Takasugi (Cambridge, USA), and Gianluca Ulivelli (Florence, Italy), made possible by a grant from the Ernst von Siemens Foundation for Music (Germany).

Students of music from around the world have been invited to this program and offered reading sessions, workshops, and lessons in composition and contemporary music interpretation, hopefully to invigorate the study, research, and performance of contemporary and electronic music.  Come and join them in this exploration of the cutting edge of new music.

For more information see www.openspace.ca/SALT2013 Information about free events can be found at www.tsilumos.org


Alt-folk triple threat this Saturday

Kasper & Howe with Auto Jansz
Saturday, May 25, 7:30 pm
Gorge-ous Coffee, Gorge and Tillicum, Victoria
All ages. Tickets by donation at the door.

Music veterans James Kasper, Geoff Howe and Auto Jansz perform this Saturday. Some memorable songs are on the menu, along with Kasper’s sultry noir-folk vocals, soulful harmonica and shimmering guitar from Geoff Howe. Auto Jansz serves up an eclectic mix of originals and covers, revealing her surprising musical past, from 90s Winnipeg riot girl (Bittersweet) to country-folk sensation (Barley Wik) and alt folk pop (Born in Cities). This will be the littlest show you definitely don’t want to miss.

James Kasper & Geoff Howe live:

Auto Jansz:

Rococode in Victoria May 18

Rococode with River
Saturday, May 18, Doors at 7 pm
Lucky Bar, 517 Yates ST, Victoria
Tickets $12.50, available at Lyle’s Place, Ditch Records, and TicketWeb.ca
Sponsored by the Zone 91.3 FM

Rococode is an ever evolving indie rock band from Vancouver, BC. They “May appear to be a spunky indie-collective, but beneath the rag-tag exuberance is a feral demolition squad plowing down tired indie archetypes and proudly building [their] own identity.” (iTunes Canada)

Their debut album Guns, Sex & Glory “Breaks in the door from the start, knocking you down with its heavy hooks, bewitching you with charismatic charm.” (Soft Signal) The band plays upon juxtaposition of light and dark, scary and harmonious, heavy and weightless, demonstrating “A seriously impressive knack for finding the sweet spot inside angular, almost cheerfully psychotic exercises.” (The Tyee) All whipped together with the help of Mother Mother’s Ryan Guldemond (co-producer) and mixer John Congleton (St. Vincent, Polyphonic Spree, The Walkmen), Rococode’s debut album provides the “Perfect jumping off point for a band ready to overtake the music scene.” (Youthink)


Book Lovers Unite!

Group Book Launch from Orca Book Publishers authors
7 pm, Wednesday, May 15
Union Pacific Coffee, 537 Herald St, Victoria

Join local authors Sylvia Olsen, Nikki Tate, Michelle Mulder, Robin Stevenson, Kristin Butcher, John Wilson, Sarah N. Harvey, and Sean Rodman as they launch their new books for this spring.

Meet the authors, enjoy some refreshments and get a book signed! All ages welcome.

For more information, contact Leslie Bootle at (250) 380-1229

Double Feature at Spiral, Victoria

Jennifer Louise Taylor & Born in Cities (formerly called Auto Jansz & Andrea June)
7:30 pm, Saturday, May 4
Spiral Cafe, Victoria, 418 Craigflower Road
Suggested $7-12

Join us for an evening of folk, jazz and indie-pop originals–and your old favourites to sing to!

Jennifer Louise Taylor has toured Canada and the US, and been a guest studio musician for CBC national radio. From the acoustic roots tradition, her songs weave a tapestry, both fun and meaningful. Focus Magazine describes Jennifer Louise Taylor’s “velvety contralto [as] magical.”

With a combination of guitar, piano, accordion, and precise and powerful vocals, Born in Cities plays a fresh new sound they call “Cabaret Folk,” one that made them 2012 Vancouver Island Music Awards nominees (Auto Jansz — Female Songwriter of the Year; Andrea June — Female Vocalist of the Year). These lively performers have impressed audiences from BC to Germany.

Everyone welcome. Invite friends on Facebook here.