U of C Grad Student Working to Bring The Arts & Social Sciences Together

Playwright Sherryl Melnyk after the staged reading of her new play Can't Cross a Bridge.

Playwright Sherryl Melnyk after the staged reading of her new play Can’t Cross a Bridge.

Sherryl Melnyk’s new play Can’t Cross a Bridge was read aloud publicly for the first time this Monday night at the University of Calgary’s F.R Matthews Theatre. The staged reading was presented by the School of Creative and Performing Arts’ Taking Flight: Festival of Student Work.

But whereas much of the work in the annual student festival has been largely fictional, Melnyk’s play differs in that it is rooted in real women’s stories of abuse.

Can’t Cross a Bridge tells the story of Velma and Lizzy, a mother and daughter estranged for 16 years. One day, a surprise call from the RCMP informs Velma that her daughter has returned. But hanging over their reunion are secrets from the past, painful secrets that Lizzy can no longer keep inside.

Melnyk is completing her PhD in the Interdisciplinary Studies program, combining studies in English, Drama, and Women’s Studies/Sociology. Can’t Cross a Bridge is one component of her PhD dissertation.

The first component, the social science component, saw Melnyk interviewing 21 women about their sexual histories. From that research, Melnyk chose three of the stories that she thought fit together the best, then synthesized them for the play. The last component comprised of theory, discussions around the creation of the work.

Melnyk says her work is focused on bringing the arts and social sciences together, disseminating research through the arts as a means of creating meaningful dialogue surrounding social issues.

“I think what happens to a lot of research is that it’s wonderful research, but it’s lost in journals,” said Melnyk. “No one really reads it but other academics. I think a better combination of the arts and social sciences working together is going to make it more accessible to the public at large.”

And of course, her research could not have been possible without participants willing to share their lives openly with Melnyk.

“I started out my research trying to understand if women are kind of moving beyond the traditional view of women in sexuality; Woman as part of the male gaze, woman in pornography, woman as victim…How have women’s stories changed, that’s how I started my interview with all the people that participated.”

“I think what was really interesting about all of the women I interviewed was the fact that they wanted to tell their story. They want people to hear it. They want women to be empowered through their stories. All different ages sat down with me and spoke. Some of them were an hour, and some were two and half hours about their life history.”

For Melnyk, the intimacy theatre grants between audiences and ideas is necessary for not only bridging the arts and social sciences, but also bringing these women’s stories to the community.

“I think you could see it tonight in the gasps and the reactions of the audience. The sadness, the laughter, the drama that is created through theatre. I think it speaks more to our heart and soul than reading an article.”

Melnyk hands in her dissertation on April 24th, then defends it later next month.

The staged reading of Sherryl Melnyk’s Can’t Cross a Bridge was presented by the School of Creative and Performing Arts’ Taking Flight: Festival of Student Work. The festival runs Mar 31 – Apr 11th, 2015.

For more information about the festival, visit: http://scpa.ucalgary.ca/events/taking-flight-festival-student-work


Lizzy – Jacqueline Dyment
Velma – Val Campbell
Lester – Brian Smith
Andrea – Courtney Charnock


Director – Dawn Mari McCaugherty
Stage Directions – Siobhan Cooney

U of C’s SCPA Clowns Around, Impresses With Creative Take On Brecht’s Man Equals Man

Galy Gay becomes the perfect soldier in Bertolt Brecht's Man Equals Man. Pictured (left to right): Natasha Strickey, Kristi Max, and Vince Mok.

Galy Gay becomes the perfect soldier in Bertolt Brecht’s Man Equals Man. Pictured (left to right): Natasha Strickey, Kristi Max, and Vince Mok. Photo Credit: Citrus Photography

Inside the University Theatre, a troupe of clowns dressed in military uniform await their audience. The clowns juggle, sing, and crack jokes to warm the audience up for the night’s main event: the transformation of an ordinary citizen into the perfect soldier.

Directed by Tim Sutherland, U of C’s School of Creative and Performing Arts’ production of Bertolt Brecht’s Man Equals Man is an uproarious spectacle of slapstick and danger.

Set in British Colonial India, Man Equals Man stages the story of Galy Gay (Natasha Strickey), a lowly porter, who is thrust into the ranks of the British Army by three incompetent privates. Needing someone to pass off as their fourth man during roll call, Uriah Shelly (Andy Weir), Jesse Mahoney (Ahad Raza Mir), and Polly Baker (Onika Henry) enlist Galy to be their stand in for the night, whereafter he will no longer be needed. But when their comrade Jeriah Jip (Connor WIlliams) goes missing indefinitely, the privates set out to turn Galy into the soldier they need him to be.

Despite the presence of firearms, there is little violence that actually takes place on stage. And that is the point. For Brecht, it is not firearms, but rather political ideologies that pose a grave threat to all persons of the world. After all, a gun cannot fire without someone to pull the trigger.

Here, what Brecht specifically fears is the influence of state propaganda on citizens. Though he resists at first, Galy is eventually won over by a narrative that glorifies the soldier as an inherently noble figure worthy of many rewards. Over time, the narrative digs deeper under Galy’s skin where it re-positions his values to align closer with those of the state and its armed forces. Galy’s identity effectively becomes estranged from his biography. And it is from this metamorphosis that violence emerges as Galy becomes a soldier on the front; a weapon of the state.

Accordingly, Sutherland’s circus positions war as an elaborate production. Translated within this context, a soldier’s uniform becomes nothing but a costume that anyone can wear, even a clown. By highlighting how persons and groups assign meaning to the mundane, as opposed to the mundane possessing an inherent value, Sutherland undermines the symbolic authority of the uniform.

And despite changing into costumes (e.g. ninja attire) that suggests otherwise, the clowns remain British soldiers throughout the entirety of the play. This contradiction in appearance emphasizes Brecht’s concern over the sort of false realities that ideologies construct and attempt to present as truth in the face of actuality.

This is a furiously high-spirited circus that engages on all fronts through physical humour, music and dance. And everyone in the cast is on board here, even the actors in the background who are giving as much as those leading the scenes. There is a lot of great character work on display, a varied mix of personalities and antics. The ensemble’s total commitment to the piece truly elevates this production to something quite fantastic.

Strickey displays a great amount of quirk and charm which makes her an absolute joy to watch on stage. Her facial expressions and mannerisms read very clearly from the stage. Along with her comedic timing, Strickey is also adept at capturing the dramatic tones of the play.

Weir, Mir, and Henry share a delightful chemistry together. Although, the actors would benefit from better enunciation and projection as sometimes we lose their dialogue, particularly with some of the accents at work.

Set and lighting designer Anton de Groot’s work is visually exciting and very much in tune with the eccentric quality of the production.

Funny, thought provoking, and certainly unique, U of C’s School of Creative and Performing Arts’ production of Brecht’s Man Equals Man is a lively experience that both entertains and challenges its audience.

The University of Calgary’s School of Creative and Performing Arts’ production of Bertolt Brecht’s Man Equals Man runs at the University Theatre, Feb 17 – 28, 2015.

For more information on the show and how to purchase tickets,
visit: http://scpa.ucalgary.ca/events/man-equals-man

Celebrating 45 Years: Dance Montage and The Importance of Community

For Wojciech Mochniej, Dance Montage’s Artistic Director, dance is more relevant than ever in our fast-paced, modern society. “[What attracts people to dance] is the connection to the human, to the three-dimensional world. With TV, we can cook, clean, and pick up the phone at the same time…but we are not meeting anyone. We are disconnected,” says the full-time dance instructor at the University of Calgary.

Celebrating its 45th anniversary this year, Dance Montage – presented by U of C’s School of Creative and Performing Arts – is an opportunity for both beginning and experienced dance artists to come together and create new work. Auditions are open to everyone of all skill levels; an invitation that extends to the community at large.

The secret to Dance Montage’s longevity, says Mochniej, is the opportunity it gives community members who are not thinking of dance as a profession to perform, to share ideas, and, in doing so, connect with their community.

It is the importance of community that inspired Matthew Hall to write and direct (Mis)Communication, one of several new dance pieces which will be presented at Dance Montage. “My uncle…he’s always sparking conversation with people on the C-Train,” the fourth year drama student shares, “no one is used to it nowadays, Everyone thinks he’s weird. Or they’re too busy or plugged into their phones.” It this disconnect brought on by technology’s rising influence that Hall explores in (Mis)Communication.

(Mis)Communication. Choreography by Meghann Michalsky. Directed by Matthew Hall. Music composed by August Murphy. Photo Credit: Wojciech Mochniej

(Mis)Communication. Choreography by Meghann Michalsky. Directed by Matthew Hall. Music composed by August Murphy. Photo Credit: Wojciech Mochniej

Of course, the dance piece would not have been possible without Meghann Michalsky and August Murphy, Hall’s choreographer and musical composer respectively.

In July 2013, the School of Creative and Performing Arts was created. Bringing together the former departments of dance, music, and drama under one school has allowed students more opportunity for interdisciplinary collaboration. Hall, Michalsky, and Murphy met last year during a production of Aesop’s Fables.

“To work with people outside my discipline…they challenged me way more to push my art and myself out of my comfort zone,” says Michalsky, a U of C dance alumnus (‘14). Murphy, a fourth year music student, nods her head in agreement. “I’ve worked with actors and dancers onstage as a performer, but this type of work…I learned how something may be clear to me as a musician, but it may not necessarily be clear to the dancers onstage. “We think of things differently, and I [needed] to find how to communicate in such a way that everyone understands,” explains Murphy who says this is her first time composing. The quality of their final product, all three agree, would not have been possible without the support of their fellow artists.

What does the future of dance and Dance Montage look like for Mochniej? Neither, he believes, are going anywhere any time soon, even with the rapid growth of technology. “I’ve been dancing for over 30 years…[and] even when you repeat the same things, you still discover something new about yourself, your potential, and your strength” says the dancer as he prepares to go teach one of his classes. “The community will always feel the need to perform, because dance is an organic experience.”

What else, Mochniej closes with, can give you such a connection to what makes us human?

The School of Creative and Performing Arts will present Dance Montage, from Thursday, Nov. 20 to Saturday, Nov. 22, 2014 in the University Theatre, located on the University of Calgary’s campus.

This 45th production will celebrate the life of Sigurd Hagen-Torn (1927-2011) who began his involvement with Dance Montage at the age of 50, dancing for the next 32 years until his last performance in 2009. He is remembered for his great spirit and passion for dance.

For more information on Dance Montage and how to purchase tickets, visit: http://scpa.ucalgary.ca/events/dance-montage-0