Tag Archives: arts

Liberal Education IV, or: conflict as context for artistic expression

Liberal Education 3010

A topics course

Instructor: Dr. Bruce McKay

“This course will consider the problem of genocide from a number of perspectives through a number of theoretical frameworks. We shall ask such questions as: Can we more fully define genocide? Why, in particular, is genocide a problem? Is it a solely modern phenomenon or do other aggressive acts in history constitute genocide? Why is it so difficult to take action when we know that it is occurring? What can we do about it? How can people bring themselves to enact such crimes against fellow humans? What should the role of the arts be in understanding genocide? How can we remember genocide while at the same time reconciling the events of the past with the necessities of the present and future?”

I truly believe in how art can not just reflect present situations, but inform responses to them. Society uses artistic expression as a way to inform the world of context, as well as a way to express complex and often intangible emotions and thoughts in ways that can be consumed and internalized by others. Art is merely a response, to one thing or another. Dadaism was a response to Modernism, today’s contemporary artists use both as inspiration to inform their work. Artists such as Philip Glass exemplify this melting pot of artistic movements.

This is especially poignant in times of high emotional crisis. No better exemplified than the art that came out of crisis of genocide. The Holocaust is very well-known for this. The quality and intensity of artistic expression that evolved and came out of Theresienstadt was/is breathtaking. Pieces of music that express the range between trying to survive and outrage at circumstance, the simplistic perspective of children’s art, and the complete farce that was the camp by construction.

The stage for the Holocaust was set here, a wooden face of supposed ‘humane’ living conditions so the international bodies could be trot around to ensure that Nazi Germany was maintaining a level of decency. In hindsight it is easy to be sick over this systematic and morally reprehensible level of deception. Of the 140 000 prisoners, 90 000 were sent to death chambers across the Third Reich and 33 000 died in the camp itself.

Out of this, prisoners, many of them accomplished and brilliant musicians whose contribution to the world had been cut short or marred by these conditions, did achieve a level of emotive expression which speaks to the need and responsiveness of art itself. The inherent quality of artistic expression ensure no bonds are placed and that structure, medium, choice, and subject are flexible; allowing the artists to do what is best for the needs of themselves and their audience. It allows those using the holocaust as their context to express their perceptions, their experiences, and their emotions.

Each piece of music, writing, painting, drawing etc… is the strongest piece of history, we as a post Holocaust society, could ask for. It speaks louder than any of the statistics ever can.

Today, victims of genocides and ethnic violence present a distinctive artistic presence. Those who use their mediums as a social means express their _____ in pieces that were meant for the world to see. To see and to understand, because it is as real as a history book. It is written by the victims, without inhibitions and intact with its original intent.

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You say you wanna stage a revolution?

Edmonton Fringe Festival is upon us here in the Capital City and let me tell you what, it is worth every minute of your time and every traffic inconvenience.

In another life I was very much involved with theater which has put me in an excellent position to inform your decision on which shows to check during this years fringe.

Below is just a list of suggestion of shows I think are well worth checking out, if you would like further information or a more “review” type description I recommend checking out Vue’s Fringe reviews or The Edmonton Journal’s reviews. Both are fairly objective although I belive a caveat to my endorsement is needed. All reviews are subjective and all are only one viewing of one performance from one person, so ensure you keep that in mind and try to ignore the personal rave/distaste and look for the plot description and not the opinionated review of the design/acting/writing.

Full disclosure: I have a great many pals who are involved in the majority of shows mention in the below, however as I give you my word these recommendations come from a genuine belief in quality and creative integrity.

Transalta Stage at the Westbury Theater

The Year of Magical Thinking, Pobbie Productions: an adapted screenplay from Joan Didion, so you know it will be entertaining at the very least. Length: 80- minutes. Origin: Edmonton.

The Laugh Shop

The Big Stupid Improv Show, Rapid Fire Theater: improv is a hard thing to do, even if it looks like actors are just making an idiot of themselves on stage for cheap laughs. Ok, so that is what improv is sometimes, however laughs are always good cheap or Crystal. RFT has failed to disappoint this season, and they are local so this little taste will have you itching for their next season to start up, and then you can scratch that itch, scratch it good. Length: 75 minutes. Origin: Edmonton.

The Honeymoon Period is Officially Over, Gemma Wilcox: I worked the front of house for this show on Friday night, full house and nothing but good things heard from those in line. Length: 70 minutes. Place of Origin: Boulder, Colorado USA.

Acacia Hall

Excuse me: This is the TRUTH!, Break the Wall Productions: @Paulatics gives this show some serious love, and you know she knows what she is talking about. Length: 45 minutes. Origin: Edmonton, Alberta

Fringe Cabaret Lounge

El Dorado, Surreal SoReal Theater: I actually went to high school with the writer/director/actor and have been in several productions with him in our younger days. Excellent actor and I believe this is his first self written, self directed, and self acted show so I am keen to see what comes of it. Based out of Edmonton with loads of local talent from this city to support the show, I am genuinely looking forward to seeing this. Length: 70 minutes.

Between Tosha and Boleck, Aether Bag Theater: A two person show written and directed by Bohdan Tarasenko featuring Ukrainian accents. Length 60 minutes. Origin: Edmonton.

NGGRFG, Guy Un-Disguised & Small Brown Package: I got a glowing recommendation from a designer who’s opinion I trust entirely. This creator has a longer track than the combined characters from Trainspotting. Length: 60 minutes. Origin: Edmonton.

Catalyst Theater

Bashir Lazhar, Wishbone: Translated from Evelyne de la Cheneliere by Morwyn Brebner, toured in Munich, Dresden and Innsbruck. Vancouver Sun fell all over themselves for this production and from what I hear the praise is well deserved. “… raw physical impulse and muted desire.” Length: 90 minutes. Origin: Edmonton/Calgary, Alberta.

Old Strathcona Performing Arts Collective (OSPAC)

Edmund, Mur- Man Productions: Three actors I highly respect, including one I have the opportunity to work creatively with, hold this show down. The director and stage manager are incredibly talented and from the rumours, in high demand. The show was named best of Saskatoon Fringe and was sold out here in Edmonton for its opening night. Length: 75 minutes. Origin: Edmonton, Alberta.

Telus Building

Excess Unwanted Growth, Hey Haggard, Take Heed! Productions: Written and Directed by David Owen a well known director throughout Alberta and an excellent professor. I am lucky enough to have had the experience to be in one of his productions, Faustus at the University of Lethbridge, and have seen an excerpt from this play done for a class at the UofL. Itching to see the full piece. FTWL: interesting, thought provoking and sometimes obtuse theater with a genuine creative force that is refreshingly original. Length: 50 minutes. Origin: Calgary/Red Deer, Alberta.

Planet Ze Design Center

Cadaver, Digestion Theater: A troupe of Edmonton Theater students came together to write, produce and stage this show and from what I hear this is some of the best of Edmonton’s up and coming talent. Length:60 minutes. Origin: Edmonton, Alberta.

BYOV’s (Bring Your Own Venue)

This experiment in found theater space has changed the face of Fringe in the last few years. The idea of putting a production together in a custom found space, a space beyond a traditional stage forces both the actors and the director to interact in an environment alien to the traditional form that theater takes.

Avenue Theater: RAUNCH: The Rise of the Female Chauvinist Pigs!

La Cite Francophone: Reunion Tour, George Orwell is Not My Real Name, Pinters Breif’s

Strathcona Public Library: The Pumpkin Pie Show, Filling in Our Bones

Varscona Theater: LoveHateKill, Die-Nasty

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Don Hertfeldt: “I am so proud of you”


Last week in Calgary’s infamous Kensington theater The Plaza, Don Hertzfeldt premiered his new film “I am so proud of you”. Seriously amazing. If you get the chance, please go to this event (information found at the bitterfilms website) or check it out at his self made production company’s website to see how to order that baby. It is well worth the wait and the money.

If – like myself only a few weeks ago – you are not well versed in Don Hertzfeld please do your life a favor and check out the shorts below.

Hertzfeldt joined the audience for a post film Q&A and though normally these things arn’t my dig I found him to be very down to earth and actually quite entertaining. Witty, well spoken and transparent in his intentions, Hertzfeldt had clearly done this before.

A few good questions asked, a few art major esq (read: pretentious and sycophantic) questions asked and many simply wondering how the hell he is so good at what he does. Each answer came clearly and without pretension.

One thing that struck this lady particularly was his adamant adherence to, what some would call, archaic film making techniques. “It always feels like a cage match. We have a hundred years of cool film technology, why don’t we use it all?”

Discussions on arts funding, film technology, sociological impacts and the tenuous balance artists face with how far do they support disseminating their work for free on the Internet versus actually making money from it dominated the evening.

For more information on the man himself and his work check out http://www.bitterfilms.com.

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A 1-2-3 on voting.

Being a huge political nerd, the Canadian Federal Election is keeping me at all hours of the night thinking thinking and thinking.

Voting is one of the simplest democratic rights we have and employ that tells the government that we want that right. The world has seen throughout history what the loss of such a simple action does to a country and to its people. Do not let this even be a slight possibility here.

This election is especially interesting as we are entering here with two consecutive minority governments of two different parties who have acted in those minority governments very differently.

While I am trying to remain non-partisan due to my current job as well as my sheer frustration with our political system, I cannot help but be appalled at the Conservatives government cuts to Arts Funding and their continuing dismissal of Social Programs as well as their continual missteps in election campaigns  – there are so many links available here I couldn’t list just one, but here are my two favourites: Immigration = crime? and Native Racism.

There are a bevy of ways to learn more and get informed. Check out your nearest Candidate Debate – here in Lethbridge noon in University Hall Atrium on October 7th. Look at reliable news sources  – check out the CBC’s Election page and the Globe and Mails Election page and watch the debates. Both the english at ctv.com and french at cbc.ca.

Lastly, voting can be more than just casting a ballot. Strategic voting has become a grassroots intiative that has gained a ton of momtentum in a short peroid of time. Check out votepair.ca for more information and how you can affect change. Also, for all you youth voters check out yvote.org for information on why, how and where to vote.

Last but not least, although Elections Canada has been nothing but useless so far, check out thier website for contact information on where voting stations are posted in your area and what to bring with you.

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