Theatre outside of the box

Actors Eli Moores and Ashley Gonzalez-Rivas appear in a final dress rehearsal of God Sleeps in Rwanda at this year
Actors Eli Moores and Ashley Gonzalez-Rivas appear in a final dress rehearsal of God Sleeps in Rwanda at this year's Directors' Festival at the University of the Fraser Valley.
— image credit: Dessa Bayrock

By Dessa Bayrock/Special to the Times

While students from other departments are sitting down for final exams and writing final papers, UFV’s theatre students end the year with something completely different—a full-fledged theatre festival.

This year marks the 19th annual Director’s Festival, which runs from April 23 to 27. More than 40 short plays are on offer, the majority under an hour long. With ticket prices set at $5, it’s a fast-paced and affordable spread of theatre.

The four-day period is a chance for students to push and stretch themselves, tackling short plays that are brand-new, edgy, raunchy, offbeat or quirky. One way or another, they have no chance of appearing on UFV’s stage as a main production—making them perfect for DFest.

UFV’s entire theatre department comes together to breathe Director’s Festival to life, but at the core of the festival are 23 students hailing from this year’s directing class taught by department head Ian Fenwick—the largest class size the course has ever seen.

“There’s a lot on the line. They have to pull everything together,” Fenwick says. “There’s a tremendous amount of responsibility that they haven’t felt before.”

Director Julie Ruffell wrote her own play, part of a personal drive to bring the story of the Rwandan genocide into conversation.

When she realized Directors’ Fest fell on the 20th anniversary of the killings, she says she instantly knew “there was no other story I wanted to tell.”

She drafted the first version of the 20-minute play in the fall, polishing the final script of “God Sleeps in Rwanda” in December.

“For me, I was a teenager when this was happening, and it was the year of the hockey riots in Vancouver. Everyone was talking about the Canucks, and people were being killed in Rwanda,” she says. “That just really struck a chord in me, that I didn’t hear about it when it was happening.”

Recent theatre alum Tim Howe also put pen to paper to write a play, co-authoring with fellow theatre student Steve Wilhite to create Mr. Bigg and Tall.

Their subject matter, however, lands on the other end of the spectrum.

“We’re labelling it a vaudeville-burlesque revival. It’s not really about anything,” Howe says. “And that’s the whole point. There’s no plot to it. Just funny scenes.”

Mr. Bigg and Tall appeared in last year’s DFest as well, and in the fall Howe and Wilhite hope to take it to a new level: they’ve applied for a spot in Vancouver’s Fringe Festival, and are currently 72 on the waitlist.

“So my fingers are crossed,” Howe says with a laugh.

This is his sixth Directors’ Festival, but Howe says it continues to hold a special place in his heart every year.

“I’m not a student this year, so Mr. Bigg and Tall is technically a returning show for returning students. It’s made it very special to have the whole faculty have our back for it,” he says. “They’ve made sure that I’m still very very welcome. That has made it very special.”

DFest is an opportunity for the students to grow as actors, directors, and people. Ask any of the students in the greenroom why they love the festival and you’re bound to get a heartfelt—if sappy—answer.

“I’ve been acting and working and performing with these people for all of this year, so we’re all fairly close,” says director Luke Stevens.” A lot of DFest is enjoying what’s here to offer . . . there’s always a chance to get involved and help out. Even if you’re not signed up with a show, you can just offer a hand and they’re more than likely needing you.”

With month of work culminating in just a few short days, UFV’s theatre campus is humming to life, and their professor says he can’t wait to see how his students bring the festival to life.

“This is their chance to put [everything] together in a fully applied project that’s going to be looked at by their peers, and by audiences, and by reviewers,” Fenwick says. “There’s a level of excitement … a chance to let loose in a real creative way.”

• Check www.ufv.ca/theatre for a festival schedule, or contact the box office at 604-795-2814 or theatre@ufv.ca for more information.



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