Learning is at the heart of Phoenix plays

Fine Arts

- Adrienne Holierhoek

Theatre students Lucy Sharples, Sophie Chappell and Sara Jean Valiquette in a scene from Crimes of the Heart, which opens at UVic’s Phoenix Theatre on Feb. 15. Photo: Victoria Timmis.

Just like a family, Department of Theatre students know how to pull together during a time of need. While audiences watch a play for enjoyment, each Phoenix Theatre production is a hands-on learning opportunity for up to 150 students enrolled in 10 to 15 different courses.

Such is the case with Pulitzer Prizewinner Crimes of the Heart (Feb. 15–24), in which the Magrath sisters return home after years of going their separate ways. Meg pursued her Hollywood dreams; Babe married an ambitious lawyer; and Lenny remained at their grandaddy’s side in Mississippi. Now reunited, hilarity and a few inappropriate giggle fits ensue as personalities clash, relationships evolve and deep wounds are soothed by the tenderness of family.

At the heart of the Phoenix production is the Victorian-era Magrath family kitchen, complete with running water, working toasters and southern charm. Designed by fifth-year student Stefanie Mudry, the set represents months of research: creating models, drawing blueprints and designing the colour pallet to see her ideas realized on stage.

Third-year student Madeline Lee’s costumes, inspired by research into 1970s fashions, are managed during the play’s run by a team of students who ensure they remain pristine and exactly as the designer envisioned.

But that’s just part of what the audience sees. As well as two or three weeks of performances, student actors commit to six weeks and over 150 hours of rehearsal—far more rigorous than any other course.

Actors also investigate their characters through intensive research. “The text reflects how a person from that time and place would speak,” says fourth-year student Lucy Sharples, who plays Babe. “It’s more real than anything I’ve done before.”

Theatre professor and director Peter McGuire challenged his actors to capture the complex relationships of sisterhood.

I’ve got five sisters, so when I watch these characters interacting—loving each other, fighting—I think, that’s me sitting in our kitchen watching my sisters coping with their lives. Whether they’re working or not working, functioning or not, at the heart of sibling relationships is love.
Director Peter McGuire

McGuire chose this play with the students in mind, aiming to offer richer roles for the women actors in the department. “It’s a 35-year-old play, but the news has shown us that it’s more important than ever to tell women’s stories,” he says.

Sharples agrees, but says the play offers even more. “Yes, the play is set in a time when women are lacking agency—we still struggle with this today—but it shows us that in times of sadness, fear, hate and suppression, we can still find hope.”


In this story

Keywords: theatre, phoenix, alumni

People: Peter McGuire

Publication: The Ring

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