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Alchemy Festival turns student creativity into gold

By Nikayla Goddard, March 23 2018 —

Coming up on its fifth anniversary, the University of Calgary’s School of Creative and Performing Arts (SCPA) continually strives to proudly showcase student works in all its encompassed disciplines — music, dance and drama.

Traditionally, the annual Taking Flight Festival has been a way to showcase drama performances. This year, the SCPA is rebuilding the festival with a new name. The result is the Alchemy Festival, which runs from March 22 – April 11.

SCPA director Bruce Barton says the name Alchemy was chosen in consultation with each discipline to reflect the creation, refining and transformation of students’ work.

“Alchemy is historically used to describe the [fictional] process where ordinary, everyday metals were turned into extremely expensive ones, like gold,” Barton explains. “We really liked the idea of this festival taking the hard work and dedication of the students and through a process of transformation, turning it into really valuable riches.”

This is particularly reflected in the new focus on interdisciplinary projects. Rather than creating exclusively dramatic, musical or dance pieces, students are welcomed and encouraged to incorporate other disciplines to enhance their work.

Meredith Taylor-Parry, an MFA playwriting student, wrote When She Was Good, an example of a drama piece that incorporates live music. A play about the darker side of motherhood, When She Was Good invites a violinist onstage to partake in a conversation through music. Rather than giving them scored music, Taylor-Parry provides the musician emotions or punctuation that result in a conversation with the actor on stage. For her, the creation of Alchemy as an interdisciplinary festival meant it was important for her to involve another discipline in her play.

“I think it’s pretty fantastic that they’ve managed to involve three disciplines,” Taylor-Parry says. “It encourages me as a drama student to get out to some of the other performances [and] it encourages us as students to try to bring in interdisciplinary elements.”

Zach McKendrick, an MFA theatre directing student, is directing Trafford Tanzi, a play written by Claire Luckham about the trials of being a woman in a patriarchal society. However, it’s not a conventional piece of theatre. The performance is set within a wrestling ring and the set includes a live band, a bar and an interactive component where audience members, who play the role of the onlookers watching the wrestling match, are encouraged to cheer and boo.

Unique, interactive plays like Trafford Tanzi definitely fit within Alchemy, which McKendrick describes as “three weeks full of awesome, new, engaging artwork.

“You get theatre, dance and music — something there for everyone,” he says.

The festival exhibits a wide variety of performances of both undergrad and graduate work. According to McKendrick, it “is a great way to see and support a lot of the arts on campus that not a lot of people get out to.” The Claim Your Seat program is also available at this festival, where U of C students can show up 15–45 minutes before the performance and claim a seat at no cost.

In the end, student-led events allow for the showcasing of entirely student-made art. The evolution from Taking Flight to Alchemy reflects the changing nature of both the performers themselves and the SCPA.

“We’re really still figuring out — as we will for a long time — exactly what we are and what we’re becoming,” Barton says.

The festival runs from March 22 to April 11. A schedule of performances and tickets are available on the SCPA’s website.

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