Taking Flight, manatee sex and Canadian history

By Alicia Ward

Where can you find a show that will both entertain and provoke you to think? That makes you laugh as well as cry? How about a show that showcases acting, dancing and singing, too? This might seem like a tall order, but Taking Flight actually has it all.

Taking Flight: A Festival of Student Work has supported student efforts in directing, designing and performing since 2005. This year’s festival is noteworthy, though, for featuring a number of pieces created by students from scratch. Included among these are a staged reading, a performance that requires audience involvement, and a young-audiences piece.

Mating Season, a comedy work on the mating habits of manatees, was written and composed by U of C student Peter Vooys.

“It’s a big splashy musical with some really fun characters, some really intense action . . . some really catchy songs [and] a heart-warming message,” says Vooys.

The musical is a work in progress that Vooys wrote specifically for Taking Flight. It has been a challenging but exciting few months for the emerging artist.

“[Mating Season is a] chance to be at the first showing ever of something really wacky, new and exciting,” exudes Vooys.

Vooys was first inspired to write a piece about the ocean through Discovery Channel’s Planet Earth series. He was struck by the mating rituals of manatees. Once a year, a female manatee will mate with many male manatees in the span of two weeks instead of finding one partner.

Vooys was intrigued by the idea of one manatee ignoring instinct and choosing to couple off — and also thought that the promiscuity of the female manatees and the sex drive of the male manatees paralleled university life.

As for the musical aspect, fortunately Vooys discovered that manatees would have a reason to burst out in song onstage — they actually make noises based on their emotions and sensations.

“Bring your sense of humour and your sense of whimsy,” laughs Vooys.

But there’s something for the thinkers as well. Fair Liberties Call, by celebrated Canadian playwright Sharon Pollock, is set in 1785 New Brunswick when Canada was still a British colony. Historically, Loyalists — those who supported the monarchy — were tortured and publicly ridiculed. Many Loyalists were cast out of their homes and sent north to Nova Scotia in shoddy ships where there was land promised to them by the British government. Unfortunately, Nova Scotia was not prepared to accommodate so many people.

“Some of [the Loyalists] lived in tents for two or three years while they waited to get land allotments [that] they had been promised for being loyal to the King . . . they suffered, they really suffered,” explains director and U of C professor Dawn McCaugherty.

McCaugherty calls the time no less than “contentious.” She also believes that Canadians have a way of neglecting the controversial events of our history, which is why it remains so unknown.

“It’s about Canadian history and an aspect that a lot of people don’t know exists. I know in my social [studies] classes in high school I had no idea that any of this stuff happened,” confesses actor Jacob Mancini.

Mancini is a U of C drama student who has appeared in many mainstage productions. While acting in Fair Liberties Call, Mancini has had the opportunity to work in a new and very intimate on-campus performance space — the F.R. Matthews Theatre. Although small in size, the Matthews is a beautiful space that is able to lessen the void between actor and audience.

“I think a lot of people just look at the theatre downtown, the big shows, the big playbills. I think a lot more people could be coming out to smaller shows around the city . . . You can get really affordable shows, in smaller, more intimate theatres and get incredible work that is really worth watching,” explains Mancini.

In addition to this, McCaugherty knows that the performance will be relatable to modern audiences.

“It’s not just a historical drama,” she remarks. “I think it’s also about, you know, what do we fight for?”

For the first week in April, though, stage space is something U of C drama students won’t have to fight for — it’s all theirs.

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