Moving Canadian play comes ‘home’ to Rwanda

The high wail of grief is a universal note, a keening that transcends language, culture or custom, wrote Kelly Toughill in the Toronto Star July 28. The first time I heard that horrible song in this beautiful land was at Gisozi, a memorial for 800,000 people killed in the Rwandan genocide 14 years ago. A man sat on a low leather stool searching a wall of small black-and-white identity cards. Suddenly his back arched; he wailed long, then slumped over in sobs. 

The second time was in a small theatre tucked under a bar, beside a dry cleaner, remembered Toughill. War widow Mejra, played by actor Jacqueline Umubyeyi, cradled the corpse of her dead daughter, Ana, just dug up by Ana’s killer, a young soldier named Stetko. It was a scene from The Monument, a play about innocence, evil, responsibility and forgiveness. It is a very Rwandan story. It is also a very Canadian story, for Kigali’s newest stage production was written by Toronto playwright Colleen Wagner, and produced and directed by Canadian Jennifer Harszman Caprau.

Wagner completed The Monument a year before the Rwandan genocide even began. It has been translated into seven languages and staged around the world. Even so, many here are convinced that Wagner snuck into the country to research the play, or that she was actually here to witness the killings. "Even though Colleen had never been in Africa, the play is the history of Rwanda, of the genocide," says Jean Paul Uwayezu, who plays the lead role.  

Playwright Wagner, a professor of screenwriting in the Film Department at York University, travelled to Rwanda for the debut of her play. Even though it has been performed around the world, she says this production was special. "Rwanda is still recovering from a genocide. It is still so alive there. That was too great an opportunity to miss, to see The Monument done in that context. I had to come." 

The play shines a light on the role of women during and after war. Wagner said several women came up to thank her after the play. "Some were moved beyond words," she says. "Some women felt I was telling their story. Rwandans are not seeing it as a universal play, but it is an old, old story, and an ongoing story."  

Restaurateur may take medical marijuana feud to court

A Burlington, Ont., restaurant owner facing a human rights complaint for refusing to allow a patron with a medical marijuana licence to smoke outside his establishment said he plans to take the dispute to court, reported CanWest News Service July 28. Ted Kindos, owner of Gator Ted’s Tap and Grill, said he will seek a declaration from the Ontario Superior Court that the provincial laws – prohibiting marijuana possession or consumption in licensed establishments – trump former patron Steve Gibson’s right to light up.  

Alan Young, a professor at York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, says the dispute is venturing into uncharted waters because there hasn’t been a court case addressing where Canadians with medical marijuana exemptions are allowed to smoke. Young said the issue of “where” has been divisive in the medical marijuana community. “There are lots of patients that want to assert their right to smoke in public places and others think it is actually undercutting respectability of this growing movement because it looks like medical marijuana users are trying to acquire greater rights than ordinary citizens,” Young said. 

Filmmaker’s work to be screened at Toronto festival

Having one of her works screened at the Toronto International Film Festival is a long-time goal for Candice Day (BFA ’00). The Sault Ste. Marie native’s wait is over, reported the Sault Star July 26. TIFF’s Short Cuts Canada program will feature a Day-directed movie in September. "It’s sort of been a dream since I came to Toronto and to film school here," said the York University film graduate in a telephone interview.  

Day’s film, 106, was one of 38 picked from 549 submissions to be screened at the 33rd annual festival that ranks with Cannes as one of the biggest celebrations of film in the world. The five and a half-minute dark comedy about two warring centenarians was shot in her hometown in October and features Sault residents Ruth Williamson and Joan Richards. It’s the latest in a string of short films the York University film graduate has made in the Sault and area during the last decade.  

Student bikes to Mexico to support micro-lending Web site

In May, 24 Canadians – among them Philippe Murphy, 21, of Mississauga – set out from Vancouver to ride their bikes to Tijuana, Mexico, reported the Toronto Star July 26.  They’re raising money for the youth-run group Global Agents for Change, which in turn funds entrepreneurs supported by Kiva, the world’s first micro-lending Web site. In a cellphone interview as he rode up a hill in Oregon in early June, Murphy, who is studying global politics at York University, says he raised $3, 000 for the ride and hopes to hand most of it over to Global Agents for Change.  

Murphy is also a Kiva lender who has made loans to entrepreneurs, including a group of women in Guatemala that needed money to buy sewing machines to make clothes to sell in their community. "I’ve done a lot of research, and I’ve discovered that micro credit is a really useful tool in combating poverty. It’s sustainable because it’s a constant cycle," says Murphy. "When someone repays the loan you can keep giving.” 

Rachel McAdams started acting at summer camp

In the idyllic expanse of parkland that serves as the backyard of Huron University College, theatre is breaking out all around at London’s Original Kids Theatre Company, reported the National Post July 28. It was at this summer camp in the early 1990s that local teenager Rachel McAdams (BFA ’01) got hooked on acting. Years later, the native of nearby St. Thomas would break out as a major new Hollywood star, appearing in such movies as Mean Girls, The Wedding Crashers, Red Eye and The Family Stone.  

Though her formal training was at York University’s drama faculty, it seems she never forgot Original Kids and its summer camp, where her roles included one in a Woody Allen play called Death, and Shakespeare. "The following summer I did Greek classics and just got a real education in theatre in a very non-confrontational, fun way," she told an interviewer earlier this year. "And I guess that’s where I got bit." 

MBA grad rose from clerk to CFO of Royal Bank

Janice Fukakusa (MBA ’79)started her career as a payroll clerk in a jewellery store chain. Today, she has one of the rock-star jobs in Canadian business: chief financial officer of Royal Bank of Canada, reported The Globe and Mail July 28. It is not all glamour – not when a US subprime mortgage crisis triggers a global credit crunch and sends shares of major banks reeling. The secret is to keep rigorously informed, the 53-year-old accountant says, and learn from what has happened.  

Student entrepreneur sets up music business

The Summer Company, co-ordinated by the Ontario Ministry of Small Business and Entrepreneurship, aims to help young people establish a business and experience self-employment, reported the Oakville Beaver July 26. Before venturing to fulfill their customers’ needs, the participants are required to complete a business plan. Once their plan is accepted, the students are given $1,500 to start their business. But not before they talk to a mentor. 

According to York political science student Adrian Paris, owner of Oakville Music Lessons, mentor Robert White’s help was profound. "He helped me re-design a website, contact clients, and advertise," said the second-year political science student at York University. Paris said he got the idea of opening up his business after struggling to get piano lessons, himself. "I couldn’t drive. I had to get my dad to drive me around to and from. He couldn’t do it. I was looking, looking and couldn’t find anything. So I decided that I needed to start my own business to provide this service to the community."  

Theatre manager gives youngsters a chance to shine

Whether he’s working with professional actors or an ensemble of eight-year-olds, Tom Carson‘s underlying dramaturgical approach is the same, reported the Milton Canadian Champion July 26. "Acting is really about your own voice.” Busy commuting to his position as general and artistic manager of Toronto’s Smile Theatre until this past June – the only professional theatre company in Canada performing exclusively for seniors – the former York theatre student could only partially devote himself to launching a local acting academy. Now, Carson Productions is his full-time focus.  

Student finds her niche working with special-needs campers

This is the second summer Katy Harris, 19, has worked at Shadow Lake Centre, a camp owned and operated by Community Living Toronto, reported the Toronto Star July 28. A York University student, she plans a career teaching those with special needs. Working at Shadow Lake helped her decide her path. "It’s so amazing working here," Harris said. "And it’s more amazing that the guests remember you and are happy to see you. Working here has really changed my life."  

Suppression of abortion debate undermines academic freedom

Academic freedom used to be a hallmark of the Canadian university system, began a commentary in the London Free Press July 26. Today, academic freedom is under attack as never before, wrote freelance writer Rory Leishman. Consider, for example, the suppression of debate on abortion and the sanctity of human life. Earlier this year, the Canadian Federation of Students, an organization that purports to represent more than half a million students at more than 80 universities and colleges across Canada, expressed support for students’ unions that "refuse to allow anti-choice organizations access to their resources and space."  

In defending the adoption of this policy at York University, Gilary Massa, vice-president external for the York Federation of Students, explained that students will still be allowed to discuss abortion in student space, provided they do so "within a pro-choice realm." Massa sees no room for the discussion of abortion from a pro-life perspective. "These pro-life, these anti-choice groups, they’re sexist in nature," she insists. "The way that they speak about women who decide to have abortions is demoralizing. Is this an issue of free speech? No, this is an issue of women’s rights." 

That’s typical of campus censors: They are very sure that they have an infallible grasp of the truth, wrote Leishman. 

On air

  • Perry Sadorsky, an economics professor at York’s Schulich School of Business, discussed Bell Canada cutbacks, the Ford layoff, the GM Oshawa truck plant closure and Air Canada flight attendants’ protests over job cuts on CBC Radio’s “Here & Now” July 28.