University amalgamates drama dance and music departments

New school launches with multidisciplinary performance of Aesop’s Fables

There’s a fresh buzz in the halls of the University of Calgary’s new School of Creative and Performing Arts.

The school is an amalgamation of the former departments of drama dance and music that acting director Allan Bell who is also a music professor and composer describes as “halfway between a department and a faculty.”

“It’s bigger than a department and smaller than a faculty” he says adding that the school will exist under the broader Faculty of Arts.

While students will continue to receive focused training in their chosen discipline Bell says the amalgamation makes it possible for them to work together in new ways such as the multidisciplinary performance that will mark the school’s public debut.

The School of Creative and Performing Arts will launch with a production of Aesop’s Fables that incorporates drama dance and music. According to Bell the production marks the first time in at least 30 years the three disciplines have come together to collaborate on a single project.

“It’s a celebration of the performing arts” says director writer and drama professor Patrick Finn.

Of the hundreds of fables that are part of the Aesopic tradition Finn selected 18 for the one-hour production. Aesop was a slave and storyteller who lived in ancient Greece. While the hundreds of fables are often credited to him the collection actually includes stories from many different people around the world.

“They come from common people everyday people instead of rulers. They all have this plain spoken folksy charm” says Finn adding that animals are often the central characters in the stories.

The fables Finn chose for the university production include such gems as The Ant and the Grasshopper The Tortoise and the Hare The Lion and the Mouse and The Fox and the Crow . The production however will not involve literal retellings of those stories. Instead Finn says it presents “artistic explorations” of the fables and their underlying maxims.

“In no case are we trying to tell the story. We are exploring what the fable means as each one is an insight into human relationships” Bell adds.

Each fable is told through different combinations of artistic media employing the various skills of the cast’s four musicians four dancers and six actors. Some fables feature spoken narrative conveyed in either English French Polish or Spanish while some fables use none. A couple of the fables are expressed entirely through music composed by Bell while others are about dance and movement.

“We’re playing with the performing arts and are looking for ways to demonstrate virtuosity in performance” Finn says adding they even worked snippets from Shakespeare into the show.

There are also a number of projections used throughout the production. To help the show hang together as a cohesive whole Finn used Joseph Campbell’s The Hero’s Journey” as a framing device. Campbell was an American writer involved in the field of comparative mythology and religion who argued that mythical tales all follow the same basic pattern which he called “The Hero’s Journey.” The journey includes 17 steps to which Campbell assigned various titles including The Call to Adventure Supernatural Aid and Freedom to Live.

Each fable Finn selected for the university production aligns with a different step in the journey.

Bell and Finn say Aesop’s Fables is only the first of what they hope to be many interdisciplinary artistic collaborations.

“There’s a real buzz in the halls” says Bell. “Students are going to help educate each other and talk about the arts in a new and fresh way. The more they encounter each other the more the sparks will fly.”

Over the next few months there will also be an international search to find a director for the school. “We’re going to be hiring someone who is a major figure in the arts” Bell says adding that the candidate will need to be intimately familiar with at least two of the three performing arts disciplines. “We want to be a real crucible for creative thought.”