'It’s a beautiful part of the scene': UBC Players Club sells out Festival Dionysia

In an intimate corner of Granville Island’s art district, the UBC Players Club’s annual Festival Dionysia fills the Nest’s third floor auditorium, the group’s own little corner of the city’s theatre industry.

This year, the festival was quick to sell out. But as the UBC Players Club President Natasha Chew remarked, this wasn’t always the case. This year’s festival brought in some “big wins.”

“We’ve been growing,” Chew said. “There were times where we’ve had like 10 people in the audience and now we’ve basically almost sold out Dionysia on opening.”

The four-night lineup showcases six student-arranged productions.

Chew noted that there are not enough places in Vancouver that feature one-act plays — Festival Dionysia is doing its part to fill that gap. To leverage this endeavour, the festival may cast some of Vancouver’s general population, but ensures that current students and alumni are at the forefront.

“It’s a beautiful emerging arts festival,” said Chew. “I think it’s a beautiful part of the scene here.”

Chew also took on writing duties this year as the creator of Theatre Review, a one-act comedy where two rival journalists are forced to sit through a delightfully dilapidated production of The Great Gatsby. The notes of satirical humour and sprinkled-in dry innuendos had the crowd reeling within the first few dialogue exchanges.

“I love theatre, but I am also a staunch hater of theatre,” Chew joked. “I just wanted to explore that — how it feels to do something that is kind of pretentious but is also an act of resistance, historically speaking.”

And as such, this year’s program addresses some complex and heavy topics. In This Play is Unique, two generic theatre characters ponder hypotheticals, breaking character to grapple with their identities and rewrite the script of their play. An allegory for taking control of life’s trajectory? Perhaps.

But you would have been too absorbed in the wit and thoughtful dynamic between Character A and Character B — and the snarky stagehand that threatens to break the fourth wall — to wonder what philosophical depth this piece ventures into.

The most poignant act of the night was Red Skin Girl. It tells the story of an Indigenous girl failed by the local law enforcement and justice system. But it’s more than one story — the production addresses the ongoing violence against Indigenous women and two-spirited individuals in Canada.

“This play, for me at least, was an opportunity to talk about an issue that’s really close to my heart,” said the production’s director Ngaire Lyden-Elleray.

“It’s a really important story to tell because oftentimes these stories are not represented and they are purposefully shoved under the rug, they are not investigated by the police … and they are not talked about by the wider public because it’s an uncomfortable topic,” said Lyden-Elleray.

“It makes people confront the ways in which they are contributors or complacent in a system that commits violence.”

For Olivia Davis, her role as assistant director in the project helped her realize that the plight of missing and murdered Indigenous women and two-spirited people are not in the past, but ongoing, and hopes that the play will encourage the public to be more vocal and informed about the colonial system that we all exist under.

“I think it’s always difficult in theatre to ensure that you are producing things safely about complicated and challenging topics,” Chew said. “It was important to us that this was done right.”

Festival Dionysia is on until this Saturday, March 16.

A previous version of this article misspelled Ngaire Lyden-Elleray's name. The Ubyssey regrets this error.