Article about SFU Public Square & Urban Conspiracy Cabaret
published in The Peak, The Student Newspaper of Simon Fraser University
on September 17, 2012

Read article online

When ‘friend’ becomes a verb
Urban Conspiracy Cabaret tackles isolation and disconnection.

In an increasingly global city, urban society, and interactive culture, why do we feel more isolated than ever? Vancouver has a bad reputation for being unfriendly and unengaged.

“Isolation and disconnection in the urban environment is an issue that requires a different approach to find solutions,” explained Shauna Sylvester, executive director of SFU Public Square. The Vancouver Foundation tackled this question with a survey of nearly 4,000 residents of Metro Vancouver, resulting in the June 2012 report on Community and Engagement. It revealed a “powerful yearning for stronger connections in and between our communities.” SFU Public Square also launched in June to address SFU’s new vision as “engaging the world,” and features an annual summit focusing on a local or international issue of public concern.

After the Vancouver Foundation’s report was released in June, coordinators began to discuss what a week of activities and discussions around this topic could look like. Open conversations, community display space, dialogues and panels, and even a film festival were all in the mix. The Alone Together: Connecting in the City summit runs from Sept. 18–24, 2012, and is no conventional conference, with 11 distinct events.

Am Johal, community engagement coordinator of SFU Woodward’s cultural unit, and Michael Boucher, director of cultural development and programming at SFU’s School for the Contemporary Arts, also wanted to see how the creative community explored these themes of engagement, connection, and citizenship.

“Artists, comedians, musicians,” Johal explained, “all take a less didactic approach [compared to academics].”

Enter the CBC Debaters’s Richard Side and Charles Demers, throw in a few local artists of poetry, music, and performance, and you’ve got The Urban Conspiracy Cabaret: an entertaining evening of arts for civic change, political engagement, and comedy. The cabaret program will allow each performer 10 minutes, with comedic interludes from Richard and Charles.

“With Charlie and Richard you can only script so much,” Johal laughed.

Performers include poet Colin Browne, jazz musician Paul Keeling, Balinese music ensemble Gamelan Gita Asmara, soul and blues band High Society, Vancouver singer-songwriter Veda Hille, and theatre group Project Limelight. Composed of performance-driven kids, Project Limelight launched in January 2012. It was conceived by two sisters to give back to the community after their mother passed away, and has partnered with the School of Contemporary Arts to offer performing arts education in the Strathcona neighbourhood. Johal warned not to underestimate the talent of Project Limelight just because they’re kids — “they’re not amateurs.”

The Urban Conspiracy Cabaret takes place Thursday, Sept. 20, 2012 at 7:30 pm at the Fei & Milton Wong Experimental Theatre, in the Goldcorp Centre for the Arts at SFU Woodward’s. Tickets are only $10 online or at the door, and include drinks and mingling before and after.