Celebrated playwright takes the reigns of U of C drama

By Nicole Dionne

There’s nothing that mimics life as graphically, or as realistically as theatre,” says new head of University of Calgary drama department, Clem Martini.

An award-winning playwright, screenwriter and writer of short fiction, he’s been a professor at the University of Calgary for a number of years, prior to his new position. With this experience, he’s ready to show the city what his department has to offer.

“I think that we have every right to be proud of the kind of influence and impact that the U of C has had on the cultural sector in this city and in this province,” he says. “We have a responsibility to continue that kind of momentum.”

It’s a very interesting time for the drama department. The department has an immense reservoir of talent, passion and graduates continuously emerge into the Calgary and Alberta theatre scenes, become involved in various capacities at a wide range of theatre companies or found their own.

“I like to think that this is the incubator,” Martini explains. “We have people who come in and their career gestates here and when they leave, you only have to look at any theatre to see U of C graduates either acting, designing, but often running and founding companies.”

But much of the U of C’s infrastructure is grossly disproportionate to the scope of production expected from a university. Considering the prosperity present in the province, this is especially disconcerting.

“[The present government doesn’t] understand and don’t really get what the arts are about,” he says. “They don’t understand how intimately connected to creating and developing a culture the arts are and how irresponsible it is to simply decide to purchase culture.”

Following the completion of his BFA, Martini was promptly admitted into the playwriting program at the National Theatre School as part of the first round of students to be accepted. After being the program’s first graduate, he went on to complete a collaborative program at the National Screen Institution, working in part with the National Film Board of Canada.

Since then, he’s been an active member of the theatre community at various local, provincial and national levels. He’s been an artistic associate at Lunchbox Theatre and remains their most produced playwright. He was the president of the Playwrights Guild of Canada for two years and remains an active member of the executive. He’s even had time to pen several published texts of both fiction and non-fiction.

“There’s not much room for the specialist,” Martini says. “There’s instead a growing demand for people who are able to communicate across disciplines, to be fluent in different disciplines to be able to use them, and sometimes to blend them. Robert Lepage is a good example of the kind of artist in that he’s very new millennium. [Lepage is] a person who has one foot in film, one foot in theatre, one foot in the visual arts . . . which makes him a three-footed person.”

As in any other faculty, fine art departments need to be able to create programs that are able to adequately provide students with the skills necessary for the careers they will be persuing. Universities hold an advantage over other academic institutions because they are able to offer a much broader background. Martini says students are better able to utilize the talents multiple faculties offer, allowing them to appreciate the craft in an interdisciplinary manner.

“It’s that kind of fluency that one wants to achieve and consequently, we have a responsibility to introduce our students to dance, to new media, to all of the forms that they will use, ultimately, when they go out into the world,” says Martini.

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