In my year-long run as arts and life editor here at this wonderful publication, I've learned two very important things — firstly, that society looks down on artists in a deplorable way and secondly, that Ryerson's artists and creative types don't give a fuck about that.
Whether they're actors, dancers, musicians, creative technicians, painters, poets, spoken word artists, graphic designers, writers or illustrators, the thousands of talented people that walk this campus every day will keep doing what they love despite the potential roadblocks. They know, even if the rest of society doesn't, that the arts have been (and still are) vital in shaping us individually and as a species.
In our recent Breaking In series, we looked closely at the process of finding a job in the industry after graduating from a theatre program and the stigma that surrounds the profession. Overwhelmingly, we found that, yes, students thought about the difficulties they faced in finding work, but still weren't willing to give up doing something they loved.
We've written about photographers who challenge our notions of sexuality, fashion students who redefine physical (dis)ability and actors who reinvent what it means to be yourself.
Creating, in any capacity, is an intensely personal activity, and it takes a certain kind of person to be able to do it well. The arts can speak volumes about social issues, injustice, technology and emotion. Art has been around for tens of thousands of years and has evolved with us to the point where technology and art are sometimes not all that different.
We've brought together a variety of individuals and groups who are creating despite the odds. From actors who throw themselves into another persona, to photographers who document the movement of life, to those who aim to show the beauty in huge amounts of information, the list is extensive. This issue is for them, and for everyone who strives to create.
— Leah Hansen
Josh Doig is in his fourth year of Ryerson's dance program, but his journey began at age 10, at home with his family in Peterborough, Ont.
"After dinner, [my family] would all sit in the living room, just listening to the radio and I would get up and start dancing," he said.
Doig's father insisted his son harness this creative energy and apply it to formal training.
"No Dad, no! Dancing is for girls," he remembers protesting. But he started taking classes, and 12 years later, he has devoted his life to it.
Doig started with hip hop, then jazz and contemporary and eventually started competing.
Theatre was also a big part of his life, and he said he enjoyed acting more than dancing. When it came time to choose a university, he applied to both the dance and acting programs at Ryerson.
After his dance audition, he was accepted on the spot.
"It was at that moment where I had to choose, either acting or dancing," he said.
He was encouraged by his parents to pursue dance, but said he did not consider himself very good at it. He went for it anyway.
Upon his arrival at Ryerson, Doig said he felt behind his peers. They had competed more and had a more extensive dance background, especially in ballet.
Despite his initial doubts about his qualifications, Doig managed to build up a resumé. He has been in Ryerson Dances every year since his second, appearing in William Yong's Circus, Louis Laberge-côté's Arteriae Mantises and Vicki St. Denys' Mingus: Reminiscing in Tempo. Last spring he showcased his own choreography in Choreographic Works and said he hopes to again this year. He can be seen in Cinderella, for the second year in a row, from Nov. 25-30.
Being a student in the performance dance program brings a different lifestyle than that of your typical university student. You won't find Doig in the library, rifling through a textbook or with his face buried in a laptop.
But on any given week, Doig spends more than 40 hours in classes and rehearsals.
He spent last summer at the Charlottetown Festival in Prince Edward Island, appearing in Anne of Green Gables and Canada Rocks, where he was awarded a scholarship for voice training from the festival. This was his first taste of professional work. He said it was a "huge eye-opener" and that this could be the career for him.
"Ideally, I'd like to see myself go the distance, go to Broadway," Doig said. But, like any job, he expects to start from the bottom and work his way up.
When you want to find out what's trending on Twitter, you usually look at the list on the left of your tweets. But what if instead of looking at Twitter, you could see a small robot moving in reaction to those tweets? That is what Alex Basso, Raymond Chen, Albert Cuartero and Raphael Angoulan, a group of third-year new media students, have created: a robot that reacts to what people are tweeting about.
These robots are called Hexapods. They each have six legs, stand at four inches in height and move based on what's trending on Twitter. The programming comes from a central processing chip known as Arduino; it is a small microprocessor that feeds on data and can react physically to the world around it. The coding for it is open source — which means anybody can access it if they want to — and is popular with many DIY projects, just like Hexapods.
Eventually, there will be multiple robots moving and interacting in a group, said Basso, each one with its own personality and reaction to what's going on in the Twittersphere. Together, they present a unique way to look at huge amounts of information.
The group came together in a second-year new media course called Art and Application for Physical Computing in which the final project required groups to create something robotic.
"Originally, we wanted to create a robot for each of us and have it react based on our personalities. But by the time the assignment was due, we were only able to have one prototype ready," Basso says.
But Hexapods didn't stop there. They decided to apply to the Transmedia Zone with their project. This zone is a multi-disciplinary space in the Rogers Communication Centre where students receive resources and guidance in order to better tell stories using digital media.
"The Zone has given us a place to collaborate with those in other fields to look at our project with a different set of eyes and also give us feedback on it," says Cuartero.
The original prototypes were built using laser-cut wood tape, but the group found another person in the Zone who knew how to model parts for 3D printers. Now, they will have their bots built with a much sturdier plastic material. Through the Zone, they have also found an intern, first-year new media student Gabrielle Pangan.
Although the group has spent a lot of time developing and honing the technology, Basso says they don't plan to capitalize on the project. Instead, they want Hexapods to get publicity with those in the tech world, like early adopters.
"[Hexapod] is more of an artistic and tech thing that's cool to do. In new media, there are people known as early adopters. These are the people who like DIY projects and like to take a chance on technologies and ideas that haven't got a foothold quite yet in modern societies. They like to go head-on with technology regardless of a few bugs," Basso says.
In a world where information and news is demanded as it occurs, Twitter has become an online platform where anyone can share and learn. Instead of just reading about the news, you may now also be able to see the news move in front of you with a six-legged robot carrying the message.
It's one thing to get up on a stage and perform, but for Allister Macdonald, acting is a platform for expression.
The third-year performance acting student scored the role of the stepmother in Ryerson Theatre School's (RTS) holiday pantomime Cinderella at the end of November. It's a role that allows him to explore a "monstrous" feminine side, he said, while donning big red lashes, wide hips and a black -and-white beehive wig.
While this isn't his first experience in a drag role, it's not the only end of the spectrum he's familiar with. Macdonald has played a wide variety of roles in both classical and contemporary plays, including three different roles in Jonathan Larson's Rent in three different cities.
Macdonald spent this past summer in Greece participating in a program with RTS acting and dance students. He got some great experience while he was there, he said, working 12 hours a day, six days a week, and performing in classical Greek plays and poetry pieces.
He said he sees theatre as a "safe space" that allows him to explore himself in ways unique to each role.
"It's where I trust myself enough to push my limitations," he said. "How far I can go depends on the world of the play."
His dream role is to play Hedwig in Hedwig and the Angry Inch, written by Stephen Trask and John Cameron Mitchell. Macdonald describes Hedwig as a bold androgynous character who lives by zero limitations but is also lost and hurt. He says he's drawn to this role because of the creative and expressive freedom within it.
"You can push all the envelopes while still telling a beautiful story," he said.
There is a possibility to lose yourself in a big city and feel overwhelmingly small, Macdonald said, but growing up in small town on Cape Breton Island left him grounded enough to see past it.
"I've come here to explore myself to the fullest," he said.
When Lauren Riihimaki uploaded her first YouTube video, she never expected that her life would change in so many ways. A million views later, Riihimaki finds herself the centre of quite a bit of attention.
LaurDIY is Riihimaki's YouTube channel which, in addition to her blog and website, was professionally created to give tutorials for fun and interesting do-it-yourself tasks that readers and viewers can do from the comfort of their own home.
Now reining in over a million subscribers, she says she did not see it coming. "I'm pretty sure most YouTubers don't even think about the potential attention they could receive when making their first video," Riihimaki said.
The majority of the Toronto native's popular videos attract repeated views. She's also had a consistent increase in subscriptions that have made the Ryerson student a model for all aspiring vloggers.
Riihimaki is in her final year of the graphic communications management program at Ryerson and, at 21 years old, is taking full advantage of being a YouTube sensation. "I'll 100 per cent finish school because I'm nearing my final semester, but the YouTube industry is really booming right now," Riihimaki says. "I'll definitely see where this takes me."
Having just moved into a new apartment downtown and feeling inspired about the city and what it has to offer, Riihimaki is hesitant to disclose too much about the future.
"As soon as I'm doing this full time in April of 2015, I have some big plans that I'm really excited to start working on," she said.
Prior to the YouTube edition of LaurDIY, Riihimaki only had her blog to express her creative side.
"The lack of creative elements in the program really pushed me to start the channel — but other than that, [the program and the channel are] very opposite."
As far as the videos go, Riihimaki shoots and edits nearly everything on her own.
"I don't have an official team, but I do have an accountant, a manager and a boyfriend who handles my Glidecam," Riihimaki says. "I don't think I'll ever have anyone helping out with the creative elements of the process, my channel is my baby and it would be impossible to give up total control."
Although Riihimaki seems anything but uncomfortable in front of a camera, she says some things about the process have changed.
"When you start making videos you feel awkward because you're basically talking to yourself with a camera," she says. "Now, when I record the video I know it's just a delayed conversation with my viewers."
Today, Riihimaki has settled into her role and knows what subscribers want. "You begin to learn how they will react to your content, your humour and your personality," she said. "I feel like I've made 1.1 million friends."
Earlier this semester, award-winning student photographer Paige Lindsay was on a bus to Montreal to check out exhibits with fellow Ryerson students.
"When we were on the bus there was a joke that we'd crash and the AIMIA award-winning photographer would be the only casualty mentioned in the paper," said Andrew Savery-Whiteway, a fourth-year photography student.
"And my mom would cut out the article and put it on the fridge because she'd be proud I was mentioned in the paper," said Lindsay, carrying on the joke.
Lindsay, 24, is from Victoria, B.C. She picked up a camera as a way to pass the time after dropping out of the University of Victoria's general studies program. She started by taking close-up shots of flowers and later developed an interest in documenting trips. She has been writing all her life but it wasn't until last year that she thought to combine the two passions, she said. Lindsay began creating hybrid works, melding text and images together to create something unique.
The combination proved a success as it won her the AIMIA|AGO Photography Prize this past autumn. The award included $7,000 toward tuition and put her work on display at the Art Gallery of Ontario's community gallery.
There was a time when Lindsay worried that she was always looking at the world through a lens, she said. She added that she felt it was preventing her from interacting with the world in front of her. She grew to benefit from this perspective, crediting the camera for helping her notice the things that are often overlooked.
This is explored in Where did you come from?, a project that contains photographs of items Lindsay has stumbled upon while walking the streets of Toronto. These finds include items such as a shopping list or an apple core.
"Even if you walk down the street a hundred times, on this particular day there might be something different that you see," she said, "and that is the magic of the big city for me."
Yara Kashlan isn't your average journalism student. She is the author of two independently published children's books.
Kashlan's first book, written for a creative writing assignment in English class, is titled Curry, Sushi and Falafel. The story teaches children about cultural acceptance and encourages them to try new foods. She got the idea when her sister came home from school one day, sad that others teased her about her lunch.
"It's the perfect time to teach [kids] these kinds of values," she said. The aim of her books is to both entertain and educate.
Kashlan created Aray Creative Publishing, last summer when she applied for a $1,500 government grant for new business startups. Since Kashlan undertakes all the marketing and promotion herself, the grant has been instrumental in the success of her company.
A month after publishing Curry, Sushi and Falafel, Kashlan published her second book, Messy Little Missy. Since then she has read her books at local schools and recently had a book signing at Chapters in Burlington, Ont.
She even went to read Curry, Sushi and Falafel at her sister's school.
She says the best part of reading her book to children is when they laugh, because no matter the age, everyone gets the message of her book.
"The message is universal," she says. "Acceptance and diversity."
Andrew Grella is a Ted Rogers School of Management entrepreneurship grad who is trying to take men's makeup and facial care mainstream with his brand Man Up, a line of skincare products tailored specifically for men.
Man Up stems from Grella's entrepreneurial spirit and a personal experience with skincare that left Grella feeling at a disadvantage. He figured that there was no reason men couldn't use some of the same products women have at their disposal.
"Men buy these products, just not in person," he said. "They buy them online, in the middle of the night."
Grella took his idea to Ryerson's Fashion Zone, one of the school's six incubators. The move paid off — Man Up products opened their first physical storefront at the end of 2013 in The Patron Saint, a fashion boutique inside the Thompson Hotel.
His most popular item is a shine remover — certainly not traditional "makeup," but something that's close enough that he hopes willchange social perceptions around men's makeup.
"There are small groups of men who are beginning to wear makeup," Grella says. "They just need their friends to think it's okay first."
While many of Grella's clients are international, there is certainly a push towards men wearing makeup, especially here in Toronto. You don't need to look far to find men wearing small applications -— nail polish in particular — and not only on members of Toronto's fashion and design industries.
"Man Up's products skew more towards skincare than makeup," Grella said. He is adamant that people distinguish between the two. "These men are buying these products in secret, just to try them."
It's only a matter of time before men's skincare and makeup goes mainstream and starts being sold in larger retailers such as Shopper's Drug Mart and Sephora. And it appears that Grella is aiming to be leading the trend.
"There's another company doing what I do, but they're in New York and no one knows who the founder is. He keeps his identity a secret," Grella said of his competition. "But here at Man Up, it's all me."
Behind a quiet exterior, Siavash Vazirnezami is alive with explosive vision.
Originally from Iran, the second-year master of architecture student anticipates the day he marks the city with his innovative building concepts: a style of incorporating the old with the new.
"Architecture is an incredible niche," he said. "Somewhere between art and engineering."
Vazirnezami is the artist behind the Atlas Project, an independent piece featured in Nuit Blanche 2014.
"Exploring art from an architectural standpoint is amazing," he said. "For an architect, the beauty is not just the art itself but the process of its construction, the quality of the materials used, the science behind it."
The interactive piece is composed of triangular fractals, luminescent in the night sky. Based on the visitor's movements logged by hidden motion detectors, a façade of three human faces changed to convey one of a wide range of programmed expressions.
Vazirnezami describes Atlas as an unwrapping or unfolding of a complex geometry.
"This concept of unfolding was what was really interesting to us," he said. "We thought this complexity in different geometries [could be] related to the complexity of thought. The fact that we had this surface of triangles was a conceptual gesture at this complexity."
But for Vazirnezami, the piece's beauty lays in its structure.
"What was going on in the back of the actual art piece was just as interesting to me, as an architect, as the front was to the audience."
With a dream of making his mark on the world, Vazirnezami carves himself a name in the realm between art and architecture.
What do you do if you're musically talented at Ryerson? Musicians@Ryerson (M@R) has the answer.
As the university's only student group for musicians, M@R hosts events, helps musicians find potential bandmates and offers an important platform for anyone who needs an outlet for their talents.
The group was started in 2012 by Eli Vandersluis, who graduated in June this year. Victor Copetti, a third-year urban planning student, took over as president at the beginning of the fall semester.
Although Copetti has always been involved in music in some way — playing piano and participating in a choir as a kid — he only became heavily interested in music when he picked up a guitar in high school. By that point, he said, it was too late to take serious lessons.
"But then, when I came to university and found Musicians@Ryerson, it really came back and it's a big passion now," he said.
After being involved with the group for so long, Copetti said the most rewarding part is finding hidden talent.
"It happens with people who have never come out before, they're a little nervous but then they get up there and they blow you away," he said, calling them "musical surprises."
There's no limit on what kind of musical talent you bring to the table, he said. The group has supported events from classical string quartets to DJ sets in the past.
"We kind of cater to the widest range of musicians and people possible because there's not a music program at the school, but there are tons of people who are really into music," said Anita Cazzola, vice president of M@R. "We try to provide as many opportunities for performance and for networking between musicians so that people can still live with their passion for music."
Events M@R has held in the past include multiple "Battle of the Bands" nights, a darkness concert benefiting the Canadian National Institute for the Blind and many open mic nights.
M@R social chair Justin Bellmore said that there is a large number of musically-inclined Ryerson students who don't have an outlet.
"[M@R] is like a safe haven for musical talent on campus that just goes unrecognized by the university," he said. "The best part is I get to bring in these people who have low confidence, they're [in] first year and I get to see them leave in third or fourth year as accomplished musicians."
Although the group has only been around since 2012, the M@R Facebook page currently boasts 942 members. The group hopes to reach 1,000 by the end of the school year, Cazzola said.
"It's known by people who don't even go to the school," she said. "It's really cool to be a part of it."