Bill Chesney draws out history

Monday, July 16, 2018

scale model of a theatrical setBill Chesney has the longest history of anyone in the department. He became faculty just a few years after the Department of Communication Arts was officially created.Prior to joining the faculty he began his career in professional theatre as a set and costume designer and scenic artist and has continued to work professionally for more than thirty years with companies such as Theatre Aquarius (Hamilton), Lighthouse Theatre Festival (Port Dover), Victoria Playhouse (Petrolia), Drayton Theatre Festival, Centaur Theatre (Montreal) and the Manitoba Theatre for Young People (MTYP).

This summer, Bill’s main project has been working along side fellow colleagues, Jennifer Roberts-Smith and Paul Cegys.  Their project is based on the Nova Scotia Home for Coloured Children. It was founded and run by the black community in Nova Scotia from the early 1920’s until the late 1990’s. 

black and white line drawing of the School for Colored ChildrenThe project – Digital Oral Histories for Reconciliations (DOHR) is a virtual reality experience that will be presented to grade eleven students in Nova Scotia. This restorative justice project is based on the oral recollections of the experience of three adults who were residents in the home as children. The purpose of the VR experience is to “make real” the experiences these three adults had and will put the students into the environment. It is being designed to help the students reflect on how such a situation could come about.

As part of the creative team, Bill has been trying to learn as much as he can about the design style and the era, based on the memories of the survivors.  Bill spent a week in Nova Scotia for an intense, immersive experience that involved in-person conversations and a 360-degree video of the three adults at the house, sharing their recollections.  Bill has had to adjust his design approach, in order to truly honour the memories and link the set to other aspects of the project. 

He stated:

Every object has a story to tell; it has its own history and can contribute to the emotional impact of the story.

In his spare time Bill has been honing his skills as a portraitist. He draws portraits of his family and friends.  He used these skills for the project and has created portraits of the three survivors. 

Pencil sketch of a woman lying on a bed