Photo: Courtesy of Derek Price.
Reading Time: 3 minutes

The sixth annual undercurrents festival is taking place Feb. 10-20 at the Arts Court, featuring a selection of original and contemporary theatrical productions from local and visiting artists, including numerous University of Ottawa students, alumni, and professors.

To give you a taste of what the festival is offering this year, we’ve previewed two of the nine unique shows, one featuring a current U of O student and the other featuring an established alumni. Listen to Me and Getting to Room Temperature are both opening on Feb. 10, the first day of the festival, and run until the final day. You can read our preview on Listen to Me here. 

Find more information on how to get tickets and about the other shows in the festival here. Students with valid ID can purchase “pay what you can” tickets at the door if not sold out in advance.

U of O alumnus stars in local theatre piece exploring assisted suicide

Based on the true story of his own mother’s death, Getting to Room Temperature, written and directed by Arthur Milner and starring University of Ottawa theatre alumnus Robert Bockstael, will premiere at this year’s undercurrents festival.

The play is inspired by Milner’s experience with his mother’s decision to pursue assisted suicide after getting a lung infection at 94-years-old that left her with no chance of recovery. After telling Milner about her decision, it sent him on a journey to learn about death and assisted suicide. When she passed away, he decided to write a play about his experience.

Bockstael describes the one-man play as “a melding of fireside storytelling mixed with a TED talk mixed with an honest discussion.”

Milner and Bockstael have known each other for many years, and although Bockstael had retired from theatre, he agreed to perform in the play directed by his friend, especially after reading the script for the first time.

“I was moved to tears and I was brimming with laughter,” says Bockstael. “My heart was affected on every level.”

As both men have been heavily involved in the Ottawa theatre scene, they thought the undercurrents festival would be a perfect time and place to premiere the play.

Bockstael says the play has a unique structure to it, unlike anything he’s ever done, which fits well with the festival’s theme of “original, contemporary theatre.” Although it was a challenge to do a solo show, Bockstael says that it was “a joy to rediscover the theatre.”

The show also deals with a timely issue, following Carter v Canada, the 2015 Supreme Court case concerning assisted suicide. Both men say that they are not doing the show for money or publicity, but because death, and especially assisted suicide, are significant issues that are difficult, but vital, to talk about.

“We’re trying to tell an important and universal story,” says Bockstael.

According to a Feb. 2015 Globe and Mail article on the Supreme Court ruling that Canadians have the right to assisted suicide, those suffering from irremediable physical or psychological conditions are put in difficult situations where their only options are taking their own life prematurely through dangerous means, or suffering until they die of natural causes, which the court called a “cruel” choice.

Although the official laws have not yet been passed, except for in Quebec, doctor-assisted suicide should be passed in the House of Commons and become legal by June 2016, according to a CBC article from Jan. 2016.

Although the topic of death is a universal one, Milner says that people in previews have found the show surprising. The biggest surprise, he says, is how much they laugh.

“In order to get through death, we need laughter to balance out the sadness,” says Bockstael.

Following the performance of the play, there will be a question and answer period following two of the performances that will allow the audience to engage in a discussion about death, and open up and share stories about their own experiences.

Although death is far from a funny subject, this sharing period could be the place where people have the opportunity to laugh about their experiences and finally “balance out the sadness,” as Bockstael says.


  • Spring 2022: Desiree Nikfardjam Fall 2021: Zofka Svec 2020-2021: Aisling Murphy 2019-2020: Ryan Pepper 2018-2019: Iain Sellers 2017-2018: Ryan Pepper