Muleba Chailunga, a third year UBC student, was leaving her residence apartment when she saw a poster for the Student Art and Animation Fund by her elevator doors. The fund was made possible by UBC Giving Day donors, empowers student artists, performers, and place makers to animate UBC’s public spaces through their craft. With up to $5000 dollars available, the grant allows students to enrich outdoor areas, foster community, and create spaces of healing and reflection.
As a Theatre Design and Production Bachelor + Master of Management dual degree student at UBC, Muleba was captivated by the grant's ability to bring her art to life. Craving a creative project, she decided to apply for a personal project of hers called “The Conception of Summer,” a musical performance centered around joy, love, and light, with diversity and inclusion in the centerfold of the production. I met with Muleba personally to learn more about her, and what inspired the story she hopes to tell.
Growing up, Muleba was never afraid to take center stage. Her loud personality often led her teachers to appoint her as the lead in school plays, and this trend continued throughout her early education. In high school, Muleba started to become interested in the behind-the-scenes work – the lighting, set design, costumes. She was fascinated with the sense of community her peers backstage seemed to have. Out of this interest, Muleba began exploring various artistic channels, such as choir arrangement, costume design, and even writing and directing her own plays. Although initially convinced she wanted to be a neuroscientist, she found herself drawn to Theatre, as it provided a refuge for her that was different from the academic path she was pursuing. Hoping for the best, Muleba changed her mind at the last minute and decided to apply to UBC’s Theatre program, completely on a whim.
Since this decision was incredibly last minute, it took Muleba a few years to figure out what she loved the most about Theatre, and her program at UBC let her explore just that. Through classes ranging from acting to costume design, she found solace in writing for the stage, and her confidence began to grow as she realized – not only was she enjoying herself, but she was also feeling inspired and excelling. As part of the programs self-study, she began developing her own personal musical – The Conception of Summer.
The Conception of Summer – What's it all about?
Muleba’s musical takes place at the start of civilization and features two love stories: between light and heat, and farmer and inventor. Through tackling topics such as burnout, supporting your loved ones, and connection, Muleba hopes to create a story that everyone can connect to. As such, she is determined to be diverse and inclusive in her production: “It just makes logical sense; It's a story about the First of humankind – so the actors need to look like everybody’s ancestors.” She goes on to note that, “[She is] aware that if [she] don’t make a big stink about representation in [her] own work, as someone who’s very passionate about it, how can [she] expect anyone else to?”
As a black woman in the media Industry, Muleba also touched on how she feels a sense of isolation in the community, stating: “it has always been my experiences that I am one of few black people in a theatre space or school. My first thought when seeing a minority is always ‘where were you?’”
Muleba is also determined to feature actors who are deaf as a part of her production – which has been particularly challenging. She mentions the intricacies of working with diverse groups stating, “I’m determined in making sure the rest of the cast can communicate with them, so part of my workshop is facilitating ASL workshops”, going on to say “If you are including a wide range of people in your project – which you should – you have to be prepared to make arrangements for everyone.”
Inspired by storytelling, joy, and inclusion
“The story I’m writing is ultimately a cute love story that is inspired by my love of storytelling” Muleba says, mentioning that she “just wanted to write something joyful and fun, and it doesn’t necessarily have to blow anyone’s mind, but everyone wants to feel loved, so it’s a very human experience.”
Muleba mentioned that she wanted to create a story about love and joy that featured people with disabilities and people of color, without forcing them to be token sufferers. “When you see only pain represented in the media, you think that’s all that there is for you,” which is much too often the case amongst marginalized groups.
“I’ve always been silly and goofy, and people have always told me that it’s a bad thing, but It's not authentic to me to present myself or what I’m saying with a grim face”
“When I present myself in a way that’s authentic to me, I’m often accused of being shallow or inauthentic” - However, Muleba receiving this treatment reaffirms her belief that being silly or lighthearted is even more important to breaking this barrier.
The impact of the Student Art and Animation Fund:
Although Muleba has been working diligently on putting the performance together, it is not without challenges, and she mentions how the grant funding has helped support her in realizing this project:
“One of my characters is deaf – so the actor playing them simply has to be deaf as well” she states, continuing “It is hard to cast a deaf actor as it is such a small community of performers, and all established official routes, besides being hard to find, are also quite expensive. So I ran into this problem of do I want to do it fast, or do I want to do it well?” The Student Art and Animation Fund has enabled her to ensure deaf actors, who must put in more time and effort, are compensated.
Additionally, she mentions that art is a process, and that although UBC has been a wonderful place for her to develop her craft, it is often difficult for artists to find support in the intermediate phases. “When projects are fully formed, funding is often easier to get, but there isn’t a lot in place for students who just want to try things out, which is a shame since UBC is a learning environment.”
With the Student Art and Animation Fund a lot of these obstacles have become easier for Muleba. Through the support of generous Giving Day donors, the funding allows her to have performers, workshop material, and gain broader community and partner feedback, helping her to further her project and vision. Additionally, the placemaking aspect—staging her workshop performance in a public, outdoor space-- allows her to flesh out her musical so that it fulfills her goal of having a story which engages and connects with her peers. On a more personal note, Muleba mentions that putting on this workshop piece will help her know if she is on the right track.
If you want to catch the workshop performance of Muleba Chailunga’s “The Conception of Summer,” the performance will be held on the field at Thunderbird Commons on September 16th, 2023, at 5pm.
Inspired to support student artists and performers? Check out opportunities through UBC Giving Day!
Are you an aspiring student artist, performer or placemaker? Keep an eye out for the launch of the next cycle of Student Art and Animation funding.