University of King’s College students and Halifax Humanities are going to heaven and hell this weekend for a 24-hour reading marathon fundraiser. Starting at noon on Saturday Nov. 24 and running overnight until noon the following Sunday, 24 teams of students will act out cantos of Dante’s The Divine Comedy to raise funds for the local non-profit organization.
“It really runs the gamut,” says Dawn Tracey Brandes, BA’05, executive director of Halifax Humanities. Each team is responsible for a piece of the poetry and they can do whatever they like with it. This may include costumes, different languages or just an extra flair for the dramatics. “Last year, the King’s Chorus set a book of Homer’s The Odyssey to Anglican plainchant and just sang the whole thing to us.”
Halifax Humanities is a registered charity that offers university-level non-credit courses on the humanities to low-income residents of Halifax Regional Municipality for free. The program covers the cost of transportation to classes, books and supplies, and even childcare if needed.
“People living on low income can access services that help them find employment, or help them find shelter, or food,” Brandes explains. “But, there is another side to everyone which [includes] interests and desires to explore what it means to exist in the world.” Brandes says in class they don’t talk about the outside world problems students may be facing, and instead everyone comes together to face questions like what does it mean to have free will, or what is love?
There is another side to everyone which [includes] interests and desires to explore what it means to exist in the world.
— Dawn Tracey Brandes, executive director of Halifax Humanities
“I think teaching in the program is enormously affirming,” says Halifax Humanities Board Chair and King’s Foundation Year Program (FYP) Director Dr. Neil Robertson, BA(Hons)’85. Dr. Robertson believes it means one thing to see classical texts speak to someone coming out of high school, but it means another thing entirely to see people, who haven’t had an easy life, relate these texts to their experiences. He suggests the material “awakens” the students and lets them see life in a completely different way.
The humanities are a wonderful way to get into the “life of the mind” according to Dr. Robertson. “At the core of the humanities is our humanity and the philosophy behind [Halifax Humanities] is that everybody should have the opportunity to have this education.”
The program was started by former King’s professor Angus Johnston and former chaplain Gary Thorne, DD’04, in 2003. It continues to have a deep-rooted connection with the university. Not only does Dr. Robertson teach in the Halifax Humanities program, Dr. Susan Dodd, FYP’s associate director, is on the board, and the first-year curriculum is based on FYP. Brandes is an honours graduate from the King’s-Dalhousie Theatre Studies program, a former FYP tutor and current lecturer for FYP.
“There are a lot of King’s people involved [in the fundraiser],” she points out. “We have a FYP tutor team, we have the King’s Chorus, lots of FYP students have their own teams. Lots of people who students will recognize from their courses are performing.”
The 24-hour reading marathon of Dante’s The Divine Comedy will take place in Alumni Hall in King’s New Academic Building this weekend. You can take a look at who is performing when and how to support Halifax Humanities by visiting their website.