Prof brings research on soldiers’
mental health to the stage
people go to the theatre for all kinds of
reasons – to be transported and entertained,
to engage with art and escape. But what if
it could also be space to learn about life-changing research?
It is an idea that George Belliveau, a professor of theatre education at the University of
British Columbia, believes in wholeheartedly.
“I’m always trying to use theatre as a model
or a form of dissemination to share whatever
research story is out there, to make it a
little more innovative or more visceral,” he
says. And it is a guiding principle behind
Contact!Unload, a play about mental health
and war that Dr. Belliveau developed with
members of Canada’s
Armed Forces. “There’s
a saying in research
that sometimes we dehumanize the human
subjects by putting
them flat on the page with our research stories, so I was trying to humanize these stories
by bringing them onto the stage,” he says.
Created with UBC’s Peter Wall Institute
for Advanced Studies and the not-for-profit
Veteran Transition Network, Contact!Unload
is performed by Canadian combat veter-
ans who tell stories of war, solitude and the
difficulties of coming home. The stories are
based on the veterans’ personal experiences
and research data on soldiers.
According to a federal report on suicide
in the Canadian Armed Forces published last
year, 14 male soldiers died by suicide in 2015,
and those who are deployed are at higher risk
of taking their own lives. A Globe and Mail
investigation from 2016 revealed that at least
70 Canadian military or ex-military members
killed themselves after serving in Afghanistan.
“At the very crux of it, we’re trying to
prevent other veterans from taking their lives.
We’re trying to say, ‘There are other ways to
try to deal with these psychological traumas,’”
says Dr. Belliveau.
The performances also aim to improve
awareness around men’s mental health.
Jennica Nichols, a PhD student at UBC, was
part of the team measuring audience impact.
“People had really strong reactions,” she says.
“People learned what [post-traumatic stress
disorder] is – not just the facts, but … what it
looks like, that there are different variations
Contact!Unload has played to audiences in
Canada and abroad (including a private performance for British Armed Forces veteran Prince
Harry). This fall, it will show to hundreds
of veterans at the Invictus Games in Toronto
from September 23 to 30. – sara harowitz
“ I’m always trying to use
theatre to share whatever
research story is out there,
to make it a little more
innovative or visceral.”
Researchers at Western build satire detector
“hellmann’s introduces new meat-on-the-bottom mayo cups.” Not sure if this headline
is fact or fiction? Just copy and paste the tricky
line and article into the Satire Detector
website, and within seconds it will spit back
To build the website, Victoria Rubin and
a team of assistants with the Language and
Information Technology and Research Lab
at Western University, relied on a mixed
bag of expertise. Linguists read several
examples of legitimate and satirical news
to note recurring grammatical, stylistic and
structural properties that might distinguish
one type of writing from the other. They
looked for markers of absurdity and humour,
and for signs of deception in the writer’s
use of prepositions, verbs, articles and pronouns (research in psychology suggests liars
avoid first-person pronouns, for example).
Computer and information scientists then
developed a series of algorithms that “read”
a text for these markers. To date, the tool can
make a ruling with up to 84-percent certainty.
Dr. Rubin and her team are now looking
to integrate the detector into open and user-friendly products like a custom web browser
or a Firefox plug-in. She’s also working with
Western’s journalism program to bring the
tool to newsrooms. She cautions, however, that
it should never “substitute human judgment,
but assist the human in news production or
news consumption.” - natalie samson
University of Victoria’s Carmen Charette, VP external relations,
quoted in, “Trutch name wiped from UVic residence; petition
cites his racist actions,” Times Colonist, June 5, 2017.
It’s about being consistent with our mission
and values. And, it was just time.
E Y “ “
The cast of Contact!Unload performed
on Parliament Hill last fall.