Brian was born and raised in rural Saskatchewan. From the prairies, he headed east and completed his MA in Philosophy at the Memorial University in Newfoundland, after which he ventured to Montreal to obtain his PhD at McGill. Upon completion, he joined Dawson’s Humanities department in 2011 where he now teaches interesting courses ranging in subjects from ancient philosophy and logic to the philosophy of love and even the philosophy of comedy. Brian is currently the Department Coordinator for Philosophy. Brian also organizes the Dawson Philosophy Club, a philosophy discussion group for faculty and students.
Jesse Young, a second-year Liberal Arts student, sits down with Professor Brian Redekopp to have a conversation about this year’s philosophy play: The Symposium, or How Socrates Taught Me to Love Again. Jesse was part of the writing process and the cast of the play.
The play was written and performed entirely by students. The play was part of Philosophy Fest, a two-day intercollegiate event in February and was also performed at Dawson on Tuesday, March 20. (Jesse’s questions and responses are put in bold, while Brian’s answers are left as is.)
What was the subject of the play and what was it based upon?
The play was based on Plato’s Symposium, the subject of that book is love, what love is, and what makes it good. So we decided to do a funny take on it and have a very loose adaptation of the text.
I really liked the play. I thought the play was hilarious!
Yeah, we always wanted it to be funny!
Is the original text of the Symposium funny?
Yep, there are parts of the text that are funny. For example, Aristophanes has the hiccups which we kept in the play. That’s in the original text, he can’t give a speech because he has the hiccups. Also, Socrates wears sandals and has a bath before he goes which is sort of funny. Yeah, there are quite a few moments that are funny in the original Symposium.
I never read the Symposium, I always thought it was really serious.
Well the topic is serious, but no. One of the reasons I chose the text is because it’s interesting dramatically. The characters are making fun of each other in their conversations. Socrates also makes fun of a couple of the characters. So it is quite funny!
What led you to this topic? Was there an interesting story?
I don’t know if there’s an interesting story. The general project is to do a play based on philosophy or philosophical ideas. The previous year had not worked out because people tried to write something from scratch which is hard to do. So this time I wanted to have a text that we could just use and the Symposium was perfect. It’s a great topic, it’s not a long text and it’s very accessible.
There was a philosophy play last year?
There was one in 2012, 2013, and 2014. Last year it didn’t work out, so I wanted to choose a text that was already there instead of writing something from scratch to give it a better chance.
So there has been a philosophy play almost every year?
Yeah, it’s a bit of a tradition. It has happened maybe four times now. It started out as part of the Humanities and Public Life Conference and it kind of got a life of its own ever since.
Did you also organize the previous philosophy plays?
This was my first time!
So I heard the play was entirely written by students?
That’s correct! So we divided the text into eight parts and we had teams of two or three students write each part. And then myself and Professor Robert Stephens would edit the text a little bit to tie the different parts together. So it was really great and the writing was fantastic!
When and where was the play performed?
So we did it twice. The first time was at Champlain College and later at Dawson two months later. The first one, we wanted to do it as part of Philosophy Fest, a new thing me and another teacher at Champlain, Steve Hawkins, organized together. I wanted to give the play a home because it used to be part of the Humanities Conference and it was kind of free-floating ever since.
How many people attended the play?
I think at Champlain we had about 40 and we had around 70 at Dawson.
Did you receive any feedback from the audience members?
[Laughing] Nothing negative. People who knew philosophy enjoyed the jokes. I was in the audience at Dawson and everyone seems to have a smile on their face. I feel like people had a good time.
Did you and the students encounter any difficulties during the project?
Yeah, logistical difficulties. It’s hard to schedule a time for everyone to meet for rehearsals. It was also really difficult to get a time at Dawson’s theatre, a lot of emails back and forth… We had a baby! So we were supposed to stage the play in the Fall, but the baby came three weeks early. But it all ended up working really well.
And we also had to find a new main character.
Yeah! That was a bigger difficulty. We lost our main character… And Emma Kiddie came in and she saved it! She was the only one who volunteered and she was really great! If it weren’t for her, it wouldn’t have happened. And it was only a couple of weeks before we had to rehearse. At that point, I didn’t even know if the play could go on. But that’s the way it always goes, so I was kind of amazed that we pulled it off. I don’t know if you read the scenario a few times, we were not going to pull it off every time. Someone is going to get sick, someone is going to drop out, there was no Emma, nobody volunteers, the theatre is booked or something. It’s quite hard to make it happen.
And it was not part of a class or our curriculum.
It was entirely extracurricular! I’m really impressed that you and the other students were interested to do it.
It was fun! We all loved it.
Yeah, it was a fun experience.
Do you plan on organizing a similar play next year?
I don’t know if we’ll do it every year or every second year because it is a lot of work. And most of it was me in charge. Robert Stephens was a great help too. But it is a lot of work and it’s totally extracurricular.
And you usually teach more courses in the Fall.
Yeah, the Fall semester is usually more intense. We’ll for sure do it every second year so everyone will get a chance to participate. I would like to do it every year, but it depends if other people in the department want to help organize it. We’ll see.
Is there anything you thought you could have improved upon? Anything that could have went better?
Nope. If it went this way every time, it would be perfect! It was funny, it was a great script, I thought it went well on stage, the actors were funny… Honestly, I didn’t have any critical thoughts about it at all.
Is there anyone you would like to thank aside from the student actors and writers?
Sure! Professor Robert Stephens, he was a great help! He came to rehearsals and he helped to edit the script. Professor Beverly Sing and Professor Susan-Judith Hoffmann for organizing a tea party after the performance at Dawson.
They made a cake for you!
I know! I couldn’t come. I’m so sorry for that.
Professor Hoffmann baked a heart-shaped cake!
I know, that’s so nice! I didn’t know that. I had to go because I had both of my babies and had to take them home. But I really thank them for that and also for bringing their class to the performance because that made a good audience. I also wanted to thank Jesse at the theatre, the technician, for setting it up for us, running the projector, and helping us with the props. That was fantastic! My friend Steve Hawkins at Champlain. He booked the auditorium for us over there. There are quite a few people I would like to thank.
Oh, I just noticed today! You mentioned that another student wrote an article last year about the play? His name is also Jesse! What a coincidence!
Yes! He was in one of my classes in the Fall. His article had one mistake though, it says that I am the Humanities Department Coordinator, but that’s not true. Philosophy is a part of the humanities, I’m just the Coordinator for philosophy. Everything else is fine.
You are the Philosophy Coordinator? What do you do?
Well, a Coordinator just organizes who teaches what course and goes to all sorts of meetings. That’s the main thing you have to do. You also need to make sure the courses follow the rules of the Ministry of Education.
So now we’ll move on to some questions concerning the Dawson Philosophy Club.
What is the Dawson Philosophy Club?
Sure! So the philosophy club at Dawson is a bi-weekly discussion group that is open to all students and teachers here in which we discuss a different topic each time. So it’s not like your typical discussion group where you have one book to read for a few weeks.
So it’s not like a book club, every week is new?
Yeah, so there isn’t any major commitment, people are free to come whenever they are interested. It’s a new thing every week. I think we’ve done approximately 35 topics already. It started at the beginning of 2016. It’s neat to look back, we’ve already covered more than 35 topics!
Do you have a list, do you keep track of all the topics?
Yeah, I keep track. That’s the kind of person I am, I keep track of everything. After every time, I try to keep track of who comes, I make really brief notes about what we talked about, and interesting things that came up. So that’s what philosophy club is!
Also, at the end of each semester, we have a talk. So far it has been a Dawson teacher who will give a talk about some topic, but maybe in the future we’ll invite people from McGill or Concordia.
Is it part of the student clubs?
No, it’s not a student club. We don’t’ have to call it a club at all actually, that’s just the name I chose.
Have you ever thought of changing the name?
Yeah, I don’t really like the name so much, but I don’t know what else to call it. The name just sort of stuck. The main reason for the name is that it’s not the first philosophy club there’s been. There was one before that focused more on films and that was called Philosophy Club, so I just kept the same name.
What kind of topics are discussed? Could you name a few?
So the topics can be any philosophical topic, but I guess it has to be something accessible that wouldn’t require hours of reading ahead of time. Something where you can explain the basics in just a few minutes, something that you can explain on one page of reading or ten minutes of a podcast. That means some topics we can’t do. Although in the summer, we did do some Heidegger because people were more into it. So we did Heidegger four times in a row. So that’s really the only limitation. That gives us a lot of topics!
Do you remember the first topic?
Yeah, I do! The first topic we did was Iris Murdoch, a twentieth-century novelist and philosopher. There was a movie about her starring Nicole Kidman called Iris. Anyways, we did something in her book on God and the idea of good. It was actually kind of funny, I probably wouldn’t do that topic again, it was a little bit long, but it was good.
We met the first few times in the Forum up in the bar with the bowling alleys. Professor Derrick Farnham would often buy people fries or drinks. The first time, I remember there were four or five students? But then the next time, we had twenty people! Generally, we’ll have anywhere between twelve or twenty. The record is thirty! It was the first time we met in Fall 2016.
For the discussion, I don’t want it to be a class, but I do want people to learn something. You have to find the balance between introducing some material and letting people explore the talk. It can’t just be talk. I actually find some students don’t come as much. My theory is that they just want to get the goods and don’t want to listen to others. They want someone to teach them where other types of students want to express themselves more. There are different personalities, so you have to find a good balance.
Yeah, I’m the quiet kind, I don’t talk a lot.
Yeah, I used to be that way, I still actually am. When I was a student, I never said anything ever. So I guess that’s another thing about the club, there’s no expectation or pressure for you to actually talk. So yeah, that’s what philosophy club is.
What would a typical philosophy club discussion look like? Everyone comes into the room…
Yeah, so everyone comes in.., We do it on the eighth floor in the New School wing. So they have a really nice room that they have very generously let us use which is just chairs sort of in a circle. There’s a couple of couches. And then there’s free coffee and cookies. Usually, I or someone else will begin by briefly explaining the topic in five to ten minutes.
There really isn’t a plan, I have a back- up plan just in case discussion dies. Because sometimes discussion just dies. It’s better to have sort of an emergency plan like some other question you can ask. Yeah, so the idea is just to let it flow, but try to keep people focused on one question or topic rather than jumping around too much. We try to work on it, to make some sort of progress.
So work on something, develop the idea, and keep going?
Yeah, get something clear and then move on to something else. You know, there is progress in a philosophical discussion! Sometimes you feel like there isn’t, but there really is! Sometimes there are things that are not clear that become clearer, you get a question you didn’t think was a question and know you know, you distinguish different ideas… You really do make progress! So we try to make a discussion that is enjoyable where you feel free to explore, but where you also learn something and develop your ideas.
Usually, I have to leave early to pick up my son at the daycare, but I’m told that people keep the discussion going on until very late which is amazing! I wish I could stay that long. I love it, I think it’s great. Maybe people are making friends.
Definitely! I got to know a ton of people through the philosophy club.
That’s great! There’s Liberal Arts people, ALC, Social Science people, there are some from Nursing now, a couple of Science which is nice because that doesn’t always happen on campus.
Yeah, it’s for all programs, for whoever is interested in philosophy.
Yeah, that’s right!
Aside from bi-weekly philosophy discussions, has there been other events organized by the philosophy club in the past year?
Yeah, so there was the Philosophy Fest in February which was organized in conjunction with Champlain. That involved the play, a film, some discussion groups…
Oh, and the dressing up as different philosophers?
Yeah! Teachers from different CEGEPS pretended to be different philosophers! It was a lot of fun! We had people there from Dawson, Champlain, Maisonneuve, Vanier… We’ll try something like that again.
I have ideas for the philosophy club too where Derrick and I could come together in character and debate. At some point, I would love to do a Medieval style debate where we just have the two of us debate for not too long like fifteen minutes and then have a discussion. I think that would be very interesting! There are different things we can try! But you know, if it’s not broken, don’t fix it. It works the way it is, but there are some fun things you can do.
We could also do a film night, I’m totally open to that. There are all sorts of things you can do! There’s philosophy for children, there’s actually a whole movement for philosophy for kids in Quebec. It would be neat to include that one day in during Philosophy Fest. I would love to actually have a discussion with old people too.
What do you mean? Philosophy of old people?
I would love to do a philosophy club at a retirement home. I think that could be pretty interesting! If we chose a topic more about life, you know?
Like the meaning of life?
Yeah. Or how do you handle misfortune? What is happiness? I think that would be really interesting!
How can people join the club?
You can just request on Facebook. You’ll get approved, I have yet to reject anyone. Just make sure you are a real person.
Main Coordinator: Brian Redekopp
Editors: Brian Redekopp and Robert Stephens
Actors: Emma Kiddie, Emily Krispis, Jesse Young, Emily Tzventarny, Evan Luxenberg, Ioana Antonia Zamfir, Louis Garneau-Pilon, Maxime Aubin, Nicolas André, and Rebecca de Heuvel.
Writers: Kiara da Châo, Louis Garneau-Pilon, Noah Geffroyd, Taylor Ménard, Atalina Popov, Nic André, Ioana Zamfir, and Evan Luxenberg.
Plato Comes to Dawson by Jesse Decary-Kostiw