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This weekend High Performance Rodeo and The Epcor center hosted one of the premiere events this city has to offer: the Grandstand, Midway and Freak show. As the festival started Janurary 5th, I had missed out on some of the performance’s earlier in the week, however all was made up the moment I stepped into the center court of the Epcor center and the cacophony of sound, light and patrons reveling hit me.

Saturday, the best night to attend this event and also the last; the performer’s energy was high and the actors were freely and possible drunkenly mingling amongst theatre goers, role playing, drawing you in and suspending the fourth wall in any way they could. A debaucheries kissing booth, tarot card reading and a body paint tent where I was told “absolutely anywhere can and will be painted.” As I walked around, watching some of the founding members of One Yellow Rabbit meander through the space, premier members of Calgary’s arts scene pop in and out of shows and booths and Michael Green stopping to chat with myself and my companion, I couldn’t help but feel certain sort of magic in the air.

The Midway, described as “…a creepy carnival of wandering wierdos, zombies, contortionists, freaky dancers, psychics, tarot card readers, circus musicians, spoken word artists that delve into the twisted depths of your imagination.” This year featuring the Summerwood Warren Solo Stage curated by the Summerwood Warren Collective, local Calgary musicians ranging from the synthy dancy pop of Synthosarus to the art rock of Tetrakty’s the performances were loud, weird and clearly some of the best emerging performance music coming out of Calgary today.

Catching the last tour of The Freak Show was a fluke in luck and taken full advantage of. Performance pieces ranging from a mock protest on the roof of the Epcor center to a child’s birthday party to an acrobatic dance piece, this one hour tour was entertaining and chilling. Well worth seeing, the performers within each piece did an amazing job and had true and strong characters which resonated in the found spaces they used to stage their shows around The Epcor center. Incredibly enough, the level of ‘artsy self awareness’ was kept at a minimum and the Freak Show audience was held spellbound by either laughter or amazement throughout the tour. Incredibly interesting to see the interaction between the performers, the audience and the adaptation to a space where the controls are beyond reach. To top off the Freak Show luck, my tour was graced with Scott Thompson of Kids in the Hall fame, havng just closed his show Scottastrophe that evening.

Lastly the Grandstand, where many musical dreams had come true this weekend. Rumor has it that Friday’s Weezer tribute was amazing however Ghostkeeper and Jay Crocker’s tribute to both Tom Waits and The Band had tears a flowin’ and heels a tappin’. Playing until 1am and with the after party going until the wee hours of the morning, it was a great kick off week for the Rodeo.

This week coming up has some pretty amazing shows and it is impossible to possibly try and mention all but some highlights: January 15th-17th has Theaterlabor’s two show’s Body Fragments and Absurdesque and word in the mill is to not miss these by those in the know. Bravo!FACT presents two screenings on Sunday the 18th. The Bravo! foundation is a great arts supporter here in Canada and this year’s screening has some of Canada’s best short films. To make it that much better, admission is by donation. Wednesday the 21st, The Invisible Project continues in Calgary’s City Hall Atrium and that night Philip Glass, the One Yellow Rabbit artist in residence performs his Solo Piano show. This is not to be missed and although tickets are slightly pricy, the chance to see Philip Glass live and solo is one that doesn’t come around all too often. For more information go to www.oyr.org or give them a call at 403 264 3224.

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Calgary, home to The Invisible Project:

What would it be like to exist in a community thousand’s strong and have no one even notice? The Invisible Project director, David van Belle, a self proclaimed “all over Canada boy”, has been based out of Calgary the last 10 years and is challenging Calgarians to look beyond their hedged communities with his latest performance piece.

Completing his MFA in directing at the University of Calgary in 2001, he went on to be a part of One Yellow Rabbit theatre ensemble for seven years which, in his words “changed my life, changes my aesthetics, made me the artist that I am today.” Coming out of a traditional theatre base, One Yellow Rabbit had stretched and bounced this artist’s performance boundaries. The ensemble based concept of OYR is unlike most theatre companies in that it isn’t the search for the perfect script that they are looking for, but the search for the perfect whatever. Be it space, script, quote, music, thought, dance, artist, be it anything at all. It only takes that one thing to start the rabbit hole dive into a creation physicality and celebrated in any sort of space. Jump to the High Performance Rodeo, David van Belle’s piece is all about our city and the space we create within it. A quick survey yields sky scrapers and wide city blocks, prosperous business people walking in and out of Starbucks, but there is much more to Calgary than just these steel structures.

Belle was invited to work on a performance based project by Dawn Ford who works with the city of Calgary and is in the process of a large project entitled “This is My City”. A 12 month long project that incorporates The Arts into Calgary’s homeless population to expand information and views about what it is to be homeless in Calgary and what determining factors there are to achieving any real success in changing the way thousands of people live.

Working with a team of performers and rehearsing in the Calgary Drop-in Centre, Belle’s performance piece, The Invisible Project was a ground up experience. Working from September, Belle started by sitting in the mask making workshops run by Douglas Wit, a mask maker and former homeless community member in Toronto, at the Mustard Seed and the Calgary Drop in Center (the two largest shelters in Calgary). Belle took the work that Witt had been doing and transferred it into a performance, to bridge the gap between the performance and the audience. As Belle describes “Performance creation work is always sort of a, a process where you go from not knowing a whole lot to knowing least a little bit more.” It was through these workshops that Belle was able to meet and interact with members of the homeless community and record their stories which became what he described as “the spine of the piece”. Created, rehearsed and tested at the Calgary Drop-in center, Belle and his actors immersed themselves into this community the most effective way possible.

“Every morning we would come in and we would move beds out of the way and stack them up and we would rehearse in the space and then at the end of our day we would put the beds back and then women would sleep in there at night.” Belle called this an interesting environment to work in, an interesting environment to live in as well. Belle explained that as a company of artists with the intent to reflect this community, they tried to engage the community as much as possible. Serving lunch, sorting clothes and doing video interviews with the clients of the Calgary drop-in center offered a unique perspective into the lives of a people who are rarely looked at too closely. “We would bring that information back into the room and let it shape the work we were doing.” The movement pieces reflected the patterns seen in the center, the sound cues was recordings done of the clients at the Center playing music and singing, “basically put it together like a collage”. Belle didn’t believe it was authentic to just tell a story about “Bob the homeless guy” and rightfully so, the people within that community seem to have even less patience with feel good, sentimental stories. The script and performance was based on direct transcripts of the interviews done, with every “ah” and “um” kept in to ensure that the impression on the performance was nothing short of he truth and that every inflection in every single word was transformed into a single voice.

“The reason why I called it The Invisible Project was because I felt like with the homeless community there is a big problem with invisibility in that the general population doesn’t want to look at the homeless community, and homeless community in itself wants to stay invisible as a survival strategy.” However, this lends itself to the consequence of not seeing the problem for what it really is. Belle found that by working through performance to give this community a voice, instead of trying to make a political stand, he could present to Calgarians what it was truly like to be homeless. Belle wanted to give the audience the opportunity to figure out what to do with it. To take what they heard, felt and smelled away with them and choose what they wanted to do about it. Aptly, Belle described to me that he encouraged his actors to be “theatrical scientists”.

To him acting is to be a communicator, and this project allowed him to communicate what the experience of being homeless was like. Unlike large and loud political stands and self aware performance pieces, The Invisible Project was merely a mirror reflecting Calgarians back onto themselves, regardless of whether they liked what they saw or not.

Belle described some of the most uncomfortable parts of the show were in the times when the characters go through their backgrounds. Often hitting close to home, where in a city of a million plus people and over one thousand clients at the Calgary Drop-in center alone the stories heard are diverse but all too many clients have similar backgrounds. Past home owners, men and women with stable jobs and a steady income, people who lost it all too quickly and then had to reach out for something, anything to keep them afloat. As one performer describes walking past the center from Bridgeland on his way to work and at this point in the performance, Belle says you can see a visible chill go through the audience and a collective thought bubble rises where at once everyone realizes it really could be them.

The Invisible city is running currently through the High Performance Rodeo, January 21st and 28th at Calgary city hall. Show times vary but phone to One Yellow Rabbits box office at 403 264 3224 to get more information. The Calgary Drop-in center and The Mustard Seed are always looking for volunteers and by giving something to another community; you are only enhancing your own.

(This article is one written to University of Lethbridge paper The Meliorist, look for it in print in the up coming issue)