Sauced Shakesperean actors. Dignified librettist John Murrell playing a Tony Robbins-like self-help guru. Poignant stories about immigrant women and their journeys to Calgary. A modern musical about the 1930s Dust Bowl.
This is just a taste of the intriguing theatrical mash-ups featured in the 33rd annual High Performance Rodeo, the yearly festival produced by Calgary’s One Yellow Rabbit. It runs from Jan. 9 to 27 at various venues.
We asked festival producer Laurel Green to help navigate us through some of the adventurous shows on offer this year. For a complete schedule visit www.hprodeo.ca.
There is something typically rodeo about the High Performance Rodeo’s approach to the Bard: Take some of the most revered work in theatrical history and . . . well, mess with it.
William Shakespeare will be represented — or maybe skewed, depending on your point of view — with two productions this year. Calgary’s own Hit + Myth and The Shakespeare Company will present Hammered Hamlet (Drunk Shakespeare) at the Royal Canadian Legion, which will feature classically trained actors imbibing and then attempting to negotiate the Bard’s classic tale of revenge.
“The audience gets to decide how many shots an actor gets to take,” says Green. “They have a drink and then they perform Hamlet. The cast is a real group of fun-loving, Shakespeare-loving performers so it will be a really cool piece to watch.”
Meanwhile, Macbeth Muet will filter Shakespeare’s tale of ambition run murderously amok through the inspired lens of Montreal’s La Fille du Laitier.
“Macbeth Muet is object theatre, by which I mean puppets and strange objects coming to life by two performers bringing you the story of Macbeth,” Green says. “There’s a lot of fake blood and eggs get broken and there’s mayhem and murder. It will, again, be a pretty wild and a different way to tell that story.”
As always, the High Performance Rodeo has no shortage of one-person shows, those intimate theatrical marathons that offer a concentrated vision of a sole performer. This year, there’s a particularly healthy crop. Vancouver playwright, performer and activist Carmen Aguirre will tell her story about being raised by Chilean revolutionaries by way of a salsa dance lesson for the audience. Spoken-word performer Shane Koyczan of Vancouver is a rodeo headliner with a new one-person show. Local playwright and performer Karen Hines will present Crawlspace, her cautionary tale about a real estate purchase that turns disastrous in Toronto. How to Disappear Completely is renowned Vancouver lighting designer Itai Erdai’s multi-media show about his journey to Israel to spend time with his mother, who was dying of lung cancer. Other solo shows include Kids in the Hall’s Scott Thompson’sApres Le Deluge: The Buddy Cole Monologues, Tiffany Ayalik’sCafe Daughter, Yolanda Bonnell’s Bug, Mark Kunji Ikeda’sSansei: The Storyteller, Justin Miller’s drag show Pearle Harbour’s Chautaugua and trans artist Mx. Katie Sly’sHow to Self-Suspend, an X-rated, interactive performance that involves a rope bondage demonstration.
“It’s seeing an artist at the height of their craft,” Green says. “When you see a really well-performed, one-person show where you feel you have such an intimate relationship between the performer and the audience, you really feel like they are speaking to you directly.”
This Little Piggy
Workshopped a few years ago at the Calgary Folk Music Festival, Little Miss Piggy has been described as a “dustbowl bluegrass opera.” It features an all-star cast of contributors, including Kris Demeanor, Little Miss Higgins, the Old Trout Puppet Workshop’s David Rhymer and Peter Balkwill, Bessie Wapp and Tim Williams. The musical, which will also be performed at the Royal Canadian Legion #1, tells the story of a young couple struggling in the lead up to the Dust Bowl of the 1930s.
“It’s a bit theatrical, so it fits right on the hybrid between theatre and music, ” Green says.
The Shoe Project
This performance and writing workshop, where immigrant women in Calgary are coached to tell their story by veteran writers, was so popular last year that the High Performance Rodeo show will be moved to the larger confines of the new performance hall of the Central Library. In its sixth year, The Shoe Project is the brainchild of novelist Katherine Govier and incubated by Toronto’s Bata Shoe Museum. It will present a series of 17 new stories from women about their journey to Calgary.
“The shoe is a metaphor for the journey and that great sentiment of ‘walk around in someone shoes,’” says Green. “I think it’s just a critical way to hear new stories and just acknowledge how the community in Calgary is changing and how to create more acceptance and empathy for each other.”
Live Your Prime, With Damien Frost
One Yellow Rabbit has a good track record with original productions, a history that goes back to such favourites as Moon, Moon, No Moon and Ilsa Queen of the Nazi Love Camp. With Live Your Prime, Rabbits Denise Clarke and Andy Curtis join famed librettist and playwright John Murrell, the man who wrote Waiting for the Parade and won a lifetime Governor General’s Award, for a comedy about a goofy self-help guru. Murrell plays the title role.
“It is about this whole industry we live in — and you can see it with blogs and Instagram — and the idea of fame being tied to being a brand and having a message of how people should be living,” Green says. “There’s a bit of Tony Robbins in there as well.”
The High Performance Rodeo runs from Jan 9 to 27. Visit hprodeo.ca.