By Gareth Watkins
CALGARY — Theatre is still the one art form where literally anything goes. Even the biggest budget Broadway musical has an anarchic spirit to it that cinema will never be able to equal. Not since Apocalypse Now has there been a car-crash as glorious as Spider Man: Turn Off the Dark, and that was put together by U2, a band even your dad thinks are square.
Calgary’s One Yellow Rabbit (OYR) have been gloriously crashing cars (on purpose) since 1982, bringing theatre, dance, music and art to a city known mostly for an oversized wild-west show that regularly features animals being euthanised on a racetrack. They are active all year long, but during January they’re hyperactive, putting on the High Performance Rodeo.
Ann Conners is OYR’s managing director, but the title seems to suggest an administrator rather than a veteran of Canada’s theatre scene who has personally produced 40 plays and presented over 100. She explains why One Yellow Rabbit is special.
“They’re unique in their longevity, for an ensemble group to be together for that long, for 35 years. They’re unique in that they work from an idea rather than from a script. The practice that they follow is called ‘devised theatre’, so they get in a room with a concept and a few pages of notes and they come out with a whole new show.”
Those shows have titles like The Erotic Irony of Old Glory and Ilsa, Queen of the Nazi Love Camp and have featured minimalist composer Phillip Glass and experimental songwriter Laurie Anderson. Other cities have their own festivals, but Connors doesn’t believe that there is another in the country in which the people programming the festival are also performers.
The company was dealt a blow early in 2015 when founding member and longtime performer Michael Green died in a car accident. Connors remembers him having a “very wonderful, easy-going personality, which made him easy to like.” Another founding ensemble member, Richard McDowell, passed away only a few months before.
This year’s season will feature shows that are whimsical.
“We have a show from New York,” says Connors, “called Deep Aerobics. It’s a techno-rave aerobics class that turned into a choreographed dance. We encourage the audience to dress in spandex.”
And then those that are very serious: “‘Uncle’ Jeff Charles is a 72-year-old aboriginal elder from Australia and was a victim of the country’s residential schools system (which were every bit as terrible as Canada’s). When he got out he immediately landed on the streets, he became a heroin addict, a petty thief and spent a lot of time in prison. He cleaned himself up and (Jeff Charles v. The Crown) is his story.”
For the future, Connors plans to turn the company’s summer classes into a full-blown academy and to bring in more international content. The aim is to not let the loss of two founding members slow them down, but to continue bringing audiences experiences they’ll never forget.
High Performance Rodeo is running now till Jan. 31.AB, Alberta, High Performance Rodeo, High Performance Rodeo 2016, One Yellow Rabbit, theatre