Evalyn Parry’s SPIN Opens The 30th Annual High Performance Rodeo

evalyn parry SPIN - Photo by Jeremy Mimnagh

evalyn parry’s SPIN was first presented by Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, in association with OutSpokeProductions, March 2011. Photo Credit: Jeremy Mimnagh.

There’s a strong fascination with the bicycle in North American culture, due in part to its role in popular culture. Think about Steven Spielberg’s hit 1982 film E.T: The Extra-Terrestrial. The bicycle, thanks to E.T’s powers, offers Elliott and his alien friend an escape from the authorities, and grants them wondrous freedom. The popularity of Gameboys and Nintendos years later would see parents pushing their children to go outside and ride their bikes – experience in full the freedom of childhood.

Toronto theatre artist and songwriter evalyn parry’s fascination with the bicycle is about freedom, too, but a different kind of freedom, one that was fought for by women no longer satisfied with the status quo.

Written and performed by parry, SPIN is some parts history, some parts personal reflection on the bicycle and its ties with first-wave feminism. Bicycle percussionist Brad Hart joins parry in telling the story of Annie Londonderry, the first woman to ride around the world on a bicycle in 1895.

On a wager, 23-year old Annie Londonderry sets off across the world on her bicycle for a 15-month journey that will win her $10,000. No stranger to the world of advertising, Annie gains plenty of corporate sponsors for her trip, including the Londonderry Lithia Spring Water Company whose name she took on as part of their deal. (Her real name was Annie Cohen Kopchovsky).

Just so the audience realizes the significance of Annie’s trip, parry sets the scene for what’s happening in the ‘gay nineties’. The ‘mobile woman’ is on the rise, much to the chagrin of men who rather they stay in the home. Women have organized themselves to fight for the vote. Reformers are encouraging women to learn how to ride bicycles, while male doctors warn women that the bicycle may be harmful to their reproductive organs. Women’s fashion changes to suit the needs of mobile women everywhere, lending them even more freedom in movement.

The bicycle becomes important not only for transportation, but also social mobility.

While parry’s theatrical ingenuity is certainly praise-worthy, there remain moments where the material struggles to hold our attention, specifically the audience’s crash course on the bicycle as social phenomenon. Yes, the history of the bicycle is interesting (for some, maybe) and important for context, but it’s a bit difficult to form a connection with facts and dates, no matter how dressed up they might be. The presentation picks up once the group dives into the compelling story of Annie’s around-the-world voyage, or at least it’s made compelling by parry’s demonstrated passion for the subject. Until then, the show engages in a total ‘info dump’.

parry’s hypnotic spoken word is accompanied by Hart’s percussions on a suspended vintage bicycle, and a string trio (Cello: Kevin Fox; Viola: Angela Rudden; Violin: Kathleen Kajioka). Hart delivers a rich, satisfying musical experience by mixing and looping his bicycle beats. Who knew someone could play a bicycle as an instrument, and play it so well? The bicycle percussion lends the production a real grassroots, folk feel, appropriate considering parry’s own personal relationship with the bicycle.

From the first-wave to the third-wave, the artist’s personal relationship with the bicycle completes the ride, as parry tells us how she used to travel the streets of Montreal on her bicycle, defacing sexist billboards in the night. In a city where bicycles spark outrage from motorists (see: the cycle tracks downtown), it’s refreshing to hear and see such eloquent love for the bicycle.

Co-presented by One Yellow Rabbit and Theatre Calgary, as part of the 2016 High Performance Rodeo, parry’s SPIN is an original musical experience that breathes the spirit of adventure.

evalyn parry’s SPIN runs Jan 7 – 10 at the Martha Cohen Theatre, as part of the 30th Annual High Performance Rodeo.

For more information about the show and how to purchase to tickets, visit: https://www.hprodeo.ca/2016/evalyn-parrys-spin

For more about evalyn parry, visit her website: http://evalynparry.com/


Urban Curvz Theatre Takes A Trip Across Legoland

Penny Lamb (Kelly Malcolm) and her younger brother Ezra (Matt McKinney). Photo Credit: Aldona B Photography.

Penny Lamb (Kelly Malcolm) and her younger brother Ezra (Matt McKinney). Photo Credit: Aldona B Photography.

Being a teenager can be hard. Everyone wants to be an individual, but no one wants to stick out. No matter what you do it seems like teachers are always out to get you. And your hormones are everywhere, so you really never know how you feel.

And yet, despite everything, being a teenager can also be pretty awesome.

Presented by Urban Curvz Theatre, Jacob Richmond’s Legoland is a fun, spirited celebration of youth. A vaudeville-inspired comedy, Richmond’s play looks at our crazy world through the bright eyes of a teenage girl ready to leave her mark.

Sixteen-year-old Penny Lamb (Kelly Malcolm) and her younger brother Ezra (Matt McKinney) are not your typical teenagers. Penny and Ezra were raised on a hippie commune outside Uranium City, Saskatchewan. For years, the outside world, dismissively referred to as “Legoland” by the commune’s elders, fascinated the Lamb siblings. One day, the commune is busted by police for being Saskatchewan’s largest grow-op. With their parents imprisoned, Penny and Ezra are enrolled into a private Catholic school where they quickly learn that Legoland is as bizarre as it is unwelcoming.

In Legoland, commercial music lacks originality as reflected in the use of recycled personality types – the bad boy, the cute one, the sporty one, etc. People are unkind and distant. The status quo is maintained through prescription pills, which are seen as easy fixes to all life’s problems. Yes, Legoland is a rather plain, material place that is as rigid as a plastic toy brick.

As one might guess, Penny and Ezra’s unconventional upbringing makes them total outcasts in Legoland. Penny is rejected by the popular girls at school for being a “lesbian,” while Ezra is prescribed Ritalin to keep his behaviour in check.

It is this rejection by their peers that ultimately bring Penny and Ezra to us, or rather the assembly of high school students whom they present their story to as part of their community service.

When introduced to the boy band Seven-Up as a way to help fit in with the other girls, Penny develops a major crush on the lead singer Johnny Moon. She follows Johnny’s career long after Seven-Up breaks up, eventually becoming determined to meet him in person. Meeting Johnny, however, means crossing the border and traveling cross-country to Orlando. Thankfully for Penny, Ezra’s medication can easily fetch the necessary funds for such a trip.

What Richmond does with Penny is provide teenagers with a positive, albeit imperfect, role model. For one, Penny stands up for her values, despite the constant pressure from her peers to abandon what she believes in. And secondly, Penny sees no limits to her potential; her potential is limitless. She is abound with the sort of youthful enthusiasm that springs creativity  – and sometimes trouble! But that is okay, we learn, because it is all a part of being young and inexperienced. Everyone starts somewhere.

Penny’s mistakes – which are her’s and her’s alone to make – encapsulate the excitement of being a teenager, of growing up and discovering yourself as a young person. Penny is the kind of person that Legoland needs, flaws and all.

Where Richmond’s play falls flat is in its cross-country scenes which feel unnecessarily drawn out. The audience, in fact, may feel like they too are on board a greyhound bound for Orlando with the way Richmond stretches the play’s conclusion with the same repeating bits.

Otherwise, the play is a wildly energetic blend of puppetry (puppet design by Lindsey Zess Funk), song, and dance; a real vaudevillian treat. Director Jacqueline Russell’s creative staging sees the actors transform the stage into a dynamic space from which the story unfolds from, corner-to-corner.

Malcolm throws herself into every scene like it is, at the moment, the most important part of Penny’s life. Malcolm brings an infectious charm to the character who in other hands might be too much for the audience. Here, thanks to Malcolm’s take on the plucky teenage girl, Penny is almost impossible not to like. And despite Ezra not saying very much, McKinney is successful, too, in drawing us into his character. McKinney’s often deadpan look sells the character’s dark, bizarre humour. Together, Malcolm and McKinney are a lot of fun to watch on stage.

Optimistic, vibrant, and certainly unique, Richmond’s Legoland is one not to miss.

Urban Curvz Theatre’s production of Jacob Richmond’s Legoland runs June 11-20 at Motel Theatre.

For information about the show and how to purchase tickets, visit: http://urbancurvz.com/current-season/legoland/