High Performance Rodeo 2004

By Karoline Czerski

Begin away from the lights, the hype, the projections on the Jubilee Auditorium walls.

Instead, stand beside the huddled theatre troupes waiting outside the Big Secret Theatre, watch them mill around nervously, like high school cliques. Animated hand gestures are the communication of choice, frantic demands for pictures with the group are inescapable, and multicoloured gift bags line the bar’s wall. Here is the raw material of theatre, the makings of the frantic 10 Minute Play Festival–eager young companies with props, dialogue and 24 hours to keep the audience’s asses in their well-priced seats.

Though it’s hard to penetrate the incestuous atmosphere of Calgary’s tightly knit theatre community, there’s nothing quite like watching them vent their insanity during the High Performance Rodeo.

Now to the show.

The energy in the Epcor Centre is tangible minutes before the festival begins. Actors wander aimlessly, drinks in hand. Trendy glasses, indie clothes and the ambient music of Ledgefest are the hallmarks of this gathering, but there’s no need to be afraid of the performers. There is no elitism here, no unapproachable celebrity–in a few hours, they’ll be collectively inebriated and elated, leaning heavily on the tables of the Auburn Saloon.

“This is the high of the low,” says Trevor John Campbell of Calgary’s Obscene But Not Heard. “Think of it as Kronos Quartet with fart jokes.”

Now you’re under the crystal chandeliers of the Jubilee Auditorium, ticket in hand. The Kronos Quartet take the stage and a 12-year-old boy yawns loudly. Sounds from the depths of space form the ambient backbone of a unique composition, a four-piece string section backed by the Festival Chorus of Calgary. Jacket over his head, the little boy protests the concert and one wonders if Camera Obscura might be more to his liking.

A pinhole camera opens to singing chins dancing to classic songs, teeth clacking and tongues wagging. There is no jacket over the eyes here, no grudging attention forced to the screen. Who knew one rodeo could involve both original stringed composition and absurd chin puppets?

Or CBC radio, for that matter.

A bellowing voice echoes through the Big Secret Theatre, recalling the bygone era of Canadian national theatrical radio.

“Good evening ladies and gentlemen and welcome to the joint CBC/One Yellow Rabbit production of Andrew Allen’s Chair. Tonight you are a part of Canadian history.”

“We had to find a balance, we wanted a show for a theatre audience and a radio audience,” says assistant director David van Belle of High Performance Radio.

The joint project challenges One Yellow Rabbit’s typically physical theatre, restricting movement in favour of radio’s invisible delivery.

“We had to stop using our theatre voices,” van Belle explains.

The stage lights dim, the audience falls quiet and the 10 Minute Play Festival begins.

It is 24 hours after they began, and the artists come with scripts in mind, props in hand. From their fevered imaginations to the stage, the dialogue is quick and easy.

“Did you write this?” demand the Wind-Up Dames, their piercing eyes undressing the audience. “It’s morbid. Very ruuude.”

You are at the High Performance Rodeo, running the gamut from the low brow to the elevated. It’s a good thing you bought a ticket, isn’t it?

See you there, everyday through Sun., Feb. 1.