Why Freak Shows?

Leda Davies & Eric Nyland Photo: dbphotographics.ca

From January 9-12, 2013 the Martha Cohen Lobby will transform into a veritable fairground. As part of that Swallow-a-Bicycle will set up a tent for our original creation Freak Show: Tall Tales and Terrible Truths. The show offers a chance for audiences to step behind the curtain and see Myrtle Corbin the 4 Legged Girl, and her gender bending mentor Francine up close and in the flesh.

People familiar with Swallow-a-Bicycle know we have a long history, one might even say an infatuation, with Freak Shows. Previous incarnations of Freak Show themed Swallow-a-Bicycle shows include:

-2008-2012 Freak Show tours – Walking tours led by two characters with their own narrative who come      across separate performances in unusual spaces. The first tours were in EPCOR Centre, in later years tours were also performed at the Glenbow Museum and Calgary Tower. In 2012 the tours were renamed Site-Specific Spectacular.

Over 5 years, 200 artists have taken part in Freak Show tours from Dancers to Visual Artists to Musicians to Performers. Performances have varied from freight elevators to underground storage cages to parking lots to the top of the revolving door in front of the Jack Singer Concert Hall!

-2012 Death of the Freak Show. A walking tour in the Epcor with a narrative. Audiences followed a group of Freaks and witnessed the impact on their lives when the Freak Show is shut down.

Like many decisions we made early at Swallow-a-Bicycle, choosing the theme of ‘Freak Show’ was something we did without too much thinking and more based on instinct. In 2008 we knew we wanted to produce and present boundary pushing work by emerging Calgary theatre folks at High Performance Rodeo. The goal was to try and fill a portion of the void left by the truly awesome, inspiring and boundary-pushing Mutton Busting Festival produced by Bubonic Tourist that had stopped in 2007.

We could never replace Mutton Busting Festival but we hoped to generate some of the local creative and wild energy we felt was missing at the High Performance Rodeo. When we approached Michael Green, High Performance Rodeo curator, he was enthusiastic about the idea but could not provide any space for performances. This forced us to get creative and the idea of performance tours in non-performance spaces (e.g. stairwells, plus 15, boiler room) was born.

Once we had the tours we wanted a theme for the tours that reflected the craziness and boundary pushing that we envisioned for these walking tour performances. ‘Freak Show’ seemed like a natural fit. As we embraced the tours our love of site-specific theatre was born. Freak Show tours are the reason Swallow-a-Bicycle Theatre now specializes in site-specific theatre. Invention from necessity.

From that beginning would follow Death of the Freak Show and now Tall Tales and Terrible Truths. Both shows are inspired by the very real stories and very real people of the Freak Show. In fact we have now spent many, many hours researching freak shows: in the United States and the U.K., in literature and movies, and its relationship to medicine and science. We have a great knowledge of the Freak Show’s rich history and how it has evolved into our modern society.

Freak Show: Tall Tales and Terrible Truths will probably be our last show inspired by Freak Shows. Going forward Swallow-a-Bicycle will explore new themes and tell new stories. However Freak Shows will always have a special place in our heart, not just for being a part of the birth of our site-specific work but also as a venue for celebrating the skills and talents of the unusual and the misfits in mysterious and tantalizing ways.

We invite you to our last Freak Show. Step inside our Tent…if you dare.

Calgary’s Poet Laureate ruminates on a Secret Dinner

At last night’s Secret Dinner, we had the amazing fortune of featuring performances by Kris Demeanor, Calgary’s first Poet Laureate!

Before each course, Kris recited a poem he had written, inspired by elements of the meal. Here they are!

Pugilist’s Shame

The GOAT – Greatest of all Time
Champagne of the World
Wiki-leeked mistress
He’ll arugula the day
Cheese a tartlet!

He’s His Own Mechanic

Hali butted his Carpaccio crisply against the curb, and put it up on Blancs
Ci-rtust him to fennel the oil in straight
He’s a prosciutto – the finest you ever slaw

You Don’t Have to Be Nice Just Because She’s Old

Reduce my pomegranate with disparagus remarks
She’s a truffle short
She ribs you and listens to Lawrence Elk
Her snips are puree sub par
So vin she yawns, a cab.

Dessert Oasis

I’ve vanilla bean to your spiced port
Your clafouti tub is big enough for tutti
We’ve been frutti this before, when I first laid ice on your drizzle.


This year Swallow-a-Bicycle is expanding with a new style of FREAK SHOW tour. The FREAK SHOW REDUX tour will be a cohesive ensemble show. With that on our plate we decided to bring on some folks to help us on the production/administrative side. It is exciting because it will allow Mark and myself to focus more on being artists while also being mentors for a great group of people.

I am very excited to announce our FREAK SHOW team this year:

Artist Co-ordinator – Nicole Olson Grant-Suttie
Publicity & Marketing – Jenna Shummoogum
Volunteer Co-ordinator / Box Office Manager – Kelsey Ledbury

this is a fantastic group of people who are super enthusiastic about being a part of FREAK SHOW. It is very exciting to have people who are also excited about the project and want to be involved in making it happen. It is also exciting at the prospect of a bit more sanity and sleep for Mark and I. (relatively speaking anyway…maybe?)

Freak Show 2011

‘Freak Show’ is coming. January 6-8 and January 13-15.

All moveables of wonder, from all parts,
Are here–Albinos, painted Indians, Dwarfs,
The Horse of knowledge, and the learned Pig,
The Stone-eater, the man that swallows fire,
Giants, Ventriloquists, the Invisible Girl,
The Bust that speaks and moves its goggling eyes,
The Wax-work, Clock-work, all the marvellous craft
Of modern Merlins, Wild Beasts, Puppet-shows,
All out-o’-the-way, far-fetched, perverted things,
All freaks of nature, all Promethean thoughts
Of man, his dulness, madness, and their feats
All jumbled up together, to compose
A Parliament of Monsters. Tents and Booths
Meanwhile, as if the whole were one vast mill,
Are vomiting, receiving on all sides,
Men, Women, three-years’ Children, Babes in arms.

Wordsworth’s description of Bartholomew Fair (from The Prelude, Book 7. 1805, lines 706 – 721)


i moved to calgary about 5 years ago. people always ask why, especially because many people leave for the city i am from, vancouver.

well, i love this city. really. i know we rip it all the time and yes there are tons of things that drive me crazy, like the lack of walking culture and urban sprawl.  however there is a ton of excitement in this city. there is an energy to this city, a potential, an unfulfilled promise.

i came to this city because i felt welcomed and encouraged by the theatre community. I came because i was excited by the other artistic disciplines i was exposed to: visual art, dance, and music. as well as the artists doing cool things and dabbling in the grey areas between genres. folks like eric moschopedis, laura leif, robey stothart, the rabbits and of course mark hopkins. I also came because i felt there was a sense of entrepreneurial spirit being embraced in this city to which i was attracted.

i think most of us are not engaged much in municipal politics. yet it is often the level of government that impacts us the most. certainly we discovered this through the irobot saga. (if you don’t know what this refers to read my previous irobot post http://www.swallowabicycle.com/blog/?p=91)

so what is this post all about? VOTE! For the love of god read up and vote. First of all people are literally dying in other countries to do this or to have their vote recognized properly (e.g. Iran). This city has so much potential. I genuinely believe it is on the cusp of something special as it comes into it’s own. However to do so the city needs input not apathy. So please read up and vote for your trustee, alderman and mayor who you think share your vision of calgary. As well continue to be engaged in civic politics as Calgary comes into it’s own.

some great resources:




you sit when you want to rise, keep quiet when you want noise

From Jonathan Ball’s Clockfire, a book of impossible plays:

Entering the theatre, you dream what brought you here. Impossible dreams. You know before you sit, before you turn your attention to the stage, that nothing you see shall impress you, nothing in this darkened room will change your life. Yet this is why you came: for change. Your gods abandoned you and you need new gods. Your myths have come to vainglorious ends. You want something from the theatre it cannot give. You want to be hammered on anvils and shaped in fire. Instead, you sit when you want to rise, furious, keep quiet when you want noise. And still, when the lights go down, there is a moment before the curtain rises when you think things might be different this time, the stage might spill forth phantoms, let loose some antediluvian madness that will carry you off to its terrible, bone-crusted lair, something you fear but desire with each pulse.

Freak Show 2011 – Call for Artists

Swallow-a-Bicycle Theatre:

Call for Artists

Freak Show 2011

Swallow-a-Bicycle invites Calgary-based artists to participate in two upcoming projects at the High Performance Rodeo, Calgary’s International Festival of the Arts. Both projects will run January 6-8 and 13-15, 2011 in downtown Calgary.

Freak Show Classic

Returning to One Yellow Rabbit’s High Performance Rodeo for its fourth consecutive year, Freak Show is a site-specific tour that puts a wide variety of freakish multidisciplinary performances in unusual spaces – stairwells, rooftops, storage rooms, parking lots and more.

Artists are asked to create an original, self-contained 5-7 minute performance/experience. This creation should be inspired both by the theme “Freak Show” and by the site of the performance. Swallow-a-Bicycle is seeking artists with an interest and understanding of the creation of new work, and who wish to challenge their current creative practice via artistic experimentation.

For more information about previous productions of Freak Show, visit the “Performances” page at www.swallowabicycle.com.

Freak Show Redux

Swallow-a-Bicycle is proud to introduce a new Freak Show format for the 25th annual High Performance Rodeo. For “Freak Show Redux”, an ensemble of creators and performers will work collaboratively to develop a cohesive Freak Show performance.

This performance will be a site-specific traveling tour that moves throughout a building; but, unlike the original Freak Show, the entire tour will be developed by a collaborative ensemble to create a unified experience. There will be four weeks of rehearsal (evenings & weekends) in November-December 2010 to collaboratively develop and rehearse a mobile site-specific show based upon the theme ‘Freak Show’, followed by twice-nightly performances from January 6-8 and 13-15, 2011.

Submission information:

To be considered for either project, please submit a description (maximum two pages) of:

  • Your creative practice
  • Your experience with collaborative creation
  • Your reasons for wanting to participate in the project(s)
  • Your interest in site-specific performance / creation
  • Your interest in the theme “Freak Show”
  • Your availability for November/December 2010, January 2011

You may also submit additional materials, including: CV, video, reviews, surprises.

Artists are welcome to apply for both projects, but will not be able to participate in both. You may submit one application to be considered for both projects.

Participating artists in both projects will receive an honorarium.

Submission deadline: Monday, September 20, 2010 @ 5:00 pm

Send submissions to info@swallowabicycle.com

[Subject line: “Freak Show Classic”, “Freak Show Redux” or “Freak Show Classic & Redux”]

Call 403.698.3088 or e-mail info@swallowabicycle.com

Freak Show 2011 – Call for Coordinator

Swallow-a-Bicycle Theatre

Call for Submissions

Freak Show Coordinator

Swallow-a-Bicycle Theatre is seeking a coordinator for Freak Show, running January 6-15, 2011 at the High Performance Rodeo, Calgary’s International Festival of the Arts.

Freak Show is a series of site-specific tours that put a wide variety of freakish multidisciplinary performances in unusual spaces – stairwells, rooftops, storage rooms, parking lots and more. 2011 marks the fourth edition of Freak Show, which debuted at the High Performance Rodeo in 2008.

The successful candidate will oversee two Freak Show tours, one in the EPCOR CENTRE for the Performing Arts and one in another downtown venue. Each tour will involve approximately 15-20 artists, performing in 5 different sites throughout the buildings.

The coordinator’s responsibilities will include:

  • assisting Swallow-a-Bicycle staff with the curation of Freak Show tours;
  • coordination of rehearsal schedules and venue access with Freak Show artists;
  • liaison between Freak Show artists and Swallow-a-Bicycle staff;
  • coordination of box office volunteers and ushers; and
  • oversight and troubleshooting of Freak Show performances.

The successful applicant will:

  • have a passion for site-specific performance and artistic experimentation;
  • have an interest in theatre production and arts management;
  • be self-sufficient, organized and capable of multi-tasking; and
  • have excellent communication skills.

The successful candidate will receive a small honorarium.

To be considered, please send a CV and cover letter to info@swallowabicycle.com (Subject line: “Freak Show Coordinator”)

Call 403.698.3088 or e-mail info@swallowabicycle.com for more info.

Final Suzuki/Viewpoints Workshop Thoughts

I just completed a 5 day workshop with SITI Company members Ellen Lauren and J. Ed Araiza. SITI Company uses two separate trainings, Suzuki and viewpoints. For those unfamiliar with either I have short definitions at the end or check out:


discipline and rigour. discipline and rigour. i have never heard the word rigour used as much as i did during my suzuki training. rightfully so, the work is incredibly precise and challenging, it demands rigour.

The Suzuki process was incredibly challenging for me. I am very lazy when it comes to precision and body awareness as a performer. I understand its importance… I just get fidgety. It’s like some version of rebelling against authority, like the second I tell myself to do something I want to do the exact opposite. I hold a glass and tell my hand not to shake it shakes. I tell my body to stay still it gets restless, well I get restless. I am not good at stillness, I create my world in action. It probably works into my inner psychology to as I am a believer in working externally to take steps in improving my mood and getting through things.

I learned a lot from this process. by challenging myself in suzuki i think i am better prepared to help and challenge the performers i work with. i hope anyway. We will see, it’s always easy to be immersed in something and then only when you try to explain it or replicate it does it become much more difficult.

My understanding of viewpoints has evolved during this process as well. The way I view it now, a way that will undoubtedly change as I learn more and perhaps attempt to incorporate some viewpoints into my own work even, is a way to approach theatre. All theatre. It is a way for an ensemble to work together to create both as a group and individually. It forces the performer to be very external, to be aware of the ensemble, the architecture and themselves in space. I feel like it forces the performer to be more aware and to take ownership for the work that is being presented, not just their own lines and blocking but the performance as a whole.

Unlike a lot of contemporary actor training both viewpoints and Suzuki really force an actor to think about their performance externally. It encourages them to be aware of the whole performance and encourages them to look for impulses and motivations that come externally or from the state of the performer’s physical body rather than looking for motivation from character psychology.

This is of course something that can benefit everyone working in theatre but it seems to be especially useful in much of the work that I and S-A-B do. That is bringing a group of artists together as an ensemble that is responsible for the project as a whole.

It is incredibly exciting for me. Also lots of fun.

I am excited to try and incorporate some viewpoints exercises and philosophy with my work going forward. I will try to use what I have learned about myself as a performer to help my own performers with their work. This will be incredibly challenging no doubt and I hope I have just enough grasp that this does not become a complete failure.

I was also inspired by the professionalism, dedication and humility that Ellen and J. Ed approach the work with. As teachers they led by example in the way they taught as much what they taught us. This was no kumbaye singing hold everyone’s hand and cry kind of workshop. Don’t get me wrong I’ve done those workshops too, they can be great and inspirational, but I appreciated the focus and determination that both J. Ed and Ellen work by. They demanded a lot from us and they were not hesitant at all to tell us if we were not meeting their expectations. In a summer in which I found myself losing focus and motivation it was very necessary.

this week was a blur in many ways. just a drop in the bucket for each of these processes. As J. Ed said (super paraphrase here) it was more about a week of them sharing what they do, letting us into their world. A week is not really enough time to teach us. That must be especially true when it is something you have been working on and developing for 18 years, as the members of SITI company have been doing.

Finally a huge thanks to Stephen Atkins of Human Theatre and Capilano University. Stephen was responsible for a great workshop that was really well organized and very affordable.

Some definitions:
Suzuki – A rigorous physical discipline drawn from such diverse influences as ballet, traditional Japanese and Greek theater and martial arts, the training seeks to heighten the actor’s emotional and physical power and commitment to each moment on the stage. Attention is on the lower body and a vocabulary of footwork, sharpening the actor’s breath control and concentration.

The Viewpoints allows a group of actors to function together spontaneously and intuitively and to generate bold, theatrical work quickly. It develops flexibility, articulation, and strength in movement and makes ensemble playing really possible.

Suzuki training and Viewpoints are two DIFFERENT things. For SITI company through the dialogue between Suzuki and Viewpoints, these two, very distinct, yet complimentary approaches to the art of acting that the philosophy and technique of SITI Company is continually explored, revitalized, and articulated.

Day 3

i am very lucky to be doing this workshop with Tom Scholte. I got to know Tom during the OYR summer intensive. The reason i feel lucky is not due to having a familiar face, though that’s nice, but because Tom is a smart, hardworking teacher and actor whose opinion i really value.

Tom teaches at UBC a couple classes on performance creation, and he tries to learn numerous techniques to pass on to his students. I have found his questions in this process really insightful. tom struggles with a lot of the work as it’s very different than his own process as an actor. viewpoints and suzuki are all about the external world (huge oversimplification of couse). they encourage you to engage with the outside to be aware of your surroundings, your fellow performers. tom comes from a more stanislavsky approach of figuring out what he is doing and what is going on . (again crude oversimplification) Why i value his insight is not that he disagrees with their methods he is simply looking at it critically, asking questions of their process and of his process. sometimes at workshops you get a lot of people their just to worship at the altar of whoever is teaching it.

Tom also asks good questions. today he started a ball rolling that i continued. i talked with J. Ed about SITI company’s process. I am really trying to understand how they go about incorporating the viewpoints process into eventually creating theatre for an audience. It’s a tough balance because in some ways i want them to explain their process to me but of course that is what the workshop is intended to be. also it’s probably not fair to ask people who have dedicated their lives to creating and using a process to just give me the cheat sheet. However it’s a balance, as Tom pointed out, because you don’t want the experience of the workshop to be a hermetically sealed experience. sometimes you do workshops that are wonderful experiences but it’s difficult to use or implement what you were taught/shown.

My challenge from this is to try to take what i am learning and put it in my own director/creator tool belt. i need and very much *want* to be able to use these tools. my challenge is going to be in being able to explain the process to others, to use them with my next ensemble, and to layer it in with the exploration or process that will exist. as i get into this i don’t feel viewpoints is a totally spearate process to be learned and then used. rather i need to take parts of it and use it with the process myself and swallow-a-bicycle has already begun to use.

what is helping me a lot is to read the viewpoints book at the same time. the viewpoints book is really a workbook for how to do viewpoints. it has all the same things but of course comes at things slight differently (inevitable as different authors than teachers). we were told this from the beginning but more and more it becomes clear that a lot of viewpoints is breaking down elements (of theatre) we already know exist but just making us become much more aware of each one, in some ways enhancing our specificity as a performer (which of course is always a good thing). it can be used to create material that is inspiration for a story or it can be used to approach text (you could use viewpoints for a production of hamlet). it is the second way i am less clear though that is beginning to change.

I think sometimes viewpoints is thought of as a style of movement. (i think though don’t have much more than anecdotal evidence of that). however it is not a style, it is a more of a system that encourages the performer to engage creation or text more fully. fully = their whole body, the other performers, the architecture of the room.

Ellen hates the term ‘physical theatre’. i understand why. all theatre should engage the body fully. a production of ‘who’s afraid of virginia wolf’ or ‘death of salesman’. the actors should be fully connected making full body choices, aware of their other actors and their surroundings.

my understanding of viewpoints is evolving. suzuki is basically just david barnet throwing water bottles at actors. not saying it isn’t effective mind you.

Day 2

i learned today that i am fidgety. that i have to keep in a pose, feel that pose, feel what is wrong and correct the next time instead of trying to fix it then. i have to be calm patient and check in with what is wrong. still: suzuki hard, viewpoints fun.

it’s something i think i inherently do when i am challenged by work, i fidget. i am not general very rigorous, certainly not physically. perhaps a reason that i am attracted to viewpoints is the balance of rigorous rules that create total freedom. However suzuki seems to be all rigour.

today we said who we were, where we were from and why we were there: why this workshop at this time. a lot of the group is performers either refreshing their practice, refocusing and rechallening or learning for the first time. not all but a lot. i am one of the few non-performers. i explained the reason i took the workshop was that i am very interested in viewpoints as tool for performance creation and also as a tool in more “traditional” text based work that i do. I come to it as a director and a creator.

i am still very interested in spring-boarding my viewpoints experience into more of my work. I do not think i will get there in this workshop. it’s too short. we most likely will not get to text. i already see many practical applications to viewpoints. After all viewpoints really just puts a structure to what already exists when it comes to form on stage. this is always invaluable to a director.

The next step too in this is to figure out what from viewpoints and suzuki i can use in the upcoming year. i don’t think i can commit a show fully to a viewpoints method, for one i won’t know it well enough. hopefully i can incorporate some exercises and ways of thinking about things that will be helpful. especially for the new freak show.

yup that’s a lot of rambling saying the same thing.

also i have been to cap campus two days and each time i have taken a different way there and back in regards to transit. hopefully by the end of the week i will have figured out the best way to get there.

also erika walter does not have salt and pepper. just seasoning salt. weird.

Viewpoints Workshop Day 1

Taking a viewpoints workshop in Vancouver with Siti Company instructors

Day 1

“I am not qualified to teach movement. I am somewhat qualified to teach viewpoints” –J. Ed Araiza, SITI company viewpoints instructor

some notes in no particular order

– I am incredibly tired. The work is absorbing and draining. Mentally and physically exhausting due to the total focus necessary. Of course getting up earlier than i have lately part of that too.
– I am reminded how much I love doing viewpoints. There is a beautiful freedom in the restrictions and instructions that are given
– I find it funny being in these classes where I am clearly not a performer but the instructors don’t realize it. Then I usually catch on later and they often look at me like I’m a retard who finally learned how to clap (sorry not pc. Sorry). The whole thing kind of makes me laugh.
– Our instructors Ellen Lauren and J. Ed Araiza are incredible. they waste nothing and are not afraid to kick ass. Their intensity is awesome though it manifests itself in different ways. Ellen is more of the drill sergeant while J. Ed is gentler. Yet both are still intense, precise and focused. I can’t explain why but their super dedication and precise focus kind of makes me laugh. I can’t explain why, it’s not a bad thing.
– Am doing a bad job of memorizing lines from Macbeth, but it makes me think about the play as the terrible nightmare of a child killer who’s own ego tells him what he wants to hear (i.e. the witches). “ But wherefore could not I pronounce ‘Amen’? I had the most need of blessing, and ‘Amen’ stuck in my throat’
– It is an amazing group of people I am working with. I have never done a workshop with a group who seems at least to be so willing and committed. There is relatively very little hesitancy. It helps that almost everyone has some exposure to at least viewpoints if not both. Still it is almost competitive when it comes to volunteers.

“I felt as though the Viewpoints format allowed me the opportunity to express beyond my habits and shields. However, more than the format that is Viewpoints, I felt that Rita’s direction that enabled me to notice what was making me limit myself, and encouraged me to move beyond those limits to a place of purpose and openness. I feel as though in the workshop I saw moments of my potential as an artist, moments I haven’t seen in myself in quite some time.”
– leda davies S-A-B workshop #2, viewpoints

“These Deeds must not be thought
After these ways; so, it will make us mad.” – Lady MacB

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