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.