Jan 27

Why I’m now a fan of the High Performance Rodeo

by Reginald Tiangha · 2 comments

Would you believe that I’m a born-and-raised Calgarian, but never in its 25 years of existence, have I ever attended the High Performance Rodeo?

I mean, I had heard of it, obviously. One Yellow Rabbit is an institution of sorts in Calgary, and when you’ve been around for a couple of decades, one tends to cement a place in Calgary’s cultural scene.

But because, other than a couple of theatre shows I caught as a kid, theatre in general was never really a big part of my upbringing (low-to-middle class family, entertainment dollars had to be spent wisely), I was never really conditioned to check out local theatre as a form of entertainment, a mindset that has stuck with me even today, where I’m self-sufficient and successful enough to have a little disposable income to play with.

Now, it’s not because I’m adverse to theatre in general. On the contrary, the shows I saw as a child (for example, a production of Into the Woods that took place at Theatre Calgary) I really enjoyed, and ironically, I enjoyed watching theatrical productions on television (especially musicals; I love musicals!). I took Drama class in junior-high where I was cast as the lead in my school’s production of Aladdin, had a blast doing it, and would have continued on if not for a quirk in Grade 10 class scheduling that forced me to drop Drama as an option. It’s just that local theatre as an entertainment activity has just never, ever entered my mind.

After some insistence from friends, I was persuaded to catch Catalyst Theatre’s production of Nevermore. I had heard good things about it, although I didn’t know much other than it had something to do with Edgar Allan Poe.

I didn’t know what to expect and did no research prior to attending so I was able to watch it with an open mind. I had heard it was a biography of sorts. In fact, as showtime approached, “musical biography” was a term I had heard thrown around a lot.

I’ll admit: I was intrigued.

What I saw amazed me.

It was a full-on musical production about the life of Poe. Surreal at times, relatable even by today’s standards at others, without reading a synopsis on the life of Poe beforehand, I couldn’t tell what was based on real-life fact and what was creatively interpreted, but the performance grabbed me in the sense that I couldn’t help but feel sorry about the difficulty and tragedy that Poe the child must have went through growing up. It made me revisit that age-old question about “Nature vs. Nurture” and made me wonder if Poe had a different upbringing, would his life have been different? If I had a different upbringing, how different would I be right now? Pretty heavy stuff, right there. Didn’t expect to be thinking about those sorts of things by the end of the night.

And what I learned about the production astounded me. There are over 200 lighting and sound cues and 25 costume changes that the cast and crew have to contend with. The vast majority of the costumes and props are made of masking tape and tissue paper, which requires an obscene amount of maintenance after every performance to ensure they’re always ready for the next show. There is so much pride and passion put into this production on-stage and behind-the-scenes by the cast and crew, and every loving bit shines through in the performance.

Suffice it to say, I was hooked. As soon as I got home, I hit my computer looking for the next show to see. I managed to catch the last showing of Billy Bishop Goes to War, a two-man act portraying some of the exploits of the legendary Canadian war hero. I was thrilled to see there were musical elements involved in the performance, and having studied Canadian military history in school, proud that they were able to come up with a performance that wasn’t just entertaining, but a fitting tribute to our Canadian war heroes as well.

My first-ever experience at the High Performance Rodeo was a good one, and I have to say that I’m now a fan. As I was exposed to the Rodeo rather late in the festival, I realize that I’ve missed a lot of performances, and missed a few shows that I’d probably enjoy.

However, when next year rolls around, I’ll definitely make time for the 26th annual High Performance Rodeo and plan accordingly.

There’s still some time to catch Nevermore at the Vertigo Mystery Theatre. It runs until Sunday, February 6, 2011.

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