Best bets for Beakerhead

Beakerhead is described as a mashup of art science and engineering taking place over five days on the streets and in venues throughout Calgary. When you start to think about all the things that involve those three components the possibilities are mind-boggling — from sci-fi theatre music and animation to food preparation backyard inventions and catapults. With that in mind here are what we expect to be some of the highlights in store during Beakerhead which runs until Sunday September 15 along with a bit of unsolicited advice.


The official launch of Beakerhead takes place on Thursday September 12 at Stampede Park with “A Sequence of Unexpected Events.” Basically something will happen to co-founder Jay Ingram which will trigger a series of events involving parkour the now familiar huge mechanical spider and some sort of spectacle involving the Calgary tower — look up at exactly noon to find out what.


If you only take in one event during the five days then Beakernight should be it. Taking place at three locations — East Village Victoria Park and Olympic Plaza — your best bet is to take in all three and it’s an easy stroll from one to the other. The East Village River Walk will have the Canadian premiere of ArcAttack’s singing tesla coils alternating performances with CompressorHead a heavy metal robot band from Berlin. There will also be fire spinners the giant spider LED light painting and buskers doing mini science experiments. “If you think of a musical busker on the side of the street it’s that but with science” explains Beakerhead’s Lizzie MacNeill.

At the Victoria Park Market Walk people can climb a ladder and enter the 40-foot Raygun Gothic Rocketship join a Geek-Out Freak-Out Dance Party (participants are encouraged to dress up as their favourite scientist artist robot etc.) and view a three-storey 3D projection by Beama Visual Environments. Cam MacNeill of Beama says the company which has worked with several musical festivals and DJs has used large-scale projection mapping to design a visual installation on a three-storey building. “You take a projector and you shoot it at a wall or an object” he says adding that software is used to tell the projector where and where not to direct the light. “It’s pixel to pixel.” The result will be custom animations — “crazy robots and just really cool stuff that will work with the building and what’s going on at Beakerhead” says Cam.

The final site is on Stephen Avenue at Olympic Plaza where there will be a nine-foot tall fortune-telling Laser Kitty Speaker City interactive sound installation interactive glowing sculptures and stages i-Robot poetry a steampunk rendezvous and more. There will also be “engineered eats” and food trucks on hand.


Two local theatre companies are bringing sci-fi stories to the stage for Beakerhead.

Theatre Junction is presenting the interactive multimedia Diespace 3.0 by Amsterdam’s PIPS:lab (pictured). The play takes social media to another level: the afterlife. In the story people can upload their soul to a new active Internet community for the dead that allows them to send messages to the living. PIPS:lab is known for its high-tech approach and Diespace 3.0 is described as combining theatre interactive performance art and technology in a visually stunning performance.

Local company Swallow-a-Bicycle Theatre will present its third incarnation of i-Robot Theatre . “The goal was to take it to a new level” says director Charles Netto explaining that they’ve added puppet technology and more video to the show which is based on Jason Christie’s i-Robot Poetry . “It just seemed like the perfect fit.”

That fit isn’t just because i-Robot is a sci-fi play about robots that have taken on lives and personalities of their own and are now facing a deadly disease. Netto explains that Calgary has a strong hacker and maker community and he believes their practice is similar to creating a play. “I think artists scientists and technologists — they’re all doing the same thing just in different mediums. I do hope Beakerhead will allow these communities to kind of recognize that overlapping as well.” The play will be performed at International Avenue’s new Art Box venue on 17th Ave. S.E.


Invention and creativity is at the heart of Beakerhead and Calgary’s large engineering community will be among those focused on the first-ever international engineering competition with 16 university teams from across Canada the U.S. and Europe geeking it out in a 24-hour challenge with the winners chosen by a panel of celebrity judges. Sound like a reality show? MacNeill says there are definitely some similarities. She adds that in keeping with Beakerhead the challenge does have an arts component which is something the emerging engineers may not be familiar with. The challenge starts September 12 and opens to the public on September 13 when competitors will try to convince the judges and the audience their invention is the best.


Food preparation is often referred to as an art but it’s also a science. Calgary chefs and bartenders will take that concept a step further by serving food and drink experiments at several local restaurants including downtownfood Candela Lounge Muse Charcut Mango Shiva and others.

At Charcut owner and chef Connie DeSousa says she and partner John Jackson are definitely focused on the art of food taking a back-to-basics approach to the menu. Taking part in Beakerhead however gave them and the two cooks who participated in the Engineering Eats challenge an opportunity to create a dish and a cocktail using molecular gastronomy which allows them to alter the texture of food. “It’s really pushing the limit on the science factor” she says. “It’s really fun to be playing around with this because it’s not something we usually use at the restaurant.” Their culinary creation is a dish combining foie gras that has been turned to powder brioche that has been infused with CO2 to make it light and airy and peaches — DeSousa says the three ingredients work really well together. The dish is complemented by a cocktail called Autumn and Cognac which includes two classic ingredients: cognac and apples although in this case the restaurant is using foam made from apples. Taste them both at Charcut throughout Beakerhead.


If you love midway rides head to the Stampede grounds for the world’s first green carnival running Thursday through Sunday. “The midway rides are really similar to what you’d see at Stampede” says MacNeill. But there’s one major difference: it runs entirely on green energy using vegetable oil wind power solar power etc. This is a great way to showcase what can be done with forms of renewable energy. In addition to rides like the Zipper Ferris Wheel and Super Swings Sustainaval includes green carnival games art cars and food trucks. MacNeill says for one flat fee and zero pollution people can go on as many rides as they want. “You can ride all day until you drop.”


The spectacle of Beakerhead may be condensed into five days but months of preparation preceded it. “We did a call out to try and get people making things” says MacNeill. Others however didn’t need any encouragement which MacNeill says is evident based on the maker faires held in cities across Canada. “It’s a movement of people making really interesting things” she explains. The Mini Maker Faire is a “show and tell” by more than 150 makers with items for display and sale as well as hands-on demonstrations and a Built in Your Backyard showroom — from a homemade telescope to a 40-foot Steampunk Rock Golem this is where you’ll find the inventors who were already mashing up art science and technology. The event runs at the Alberta College of Art and Design on September 14 and 15.


A catapult competition is self-explanatory but catharsis? “The idea was that we wanted to do a catapult competition but we’re Beakerhead so it can’t just be a normal catapult competition” says MacNeill. And that’s where “catharsis” comes in — participants will use their catapults to fling things they “love to hate.” So watch out for flying Justin Bieber CDs university textbooks and vacuums (not really items to be under 10 pounds). Six teams of engineers will compete and their catapult designs and ammo will be revealed during the event on September 15 at Fort Calgary. That should be cathartic for all involved and a great way to wrap up Beakerhead.


• Beakerhead is hard to define so stop trying to figure out what it is and just go with it. “We’re kind of a mystery to people this year” admits MacNeill. “It’s kind of a ‘see it to believe it’ thing.”

• The word “interactive” comes up repeatedly during any discussion about Beakerhead and here’s why: MacNeill says they don’t want people to just show up and watch they want them to participate. Taste the engineered eats and drinks. Climb the Raygun Gothic Rocketship. Do a mini science experiment. Dress up for Beakernight. Make something. Have fun.

• Some events require tickets and some are free but require reservations so do check out the website for details: beakerhead.org .