One Yellow Rabbit’s High Performance Rodeo gets raw ‘n’ wild this year with diverse, provocative lineup for everyone

January is usually considered to be a sleepy month, with most theatre audiences breathing a collective, exhausted sigh after a busy, action-packed December. Not in Calgary, however. January is traditionally, for the past 32 years at least, crammed full of theatre thanks to the High Performance Rodeo – One Yellow Rabbit Performance Theatre’s annual, and much anticipated, festival of provocative and exciting performance.

This year’s Rodeo is shaping up to be one of the best in recent memory thanks to the amazing programming by curator Ann Connors. Inclusivity, diversity, family and belonging are prevalent and recurring themes throughout the productions, offering up a universality to the content that is sure to appeal to audiences.

To the uninitiated, the High Performance Rodeo can be an overwhelming prospect and a challenge to decide what to see, with over 20 productions and events taking place over three weeks. Producer Kelly Reay assures us, though, that there will be something for everyone at this year’s Rodeo.

“One of the things about the HPR, and it goes back to Michael Green’s ethos,” he says of the late festival and company founder, “is that there’s something wild for everybody at the rodeo. There’s something wild for an old person, something wild for a young person, something wild for a conservative person, something wild for a liberal person … something for everybody.”

Luckily for theYYSCENE’s readers, Reay was gracious enough to sit down with us to talk about some of these hot shows and offer up some insight as to what audiences are in store for this January.

Hot Brown Honey

Hot Brown Honey opens the Rodeo and promises an energetic start to the festival. Performed by an all-female cast, it is described as equal parts theatre and social activism with music thrown in. So, it’s theatre and, perhaps, a musical? “It’s a little bit of both,” says Reay. “I wouldn’t say it’s more one or the other, but it’s an amalgamation of many different things: it’s a theatrical performance, but there’s music, cabaret, circus performance, clown performance … it’s a combination of many different elements (which) show that strong females are taking the stage and in your face and wild, crazy, rambunctious and raucous. We wanted to kick off the festival with that energy. It’s about taking the power in a lot of ways, and not even about empowering, but actually taking the power and presenting it in an in-your-face-don’t-give-a-shit kind of way. Unapologetic. Brazen.”

Why should people see it?

“Because it’s thrilling, daring, evocative, provocative, in-your-face and wildly entertaining. It’s 6 Australian queer indigenous performers – a cool show created by really cool people.”

Hot Brown Honey runs Jan. 3 – 6 at Theatre Junction GRAND.


Reassembled is a very different kind of theatrical performance in that despite multiple audience members ultimately it is performed to an audience of one: each audience member lies in a hospital bed, dons earphones and listens to the performance as told by its creator, Shannon Yee.

“I got to listen to this play in Toronto in the summer and it’s really cool,” says Reay. “It’s a true story based on (Yee’s) experience. She had a random brain infection that started in her nose and it worked its way up into her brain, and she was out for a year because of this. In this play, the audience members participate in it from her point of view, so they lay on a hospital bed, they’re blindfolded and headphones are put on and they hear the story from Shannon’s point of view. It’s all the voices she heard, the little bits and pieces she heard while she was in a coma or in a subdued state … It’s really a passive experience, but passive and engaging.” The audience, essentially, becomes part of the experience, reliving Yee’s thoughts. Post-performance, people are invited to stay for a mini documentary on the making of the show and Yee’s experience.

Why should people see it?

“Because it’s an intimate and unique and very personal experience – personal because it’s so personal to the storyteller, but also because you’re an audience of one and you’re in her shoes. It becomes personal for you, too.”

Reassembled runs Jan. 5 – 13 at the St. Louis Hotel.

Moon, Moon, No Moon 

Moon, Moon, No Moon explores the notion of the moon, our relationship to it and how it affects us: physically, emotionally, mentally. Does that seem a little vague? Reay can clarify. “I’ve been describing it as (OYR ensemble member) Blake Brooker and (collaborator) David Rhymer’s ode to the moon. In all of human history the moon has been a guideline, a signpost going back to the beginning of literature. We’ve sent people to the moon, we’ve fantasized and speculated about the moon, so I think it’s Brooker just wanting to capture some of that curiosity in the show.”

The show itself is described as a song cycle. “It’s a cabaret,” says Reay. “The theatre will be set up as a cabaret, so it’s the songs interspersed with bits of text and dialogue, but really it’s a cabaret performance.” A cabaret performance with a stellar cast of performers, including Mark Bellamy, Jeff Charlton, Denise Clarke, Kris Demeanor, Karen Hines, Johnathan Lewis, David Rhymer and Jamie Tognazzini. Not to mention special guests Bruce McCulloch and Tim Williams making an appearance for a couple of shows.

Why should people see it?

“All the talent in that room, all the local, Calgary talent in that room … these brand new songs written and created by local artists, performed by local artists, and you know, it’s One Yellow Rabbit!”

Moon, Moon, No Moon runs Jan. 9 – 27 at Big Secret Theatre.

Inner Elder by Michelle Thrush. Photo by Elyse Bouvier

Inner Elder

Stories of history, of culture and diversity resonate with all of us, and with Inner Elder, Cree artist Michelle Thrush promises a heartwarming exploration into her inner Elder, offering a glimpse into her cultural heritage.

“Michelle, first and foremost, is a hugely respected, hugely talented local artist,” says Reay. “She’s been thriving on the film and TV scene for years and her talent can’t be contained, so this was created from a character that she had (developed) at least a couple of years ago … (that) was an ode to her grandmothers. This play has evolved throughout its creation — it’s a multi-character ode to Michelle’s roots and the elders in her community.

Why should people see it?

“It’s Michelle Thrush and, I should mention, directed by Karen Hines – two highly successful, widely celebrated female artists who make their home in Calgary. Not to mention the story that Michelle has to tell, the ode and the tip of the hat to her heritage and her culture.”

Inner Elder runs Jan. 15 – 27 at Lunchbox Theatre.

Empire of the Son

Constructed upon the sometimes difficult relationships with one’s parents, and more specifically relationships which can often be strained when traditions and values aren’t shared in multi-generational, multi-cultural families. Empire of the Son is an autobiographical one-man-show created and performed by former CBC broadcaster Tetsuro Shigematsu.

“It’s the autobiographical story of Shigematsu, and about his relationship with his dad – growing up with his dad steeped in traditional Japanese values, and the reconciling of those traditional values with contemporary society,” explains Reay. “(Shigematsu is) supported with a lot of multi-media — recordings, photographs from his life, from his family history — so it also becomes a very personal and intimate show and, even though it’s in the Martha Cohen, which is relatively big space, it’s quite an intimate show because of how personal it is.”

Why should people see it?

“Even though it’s explored through this specific lens of a Japanese Canadian growing up in the spectre of his father with traditional Japanese values, it’s also universal. It’s those family dynamics, those family relationships, the things and the lessons you learn that maybe you don’t think much of at the time, but that go on and form and shape who you are and the person you become through life.”

Empire of the Son runs Jan. 16 – 28 at the Martha Cohen Theatre.


An interactive, visual community experience. An installation that will take place in tents in the municipal building, as well as snaking a path through the +15 over into Arts Commons. A wandering, light-filled tent city, if you will, in which each tent offers a local storyteller telling a true tale about a moment in their life when everything changed.

“A call was put out to the Calgary community for people who had stories to tell and who wanted to participate in this, so the hope was to get a wide range of backgrounds and communities and to have a lot of diversity within that,” explains Reay. “In each tent is a storyteller, or perhaps two, and in each case you wander in and spend a short amount of time with the storyteller, you hear their story, in some cases you participate in their story, and then you move on to the next one.”

Why should people see it?

“It’s one of those sort of unique, maybe a little bit wild experiences that the HPR is known for. It’s not a traditional sit-down-and-watch-a-play experience, it’s a move around, personal, intimate experience. It’s different than the other stuff you’re going to see at the Rodeo.

Trophy runs Jan. 17 – 19 in the Calgary Municipal Building.

Black Boys

Again, a little bit theatre, a little bit musical, the performers explore their unique identities on the stage. A co-production with Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, the largest and longest running queer theatre in the world, Black Boys again examines universal themes of gender, sexuality, culture.

According to Reay, “It’s an exploration of being black and queer, and kind of an exploration of what that means and an expression of what that means to these three artists who created the show. I think there’s a lot of things in it that are specific to the creators and their experience, but the hope is that there is a lot more universality there and a lot of things that will resonate (in) cross-cultures, cross-demographics for lack of a better word, but then particularly with the topical lens of Black Lives Matter, of the quagmire of, especially, society south of us, just expression of that voice, how important it is to be able to give it a platform. It’s an important play I think.”

Why should people see it?

“It’s a very well-executed, well-performed well-conceived, new Canadian play that explores things that haven’t traditionally, typically been explored – certainly in Calgary. And it might be a new or different lens for many or for much of our audience base to come and experience.”

Black Boys runs Jan. 23 – 26 at the DJD Dance Centre.

Dublin Old School

Or, as I like to refer to it, Irish Trainspotting. DJs, raves, drugs, belonging, family — figuring out what is important and where you come from.

“It’s got a very sort of Irvine Welsh feel to it, that colloquial street way of speaking, way of being. It’s spoken word … it’s not like a typical play where there is a lot of dialogue or a lot of traditional scenes. There are two guys on stage, but it’s a lot of direct storytelling; it’s dramatic, but also you could read it as well and it would be highly engaging and you can connect to it. But it’s the retelling of it in that sort of colloquial street, seedy, dirty side that really makes it appealing. It is uncomfortable and visceral, and something I personally really love (in theatre) is that visceral quality. You can’t always get that same kind of experience with other mediums or other styles of theatre. There’s a dirtiness to it which I find really appealing.”

Why should people see it?

“Because it’s COOL. It’s raw and visceral and a real gritty experience that’s very rock and roll in a lot of ways, and particularly I think for a younger audience, but certainly not limited to a younger audience, but there’s that real appeal of being raw and dirty. Get ’em right where it counts — right in the family.”

Dublin Old School runs Jan. 23 – 26 at the Pumphouse Theatre.

One Yellow Rabbit’s 32nd High Performance Rodeo takes place January 3 – 28 at various venues downtown. Please visit for complete festival schedule and info.

Kari Watson is a writer and former Listings Editor of FFWD Weekly, and has continued to bring event listings to Calgary through theYYSCENE and her event listings page, The Culture Cycle. Contact her at