Greek tragedy. Dionysus. Mythology and a Greek chorus. Becoming a hero, as determined by a mighty (duet) battle. Bouffons. And, of course, cows.
In a performance that promises seductions and temptations, theatre performer and writer Elaine Weryshko wants to introduce you to the world of Dionysus and a more hedonistic mentality with The Cows. First performed in front of Calgary audiences at Sage Theatre’s 2016 Ignite! Festival, Weryshko was inspired by the creation of this performance – by the matching, and contrasting, of Greek tragedy to the landscape of the Alberta prairies – and decided to develop the show further, placing the human drama around cows in a field. Sound eclectic? Provocative? Well, it is, and luckily for us Weryshko was gracious enough to fill in some blanks and set the proverbial stage for this sensual, heroic performance.
Q: What are audiences in store for with this show, a true representation of Greek tragedy?
A: A love story. A really melodramatic, creamy, dreamy love story. Also some Ancient Greek mythology. We visit the tale of Dionysus, the Greek god of wine, fertility, theatre and inspiration. Dionysus is a demigod stuck between the human world and the (world of the) gods, belonging to neither. We use this tale to parallel conversations about gender and redefining our identities with traditional love stories today. We need new love stories! Because we are changing how we see fluidity, to become the fabulous beasts that we are born from the universe, beyond these ideas of labels and “plots” handed down.
Q: The show was inspired by an Alberta theme, ultimately? How did cows and the Alberta landscape shape this performance?
A: I have a great pride in these prairies. I am Calgary-born, and have seen this landscape for the majority of my life. I work a lot between Calgary and Edmonton and have often found myself driving along the 2A staring out at the fields of grass and canola, and (having) been struck by its intense barren beauty. We are, a little bit, outcasts: the prairie people, the middle provinces, something stuck between Vancouver and Toronto. Canada is a huge place, and it’s easy to forget that we have a paradise where we are. I wanted to write a show that included my home, my inspirations and a land often forgotten.
Q: How did you make the leap from Alberta to Dionysian/Greek tragedy?
A: Dionysus collects misfits – the outsiders, the punks and renegades. This is totally how I often feel about the Alberta spirit. It’s the wild west, baby! The initial inspirations for the show came out of the image of cows in a field, and it has aways been an epic, and there is no better form of epic than the Greek’s. When the “stakes” are high and the emotions are on the brink of madness, this is where the meat of human drama becomes poetic! I’ve always been very inspired by chorus work, it is so rarely attempted, because it takes a lot of coordination! The spirit of bringing together a group of strangers to build the impossibilities of the imagination is a beautiful feat special to theatre, and I am excited to bring it roaring back to the Calgary stage.
Q: The “hero” of the performance is determined at the outset by a duet battle to Die Antwoord’s song I Fink U Freeky (which is awesome) — does the performance follow a set script each night, or is it adjusted according to the choosing of the hero?
A: There is a script, but my scripts are always a bit different, a bit vague and very interpretive. Each hero knows the check points, and what they want to do between them is their game each night.
Q: What is the importance of physical theatre, chorus-style, audience participation and the bouffons (clowns) with regards to enhancing the performance experience, for both this show and maybe theatre in general? What ultimately is the role of the bouffon?
A: Whenever bouffons appear on stage, it is always to wink at society. They are the messengers from below, come to talk to us humans with a dance, a smile and a pinch. They help us accept the unacceptable and do the impossible. They are also the most fun part of the show to watch!!!
Q: Finding the ability to captivate and capture audiences these days is difficult from a theatre perspective, so as a performer, how do you think we can combat that? How do you retain those audiences?
A: I think the definition of “value” has changed. I think audiences have not diminished their desire for attending live events, but I do think that the experience of theatre has not taken into account the changed understanding of value in people. We don’t need shorter shows, or lots of tech to keep the modern brain invested, we need to realize that live theatre is like magic, and good magic, when done well before your eyes, is beyond valuable. You can’t bring theatre home with you, (and you) can’t repeat it. This spirit needs to be instilled in the comfort of the production and the performers, to bowl down the pegs new each night because the production is literally unable to be completely replicated again.
(Photo: Jessica Wittman)
The Cows runs March 8-11 at Theatre Junction Grand. Check the TJG website for showtimes and info.
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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 firstname.lastname@example.org.