Rounding up the final weekend of this year’s High Performance Rodeo: Let’s Run Away and How to Fail as a Popstar

The 2020 edition of One Yellow Rabbit’s High Performance Rodeo came to a close this past weekend, wrapping up another successful showcase of theatrical performances from around the globe.

Before we move on, writer Lori Montgomery has some final thoughts on a pair of shows that closed things out.


I don’t think there is a theatre team in Canada that makes me more excited to see the house lights go down than Daniel MacIvor and Daniel Brooks. If I’m ever disappointed by one of their shows, I will be heartbroken (fair warning: I may respond with some misplaced hostility). But today is not that day. 

Their seventh show together, Let’s Run Away, incorporates the same precise character development and dark humour as their previous productions (House, Here Lies Henry, and Monster being the most well-known in these parts) and kicks it up a notch in terms of the sophistication of text and performance. 

This is another solo show featuring actor and writer MacIvor, whose performance is shaped by director and dramaturge Brooks. In practice, it’s impossible to know where each artist’s contribution begins and ends, so I’ve given up and just refer to them as a single entity. Peter is the character here, and he has taken up residence in this theatre for the evening to share a memoir written by his mother prior to her death. She abandoned him as a baby, but maintained a distant oversight, allowing Peter to figure in her autobiography. Peter brings along props and costumes that the theatre novice has inexpertly designed to enhance the drama of the retelling. This performance is an opportunity for him to correct what he sees as the errors in her account (“I got a rebuttal!” he interjects as he reads her words). 

Calgary theatregoers of a certain age will recall Victor, the narrator of House (1992), who unleashes his anger at life’s vicissitudes upon an unsuspecting audience. That show was a perfectly polished gem of a portrait of fear and anger that resonated on a visceral level with anyone who has been fearful and angry (as in, all of us). Fast forward to this show, in which Peter similarly takes the opportunity to exorcise his anger with the help of a theatre audience, but embedded in the structure and the text are layers of metaphor that carry the theme beyond the purely emotional and open the door to a more nuanced interpretation. 

Wow, that sounds pretentious. But I can’t lie — this is a show that requires some thought, not just in-the-moment reaction. Peter recalls how his mother gave him a copy of To the Lighthouse, by Virginia Woolf, and uses excerpts from the novel as a framework for revisiting his memories of his mother. In parallel with Woolf’s story, the audience is prompted to think about the nature of reality and the degree to which our recollections are subjective — is Peter’s version any more true than his mother’s? To the Lighthouse features a character who wants to be an artist but lacks skill — much like Peter, who has a vision but doesn’t have the mastery of stagecraft to make it reality. In both, art (even if poorly executed) is the path to coming to terms with the past.

Peter has layers — he is simultaneously a petulant man-child and a wise soul. His mother’s memoir recalls Peter telling her a story that she dismisses as a word game. “You have to get to the end to know that it’s a story” Peter chastises her in absentia. In his story, the world is altered in unexpected ways by the fanciful disappearance of common items: cups and bowls; marching bands; nuts and bolts. It is hard not to read this as a manifestation of his feelings about his mother’s disappearance, but he never descends into pathos in the retelling, and in fact rejects any sympathy that the audience might offer. 

The text is gently self-reflexive, and the performance is nimble and executed with a light touch. The technical aspects are designed to demonstrate Peter’s ineptitude, which ironically requires impeccable timing to realize. Everything comes together in an alchemical reaction that renders it profound, but utterly approachable on any level.


Vivek Shraya leaves triple-threat in the dust: as a musician, author, poet, visual artist, filmmaker and teacher, she has cut a wide swath through Canadian culture and there were few media left that she hadn’t touched in some way. Theatre was only a matter of time, and she’s ticking that box now, with a show in development for Canadian Stage in Toronto. A workshop version of How to Fail as a Popstar was featured at One Yellow Rabbit’s High Performance Rodeo. 

The show is a musical comedy of sorts, tracing Shraya’s path from a queer, brown kid bullied at school but vying for top honours at Edmonton’s Youth Talent Show to releasing an album and touring in France. She has visions of being the next Justin Timberlake, but eventually comes to terms with the fact that it isn’t in the cards. There are brief but effective allusions to race, class, gender and sexuality that make a clear point without being preachy.

Like any autobiography, one can never be sure how much is reality, how much is subject to interpretation, and how much is downright fiction, but there is a ring of truth to her confessions of grandiose ambition and her stumbles along the way. In reality, her album Part-Time Woman was a Polaris Prize nominee, and named one of the best albums of 2017 by the CBC, so she is hardly a failure, but it is true that Ariana probably isn’t looking over her shoulder. There is a beautiful vulnerability in her admission that despite her relative success, she hasn’t reached the heights to which she aspired. 

The show’s structure is linear, confessional narrative, punctuated by clever and well-placed musical interludes. It has a “dear diary” tone that is effective in places, but perhaps could leave a bit more to the imagination without sacrificing the impact of her recollections. At the same time, it would help if there were a few breadcrumbs dropped nearer the beginning that might foreshadow and shape an arc leading to the place of peace with her authentic voice that she reaches in the end.

Shraya’s journey to coming out as trans in 2016 isn’t directly addressed in the events she relates in the monologue, but it hovers in the costume, staging, choreography, and in her final, stark and striking summary of the 40 reasons why she failed at being a popstar. It’s a smart, funny portrait of one of the artist’s realities, and worth seeing. I’m half-committed to heading to Toronto in February to see the final version. 

Lori Montgomery is a former FFWD theatre critic who practices medicine to support her writing habit.