Cows, karaoke, and Greek tragedy: Calgary performance artist reinvents live theatre in a 'world of Netflix'
Elaine Weryshko's new chorus production, The Cows, debuts in the aptly-nicknamed cowtown on Thursday
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Only someone with a clown background could pull off a theatre show that brings whipped cream, cows, Greek lore, karaoke and Ariana Grande to the same stage.
That’s exactly what Calgary-born, London-trained (London as in England, not Ontario) performance artist Elaine Weryshko has done with her chorus production, The Cows, which debuts in the aptly-nicknamed cowtown on Thursday.
“I think this show is ridiculously fun,” Weryshko told Metro. “I’ve never had anyone walk out yet, and it’s kind of intense. I think it actually empowers people.”
Theatre Junction GRAND, which is hosting the show as part of its NEXT STAGE program, describes The Cows online as ‘a Greek embodied tragedy for glory, cream, guts and the quest for happiness.’
The NEXT STAGE program gives selected local artists and theatre companies all the performance and rehearsal space, front of house services, marketing, box office management and technical support they need to put on a production – at no charge.
Seventy-five per cent of the proceeds go directly to the artists and the remainder is used to sustain the program.
“It’s so hard to get funding as an artist, even as a successful artist – there’s just not enough to go around,” said Weryshko, who self-produces shows in both Calgary and Edmonton.
“So having the tech provided, the space provided, the lights provided – that is so invaluable.”
The Cows is based on the Greek tragedy of Dionysus, but it’s anything but classic.
Weryshko said she wanted to challenge conventional forms of theatre by creating an unprecedented experience for the audience.
“I like shows that break the fourth wall, and even the fifth wall,” Weryshko said.
“One of the things I find so frustrating about Calgary is that we’re very, very hesitant towards experimenting, in terms of really breaking down structure and really questioning the audience’s presence in the room or the material we’re presenting.”
She has a unique perspective on live performance from her background as a clown (also known as a poetic body, she adds).
“When I went to school in London, a lot of what I learnt there was about creating stories and dynamics through people on stage – not relying on steps, or video and all these technologies,” she said.
“I believe in a world of Netflix, theatre is in the best position to do something amazing and live on stage – because you can’t replicate it.”
About those experiments she mentioned: The Cows includes a scene that Weryshko simply describes as an ‘ice-cream ballet' – set to a tune by pop-star Ariana Grande.
“I spray everyone with whipped cream. It gets really messy, but it’s also really fun,” she laughed. “And a lot gets destroyed at the end.”
The show has two heroes that battle every night, she explained.
“They battle to a Die Antwoord song, totally sweet-ass karaoke style, and the audience decides who’s going to be the hero. So you could come one night and see the entire story led by the female, and come another night and see it led by the male,” Weryshko said.
Tickets to The Cows (March 8, 9, 10 and 11) are $20, and can be purchased on Theatre Junction’s website.