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Calgary Theatre

3 shows you should see at the High Performance Rodeo

The High Performance Rodeo, Calgary’s international festival of the arts, runs from January 9 – 27 and tends to defy explanation. HPR’s founder, the late Michael Green, said it best in a 2014 interview with Where Calgary: “One theme you’ll always find at the High Performance Rodeo is ‘nothing ordinary.’ There’s no ordinary work here.” Here’s a small sample of the more than 20 performances featured:

Whether you’re aging gracefully or not so gracefully, join Damien Frost, his son Damien Junior and his wife Darlene on a hilarious journey behind the scenes of self-help gurus and untangle questions such as, is there really a Fountain of Youth? And, what if the longer you live, the likelier you are to live longer? The side-splitting world premiere is brought to you by the creative force behind hits like Ilsa Queen of the Nazi Love Camp and Calgary, I Love You, But You’re Killing Me. Playing January 9-19.

High Performance Rodeo

Photo courtesy High Performance Rodeo.

Sure, you’ve seen Shakespeare before. But have you ever seen a version of Hamlet where the cast is, well, hammered? Be prepared for some slurred speech, outlandish antics and audience participation as the performers stumble their way to that final scene — and yes, they really are drunk. Playing January 23-26.

High Performance Rodeo

Photo courtesy High Performance Rodeo.

“Part cabaret, part tent revival, all drag” is the formula for this wartime wonder and tragicomedienne’s show, which includes music, sing-alongs, puppet shows and (why not?) an exorcism. Pearle Harbour is an All-American gal who’s sweet-as-pie and sharp-as-nails, and has — somewhat ironically — received a Dora Award nomination for Outstanding Male Performance. Playing January 10-12.

High Performance Rodeo

Photo courtesy High Performance Rodeo.

Calgary actor Stephen Hair plays Scrooge for the 25th time

Stephen Hair in A Christmas Carol, 1984-85. Photo: Trudie Lee.


Written 175 years ago, Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is as relevant today as it was in 1843.

After his father was sent to a debtor’s prison, Dickens was forced to work in a rotting, rat-infested warehouse at only 12 years old, which sparked his lifelong interest in drawing attention to the working poor — A Christmas Carol was part of those efforts.

“I think it’s never lost its relevancy and that’s the shame of it,” says Stephen Hair, who’s playing Ebenezer Scrooge for the 25th time this year in Theatre Calgary’s stage adaptation of the book. “Poverty is still around us, there’s discrimination and hatred and division everywhere.”

He muses that the holiday season is a time of reflection for many, an ideal time for A Christmas Carol’s themes of charity and selflessness to resonate with audiences — could we be kinder to those around us? Could we open up and let others in? Could we treat others as we want to be treated?

“I had one man come to me after the show. They brought him backstage and he was in tears. He didn’t know the story and he realized this was his story. At the end when Scrooge sees the light and realizes there’s a way out, he says he found himself laughing along with everyone else. He said, ‘I wanted you to know it changed my life, and I’m going to change as Scrooge changed.’” Hair says a key part to making that message resonate with audiences is portraying Scrooge not as a buffoon, but as a real person, who is flawed just like the rest of us.

“It’s a story about a man going from darkness to light. He’s not an evil or bad man. He makes decisions, as we all do along the way, and they took him to a very dark place, and he has the opportunity to turn that around and become a new person again.”

James Kirchner (left) and Stephen Hair in A Christmas Carol 1984-85. Photo: Trudie Lee.

He says to bring about that kind of transformative power through art, and make the journey believable — to make the audience really feel — he has to feel too. “Our job is to touch people’s hearts, their minds, and to entertain them,” Hair says. “You learn that what touches an audience is letting your own emotions come through.”

He recalls being captivated as a small child by a 1951 film version of A Christmas Carol, starring Alastair Sim as Scrooge. Hair thinks it’s the best screen adaptation of the book. In 2001, he received a digitally re-mastered 50th anniversary edition of the film as a gift from his mother.

• More than 600,000 people have seen the show since 1989.

• For more than 20 years the cast and crew have been collecting donations backstage and in the lobbies after the show for the Calgary Food Bank, raising more than $1.8 million.

• 1989 was the first production of A Christmas Carol in the Max Bell Theatre, making this Theatre Calgary’s 32nd overall production of the play.

“I hadn’t watched it (after getting the role as Scrooge) purposely because I didn’t want to copy him, but it did the opposite and made me realize what he had done was so real and so genuine and so touching. I didn’t realize as a little kid how much of an impression it made on me — to find that truth and that realism on stage, that’s what I’ve always been striving to do.” When Hair was a small boy in England, he showed an early aptitude for acting. “My mom said even when I was little I used to walk behind the local people, walking the same way they did,” Hair says.

After his family moved to Montreal in the 1950s, Hair scored the lead in a play at his junior high school. Soon he was producing school plays and writing assemblies for special occasions. He studied drama at Queen’s University in Kingston, and made his way west in 1973 to join a newly formed theatre company in Calgary, Alberta Theatre Projects (ATP). He performed in a vaudeville show at Heritage Park. Five times a day he would perform in a 40-minute show, six days a week, culminating in 331 performances over one summer.

After surviving that grueling schedule, he was asked to join ATP for their first professional season, the start of a long and varied career as an actor. He’s been involved in hundreds of productions as an actor or director in major theatres across Canada, including dozens of productions for Theatre Calgary. He’s played a myriad of roles, from tragic and complex characters like Shakespeare’s King Lear to a singing, dancing and cane-twirling Snoopy in a musical version of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.

He was also artistic director at Vertigo Theatre for five years, and currently serves on the board of directors for Theatre Calgary. In 2007, Theatre Calgary established the Stephen Hair Emerging Actor Award for theatre artists in Calgary. “To help build this theatre community over 45 years has meant as much to me as any of the roles I’ve done,” Hair says.

From left to right: Kevin Rothery, Stephen Hair, Christian Goutsis in A Christmas Carol, 1984-85. Photo: Trudie Lee.

His range as an actor is impressive, and he’s been acting professionally since his early 20s. But when he first joined the production of A Christmas Carol in the 1980s, he played other roles for the first few years, including the Ghost of Christmas Future, and had to convince the artistic director to cast him as Scrooge at 44 years old. “He said I was too young and didn’t have the life experience and I said, ‘Oh really? You know nothing about my life experience. And Alastair Sim was in his early 40s when he played the best Scrooge there ever was.’”

Hair was ready to walk away from the play when he got a call a couple of weeks later to discuss it. It took a three-hour lunch, but he managed to change the artistic director’s mind. “After the first year he said to me, ‘You could play this forever.’ Prophetic words.”

Hair says it’s been a privilege to play the role year after year. His most memorable moments for him are meeting viewers after the show. “That’s what I would remember most if I drop dead tomorrow, that somewhere along the line maybe I’ve made a difference in some stranger’s life — what more could you ask for in what you do?”

Winners and Losers play is sparking conversation


In Winners and Losers, on stage at Arts Commons from November 15-25, two friends and performers debate on stage over whether certain topics are winners or losers. The random topics run the gamut from Robin Williams to Meghan Markle, and camping to private schools. Is Meghan Markle a winner or a loser? That depends on which person you ask, because the two friends are each shaped by their different life experiences. 

Courtesy Chromatic Theatre.

“The two women are different races, different ages, different generations, and they bring a variety of different opinions to the table — and they might not always be the ones you expect,” says Jenna Rodgers, the founder and artistic director for Chromatic Theatre, which develops and supports culturally diverse voices in Calgary’s theatre community. Winners and Losers is a Calgary adaptation of an original play co-written and performed by Canadian theatre artists and friends Marcus Youssef and James Long. 

One Yellow Rabbit hosted the show’s run in Calgary in 2017 as part of the High Performance Rodeo, but it’s going to be new to audiences here, even if you’ve seen it before, since Rodgers and the two performers, Makambe K. Simamba and Valerie Planche, have re-written and re-cast the performance with an all-female team. 

“Gender is a construct, but we all know what society tells us about gender is that men and women fight differently — so what is at the core of our fighting?” Rodgers says. “How do you achieve similar effects when you flip the gender? Does gender matter at the core of the play? Can we get people talking the same way they were able to get conversation started with their work?”

The production premiered at Toronto’s SummerWorks Performance Festival in August, and Rodgers says the audience was keen to jump up and ask questions — or protest if they didn’t agree with the way the conversation was going. The play is scripted but the performers do ask for talking points from the audience, so don’t hesitate to bring your own ideas. 

“It’s a play that’s going to encourage you to have a conversation,” Rodgers says. “Bring a friend who you like having long, passionate talks over a drink with, or a friend you wish you could have a long, passionate talk over a drink with, because there will be plenty of fodder for conversation and thinking about your worldview afterwards.”

Theatre Calgary play tells a universal tale


Film and television star Michelle Thrush is directing Honour Beat. Photo courtesy Theatre Calgary.

A play in which two grown sisters face off over their mother’s deathbed. A set design that almost becomes its own character. A story that takes place in a palliative hospital room and inspires deep emotion, yet also makes you laugh. That’s what you should expect from Honour Beat, according to film and television star Michelle Thrush, who is directing the play, and Stafford Arima, artistic director of Theatre Calgary. Thrush says the play is ultimately a human story.

“It’s a story anyone can relate to,” Thrush says. “It’s about family, love, death and betrayal.” She describes the relationship between the sisters as genuine, raw and beautiful.

“I’m an only child so I’m so intrigued by sibling relationships,” Thrush says. “I watch my daughters who are teenagers, and it blows my mind when I watch them argue. I didn’t grow up with that so I always wonder, do I get in there? Or do I let them figure it out because it’s building people skills?”

When Arima went to a reading of Honour Beat last year, while it was part of a new play development program at Theatre Calgary, he instantly fell in love with the story. He lost his own mother 10 years ago, and the play’s exploration of family relationships deeply impacted him.

“I think this story connected with me on a very personal level because on some level it’s a story about family, it’s a story about forgiveness, it’s a story about awakenings and transformations,” Arima says. “I connected with it on that level, and what I found so interesting about the piece was that it also made me laugh.”

He describes it as a family drama that lets you laugh and cry at the same time, and since it explores family relationships and goes to the core of human behaviour, it will also make you think and feel.

Both Arima and Thrush are excited by the voice of Canadian playwright Tara Beagan, who wrote a universal story focusing on the significance of family, with an Indigenous family at its core.

Thrush says the production features a full Indigenous cast, and many on the creative team are Indigenous, which she hopes will further open the doors in the Calgary theatre community for Indigenous artists to tell their own stories.

She says the momentum started with Making Treaty 7, a Calgary theatre production that explores the historical signing of Treaty 7 through the Indigenous perspective. This year her one–woman show, Inner Elder, returns to the stage and takes audiences on a comedic journey through her life as she transforms from young to old using Indigenous clowning.

“I’ve been working in the industry for 30 years now,” Thrush says. “The progression that’s taken place as Indigenous people step forward in the arts community is an absolute revolution.”

Her ultimate hope is that Calgarians will connect with Honour Beat’s universality.

“I think it’s so important right now that for the place we’re in as Indigenous artists that we’re seen as human beings,” Thrush says. “If we have people coming in through the audience watching the show and they can relate to it as a human story, then I’ve done my job. I hope they walk away with an understanding that there’s not as many barriers between us as human beings as sometimes is portrayed — that we all grieve, we all love, we all share kindness and jokes.”

Beware the Jabberwock! All about the latest Old Trout Puppet Workshop show


Calgary’s own Old Trout Puppet Workshop has a new show in town. Jabberwocky follows a young male hare on a quest to slay the Jabberwock—and the emotional struggles that come with such a perilous destiny.

The show comes on the heels of Twelfth Night, an Old Trout partnership with Theatre Calgary, which brings a fresh take on the classic Shakespeare play through jaw-dropping and imaginative props, sets and costuming.

What is Jabberwocky? 


15 things to do in Calgary in February


Photo by Andrée Lanthier/Courtesy Theatre Calgary.

Twelfth Night at Max Bell Theatre 

Calgary’s own Old Trout Puppet Workshop offers a fresh take on Shakespeare’s classic romantic comedy Twelfth Night through this innovative production filled with inventive props and costuming. Follow along the journey of the shipwreck that separates and strands twins Viola and Sebastian in the mysterious land of Illyria. Playing at the Max Bell Theatre from January 30 to February 24. (more…)

Q+A: Backstage at the High Performance Rodeo with Kelly Reay

Kelly Reay is currently the festival producer for One Yellow Rabbit, but a decades-long career has seen him travel across many of Calgary’s renowned stages. (Photo courtesy of the High Performance Rodeo.)


Like so many performing artists before him, Kelly Reay, festival producer for One Yellow Rabbit, was obsessed with storytelling from a young age. He dreamt of following his passion right to Hollywood’s doorstep, and first began working in Calgary’s theatre scene in hopes that the experience would make a perfect stepping stone to the silver screen. But an unexpected lesson learned early on later made it impossible for him to leave the stage behind.

“There is a richness and a uniqueness in this medium that you can’t achieve in any other, in film or TV,” he says. “Theatre is very much a communal experience—you’re there with this group of strangers, collecting shared experiences, and that rawness is ultimately one of the big things that drew me to theatre and made me stay. That idea of how visceral seeing a live performance is, and sharing that specific performance, on that night, with whosoever is in the audience.” (more…)

High Performance Rodeo: 6 Shows You Have to See


Onegin will play at the Max Bell Theatre in Calgary from Jan 5-7 and 9-13. (Photo by David Cooper.)

Looking to get out and experience the best of what Calgary’s other rodeo has to offer? Check out these high-impact performances at the High Performance Rodeo, which stampedes into town January 3-28. (more…)

Q+A: Calgary actress Erin Carter talks silver screen success


When kids dream of being a movie star, they usually have no idea how much hard work and sacrifice it will take to realize their dream. Like becoming a fireman or an astronaut, such dreams usually fade with adolescence, giving way to more conventional career goals. For Calgary’s Erin Carter, the ambition never faded, the hard work and sacrifice endured, and the dream was realized.

After graduating from the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in Los Angeles, and studying at the Canadian Film Centre’s prestigious Actors Conservatory, Erin has begun making quite a name for herself in the film industry as an actor, as a writer, and as a producer. Erin was in Calgary recently promoting her newest feature film, Suck It Up—set in Calgary and Invermere—which premiered at the closing gala of the 2017 Calgary International Film Festival. We had a chance to catch up with Erin and ask a few questions. (more…)

6 things to do in Calgary this week: Dec 18 – 24


Photo by Silvia Pikal.


If you’ve been hoping to see what a giant gingerbread house looks like, you’re in luck. The Fairmont Palliser is displaying a life-size one in its main lobby. You can even step inside the house with a cash or non-perishable food donation, benefiting the Calgary Drop-In & Rehab Centre and Calgary Food Bank. The giant donation box was so full of non-perishable goods last weekend, it had to be emptied! Help Fairmont Palliser fill it up again until January 2.

Main Lobby, Fairmont Palliser, 133 – 9 Ave SW, Fairmont.com/Palliser-Calgary (more…)

25 Things To Do in Calgary in December


A Tribe Called Red will bring their revolutionary sound to The Palace Theatre Dec. 1. (Photo by Matt Barnes.)

For some of you, Christmas has been top of mind for the past several months—but now that we’re just weeks away, the rest of us can no longer deny: ’tis the season! To help get you and yours’ in a festive mood, here are 25 of our favourite local celebrations and holiday traditions that you can take part in to count down the days until Christmas!

(If Christmas just isn’t your cup of holiday cheer, never fear! We threw in a couple of chilly activities, sans festivities, down below for getting out around town and making the most of our city at this jolly time of year—so keep scrolling, and get ready to bundle up!) (more…)

Q+A: Welcome to Calgary, Stafford Arima


Acclaimed Broadway director Stafford Arima became Theatre Calgary’s new artistic director on April 3, 2017. (Photo by Abigail Alcala.)

In April 2017, Theatre Calgary welcomed a new artistic director into their ranks—acclaimed Broadway director Stafford Arima. Originally from Toronto, Arima flourished as a director both in New York and abroad for the past two decades, with credits like Allegiance, Ragtime, Altar Boyz and Carrie under his belt. Arima has returned home to Canada just in time to oversee Theatre Calgary’s 50th season.

Although he’s still pretty new to Calgary, Arima is no stranger to city living. Six months into his new role, we caught up with Arima to see how he’s settling in here, why he left New York for Calgary and where to go for the best Alberta beef in town. (more…)