Cultural Studies: ENDURE London Diaries Part 2

It's been a crazy week and I can't believe it's our last day here in London already! Final show is tonight, then Suchan and I hop a train to Edinburgh bright and early tomorrow morning. The crew follows a few hours later and we do it all over again!

We started our London performances on Thursday morning with a private showing for Minister of Culture Heather Klimchuck and the Executive Director of the Alberta Foundation for the Arts, Jeffrey Anderson, along with several of their staff (one of whom has run 9 marathons). They brought their photographer and we learned that seeing ENDURE was an official part of the Alberta Government's mission at the London Olympics. 

Mr. Anderson arrived in a full suit and tie with mirrored aviator sunglasses. He looked like a CIA agent! All of them had meetings and formal government luncheons scheduled later that morning, so we weren't sure how much of the show they'd be able to see. I was desperately hoping they'd be able to experience the whole show, so I dove in and gave it all I had.

Let's just say: everyone stayed to the end, meetings and luncheons be damned. They loved it. Jeffrey Anderson was choked up and Minister Klimchuck was gushing over the experience. It was such a brilliant way to start our run of shows, I can't even tell you. We rested a bit in the afternoon and then headed back to the theatre for opening night and the most surprising show of my life.

At the beginning of the piece, after the crew has lead the audience to the park, I join them and start the performance. I do some dance movement and then I take off running. The audience follows. At least...the 50 audiences I've had thus far have followed. My London opening night audience DIDN'T. They waited there, patient and reserved, until my crew finally had to lead them to the next scene's location! It was hilarious and baffling and totally unexpected. We got a sudden insight into British culture as it relates to intimate, interactive theatre! 

It was still a great performance, though. And, as always, I got 'em in the end. No one can resist the power of that ending!

The next day we made some tweaks to our beginning in order to help our audience understand that they have permission to move and interact and engage. They were just minor tweaks, but if the second audience was any indication: they totally worked. The second show was the show of my life. It was exactly the experience we came here to create. A nice big group, all totally engaged and with me on the adventure. 

Yesterday we had a morning off for the first time since we got here, so Mary, Julie and I went for DELICIOUS breakfast (scones! clotted cream! tea!) and then ventured down to Hyde Park for a bit of sightseeing. Bad idea. All we saw were gates and barricades as they set up for a cycle race and the triathlon events. It was a mob scene of people and we had a hell of a time getting anywhere. So the whole thing just kind of wore me out further. I'll have to go back to London and explore it under different circumstances.

Last night's performance was a weird one for me, but a great one for the audience. Early on in the show, during a scene we call Sugar Burn, I collapse to the ground and drag myself along it for a period of time. This time I dragged myself forward and overshot it somehow, slamming my chin right into the ground. It jammed my jaw back into my skull and hurt like hell. I carried on with the scene but was so discombobulated I then ran into a tree. I did several more scenes, seeing stars, surreptitiously trying to test out my jaw and see whether it was functional. For a while it wouldn't open, but I kept on performing, hoping it would loosen up.

From later reports, apparently I gave a great show! The pain and weirdness in my jaw forced me to get fully present and that performance was definitely an exercise of endurance. I still find it hilarious that the only injury I've sustained in 50 performances was not to an ankle or a knee, but to my face.

After the show, we walked back to Riverside Studios for a bite at the restaurant. I had just sat down with my glass of wine when who should walk in but Miss Christine Owman! She and Jessica had conspired to surprise me with a visit from Sweden. Her parents have joined her here and they'll be coming to tonight's closing show. We've got a big audience tonight and it is forecast to rain all day, so I'm hoping things clear up and we can finish up our London experience with a...I was going to say bang, but I think I'll leave it at...great show.

(My face feels better today, by the way!)


The Sweaty Sneaker Has Landed: London Diaries Part 1

Hey y'all! We're here! In freaking London! Here's what's been goin' on:

Suchan and Mary started working first thing Monday morning, scouting Ravenscourt Park and roughing out a route for the show. Julie and I landed later that day. I dropped my bags, hugged Jules, changed into crew clothes and hoofed it to Riverside Studios. There, the lovely Stacey and handsome Guy showed us our dressing rooms(!), showers(!), box office(!) and the gorgeous terrace overlooking the Thames(!) where our show will start.

What's with all the exclamation points, you ask? Let's just say that the last time I toured this show to my hometown of Calgary, my dressing room was a borrowed Honda CRV in an underground parking garage. I basically feel like a Disney princess here.

After we met with the Riverside folks, we broke bread as a team and then got to work. We timed the warm-up walk to the park and reviewed the locations for the show, talking through what I will be performing as of our opening tomorrow(!). Ravenscourt Park is INSANELY BEAUTIFUL. Mary ran me through the new Endorphins location and I burst into tears it was so gorgeous and perfect. The show Sootch and Mare put together made my heart sing. We came back to our fabulous Hammersmith apartment and tucked into the supplies our host/landlady Selina left for us: fresh bread, strong English cheddar, chocolate and wine.

So that sucked.

Day 2 was a big one. We were up first thing with a team breakfast and then hitting the park, restaging and rechoreographing the show in detail in the new space. We worked it piece by piece and as we turned the corner to work the approach to our finale we got the shock of our lives. A inflatable Stonehenge the size of a basketball court had suddenly appeared right on top of our ending. Bouncy. Stonehenge.

Slackjawed and jet-lagged, we stared at the dozens of merrily boinging children before returning to the proverbial drawing board. Our ending requires a giant open field and those flopping air-filled runes were on top of the only one around.

Keep calm and carry on...is pretty much what we did. We re-built the ending in a different space and worked backwards from there. Then we went into this wild and tangled conservancy area to work the "Nemesis Chase" scene. We planned out a route for the chase scene through the brush and bramble, hit Play on our iPods and I took off like a bat out of hell. Which is when I found out what two legs full of stinging nettle feels like. (It hurts a f*ck of a lot. And then crazy bubble-welts emerge all over the place, then it goes weird and tingly and then, later, it all goes away and is fine.)

So there were some speedbumps, but we worked incredibly well and made great time. At 7pm we did a run of the whole show. It was some seriously high-five-worthy stuff. We hit the pub to celebrate and fell asleep happy.

And we did it all again today. Up early, eating as a team, hoofing it to the park, fine-tuning and walking back to Riverside for a 2pm dress/tech rehearsal in full costume. Walking up to the theatre, I saw our beautiful poster hung on display for the first time. Riverside is plastered with them! I stood there, staring in awe, when a man walked by and said, 'Are you the girl in the poster?' It was THE BEST.

We ran the show, which went brilliantly. I kissed everyone goodbye and ran home to shower and change to head down to Trafalgar Square for the Alberta Reception hosted by Premier Alison Redford and, y'know, the Canadian High Commissioner. So, I basically spent my day sweating and dodging dogshit, then I got all dressed up to hobnob with politicos over paté. I love my job. 

Entering Trafalgar Square I finally felt the thing I'd been waiting to feel: Olympic fever. That place was buzzing! It was full of people and Olympic media tents and weirdos selling Jesus. I caught sight of the big red maple leaf hanging in front of the Canadian embassy and it was all I could do to keep myself from running full tilt, screaming, "I'm HOOMMMEEEE!"

The event itself was really great. I met some incredible people including a bunch of other Alberta artists here performing during the Games. I met Jeffrey Anderson, the Executive Director of the Alberta Foundation for the Arts and was so happy and grateful to meet the man that I bypassed the handshake and went straight for the hug! He and I have been emailing to plot a special secret something I'll reveal tomorrow and this was the first time we'd met in real life. And, most deliciously, I heard the "oots" and "aboots" of the Canadian accent which I have missed terribly.

And then I zipped home on the Tube, grabbed some take-out and got back to work. It's 10:30pm and Team Endure is still prepping for our opening tomorrow. We've got dozens of iPods to charge, audio to edit, show bags to pack and supplies to organize.

I'm just thrilled beyond words to be here. I'm so proud of how quickly and brilliantly the team has worked to make a beautiful show and tomorrow we get to the fun part: sharing it with London! There are still a few tickets left, so if you've got friends, family or collagues here, send them here for tix! (Oh, we're featured on the home page of Riverside Studios right now. Whoo!)

Here's what I wore to meet the Premier:


And a close-up of my fancy footwear:


It Ain't Over Until The Rocky IV Training Montage Sings

Wednesday was my last scheduled rehearsal before we leave for the UK this weekend. Monday we worked choreography in the studio for eight hours. Tuesday we put that new choreography outdoors in the park. Then Wednesday, Mary and I met in Park Slope, walked up to Prospect, synched our iPods and took off, side by side, running the new and improved show on its original stage. 

The new material went fine, but some old material felt off. About a third of the way in, I did my headstand and pressed up out of it slowly, noticing that my arms didn't have the strength I remember. Later, in the wind sprints, I felt...winded. By the finale, several minutes of sustained race-pace running, my lungs and legs were on fire.

The show kicked my ass.

I was shocked. Where was my fitness? Where was my arm strength? Every performer knows you've got to have a bad rehearsal right before you open, but this felt different. What the hell was going on?

I figured it out quickly. The Prospect show is more physically challenging than any version of the show we've done this year. With only two days to scout and re-stage, there's only so much geographical area our team can cover. So, by default, the show gets smaller and the distances between scenes shrink with it. And as far as the upper body strength is concerned? Apparently that's the one T that didn't get crossed. We've mastered restaging. We've re-worked choreography. We've raised $45,000 and produced an international tour. But that fact that my handstand dismount isn't quite a given and my finishing kick appears to be on vacation? Well now.

It was humbling. A week to the London premiere and I feel like an unprepared weak-ass.

The decision was made before I made it: that wasn't my last rehearsal. No way.

I know my body. I know how fast it responds to exercise (fast) and how quickly my neuropathways would return to the deep grooves of body memory patterned in from performing this show upwards of 40 times now (like a boomerang). The Prospect version is the toughest I'll face. So if I've got that down, I'm ready for whatever the UK throws at me. I asked Mary to crew for me Thursday morning and set up rehearsal buddies for Friday and Saturday, too. 

Thursday morning arrived and I made my way to the park. I saw the dark cloud moving in and was excited to rehearse in the rain like we'll almost certainly do in the UK. I met Mary at the picnic house and suited up just in time to hear the hugest thunder crack of my entire life. To call the downpour that unleashed itself upon Prospect Park 'rain' would be like calling the apocalypse a bummer. The storm was epic. I stood there, watching the deluge, feeling the anxiety rising.

We had iPhones for audio, no waterproofing capabilities on us and lightning streaking right above our heads. I looked at Mary. "We can't do the run." 

The downpour lightened up enough for us to head home. I ran home in the rain trying not to listen to the sour voice chirping away in my head: "You're screwed. You're not ready and you won't be ready. All this work and you're going to fail. In London. At the Olympics. Way to go, Champ. Way. To. Go."

I got home and stretched for half an hour, thinking about what just happened and what to do next. I realized I'd pinned my preparedness on being able to run the show three more times. Was that true or just superstitious? Didn't matter. I had to let that go. You'll be ready when you're ready no matter how many times you run this thing. I analyzed what stopped me from doing the run that morning and determined it was because I didn't have my new UK-ready waterproof show armband and my tiny iPod Shuffle. I had a big awkward iPhone and I wasn't willing to drown an $800 piece of technology in order to rehearse the show. Okay. So you don't have the right equipment. Let that go, too. Let go of everything you thought you needed in order to do this thing. 

Surrender, I told myself. Trust. 

Then my friend Jeff reminded me of the greatest training montage of all time. The one from Rocky IV where Dolph Lundgren is tricked out with the latest technology, hooked up to VO2 max machines and crazy blood tests while Rocky is 100% lo-fi: running up mountains in knee-deep snow and shoulder pressing horse carts full of humans. 

I fucking love that training montage.

I looked outside. The rain had stopped. Mary was long gone. I laced up my shoes, left my iPhone on the table, and walked the 40 minutes back to the start line. I'm going Rocky on this one. No tech. No crew. Just me, the park and the bone-deep knowledge I have and I am everything I need. 

I rocked the living shit out of that run.

London? Let's do this.


Dreams Come True And What That Feels Like

Most of this process has been head-down, one foot in front of the other, fight the fire and check it off the list. It's been emailing, calling, calling back, calling back again, annnnnnd again, chasing people, contracts, quotes, visas and permits down. Lately there's a lot of bumping up against deadlines that seemed so far away once, but are now crawling right up our butts.

Don't get me wrong: it's all amazing. After months and months of chipping away at things, gaining one inch here, one inch there, suddenly everything is moving at light-speed.

You get so wrapped in chasing up all the bits and pieces, you sometimes forget that they actually form a whole. So when, finally and miraculously, the pieces start connecting and the thing starts taking shape, it is no less than astounding.

Tickets are on sale (and they are selling). This seems so simple. If you only knew how much went into the the fact that I can now paste two links and you can buy tickets in London and in Edinburgh! IF YOU ONLY KNEW.

We have the most beautiful tour poster on Planet Earth. This, too, was months and months of chasing, herding, waiting, feedback-ing, hurrying, negotiating. And it was worth every single moment of it.

Julie's home looks, as she describes it, like an ENDURE retail store. It's filling up with boxes full of stickers, temporary tattoos, racebibs, logo-ed umbrellas, crew t-shirts. She has managed the bits and pieces that are all the print and promotional material we'll be using to sell and market the show.

The other day she posted the design for the racebib every audience member wears, which has the show's program printed on the back. For all the productions up until this point, we've done colour copies at Staples and hand-punched holes in them. But this time, we've gone with a real racebib printer who prints Tyvek bibs for real races. Seeing that image and the image of the nine-foot-tall START banner that will be towering above us in the UK, I had a moment of total convergence. 

I remember so clearly, sitting with my notebook in 2009, scribbling ideas: how audience members would pick up race goody bags filled with swag, how they'd put on their racebibs and there'd be a Start line, a huge timing clock, Dixie cups of Gatorade. The theatre of race day. It's 2012 now and those Tyvek racebibs and that giant START banner have lifted me up from the head-down work of this production to see that my dream – the secret little "nothing" parts of my dream, the tiny details no one knew or cared about but me, the things I let go of last year because there was no time and no money – are coming true. And they are coming true not because I hammered away at getting those little things but because I have an amazing team of people who have inhabited the vision of this thing and are making it happen.

I am not so great on the details. I will have a crazy, gargantuan, impossible idea and I will dive in with all my being to make it happen. I'll crash around and work my ass off and trust my gut and rally the troops and drive them all crazy. And that gargantuan idea will happen, come hell or high water. But, at a certain point, I'll drop the plot. Especially when it comes to print deadlines and graphic design and promotional stuff and signage. But the beautiful kicker of it is, my team doesn't. They care about those details. They care a spectacular amount.

And now, Julie's lovely home is covered in the incredible logo my friend Russ designed and the unbelievable photo my friend Dan took and the designs Suchan and Jessica stayed up until 2 in the morning to perfect. All of that stuff is there because Julie made sure it got done. We're able to have all these incredibly beautiful things because this tour is fully funded thanks to the generosity of more than 100 people and agencies. People are buying tickets and magical things are happening like crazy award nominations and special VIP showings in London.

And I think about another moment years ago, scribbling in that journal again, thinking not about this show specifically but my life in general. I wrote down a dream that seemed so simple, so far-reaching, so impossible to fully imagine that I almost laughed when I wrote it down. But once I read it, I knew would change everything. Oh god, I remember thinking, wouldn't that be great?! And then years went by with a lot of crashing around, making crazy ideas happen, but now, suddenly I've lifted my head and to find that dream has come true. 

My creative work is fully supported.

So this is what it feels like. 




ENDURE Wants To Turn You Into A Winner

So, like, a million years ago (in February), I had exactly enough money to hang myself with. Enough that I was obligated to do the tour but not quite enough to actually do the tour, if you know what I mean. At that time, I wasn’t sure grant lightning would strike twice (it did) so I started hunting down sponsors.

And by “hunting,” I mean I called two friends who literally INSIST on giving me money to support my projects. Yes! I have friends like that!

The two people I called were Jon Huyer and Andrea Brassart. I said, “Hey, I have this idea where sponsors pony up $2012. Cool, right?” And they both said, “I’m in.” Just like that. That is how generous these people are. 

Meanwhile, they are both wickedly talented in their own rights. Jon is one of the most sensitive and loving nature photographers I’ve ever seen. Each of his photos is like a poem to the planet. Andrea and her husband run Cassis Bistro on 17th Ave in Calgary. It’s a French bistro in which every single iota of the building, staff, environment and food are literally made with love. No word of a lie, the place is magical.

I need you all to experience these people’s brilliance first hand. And so I give you...

The ENDURE 2012 UK Tour We Heart Our Sponsors Contest!

There are two ways to win:

1. You go to Cassis Bistro (corner of 17th Ave and 24th St SW). You let Gilles or Andrea know that you're an ENDURE fan. You take a photo of yourself having the time of your life at Cassis Bistro. You post, tweet, share that photo (don’t forget to include @CassisBistro and @runwomanshow in you tweet or Facebook page post). The first 10 people who post get an ENDURE prize pack.

2. You go to Huyer Perspectives Photography’s website. You buy one of Jon’s brilliant photos and receive 20% off by using the discount code ENDURE2012. You post, tweet, share that photo (don’t forget to include #HuyerPerspectives and @runwomanshow in you tweet or Facebook page post). The first 10 people who post get an ENDURE prize pack.

What’s an ENDURE prize pack? It’s a pack of freakin’ PRIZES, yo! It includes badass UK tour memorabilia like signed posters, stickers, tattoos, Olympic and Fringe swag, special audio downloads and a limited edition lino-cut print made by yours truly and amazing NYC printmaker Hilary Lorenz.

Remember to address and tag your tweets and posts so we can see them! Here are the tags to use in Twitter and Facebook:

For CassisBistro: @CassisBistro and @runwomanshow

For Huyer Perspectives: #HuyerPerspectives and @runwomanshow

And to answer the question burning in your brain: yes, you can enter more than once. You can buy a Jon Huyer original and then go to Cassis to celebrate. 

In fact, I think you should do just that.