Old Strathcona Performing Arts Centre (8426 Gateway Blvd.) August 14, 16, 18, 20, 21, 23, 24
More information: camelcamelshow.com
An interview with Janessa Johnsrude.
Describe your show in five words.
Abbott and Costello meet David Lynch.
Okay, now that we’re intrigued… what’s the longer description?
Desert voyages! Slapstick! Death! Androgyny! Matadors! Camel Camel is a kaleidoscopic vaudeville-esque revue inspired by the absurdistpoetry of a falsely accused Ukrainian prisoner in the 1920s, Oleg Navolska, and his surreal depiction of the grotesquely pulchritudinous “Camel Sisters”. While awaiting his death sentence, he wrote about the sisters to escape his circumstance. Camel Camel explores the outrageous reality of these two eccentrics, which becomes a world unto itself. Their vaudevillian antics are interrupted by the worm eating Navolska from the inside out, and as it turns on them, they realize that perhaps they don’t exist at all, or at least not anymore. BUT it’s a comedy with original musical numbers!
Camel Camel uses elements of bouffon, clown, physical comedy, vaudeville, and gender bending to lurch through macabre, imagined worlds in a cascading theatrical event that poetically confronts the reality of death, asking: “How can we be beginning and ending all at once?”
Tell me a bit about why you describe the show as “kaleidoscopic”.
The sisters are a performing duo, and carry on in a warped vaudeville style that blurs the lines between a performance-based presentation and a metaphysical reality where their acts turn in on them. The show weaves through the perils of their quirky relationship in a shifting landscape where elements of their acts, such as desert heat and stab wounds, become actualities. Just like a klaiediscope, the show transforms before your eyes and evocative images inconspicuously appear moment to moment. Like they say in vaudeville, if you don’t like something, wait five minutes… this show is like that–and the Camel Sisters and their relationship serve as the through line.
A large part of Camel Camel and the Camel Sisters was created through improvisational writing. Tell us a bit about how you and Meghan created the show, and in particular how you got into the absurdist vaudevillian world this show takes place in.
Glitter Gizzard created Navolska out of fact and fiction in an improvisational writing process to capture the perspective of a victim of circumstance – an individual who is experiencing an undeserved fate at the hands of others. Although he never appears in the finished play, it is through the imagined mind of Navolska that the world of the Camel Sisters manifested. The poems came out of researching what Navolska’s situation would have been like, his projected mental state and his relationship with the crime he never committed, but is being punished for. Our original intent was to use the poems in a less abstract way, however when we took them into the studio, we found a more unbridled approach to be the most fruitful.
We consider ‘improvisational’ writing to to be both with a pen in hand and on our feet in the rehearsal space. In this case, we wrote the poems of Navolska as jumping-off point to create the world we inhabit as the sisters. The rich imagery of the poems and the time period we chose lent itself to a form in which we could create “acts” for each piece of writing. We also did a good amount of research in to the era of vaudeville and its roots all over the world, to give us a grounding in comedic duos, sister acts, and a feel for the time period. Our interest in the form and the characters that arrived from our research and studio work provided the fodder to link these absurdist images from the poems together.
We create material by throwing out prompts – an image, a word, a scenario, or an entire “Navolska” poem – and then improvise through these prompts to create the “script” – which continually evolves every time we perform. We invite new discoveries on stage each performance.
We also wrote many times on our feet, improvising through a prompt and finding the script by being “in” the characters, or by taking images- literally, images or text we find in our research– to inspire, trigger an idea, a circumstance, or a tangential world. We try to follow these interruptions or tangents and see what they want to say, instead of forcing our meta-objective on it. To flesh out our characters, the camel sisters, we employed character “mask”, using body (and body padding), voice, image, and relationship to fully arrive at the eccentrics you will see on stage. It also features original music. We worked with a sound designer, much like how we worked with one another in the studio, throwing out prompts and images to create the soundscape of the show where each “act” has it’s own musical element.
Thus, we have arrived at an experimental, non-linear piece that we hope is both comedic and surprisingly touching.
Anything else you want audiences to know about the show?
It will be funny, macabre, form-bending and really different. Weird… in that good way, when your brain goes huh? and your gut goes hah hah! Our characters are accessible, so you can stay with us on their journey.
Bonus question: Any names you want to drop who have been involved in your show (Edmonton arts people or otherwise)?
Our creative consultant was world renowned Canadian clown Mooky Cornish of Cirque De Soleil fame. We give a big shout out to Dell’arte International, an international physical theatre school based in California, where we met as students and both currently work– they have supported our alumni company from the beginning and many others along the way (including this year’s Fringe favourites The Wonderheads and past favourites Under The Table: The Hunchbacks of Notre Dame, The Only Friends We Have). Original music was composed by California-based musician Cory Goldman.
The 33rd Edmonton International Fringe is August 14 – 24. Get your tickets at tickets.fringetheatre.ca.