Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: an astronaut and a French bulldog walk into a spaceship in search of a way to time travel in order to circumvent death.
Probably not, right? That’s because it’s the premise of Ainsley Hillyard’s latest creation, Jezebel, at the Still Point, staring Ainsley and her adorable – and completely untrained – dog Jezebel as they navigate space, time travel, and mortality. Recently back from the Winnipeg Fringe Festival, Jezebel, at the Still Point plays at The Roxy on Gateway October 11 – 21 as part of The Roxy Performance Series.
Created partly as a tribute to Ainsley’s relationship with Jezebel, Ainsley says Jezebel, at the Still Point is really focused on how important and special relationships between animals and humans can be. “Jezebel is so important to me that I wanted to make a show about her – she’s my best pal. In the show itself, we talk about how Jezebel and I met and why I took her on as my co-pilot and the way that she’s changed my life and really helped me with my life and bringing my anxiety level down. She’s helped me narrow down what’s really important in my life and focus on that instead of getting wound up in extraneous things that don’t really matter.”
While the communication between the astronaut Ainsley plays in the show and Jezebel is implicit, the show is scripted, which can lead to an interesting twist when your co-star isn’t trained or even interested in a script. Ainsley says, “Jezebel is just doing Jezebel on stage. I can’t fault her for anything she does because I want her to do whatever she wants to. Sometimes that means she just goes on her little mat in the middle of the stage and falls asleep and sleeps the whole show… [Working on the show with Jezebel] has really taught me a lot about myself as a performer and staying present. She’s really pushed me because there are times where I’ll go to talk to her and she’s not where I left her and I’ll have to improvise my way around to get to the middle of the audience where she is to pick her up and carry her back on stage. It’s really expanded my peripheral awareness of everything that’s going on in the space – me, the lights, the space, the audience, Jezebel – at all times I know where those things are and I can’t ever get lost in what I’m doing.”
To that end, absolutely every performance of Jezebel, at the Still Point is different because it’s co-created with Jezebel and her urges. Which, as Ainsely says, could look like Jezebel taking a nap, interacting with audience members, or sniffing around on stage – audience members can expect each show to be different.
For animal lovers, the appeal of Jezebel, at the Still Point is obvious. Ainsley recounts past performances where “audience members really love interacting with Jezebel either during the show or afterwards. But, I think the show is really quite moving for some people. Everytime I’ve performed this, at least one person has come up to me after the show and told me about a dog they’ve lost or a dog they have now that they love more than anything. I think it can touch a few people quite deeply.”
For those who fall a short of being an animal aficionado though, Ainsley says Jezebel, at the Still Point still has a lot to offer: “There is a lot of really fun space travel and Star Trek references in the show, so that’s fun because I’m a Trekkie and I love outer space and nerding out on that. I think that people will experience compassion and an understanding that people do have really intense relationships with animals or other things that aren’t sentient beings and that those relationships are valid and mean a lot. I’ve heard friends of mine who have had animals pass away and they’re decimated and people will say, ‘it’s just a dog, get over it’. And they’re really not – they’re a family member, a companion, a co-pilot. So, people who aren’t animal-lovers, I hope they come away with more compassion and an understanding of those relationships and how they can really deeply affect someone.”
And those who are truly moved by the show will be in luck – Ainsley is partnering with the Edmonton Humane Society, who will have a volunteer at each show who is able to speak about adopting, volunteering or donating or otherwise getting involved with the organization.
Jezebel, at the Still Point plays at The Roxy on Gateway October 11 – 21. Tickets are $18 – $22 through Theatre Network’s box office. Tickets are 2 for 1 on October 16.