SPIN sister

Evalyn Parry’s bicycle-centric show comes to Queer Acts Theatre Festival this week. Kate Watson takes a whirl.

Halifax may be hilly, but Evalyn Parry definitely plans to explore the city on a bicycle when she brings her show SPIN from Toronto to The Queer Acts Festival next week. The actor and singer is passionate about two-wheeling, and her multimedia show is a kind of ode to the history and culture of the bike.

The show---which Parry describes as a theatrical song cycle revolving around the bicycle---has been in development for a couple of years, and had its premiere at TO's Buddies in Bad Times Theatre in March where it played to full houses and garnered rave reviews. 

"I think of the show as kind of like a wheel in that it's made up of a bunch of smaller parts like spokes," says Parry on the phone from Iowa, where she is presenting excerpts from SPIN at, of all things, a Quaker conference. (Parry grew up in a Quaker community and says she still identifies as one.)

"Hopefully, the different pieces of the show come together to make something that's bigger than the sum of the parts."

Some of the inspiration for SPIN came from the true story of Annie Londonderry, a free-thinker who, in 1895, became the first woman to bicycle around the world. The fact that Londonderry financed her adventure through corporate sponsorships---her body and bicycle were adorned with advertisements, and she even changed her name from Kopchovsky to Londonderry in honour of the spring water company that supported her journey---resonates in today's culture.

"Londonderry is the first historical example of women and sports endorsements," says Parry. "Telling her story offered a great way to widen the lens of the show from the history of women and cycling and to zoom it into the 21st century to examine things like advertising 'spin.'"

Parry is very careful not to refer to SPIN as a play, since it encompasses so many elements besides straight narrative. One of the quirkiest of these elements is the use of a 1972 CCM Galaxy bicycle to serve as a musical instrument. The bike becomes both a percussion instrument and a string instrument (if spokes count as strings). It's played by Brad Hart who is accompanied by Anna Fritz on an eclectic mix of instruments.

And while the show will certainly appeal to cycling enthusiasts and historians, Parry believes that it explores a broader issue that will speak to an even larger audience.

"This is definitely a story that brings together a bunch of different ideas, but I think it's really about being an agent of your own liberation. It's about growing up and taking charge of your own life."

And for Parry, the bicycle is definitely an agent of liberation.

"In some ways, riding a bike is a very political act, but at its essence it's a marvellously fast and efficient way to get around," she says, her enthusiasm audible through the phone line. "It's a way to engage with the world around you, to be healthy and to feel alive."

So what is the comment that pleases Parry the most to hear at the end of the show?

"I love it when people say 'Now I can't wait to get on my bike.' That's really the best compliment of all."

Parry is travelling sans bicycle (except for the CCM Galaxy that stars in the show), and is on the lookout for a loaner. Get in touch at evalyn@evalynparry.com if you've got a bike.

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