Toronto performer Evalyn Parry will perform Spin

Celebrating the bicycle

Capitol hosts experimental ode to two-wheeled transportation.

Did know a bicycle can be played like a musical instrument? Do you wonder what that would look like? The Capitol Theatre is looking to satisfy your curiosity with the virtuoso performance of Spin, an ode to humanity’s favourite two-wheeled mode of transportation starting on September 26.

“The bike, interestingly enough, seems to be enjoying a new renaissance,” said Toronto performer Evalyn Parry, who wrote and created the show. “With the environmental movement it’s become associated with green and conscious living, urban revitalization. I think we’re starting to think about transportation, how we live locally and make conscious choices about burning fossil fuels.”

However, the bike hasn’t always been associated with environmentalism, and has been symbolic of a variety of human social trends. Parry spent years researching the history of the bicycle and came up with some fascinating content. But nothing caught her attention more intensely than the story of Annie Londonderry, who lived from 1870 to 1947.

“I came across her story and I was very excited, I was struck by her fascinating character. She completed a feat that even today would be a difficult thing to do, but there she was doing it in a corset, full-length skirt and a one-speed bicycle,” she said.

Londonderry was famously the first woman to ride a bicycle around the world, but there are other aspects of her character that are similarly revolutionary. For instance, Londonderry was one of the first people to rent out advertising space on her body and bike to fund her endeavours.

“She was like a mobile billboard,” said Parry.

Parry will spend most of the show center-stage, performing songs and introducing the multimedia component and video elements of the program. Meanwhile, her partner Brad Hart will play the bicycle as a sort of “avante garde drum kit”.

“We’ve been playing music together for the better part of a decade. When we were conceiving this idea of this show, I said ‘what do you think about using a bike as percussion?’ We hadn’t figured out yet about amplifying it,” she said.

After months of experimentation, they ultimately came up with a system of contact microphones that pick up vibrations. They then connected it to a sound board with effect pedals, and plugged it into a sound system to “see what it sounds like”.

“The spring reverb kind of sounds like a bass drum,” said Parry. “A few spokes on the front wheel are tuned. The sounds of the fender is different than the wheels spinning, so basically we have all the different sounds a bike could make, especially if you have a rusty bike you’ll know what I’m talking about, and we’re trying to audio-amplify them, to use it as a sort of accompaniment.”

Parry said the show has a strong feminist component.

“Bicycles in the late 19th century became a symbol of the women’s suffrage movement. The bike represented the freedom of the new liberated woman, who could literally have freedom of mobility and move under her own steam. At that point in time it was a really revolutionary piece of technology, for everybody,” she said.

The bicycle ultimately had major effects in some unexpected arenas, including the world of fashion. Parry believes it helped bring about the death of the corset.

“It precipitated the move towards pants,” she said.

Since she began performing the show, Parry has been contacted by Londonderry’s surviving relatives and has learned more about her muse. She said the light this shone on her understanding drastically altered the show.

“I got a letter from her granddaughter Mary, a very loving letter,” she said. “It totally changed the way I end the show. I decided how could I not include this?”

For information visit evalynparry.com. Buy your tickets online at capitoltheatre.bc.ca or call 250-352-6363.

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