ENDURE: A Run Woman Show – Review

Endure

ENDURE -London August 2012 performance. Photo by Suchan Vodoor.

ENDURE: A Run Woman Show

May 23 – June 2, 2013

Various Locations

www.runwomanshow.com

Listen to my review on CBC Eyeopener at http://www.cbc.ca/eyeopener/columnists/theatre/2013/05/28/jessica-goldman-1/

Generally when runners, joggers or walkers plug their earphones into an iPod it’s to listen to music. On occasion they might even listen to live radio (CBC anyone?) But what if while out exercising you instead listened to the inner most thoughts of a fellow runner as she preps for a marathon? And what if that exercise wasn’t really for the benefit of your health and wellbeing, but instead was all part of a 5km theatrical performance? This is the idea behind the terrifically conceived and expertly performed ENDURE: A Run Woman Show.

Described as a performance in motion, audience members (outfitted with race day banners) run or walk around with the action of the show as the story moves from one place to another. To begin, everyone is given a synched iPod which plays the original music and narration of the show. Once plugged in and all the tech stuff is taken care of, a guide escorts the audience (there are about 20 people per show) on a brisk warm up walk to meet up with Melanie Jones, the creator and one woman performer of the show. Once we find her – the performance begins.

Endure offers up two related narratives during the one hour show. The big picture story follows a woman as she runs a grueling marathon. When the show begins we are metaphorically and physically with her at the starting line listening to her private thoughts as she preps for the race and tries to rev herself up for the run. The other storyline that unfolds as the audience follows her around for 5km in parkland and running tracks and some urban areas – is what drove her to want to run in the first place.

Through this inner voice narration, we learn about the difficult demons that drive her running obsession and the backstory that led her to this particular marathon. The whole show is like listening to the secret voice in someone else’s head, making this a very intimate and personal experience that can’t help but set off a few a-ha moments where the audience taps into their own feelings of struggle.

But for every moment of the show that painfully describes feeling like “a paper cut out of myself”, there are sassy and funny moments as well.  Musings on why drag queens will always have fabulous thighs and why, despite several fantastically funny sex scenes, the pink-shirted investment banker guy just doesn’t turn her on, get hearty laughs from the audience. This all plays out for us electronically via the iPod narration but is equally performed live through Jones’ combination of mime, dance and audience interaction which truly bring the show to life.

This is why it’s best to keep up with her.  Jones does run for a good portion of the show and the audience has the choice to run with her or to walk and catch up to her when she stops – which she does quite a bit as the running bursts are one to two minutes maximum with breaks in between. I both ran and walked during the show to see how it affected the experience and story-wise, ENDURE works regardless. But I liked being able fully to see Jones’ performance, not just hear her for most of the show. For me, running yielded the fuller experience. That said, if one can keep up a brisk start-and-stop walk for about 5k (one hour) there is plenty to enjoy in this performance and many opportunities to watch Jones in the more stationary parts of the play.

To date, ENDURE has enjoyed successful productions in New York (where it won two Innovative Theatre Awards) in London during the 2012 Olympic Games and at the world-famous Edinburgh Fringe Festival. This is the second time the show has played in Calgary and I was therefore more than well versed on all the buzz that comes with this performance. Happily, the raves were correct. I’ve seen a lot of this type of roving immersive theatre over the years and I’m an unabashed fan of the genre. The problem is that it’s not always done well. Sometimes the moving around feels forced or the story isn’t all that compelling. But ENDURE is the perfect idea for movement theatre with a unique and wonderfully poignant story everyone can relate to on some level. It’s about pushing yourself beyond obstacles and all the self-doubt and self-awareness that comes with that kind of endurance – physically and emotionally. The whole thing feels like a true experience and from start to finish it’s smartly directed and superbly performed.

I’ve heated up many times at the theatre for various reasons, ENDURE will go down as one of the best theatrical performances to cause me to break a sweat.

RATING

For the physically and moderately fit – Strap on your runners and go! It’s a real treat to see immersive theatre in Calgary and this show works on every level. SEE IT

For the occasional theatre goer – Yes this is different from the shows you are used to but you might get a kick out of the fun and easily digestible quirkiness of the experience. MAYBE SEE IT

For the theatre junkies – Yeah….you’ve been yearning for this kind of immersive and interactive theatre, I know. But it’s here and it’s great. Believe the buzz. SEE IT

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