Evalyn Parry's SPIN takes audiences from women’s emancipation to consumer culture in bicycle-themed show
Bicycles are symbol of sustainable and affordable means of transportation as well as physical fitness and wellness, but what do they have to do with feminism and the advertising industry?
Award-winning musician, spoken-word artist and activist Evalyn Parry takes the bicycle to new heights connecting all these elements in her political, humorous multimedia show, SPIN.
Creating a show about bicycling was an easy choice for Parry, as it comes from a very personal place: Parry describes herself as an avid cyclist, and is a member of "Cycle Toronto", a cyclist advocacy group. With SPIN, she aimed to create a show in which she could explore and explain her fascination with and love for the two-wheeled piece of transportation that she makes to co-star in her show.
Bicycles and feminism
Parry’s curiosity for bikes had grown further after she'd heard a famous Susan B. Anthony quote that linked cycling as a vehicle of social change that contributed to women’s liberation movement:
“I think [the bicycle] has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world."
For Parry, who works on gender equality as well as LGBt and environmental issues, this connection between women and bicycles struck a cord.
“And thought ‘I wonder what that was all about?” Parry explained in a phone interview from Toronto. “I began a research project that really was quite an intensive research project that opened up a whole new window in the history [of women’s emancipation] that I was unaware of previously, and introduced me to a number of different characters, incredible female leaders from the 19th Century.”
Little did she realize, as her research deepened, that advertising connected with this period of time, the late 1800s, when bikes were starting to become popular on the market.
“In fact the bike was a heavily marketed item and there were interesting ways to advertise to women," Parry noted. “It kind of coincided with the beginning of the advertising industry, so it opened up this whole world that was very intriguing to me.”
Parry’s heroines, who served as inspiration for her show, are suffragist Frances Willard, the editor of U.S. women’s first newspaper, and Amelia Bloomer who created the namesake baggy pants that allowed women ride bikes comfortably without the side-saddle, and the most significant character in SPIN, Annie Londonderry (nee Annie Cohen Kopchovsk), who in 1894 became the first woman in history to ride a bicycle around the world.
Londonderry connects the narrative of the piece with advertisement as she sold she spaces of her body and bike for advertising to finance her trip –a marketing model that has been continued to this day. She understood the value of exposure, and adopted “Londonderry” as her surname, the brand of her main sponsor.
This was one of the reasons why Parry’s connected with Londonderry’s story as it embodied all the elements to play around the semiotics of the word “SPIN”. As a wordsmith and a poet, the Torontian performer said to be interested “in the meaning of the words.”
“I've already thought of the title of the show being called SPIN. I thought it will be about a bicycle, but it's also perhaps it's going to be about the idea how things get told, 'spun' to us in terms of advertising.”
Parry started to work in the project in 2008, three years later had its official “spin” at the Buddies in Bad Times Theatre in Toronto. For this effort, she recruited an old musical collaborator, percussionist Brad Hart to play -- of all things -- a bicycle. In fact, they put to a good use Hart’s vintage 1972 Galaxie CMM, the muse of the play.
Parry said that she and Hart actually discovered interesting and at times unexpected sounds that they make with the bike's frames, fenders, wheels and especially with its old seat with springs in it that act like a spring reverb and underlines that the “quality of the seat has become essential.”
“If we ever have to replace the bike, we know a bunch of things we'd be looking for,” she said with laughter.
On the stage, Hart plays the bike (suspended in a mechanic’s stand) with his usual drummer’s sticks and brushes. In this show, Parry plays mainly the electric guitar and other instruments switching between spoken work and singing as well does few costume changes on stage. Hart also does back up singing and play small characters during the show.
With the help of an electronic artist, they were able to amplify the bike, hooking it up to contact microphones.
During the piece, a video created by Beth Kates, projects archival historical footage imagery from all the different characters and themes that inspired the show. SPIN also feature catchy songs penned by Parry herself, from her fourth CD "SPIN"(audible files available at her site), written for the show that discuss from bottled water to an homage to Amelia Bloomer’s fashion revolution.
The songwriter, whose brother is Richard Reed Parry of the Arcade Fire, has previously visited Vancouver a number of times to play at the The Railway Club and last year at the Vancouver Folk Festival, when asked about Vancouver friendliness to cycling, she hailed the city as “progressive” in comparison to her home city, Toronto.
“I love the separated bike lanes and your mayor [Greg Robertson] is so progressive!” she said. "[In] Vancouver, it seems like there is a lot more of support to make cycling safe and fun and accessible.”
SPIN's message, Parry said, was to create a show that brings an edge to the concept of “simply riding a bicycle”.
“It is a little bit of a homage being paid to the women who have gone before me , that paved the way for me to be able to ride, [and] it helped to evolve the world of women in our world and how it spins women to a place of more equality in our world --and I think there is [still] a lot of distance to go.”
SPIN (85 mins.) plays from April 9th through April 20 at The Cultch. For more information on tickets and schedule visit: www.thecultch.com