Calgary

High Performance Rodeo Crawlspace asks what do you do when your dream home turns into a nightmare

What do you get when the biggest purchase you'll ever make turns into a two-year-long nightmare from which there is no escape? Crawlspace, a dark comedy about the dark art that is real estate in Toronto.

Karen Hines bought a charming home. It turned out to be the house from hell. Now it's a darkly comic play

Playwright and performer Karen Hines' newest work is a dark comedy of real estate woes being presented at the 2019 High Performance Rodeo in Calgary. (High Performance Rodeo)

The High Performance Rodeo is underway in Calgary, featuring a collection of plays and performances by an assortment of local, national and international artists through the end of the month.

Calgary's Karen Hines is the author of a new solo show running Jan. 15 through 19 at the Studio at the Grand. She spoke to the Calgary Eyeopener about Crawlspace on Monday.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Q: Tell me about the house you bought that led you to write Crawlspace.

A: I bought the house in 2006 in Toronto in a very hot market. I managed to find the smallest house for sale in the city. It was the only one I could afford. And it looked like a little Barbie Dream House. It was very adorable. It was all finished. I had it inspected, and then within days of moving into it, it started to fall apart — layer by layer by layer.

Q: When you say it fell apart, can you give me some ideas what actually went wrong?

A: It started off really with little things, like a cracked window sill because the window sill wasn't actually made of wood; it was made of plastic. That was the first tell. Next, it had gaps in the walls that led to the outdoors that were kind of hidden underneath Ikea kitchen counter units.

And then it escalated pretty quickly from there.

Crawlspace is the title of the play for a reason. That was kind of the final doozy. And you know the poster features me holding a taxidermy raccoon.

Author of the critically-acclaimed The Pochsy Plays, Karen Hines' new solo show explores the emotional trauma she experienced when she discovered that the 'Barbie Dream Home' she thought she bought was actually a flawed fiasco. (High Performance Rodeo)

Q: Those are a few of the things that went wrong. But did you actually end up feeling afraid of living there?

A: It got to that point where psychologically it wasn't good for me to be there. One might say that the smell of death is the opposite of aromatherapy — let's say so, yeah.

Q: And, being an artist, you figured the best way to deal with this is to write about it and tell the whole world?

A: It took me a long time to fix it and also deal with it [emotionally]. But while I was dealing with it, I promised myself that I would make something meaningful out of this meaningless waste of time.

Q: Purchasing a home is an emotional investment. At what point did you decide to yourself, "That's it! I have to get out"?

A: Oh, that was about a month in. But then I was kind of trapped, because some of these problems made the house completely unsellable and [not] rentable. So I was really stuck there.

And hence the psychological lack of safety. But it is a comedy! I want to point that out.

It's a dark comedy. Yes, but I knew that when I started writing this play. I needed to make it funny in order to make it something I could get through every night and something that the audience would be able to join me in and find catharsis through.

Q: Did you deal with the moral and potentially legal conundrum? Because whoever had it before you hid all that stuff. Then you find yourself in the same situation where you need to sell place you don't want to take a bath on it. How did you deal with that?

A: I took a bath on it.

After living through what their omissions did to me, I could not do it to another person — so I am technically still paying for the house at this time. 

Q: And you decided after a month that you wanted to get out. How long did it take to actually sell it?

A: It was two years. It was about a year before it was kind of fixed, another six months before the telltale signs of the problems could be removed to make it authentically better. And then it took a while to sell, because it became known in the neighborhood. It was notorious.

Q: What made you want to write about this? 

A: Shelly Youngblut of Swerve Magazine. I told her the story and she said that's a Swerve piece. So I wrote a piece for Swerve, and it was a National Magazine Award nominee. Then my friend Bruce McCulloch of the Kids in the Hall read that piece and said, "This is a solo show." And I said, "Oh God no! I can't do that! It's not funny enough."

He convinced me it could be funny enough. He is a dark comedy person.

Q: And this is going to be a film?

A: Yeah.

Q: What does this speak to so many people?

A: Everybody has their real estate story — everybody from the person in that three-storey Victorian house with a cracked foundation to the renter who has sinister roommates. Everybody's got their tale [of real estate woes]. 

I think people come to this show and they enjoy it because they can lay the template of their experience over mine and find catharsis through that comedy.


With files from the Calgary Eyeopener.

About the Author

Stephen Hunt

Digital Writer

Stephen Hunt is a digital writer at the CBC in Calgary. Email: stephen.hunt@cbc.ca

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