Calgary

Safe, not comfortable: Pearle Harbour's Chautauqua drag show at HPR pushes the envelope

The theatre artist behind Chautauqua at High Performance Rodeo says drag allows her to get close to her audience, pushing boundaries and gaining mainstream acceptance.

'Once I am in there, I like to push them a little out of their boundaries'

Pearle Harbour’s Chautauqua 4:47

The theatre artist behind Chautauqua at High Performance Rodeo says drag allows her to get close to her audience, pushing boundaries and gaining mainstream acceptance.

"Drag lets me lean in close. Drag lets me get very, very intimate with people, because when you are wearing something sparkly and all this makeup and some really fabulous hair, people let you get away with a lot more," Pearle Harbour told CBC Calgary News at 11.

"Once I am in there, I like to push them a little out of their boundaries. At a Pearle Harbour show, I will always keep you safe, but that's not the same thing as comfortable."

High Performance Rodeo — One Yellow Rabbit's annual celebration of theatre, music, dance and art from around the world — runs until Jan. 27.

50th performance

Harbour's Chautauqua has been touring for about a year-and-a-half, with the 50th performance happening during Calgary's 33rd High Performance Rodeo.

"Chautauqua is the name of an old revivalist movement that I have co-opted for my own drag purposes. Chautauqua was the most American thing about America at the turn of the century, the last century, the 1900s or so," Harbour said.

"It's sort of a movement about adult education, about bringing people together. I've used that same kind of framework but adjusted it for our world that seems crumbling beneath us, this post-truth time that we find ourselves in. The idea is that you come in and I am going to make it all better, baby. I am going to make all those woes go away."

Pearle Harbour's Chautauqua runs Jan. 10-12 at Calgary's High Performance Rodeo. (CBC)

She employs many techniques to achieve this.

"We go through an entire gamut of different things together. There are breathing exercises, sing-alongs and even an exorcism, a puppet show. Just about everything you could want. Get your hopes as high as they could possibly get because I will still surpass them."

Harbour says drag performances and performers have, in recent years, pushed the envelope, gaining acceptance outside of their traditional audiences and venues.

"We are in a really exciting time where drag has been elevated to a new level of mainstream appreciation. Drag as an art form is as vast an art form as something like painting. We don't think of Andy Warhol and Caravaggio in the same way. Same goes for drag," Harbour said.

"There are things that I do, these gonzo theatrical productions, just as there are the lip-syncing assassins in the club, just as there are the genius performance artists like Taylor Mac working out of New York. There is just such a welcoming acceptance of it all. New audience members — lots of straight people now — it is great."

Chautauqua has five shows, Jan. 10-12. Here's the schedule.

With files from CBC Calgary News at 11.

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