By Caleigh Crow
We Accept Her: A Caravan Calamity puts its characters in situations familiar to us all. A strongman with an evil plot convinces a beautiful dancer to toy with the feelings of a sweet-tempered, romantic bearded lady, and the kindly circus matron, Mama Mabelle, doles out sage advice (with the help of her third eye). It’s a situation we’ve all been in. Well, maybe not exactly, but Crazy Cat Lady Productions uses the circus as a vehicle to discuss some common themes like love, prejudice, and acceptance. Inspired by 1932 cult film Freaks, Mylene Chicoine was thrilled to have a chance to present this story. “When my name was picked out of the hat,” she says breathlessly, “I thought finally! It’s time!”
Mylene has always been drawn by all things “creepy, weird, dark, and twisted” and is particularly fascinated by the circus sideshows, at once strange and compelling. The ominous voyeurism of the side show contrasts with innocent images of happy children chowing down on popcorn that Myelene describes as “dark dissonance”. It’s this feeling in circuses and representations of circuses, like Freaks, that excites Mylene.
With We Accept Her, Mylene jumped at the chance to represent the circus according to her vision, contrasting with traditional circus tropes. “The owner of the circus is always this seedy guy, and I wanted to get away from that,” Mylene explains, “and I have instead Momma Mabelle, who is super sweet and compassionate, and she has a third eye, so she sees everything.” In addition to Mama Mabelle, the other characters are the strongman, dancer, a romantic mute and the bearded lady. “I have a fascination with bearded ladies,” Mylene says affectionately.
Mylene is rehearsing at Studio Caravane, and has invited me to sneak a peek behind the scenes and snap a few pictures. While we’ve been chatting, the actors, along with stage manager Bruce Lambie, have been running lines. As soon as Mylene enters the room, the work gets started, and what I see is a very well-balanced group of performers, putting in the work. The group have varying levels of theatre experience, which is not unusual at the St. Ambroise FRINGE Festival, and it’s something that director Mylene can appreciate. “One thing I’m realising is that a person that’s coming to the first time is really easy to direct. They are so eager,” she says, “And I barely have to direct the more experienced actors. It does give me that room to pay more attention where it’s needed as a director. Its a nice balance.”
The setting of the play is both playful and dark, as mirrored by the themes of the story. A love triangle is a classic comedic device, but the fact that they are circus side show performers brings in the more serious aspects of the show. Belinda, the bearded lady, deals with a lot of unpleasantness, mostly from strongman Simon, who is constantly berating her about her looks, which because they are unconventional, must be ugly. “The idea behind the show here is to illuminate to the audience how quickly they are at judging others on the stupidest things, whether it’s a zit, or the size of a person, or the skin color, or sexual orientation, it doesn’t matter” However, Mylene wants the audience to ask some hard questions of themselves, “Am I that mean? Am I watching myself right now?”
Our conversation is momentarily interrupted by a crew member handing off a tote bag to Mylene. I can’t help but notice a riding crop poking out of the bag. “Should be a fun rehearsal,” I say, gesturing to the crop. “We’ve got a riding crop, we have wine glasses for a special feast,” Mylene replies with a grin, “All sorts of fun things!”