Get ready, Jasper Pride Festival; MAN UP! has kicked off rehearsals for their new show, CIRQUE ELECTRIQUE, premiering at the festival this March. We sat down with MAN UP!’s choreographer Joshua Wolchansky (Fitzgerald Bitchwilliam III) to get some insight into his process of developing a new production.
You just had the first day of rehearsals building this new production. What was that like?
The first day of rehearsal in developing a brand new production is a lot like the first day of school. The energy in the room is electric in anticipation of how we’re going to create the new work and develop a full production from a few jotted notes in our notebooks. Thoughts are racing a million miles a minute in trying to work out the shape, colour, style, and energy of the show. What should we use as the opening song? How can we research and develop a story for the show that the audience will relate to? What’s the core message that we’re trying to communicate? All these thoughts and many more are part of beginning our journey towards performance day.
With MAN UP!, there are, of course, a couple of exceptions to the first day of school analogy. Upon entering the room, you realize you already know all the people in your class. We have Beau Creep, Kidd Crimson, Rusty Kingfisher, and of course G.Venchy. Having worked with them before, you know that the members are disciplined and committed to their craft, and you also know that the group as a whole works well together. Collaborating with these performers is consistently a great experience, for exactly those reasons. We share a united vision on trying to make the best shows possible for our audience, while challenging ourselves to develop fresh new material, tackle new topics, and engage in some much needed dialogue surrounding masculinity, sexuality, authenticity, and vulnerability.
What does the CIRQUE ELECTRIQUE rehearsal process look like?
For Man Up’s next production, we have been commissioned to develop a show for the Jasper Pride festival (for the second year in a row, thanks Jasper Pride!). For this show, we’re taking our audience to our interpretation of the circus. CIRQUE ELECTRIQUE is not your standard three-ring circus. Ours is a fast-paced, high-energy show which runs 45-minutes to one hour, and will feature ten numbers (five group numbers, five solo numbers). We have eight weeks to develop this show; in order to meet the deadline, we have to hammer out more than one number each week. Each rehearsal runs four to five hours long, and includes a warm-up, strength and flexibility training exercises, a discussion of the day’s goals and how they relate to the overall theme of the show, and then the actual task at hand – building the show.
How does your role as choreographer impact the success of the show?
As choreographer, I am tasked with developing movement that balances and enhances the dancer’s technical abilities, the show’s theme, and the music’s intricacies. I ensure that the performers feel confident with the choreography, that our audience will understand the intent of the piece (fingers crossed), and that it all ties back to the message of the production. Before the first day of rehearsal, I’ve listened to our set list at least 150 times over. Yes, the music grates on my ears. Yes, these songs get stuck in my head for months on end. And no, I wouldn’t have it any other way. As performers, we train for years for opportunities like this. I feel privileged every time we get to share our craft with an audience, and I’m committed to working as hard as I can to do my part in making Man Up successful. Needless to say, the amount of coffee I drink while listening to the set list on repeat would likely be considered unhealthy by most healthcare professionals.
That’s a lot to accomplish. How do you prepare yourself to bring your A-game?
The first day of rehearsal is my favourite day. Because I have to create and relay one number a week, I need to make sure my neurons are firing at 100% before the rehearsal even starts. I wake up no later than 8 a.m., give myself a morning stretch, make a hearty breakfast, grab a coffee, then hit the gym. The gym is a lot like my pre-game ritual. I start out on the treadmill, and zone out as my mind runs through the choreography. Cardio gets my mind and body fired up with oxygen, which sets me into the right frame of mind for creating a new production. I’ll then spend at least an hour between weights and stretching, to make sure that my body feels nimble for when I need to break steps down. Stretching is the most important part of this, because it’s my cool down. It helps me to focus my energy and clarify my intent for the day. After I’m done at the gym, it’s off to the studio where the real work can begin.