Vancouver-based clown artist Candice Roberts becomes her alter-ego in Larry at this year's rEvolver Festival.
Vancouver-based clown artist Candice Roberts becomes her alter-ego in Larry at this year's rEvolver Festival.

Opening next week and running through June 2, the seventh annual rEvolver Festival features a program of 15 interdisciplinary works by a mix of national and local artists.

Among the mainstage shows this year is Candice Roberts’ new show Larry, examining her experience as a woman raised in rural BC in the 1980s through her alter ego. Through this male archetype of those involved in her upbringing, Roberts uses dance, clown, and physical theatre to reflect on social constructs around gender stereotypes.

In this Q&A with Roberts, who also performs and co-directs the piece, we find out more.

This interview has been edited.

Tell us what Larry is about.

Larry is the theatre’s custodian. He’s there to set up the stage and offers to “shoot the sh#t” with the audience until the “real” performer gets there. But they mysteriously never turn up. How hard can it be to do a show? Should Larry giver and doer? Larry waxes in his own poetic way about women, drinking and love, and finally opens up to the audience about his struggles to be a better man. He wants to prove that he has a “heart-on of gold” and that he’s worthy of a good woman. He tries a few self-actualizing activities, and this is where the show takes a left. Turns out there a lot more going on in the depths of Larry’s psyche than he knew.

What was the impetus for creating Larry?

This is my second solo show, and it pretty much wrote itself.

Larry is inspired by the small, working class, BC town I grew up in where it was acceptable for men to be socially dominant, misogynistic and homophobic. Although I’ve spent a good deal of my life recovering from the education of gender I received in this place, there was always something absurd and beautiful about the way I understood the men I grew up with. They were funny, they were awful, they were powerful and also so powerless. They had idioms no one outside of that place would ever have heard, and as much as I have battled patriarchal norms, these men have never left my imagination.

Playing Larry has been a way for me to embrace my family upbringing with laughter. Larry is a reflection of this socialized masculine behaviour with a twist: I am a feminized person playing a man who can’t ever really know or understand women, and who would offend and even disappoint the very being who brought him to life: me.

People love this guy. They love him and they hate him. Anyone who’s ever lived in a rural part of Canada knows this guy. I hear this after every showing, “He’s just like my uncle, cousin, brother, neighbour….”

You play with gender in Larry, why is this exploration of gender important to you?

I identify as a woman, but I have always felt more like a “critter” than a girl or a boy. Even as a kid I wondered why there were only two choices? I feel there is a strong “male” energy within me, and I play with it through clown. I am in support of all forms of non-violent self-expression. If it’s not hurting anyone then I want everyone to feel safe in expressing their nature as they see fit. I like to play with gender. It’s fun for me to play being a man, it’s also fun for me to play being a mermaid.

I feel a little bit late to the party, but in developing this show, I have been reading feminist and queer literature. I have been exploring my own queerness and intrigue of what that even means to me. I’m taking book recommendations.  I’m just finishing “Feminism is for Everybody” Passionate Politics” by Bell Hooks.

Is your alter-ego Larry based on a real person?

I should give my brother Lucas Roberts writing credit. I often bring a pad and paper when I go visit him in Campbell River. I don’t know where he gets these idioms from. He’s younger than me but sometimes speaks like a “backwoods” 80 year old. I will often text him when I need something like another word for beer. He’ll send me a list. One of my favourites: “elbow bender”, because you are continuing to bend your elbow in getting that beer to your mouth.

My brother fronts all big and mean, but he’s actually a real softy and so full of love; like Larry.  There is a lot my brother in Larry, but he also contains “the men” in general from my upbringing. In clown, we take these character traits, and blow them out of proportion until they become absurd. Then, put that character in a situation where failing is pretty much inevitable and it starts to heat up. One of my favourite definitions of clown is “hope in the face of failure”. The clown is joyful and resilient, they never give up hope.

The play includes dance, clowning and physical theatre. What is about these different genres that made them right for your show?

I guess that’s where myself as an artist comes in. There is something very ugly about Larry, but there is beauty too, and I wanted to bring out that beauty. Can a character such as Larry discover his own grace? This show is another opportunity to continue my path of creative mastery in all of my artistic modalities. In a way that supports the character and the story.

Why should someone come see Larry?

First of all it’s hilarious. Do you feel like having a shared experience of joy and laughter and with a room full of other humans?  Do you feel like being transported into a fantastic space of emotional transformation? What about simply being entertained and enjoying some creative virtuosity?

All these things: laughter, surprise and emotional transport, among the other things that Larry has to offer the world, are excellent tools for self discovery and very healthy for the mind and body.

If you could see only one show at this year’s rEvolver Festival, besides your own, what show would that be?

This is hard because I’m going to try and see all of them, but I’m especially excited to see Mr. Truth by Lester Trips (Theatre).

Larry plays as part of the 2019 rEvolver Festival. Visit revolverfestival.ca for showtimes and the complete line-up.