Evalyn Parry loves biking in Ottawa. The Toronto-based artist lived here for a year at 17, commuting daily from Britannia Bay to the Glebe, as well as making ample use of the Gatineau Hills on weekends. Though long dedicated to 365-day-a-year cycling, as she prepares to descend on the nation’s capital this month, she admits she’s probably not going to be using two-wheeled transport.
“I’ve gotten a little softer in recent years,” she says. “With a lot of snow on the streets, it gets harder to find space and feel safe. January and February have become my months to slow down, walk and take transit. But my hats are off to all the hardy winter cyclists. I salute you.”
Parry is prepping for the Ottawa premiere of her bicycle musical Spin. The long-touring show, first born at Toronto’s Buddies in Bad Times Theatre in 2011, aims to reclaim stories of some not terribly well-known cycling heroines and examine the history of a machine Parry dubs “the ultimate symbol of freedom.”
After touching on some early leaders in the fight for women’s rights, the show turns its focus to Annie Londonderry. A feminist pioneer and all around shit-kicker, Londonderry became the first woman to cycle around the world after making a bet with two Boston-area businessmen. Funding her trip entirely with money she made along the way, she ended up selling advertising space on her body, making her the first example of a woman banking cash from sports endorsements.
The bicycle isn’t just the centre of the story; it’s also a musical instrument. Parry and her collaborator Brad Hart have rigged a rusty 1972 CCM Galaxy with contact mics, which capture sound from the timeworn two-wheeler.
“We use sounds that originate from the bike when it’s brushed or tapped and then manipulate them using effects pedals,” she says. “The seat was the most amazing discovery. It’s one of those old vinyl ones with springs that create a lot of reverb, and so it acts like the bass drum in the musical arrangements. We’ve also tuned some of the spokes to different pitches so that we can use them to make melodies.”
Storytelling is Parry’s focus, but she’s not shy about the show’s potential to inform politicians on the value of expanded bike infrastructure. When Spin premiered in Toronto, she made a point of inviting newly minted mayor Rob Ford to the opening. She never heard back from him but was more hopeful Ford’s replacement, John “Traffic” Tory, might turn up at the recent remount (he didn’t). In bringing the show to the nation’s capital, she isn’t optimistic Stephen Harper will attend. But still, she hopes it can provoke discussion about how to make the promotion of cycling a national issue.
“There are so many obvious connections between cycling and health, happiness and non-oil-dependent living, I could write a thesis on the subject,” she says. “Separated lanes in cities make things safer for cyclists and for drivers. It’s not debatable. It’s a fact. And when cities need to figure out more strategies for getting people out of gridlock, making cycling a safer, more accessible, more appealing option is a no-brainer.”