Frosties, fries and live theatre

By Karoline Czerski

Cameras abound, stage techies scurry about, and Denise Clarke appears and disappears in directorial fury.

One Yellow Rabbit artistic director and Letters from Wendy’s co-star Blake Brooker paces about with restless mischievousness, his shirt untucked, his hair ruffled and quirky smile on his face.

Bruce McCulloch saunters onstage, pans the scene and the essence of creative brilliance starts flowing within the walls of the Big Secret Theatre.

It’s media call, rehearsal time, and the opening of Letters To Wendy’s.

"Does it look like I’m wearing a wig?" McCulloch asks, rompish eyes wandering about. "Because it feels like I’m wearing a wig, like a young William Shatner."

The unwieldy artist, a short, sneaker-wearing master of facial expressions, stirs comedic relief at an otherwise stressful time before opening night. His attention jumps to Brooker.

"Did you say something about his hair? "McCulloch asks me, flattening Brooker’s bedhead. "I’m fixing his hair–that’s what a good friend does."

Hair in place, the co-stars and long-time friends segue naturally into rehearsal. The scene ends, but the entertainment continues.

"I’m so buzzed off ketchup right now," blurts McCulloch.

The buzz is obviously more permanent than a mere ketchup high.

The Canadian comedian started at Loose Moose, Calgary’s improvisation theatre, and went on to secure his fame with the Kids in the Hall. He has directed several films, written countless scripts and his second album is currently in stores.

But the buzz really stems from one thing.

"The old noggin, thoughts and ideas," McCulloch points to his head. "All things that I’m attracted to are the same. Like, ‘Who am I?’ ‘How did I get here?’ ‘Where are my high school friends?’"

According to McCulloch, Joe Wenderoth, author of Letters to Wendy’s, shares the same obsessions.

"There is that kind of lonely, beautiful, funny element to it," McCulloch says of the book from which he and Brooker adapted the play. "The kind of thing that I would hope sometimes inhabits my stuff."

The simplicity of Wenderoth’s work, the thoughts behind it and its unique style draw Brooker.

"There aren’t chapters to it," Brooker explains. "I call it a great bathroom book–you don’t have to read it in a row, you can just pick it up and put it down, and think about it.

"It’s a great guide to your generation."

Brooker reminisces nostalgically about the time when his generation was ours, when the Kids in the Hall and the Rabbits were in their early years, when each were doing late-night shows at the old Loose Moose theatre.

"We were going to the same shows, the same festivals," Brooker recalls. "We would hang out."

Brooker and McCulloch did more than just hang out, they wrote a movie script together, Mr. Sandman. They worked together on a show, Slightly Bigger Cities, which premiered at the Big Secret Theatre and the University of Calgary, before touring Canada. One Yellow Rabbit also presented McCulloch’s Two Headed Roommate in its 1991-92 season.

"We are friends," Brooker adds. "It’s about working together, having fun together."

"He’s my best friend," says McCulloch of Brooker. "We have similar writing obsessions, and we like savage comedy, weird… things."

The two certainly have the same knack for things particular. While Brooker leads the most versatile and eccentric theatre company in Calgary, known worldwide for its offbeat High Performance Rodeo and its unique season lineup, McCulloch continues to explore different passions and obsessions. He is currently staging a pilot for NBC and, if it works, he may be doing another film.

For the moment however, both McCulloch and Brooker have Wendy’s on the mind.

McCulloch has gone so far as to immerse himself in the voyeurism of the play.

"I’ve been picking up notes that people leave on the street," he admits.

No matter how professional he gets, an obsession for things quirky, weird and beautiful permeates. Garbage picking doesn’t sit well with McCulloch’s wife, however.

He lowers his eyes and whispers, "she tells me to leave that shit alone."

One Yellow Rabbit presents Letters to Wendy’s at the Big Secret Theatre running through Sat., Nov. 8. For tickets or information, call 299-8888.

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