For the past three years, I’ve been the technical coordinator for one of the weirdest stage shows in Calgary, A Brush With Death. I run the lights and sound and get paid almost nothing for it, but I love every minute of it.
My inner nerd has always been fascinated with the supernatural. A Brush With Death is a weird mix of sideshow freak entertainment, supernatural séance, and Penn & Teller style comedy entertainment.
Yeats Wong, the producer and creepy host of this bizarre show, says, “I first set up A Brush With Death as a nightclub act for Halloween in 2010. But the response was so awesome, I decided to continue the show as an ongoing series throughout the rest of the year too, and every show has sold-out since.”
When asked about the type of people who attend his show, Wong replied that it tended to be a ‘date’ event. “Surprisingly, most of the ticket buyers are women, buying tickets for them and their spouse to attend. These are the same couples who go to see horror movies and thrillers together.”
I visited the venue, Fort Calgary’s Burnswest Theatre, with Yeats, checking out the backstage and control rooms. The previous shows had been at Lolita’s Lounge, in Inglewood. “I picked Fort Calgary because of the classic feel of the theatre and the surroundings,” says Wong, “but there’s also this very cool and creepy vibe to the building.”
One of the recurring themes at A Brush With Death is contacting and interacting with spirits from beyond the grave, and the upcoming show is no exception. “The nearby Deane House has a reputation as being the most haunted house in Canada. Its history includes many unusual deaths, including suicides, murder-suicides, and homicides,” comments Wong. “During our show, our psychic medium Gwyn Auger will attempt to make contact with the ghost of Deane House.”
The show also includes a significant element of danger and risk to the performers. Each show features some death-defying stunts. “For the April show, our headliner, Jason Werhun, is planning a rather harrowing effect with kitchen knives, and if anything goes wrong, he’ll end up in the hospital.”
Each show, Wong and his deviant troupe also explore the genre of sideshow freak entertainment, known in the business as ‘blockhead acts’. Some of the more shocking effects are purely for the gross-out factor and include skewers, fish hooks, and fake blood. “It always sounds far gorier than it actually is,” chuckles Wong. “I actually think of my show as a comedy stage show, and, maybe it’s just my weird sense of humour, but I find fake blood really funny.”
“This show, I’m bringing in guest star Ryan Pilling for his third return to Brush With Death. He’s absolutely hilarious and has worked on stage with comedy stars such as Colin Mochrie from Who’s Line is it Anyways?”
I asked Yeats about his influences and inspirations. He says, “I’ve always been a fan of cheesy horror films – Evil Dead and Nightmare on Elm Street. The more a film tries to scare me, the funnier I find it. Maybe I’m wired wrong?”
Yeats’ background is in magic and mentalism, with heavy influence from ‘edgier’ magicians such as Penn & Teller, David Blaine, and Criss Angel. “One of my favourite entertainers was Harry Anderson. You know, the judge from Night Court in the 80’s? Before and after his TV stint, he was an accomplished nightclub magician, with an awesome reputation for edgy and quirky entertainment.”
The next showing of Brush With Death is on April 28th, 7:30pm at Burnswest Theatre, Fort Calgary. Tickets are available at www.BrushWithDeath.ca, and minors are only admitted when accompanied by a parent or guardian. Parental discretion is highly recommended.
Elle Nguyen || Top Image Courtesy of Phocal: Immortal Images
Image Gallery Courtesy of BrushWithDeath.ca