Calgary’s High Performance Rodeo is back for its 34th year with some big names on the roster.
As part of the annual arts festival, Olympic gold medalist, author and activist Mark Tewksbury is taking crowds inside his world with his emotional one-man show Belong.
“I think I’ve sort of been struggling with that notion from the time I was in junior high, and kind of a traumatic thing happened where I was bullied at school and no longer a part of my clique,” Tewksbury said. “But at the same time, I was celebrated, and part of this amazing swimming club — on one hand belonging, and on the other hand not.”
The show encapsulates the perspective of the bully, the bullied and the bystander – as well as the moments where those roles blur.
Tewksbury hopes the show triggers a discussion about what it means to find your place in the world.
He says it’s ultimately uplifting, though he knows the road to get there is tough.
“I created a safe space for myself with my coach — who knew that I was gay — and it was so empowering,” Tewksbury added. “Winning the Olympics and not being out yet was a whole other stratosphere of dealing with issues, and the show explores some of that stuff.
“(You worry) You’re gonna lose your friends, your family, your work, your livelihood. When is enough enough? When does it not matter anymore and you’ll face whatever those consequences are?”
He’ll hit the stage from Jan. 9-11 at the DJD Dance Centre in downtown Calgary.
“When Mark tells his stories of being in those early locker rooms, and talks about the impact on him as a gay man, I find it so inspirational to really hear what he went through and how he hopes his message will help young men today,” High Performance Rodeo festival producer Laurel Green said. “I hope we have sports fans that come to see Mark, to support Mark, to hear his story.
“I think it demonstrates what a broad reach the arts can have and how these are stories for everyone.”
In 2019, the three-week High Performance Rodeo festival attracted more than 19,000 people.
This year’s edition features 27 shows being performed at 13 different venues.
Tewksbury has been a fan of the festival since he was a teenager, but this is the first time he finds himself on stage in a starring role.
“When I swam it was less than a minute. This is going to be about 80 minutes,” The 51-year-old joked.
While he may feel like a fish out of water, Tewksbury is ready to dive into the new challenge, and hopefully, take the show on the road for audiences across the country.