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Pivot fest brings up boot lickers and cancer survivors

Ulysses Castellanos is willing to lick your boots clean — with his tongue.It takes the danger out of shoe polishing, he says.

Ulysses Castellanos is willing to lick your boots clean — with his tongue.

It takes the danger out of shoe polishing, he says.

In his bio, the Toronto artist remembers the first time he saw a shoe-polish machine.

“I immediately fell in love,” he writes.

The machine was a giant metal box with a hole in the middle where people put their feet.

“I wondered, are they not afraid that the machine could malfunction?” writes Castellanos.

“What if it just tears off their feet?”

Castellanos’ tongue is a safer option.

The boot licker is coming to Whitehorse as part of Nakai’s inaugural Pivot Festival.

The annual comedy fest wasn’t doing so well, said Nakai’s artistic director David Skelton.

“And I’m, personally, not so interested in stand-up comedy and sketch.”

So, Skelton decided to create “an extreme theatre event” instead.

He booked in a bunch of quirky performers from across Canada and called it the Pivot Festival.

“With the comedy fest it was, “Here you go — this is funny,’” said Skelton.

“But with Pivot you ask, “Is this funny? Is this theatre?’”

Besides the shoe licker, Skelton booked a cancer survivor, a jazz singer with cerebral palsy and an aging drag-queen poet.

Booking bizarre acts has led to some unusual requests.

On Monday, Skelton was hunting for a bunch of chickens.

“They could be alive or dead,” he said.

“Will the venue allow in live chickens?” said producer Moira Sauer, with a grin.

The chickens are part of a silent kung-fu-film piece accompanied by Castellanos on piano.

The shows “step outside the confines of conventional theatre,” said Skelton.

“And people might be hesitant,” he said citing Bruce Horak’s, This is Cancer Live.

Horak, who is Cancer, begins the show by walking through the audience touching people.

“One in four,” he says with a laugh.

Horak pushes buttons — he refers to Terry Fox as the guy who put Thunder Bay on the map and takes a shot at survivors who turned their tales into books, Lance Armstrong included.

“We all hate and despise cancer, but we rarely get a chance to laugh at it,” said Sauer.

He’s a buffoon, added Skelton.

“But he’s also had cancer.”

It left Horak legally blind in one eye.

And he lost his father to the disease.

Skelton, who just learned his mother has cancer, is looking forward to Horak’s piece.

“My mother wishes she could see it too,” he said.

Skelton wants his audience members to have their “brains engaged.”

“The main goal is to be entertained and engaged,” he said.

Pivot should jostle theatrical expectations.

“CP Salon is an important part of what will characterize the festival,” said Skelton.

The audience will be expecting someone to be singing standards, like I’m So Lonesome, and Like a Rolling Stone, with piano accompaniment.

But the singer has cerebral palsy.

“He’s physically contorted and his voice is constricted,” said Skelton.

“So you have these expectations, then he starts to sing and it’s shocking.

“The expectations are completely shattered and you have to decide if what he is doing is actually moving.

“Does he have control, artistry, sensitivity and passion for the material … or is it just a bunch of noises that you don’t want anything to do with.”

 It might seem like screaming, said Skelton.

“But the more you listen, the more you get it. And you’re eventually moved — you see the struggle of this man.”

Every act in Pivot works to tear down the imaginary wall between actor and audience, said Skelton.

And the smaller venues will help, said Sauer.

The arts centre is out this year, and the Westmark venue is a smaller space than venues of past years.

“It’s more intimate,” she said.

Nakai for Kids, running in conjunction with Pivot, is bringing up one-man music spectacle Washboard Hank.

But it’s grown-ups who are excited.

There’s such a buzz about it, Skelton and Sauer are considering putting on a show for the adults as well.

Pivot runs January 23rd through 26th.

Nakai for Kids is on January 26th.

Tickets are available at Arts Underground and the Yukon Arts Centre box office.

For a full list of performers, bios and schedules visit