Jeff Leard's Show Must Go On lifts lid on life as children's entertainer

The Show Must Go On

Where: Metro Studio

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When: Tonight, 8 p.m.

Tickets: $12/$15 or 250-590-6291

Surprisingly, the life of a children’s theatre performer has a “seamy underbelly.”

So says Victoria native Jeff Leard, performing his critically acclaimed The Show Must Go On tonight at Metro Studio. The tagline says it all: “Snow-covered mountains, semen-soaked hotel rooms, pee-covered gymnasium floors, homicidal drug dealers, three actors, one van, 186 shows, 7,568 kilometres of road.”

For two years, 26-year-old Leard was a member of his father’s Story Theatre Company. Jim Leard, who founded the children’s theatre 33 years ago, is the director for The Show Must Go On.

Presented as part of Intrepid Theatre’s new Deep End series, the comedy has been a left-field hit on Canada’s fringe circuit, scoring four- and five-star reviews. A Calgary newspaper deemed it one of the season’s top productions.

Between rehearsals at a rented Oak Bay studio, Jeff Leard (now based in Toronto) said his one-hour performance was inspired by his own true road tales and those of other Story Theatre alumni.

The most eyebrow-raising scene is entitled “The Hotel Room of Doom.” The theatre troupe checks in at a fleabag hotel, only to be awakened by a midnight ruckus. The door is kicked in by a size-19 motorcycle boot. It turns out thugs have mistaken them for drug dealers who owe them money. Frightening and amusing shenanigans follow.

That didn’t actually happen to Leard. The tale is based on another actor’s recollection of staying at a crummy Edmonton hotel, where the troupe heard banging in the night. “There were five guys with baseball bats, screaming about how somebody owed them money,” he said.

Leard did witness the little girl who urinated on the gym floor during a show, the boy who vomited into his hands, petulant school principals and frightening forays along narrow mountain passes en route to gigs in northern B.C.

Actors working for Story Theatre Company travel thousands of kilometres — one group clocked 20,000 kilometres in a single season. No matter how well they get along, performers are bound to suffer from cabin fever in the van, Leard said.

“There are moments,” he said. “After a few months, little things build up.”

The young actor, who graduated from the University of Victoria’s theatre department in 2010, debuted The Show Must Go On at Intrepid Theatre’s Uno Fest in 2013. After that, Leard performed it more than 50 times on the fringe festival circuit, touring to Victoria, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Toronto, Ottawa, London, Ont., and Calgary.

Leard’s show is the first offering in the Deep End series at Metro Studio. The series includes the fringe comedy Gary Has a Date (March 30 and 31) and the acclaimed Winners and Losers (April 11 and 12) — a collaboration between Vancouver companies Theatre Replacement and Neworld Theatre.

Intrepid artistic director Janet Munsil said Deep End is a revival of the company’s Theatre Presents series, which was axed in 2009 in the face of provincial budget cuts. Part of Deep End’s mandate is to develop promising shows, helping artists make the jump from the fringe circuit to other venues and festivals. Leard has rewritten The Show Must Go On for the Deep End with hopes of landing engagements with Toronto’s SoulOTheatre Festival and Vancouver’s rEvolver Theatre Festival.

Opportunities for repeat productions can be crucial in any show’s development. Munsil noted that Intrepid Theatre produced early versions of Atomic Vaudeville’s Ride the Cyclone. That award-winning musical, a hit in Canada, will be workshopped in Chicago in May. (Ride the Cyclone previously attracted the attention of Broadway producer Kevin McCollum, who has collaborated in the show’s development.)

“Jeff [Leard] did really well with his show at the Fringe,” Munsil said. “This is an example of a show Intrepid supported at an early stage. Now he’s ready to take this on tour outside the fringe circuit.”

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