This year, January in Vancouver was one long, dark rainy day. Thankfully the PuSh International Performing Arts Festival offered a variety of performances that piqued my curiosity enough to seduce me out of the house, away from the comforts of Kraft Dinner and CSI reruns. “I’m going to see The Black Rider again,” my friend John told me. “You have to come.” Throughout the performance of The Black Rider: The Casting of the Magic Bullets, from Edmonton’s November Theatre, my mouth hung open and my eyes were wide. Each time I looked over at John, he nodded and said, “I know.” It wasn’t the story that was spectacular—a make-a-deal-with-the-devil-and-pay-the-consequences folk tale adapted by William S. Burroughs—or the music by Tom Waits, but the performances of the actors and musicians in equal parts. The cast of six took on two characters each, and every character was physically and vocally distinct, and intensely demanding: the pudgy clerk does cartwheels, the bride crumples to the floor in one slow-as-molasses motion, the bald emcee sings like Tom Waits. The three members of the Devil’s Rubato Band tripled up on instruments and played the complex, eerie carnival music as though possessed. The Chapman stick, a strange mutation of lead and bass guitar, is my new favourite instrument. The weirdness wasn’t for everyone in the sold-out audience; two people left partway through the ninety-minute show, but in Vancouver that’s the equivalent of a standing ovation.