Heels on Wheels with Evalyn Parry creator of SPIN

Heels on Wheels with Evalyn Parry

Interview by Tammy Thorne photo by Mike Ford

The subject of our Heels on Wheels feature from our latest issue, Evalyn Parry, will be performing SPIN at the Buddies in Bad Times Theatre from November 19-23, 2014. You can purchase your tickets here.

Here is a bit about the show: Inspired by the incredible true tale of the first woman to ride a bike around the world in 1895, this epic cycle of songs and stories explores the early connections between bicycles, advertising, and women’s liberation. Evalyn Parry takes audiences on a musical journey from the dawn of the bicycle in the 19th century to her own experiences riding her bike through the streets of Toronto and Montreal. Parry’s co-star is a vintage bicycle – suspended on a mechanic’s stand and outfitted with microphones and sound equipment. The bike is played by percussionist Brad Hart, who conjures an astonishing array of sounds to score Parry’s songs and monologues.

~ The following interview was first published in our latest issue of dandyhorse, the bike plan election issue summer 2014. ~

EVALYN PARRY is an award-winning artist based in Toronto. She is also a year-round cyclist. Parry’s performances are fuelled by a strong commitment to social activism and have propelled her all over North America. Her intimate and highly original creations include a musical performance about a 19th century cycling heroine, Annie Londonderry, the first woman to traverse the globe by bicycle, and stars the bicycle as muse, musical instrument, and agent of social change. SPIN, Parry’s acclaimed multimedia show, has toured Canada and the U.S. since it premiered in Toronto in 2011 and returns this this year for a one-week limited engagement at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre on November 19. Find out more at: evalynparry.com

dandyhorse: One of the songs you sing in SPIN is called “Progress.” Is SPIN about how the bicycle contributed to the emancipation of women?

Evalyn Parry: Yes, SPIN is all about the connection between the bicycle and the women’s emancipation movement of the late 19th century. The bike gave women an unprecedented new freedom of mobility and independence; it had a huge impact on women’s fashion, it was a significant factor in women starting to wear pants. The bicycle really came to be a symbol for the “new woman” – the forward thinking, liberated women who wanted an equal voice and a vote.

Q: How does the bicycle contribute to the freedom and equality of women ?

I believe the bike continues to do what it’s done for women since the beginning: it gives us this unique freedom of mobility – one that doesn’t depend upon oil and gas, or upon other people, or having a driver’s license, or any special equipment, or even having much money – and along the way, it makes you stronger and fitter, and, I’d say happier! In the words of the famous suffragist, Frances Willard, author of the 1895 book How I Learned to Ride a Bicycle: “A bicycle gets you where you want to go, when you want to go, on your own terms.” Of course, that’s all true for men, too – but given the continuing gaps in gender equality, especially in many places in the developing world, some of these factors – like economic agency – still continue to be much more significant for women.

Q: Can you describe SPIN to our readers? 

SPIN is a multimedia theatre concert celebrating the bicycle. We use a bike as an instrument in the show — wired up to contact microphones and played by percussionist Brad Hart, it becomes an amazing electro-acoustic drum kit.

Q: When did you first hear about Annie Londonderry?

The second day of my research, I stumbled across an article about her, written by Peter Zeutlin; he’s her great-grandnephew, and also the author of the only book written about Annie.

Q: What is the most compelling thing to you about the story of Annie Londonderry?

I’m compelled by her amazing combination of daring, determination and enterprising creativity. To undertake a trip around the world by bicycle in 1895 would have been (and would still be!) daring for anybody, let alone a woman – and then how she managed to pull it off… well, her ingenuity kind of blew my mind. As an artist, I loved that the story was actually quite complex and left a lot of room for conjecture.

Q: What do you think it would’ve been like to be a lady riding a bicycle at the turn of the century?

By all accounts, it must have been pretty thrilling – experiencing this brand new kind of speed and physical power. Also, it would have been very stylish – cycling was the height of fashion, and people paid great attention not only to their bikes, but their (crazy) riding outfits and riding accessories. And, I imagine you would have probably experienced a lot of attention – whether wanted or unwanted – since back then female riders were a definite minority, and viewed as a bit of a spectacle.

Q: Do you ever wear heels while riding?

Rarely, but that’s just because I rarely wear heels. I did ride to this photo shoot in heels but this is not my everyday outfit! To be fair, I think riding in heels is actually easier than walking in them.

Q: Have you ever worn formal attire while riding?

Oh yes, certainly I have on numerous occasions. Riding in a suit makes me feel…dandy.

Q: What would you do to make Toronto a cycling city?

Toronto’s lack of decisive leadership on transit and failure to commit to a comprehensive, progressive, 21st century transit plan feels like it’s the biggest challenge for everyone in the city, not just cyclists. The gridlock is enough to make us all insane! We need to see some radical, decisive action: so the obvious first step is to get a new mayor – and then get building some safe, separated east-west and north-south bike lanes ASAP. We know that safety is the biggest barrier to getting more people cycling. We already have such a huge and amazing community of dedicated cyclists, can you imagine how many people are going to get on bikes once we make Toronto safer and better for cycling? It’s going to be incredible.


Heels on Wheels is an original dandyhorse series featuring Q&As with fashionable pedal people.

We photographed actor Evalyn Parry at the Trinity College quadrangle, home to Canada’s first Shakespeare festival. The festival’s founder liked Trinity’s English-looking architecture and wanted to hold performances in the open air. Trinity still hosts the annual festival in the historic quad.

The bicycle Evalyn is posing with is an early American Safety bicycle from the late 1800s supplied by Mike Barry (Sr.) of Mariposa fame.

~ This interview was first published in our latest issue of dandyhorse, the bike plan election issue summer 2014. ~

DANDY DEAL! Do you want to win two tickets to the Saturday matinee on November 22, at 2:30 p.m.?

Tweet "SPIN tiks pls @yyzbuddies" for your chance to win. Random draw on November 12. Winner will be contacted via Twitter.

Related on the dandyBLOG:

dandyARCHIVE: Heels on Wheels with Sook-Yin Lee

Heels on Wheels: Councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon

Heels on Wheels: Good Bike duo

Bike Spotting on King at Spadina: Would you support a transit mall?

For the love of parking: examining our city’s priorities

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