PLOT POINTS MAY BE REVEALED BELOW.
Two actors are performing in a “backwash Podunk backwater wasteland of the American landscape.” The show is in a senior home. And there’s only one stage light. And it burns out in the middle of the show.
The backwater wasteland is New Hampshire, and the actors are Terry Dean and Mona Barnes. Together, they make up TVCBTC (The Victoria Canada Bicycle Theatre Company), touring across the continent on bicycle with their signature show Great Moments in Human Achievement, a sprawling , four-hour sweep of human history highlighting the high points of triumph and invention: the rise of science. The emergence of medicine. The discovery of cheese. And always with the eternal question: “What can I do?” What amazing, inspiring things can a single human being achieve for the good of their species?
Then each night they camp out, report by email to their director Polly, hope she remembers to wire them their paychecks, bike to their next location, and do it all again. It’s a trying life—though it does have its rewards.
Those rewards are much more apparent to the idealistic Mona than her cynical compatriot. “I want to make sure that we, as artists, are honoring the message of the piece we are performing,” Mona says. “I want to have the potential to be exceptional.”
But Terry would frankly rather be living the high life (at least relatively speaking ) of some of their fellow thespians: appearing in Toronto productions and getting paid handsomely. Still, doing any show—even one like this—is better than doing no show. Terry’s been in hundreds of productions, and he’s made the sacrifices to back them up.
Then on a long stretch of biking, Mona gets a flat tire and tumbles off her bike. Terry’s ready to call off their next gig, but Mona insists on patching the flat and getting back on the road. Terry doesn’t believe it’s worth it—shows don’t change lives, he says—even though Mona is of a different mindset, believing shows can “plant seeds of change into souls,” especially this show, which leaves them beaten and exhausted. Just like life. Unable to fix the bike, finding common ground as artists, and faced with a nonzero chance that they will die on the side of the road, Mona and Terry sleep together.
Then, inspiration: Mona grabs a roll of duct tape from the trailer. They tape the two broken bikes together, creating a makeshift and glorious tandem bike that carries them onward to their next destination.
And years later, they’re still going; they’ve become TVCTBTC (The Victoria Canada Tandem Bicycle Theatre Company). They’ve had their share of failures, surprises, adversity, and love. “What could you achieve,” they ask their audience, “if you’re willing to get lost?”