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Kuebler exercises artistic muscle in Feasting on Famine

One-man show dissects male health issues
Shay Kuebler
Shay Kuebler’s performance piece Feasting on Famine runs until Sept. 30 at the Firehall Arts Centre. Photo Dan Toulgoet

A completely shredded dude with eight per cent body fat performing in a speedo for 60 minutes may not scream out “teachable moment” to the uninitiated, but it’s Shay Kuebler’s conversation starter just the same.

Kuebler’s one-man show, Feasting on Famine, plays on the paradoxes found in striving for perfect health and what that loaded term even means to begin with.

The 33-year-old uses his background in bodybuilding, martial arts and dance to call attention to big pharma and health supplements, and how the end game of a life filled with lifting weights can go completely sideways.

“I’ve always felt that bodybuilding was this representation of strength and health,” he says. “But internally there is a famine. These guys are unhealthy — their hearts aren’t healthy, they can’t run, they can’t do a lot of cardio because they weigh so much and they eventually have to take pills to get erections even though they look like they’re a giant erection themselves.”

Kuebler is not a life-long gym rat. He only started upping his gains within the last five years to aid in his recovery from injuries sustained from his gigs in dance and choreography. He’s practised martial arts for close to 30 years and has spent about 15 years professionally cutting a rug.   

Those parts of his life combine with visual effects and other theatre elements to create what’s best described as performance art.

“It’s an intense show,” Kuebler says. “From a physical standpoint, I feel like I can attack it. But with what I’m trying to say thematically, it’s a big push for me.”  

Outside of the tangible, physical effects of an unhealthy health obsession, Kuebler maintains there’s also a side that’s often unseen: loneliness. Because so much time is spent in the gym, not a lot of effort is put into social interaction or maintaining ties with friends and family.

“I like playing with the ideas of extremes,” Kuebler says. “There are positives around being dedicated, focused and strict, but these extremes are what destroy us.”

The production isn’t so much biographical as it is anecdotal. The narrative is derived from what Kuebler has seen within bodybuilding culture and through friends. His gym buddy’s dad is a life-long bodybuilder and is a case study in the talking points in Feasting on Famine.   

“He has to take digestives and diuretics and all this other s*** just so he could digest his food,” Kuebler says. “It made me realize how the body is a device for industry.”  

The production runs Sept. 27 to 30 at the Firehall Arts Centre.