Performing as a form of therapy
She is vain. She is vindictive. She is vogue; or so Visha Loo – a Calgary-based contortionist, artist, and fetish event planner – describes herself.
A familiar face in Calgary's alternative scene, Visha Loo is a stage character created by Janice Adshade, who sews all her own lace and latex costumes, sports outlandish makeup and is the creative director behind her shocking – and usually adult-only – performances in Calgary for the past six years.
Produced by Conor Mahoney and Jenni O'Nyons
"I always wanted to stand out," Adshade said. "Even as a kid, I wanted to be Lydia (from Beetlejuice) or Wednesday from The Addams Family.
"I suppose I created the Visha character because it was somebody I wanted to be — so I became her."
Adshade, 28, was raised in Brentwood Bay, B.C., and has lived in Calgary for 10 years. Since then, she met and married photographer Jeremy Adshade, and are preparing to celebrate their seven-year anniversary this Halloween.
Though she is never without her boldly striped clothing and jet-black hair, by day Adshade carries herself as more reserved and shy, and by night she is quite the opposite as the goth character Visha Loo.
"I could be dead to the world as Janice, but as soon as there is a stage, camera and video, Visha's on," Adshade said.
"I like picking out the hair, the makeup, the clothes, the music, creating the routine. I like it all."
Growing up goth
Although she appears to be a bold, confident young woman, she has had her share of pain. Growing up in a small town, she was bullied by her peers for being different.
"People threw rocks at me," Adshade said. "There were notes of me dying or having sex with sheep or Satan, which were very well-illustrated."
Adshade, being the only goth in school, was told by other students she was a witch, a vampire and the devil.
"This one kid wrote in my yearbook how he wanted me to die and get hit by a truck," Adshade said. "So people do kind of scare me.
"When I'm Janice out in public, I don't talk to people; I sit and observe. As Visha, people need to watch her."
As a young adult, friends and family who showed support boosted Adshade's self-confidence. They encouraged her to focus on loving herself and embracing her individuality.
"I was told that every day when I wake up, I have to say something nice about myself and eventually I would start believing it," Adshade said. "I'd do it, but I wouldn't mean it.
"But when I started performing I began to act like a confident person and sure enough it went to my head."
Adshade's sister Sandra Thoen remembers her as a very outgoing child who loved attention.
"She started being more of an individual around Grade 7," Thoen said. "That's when she began dying her hair jet-black and started going goth."
Thoen said that as a kid, her sister would stylize her Barbie collection, and would always be the first one to volunteer in a performance at Disneyland or in front of friends.
"She loves the spotlight, but performing is also her way of dealing with things," Thoen said. "When she was in school if someone called her a witch, she would act like a witch.
"Visha Loo is a character; She's not the everyday Janice."
Thoen said that one might look at her sister and make judgments but behind the look, she's a really loving, down-to-earth, bubbly girl.
Fitting in by standing out
Janet Miller, a registered psychologist, said it is common for people to show their identity through performance art.
"People can have a way of working out their feelings or past struggles through art," said Miller, who heads the counseling department at Mount Royal University.
"It is a way for people to make a statement through art to find their voice and this can be a very empowering feeling."
Although Adshade was a lonely woe-is-me teen, she said she has found acceptance in the alternative fetish scene because of the openness and level of respect community members show one another.
"In the alternative world you don't have to be ashamed or shy of who you are or what you do because there is probably somebody out there with a weirder fetish than you," Adshade said. "If you want to be a freak, rock the freakiness."
Visha Loo will be performing at the Alberta Bound Tattoo & Arts Festival from Oct. 12-14 at the BMO Centre in Calgary.
- By CONOR MAHONEY