THIS PLAY WINS is a SummerWorks experiment. The company has devised nine scenes built around a combination of acting games, the whims of the performers, and — so far as I can tell — kick-ass titles that demanded a sketch be written around them. But at every performance, audience members are asked to collectively vote a scene off the island: mark your card, single out the weakest piece, and cast it off to the slushpile.
And audience fingerprints don’t end there. Participation is sought at all times and at all levels, from introducing themselves to the audience personally, to — at the end– inviting us to join them on picnic blankets, nibble on an assortment of gummies, and probe what we’ve just seen.
So here’s the thing: the night I saw it, it creaked. The audience just wasn’t game enough — too surprised and shocked and uncertain by what was unfolding — and as a result, from where I sat, the participatory elements didn’t gel. The performers (dressed as extras off Star Trek) amped up their own energy to keep it from collapsing, but there were a few moments of visible frustration that they weren’t getting the reaction they wanted.
And that’s awkward, right?
I mean, what are you supposed to do when, having asked your audience “What do you want to see on this stage?”, the answer is “I want to passively watch the show and not have to answer any questions”? And do you see how this answer sucks the energy right out of the room?
Truth be told, I think this could be a lot of fun if the audience is down to play along — but that’s cheating, right? If the point of the exercise is to hear from the audience on their own terms and incorporate their responses, then surely “leave me alone and act” can’t be dismissed just because it’s boring.
But you know what? Let’s cheat. If this play sounds like fun — if spending 90 minutes hanging out with an enthusiastic company and plumbing some experimental work sounds up your alley — you should totally drop $15 and go see it. Just promise you’ll sit in the front row, and come with the expectation that you’ll wind up on stage. (Speak when spoken to; stand up when they ask for volunteers; laugh, loud and hard, from the belly. Put yourself out there, man.)
And if that sounds unappealing, well. You might as well eat your money, because you’ll hate everything about this show.
Me? I liked THIS PLAY WINS. I’ll admit I was laughing nervously, but I’m glad I saw what I saw, and I’m glad this piece is being incubated. Fascinating stuff, even if all the fireworks don’t quite launch as planned.
- THIS PLAY WINS plays the BMO Incubator at the Theatre Centre (1115 Queen West, enter down the ramp on the western side of the building) through August 15th.
- Remaining performances: Sunday August 9th 5:00 PM; Monday August 10th 7:30 PM; Tuesday August 11th 5:00 PM; Wednesday August 12th 7:15 PM; Thursday August 13th 10:15 PM; Saturday August 15th 10:15 PM.
- Tickets are $15, and can be purchased online, by phone at 888-328-8384, from the venue approximately one hour before showtime, or from the festival box office in the beer garden at the Factory Theatre. (125 Bathurst St.) Fees may apply to online and telephone orders.
- Although this show’s content is suitable for all ages, young people may not find the subject matter or framing device to be of interest. Recommended for ages 14 and up.