Win­ners and Losers of­fers heated de­bates

Pop­u­lar the­atre piece pits pair of ac­tors against each other in top­i­cal ar­gu­ments

Calgary Herald - - YOU - LOUIS B. HOB­SON

In the cel­e­brated Cana­dian the­atre piece Win­ners and Losers, there are no sa­cred cows and no taboo sub­jects — just very heated and per­sonal de­bates.

Cre­ated in 2010 by Van­cou­ver the­atre artists Mar­cus Youssef and James Long, Win­ners and Losers pits a pair of ac­tors against each other as they ar­gue whether Robin Wil­liams, pri­vate schools, Meghan Markle, host­ing the Olympics, the oil­sands, mar­riage or any other per­son or topic is a win­ner or a loser.

What started out as an act­ing ex­er­cise for its cre­ators turned into a show that has toured 12 coun- tries and en­joyed an ex­tended off-Broad­way run. Youssef and Long brought their show to the High Per­for­mance Rodeo in 2017, and one of the first peo­ple to buy a ticket was Jenna Rodgers, the artis­tic di­rec­tor of Cal­gary’s Chro­matic The­atre.

“The con­cept re­ally in­trigued me so I could hardly wait to see how it played out for an au­di­ence,” says Rodgers, who re­calls when she fi­nally got to see the show she was “ex­cited to be so men­tally in­spired by a piece of the­atre.

“Af­ter the show, all I wanted to do was talk about it with friends.”

Rodgers says even be­fore she saw Win­ners and Losers at High Per­for­mance Rodeo she knew she wanted to pro­duce it with a di­verse fe­male cast. She won­dered how much dif­fer­ent the show would be with women in those roles, and es­pe­cially with a woman of colour.

Rodgers se­cured the rights and be­gan work­ing with Ellen Close and Makambe K. Si­mamba to re­vamp the orig­i­nal show.

“We soon dis­cov­ered that Ellen and Makambe had too much in com­mon to get the con­flict needed to make the show work. Ellen gen­er­ously stepped aside and we ap­proached Va­lerie Planche.”

The new trio “re­tained the con­cept and struc­ture Youssef and Long had cre­ated, but now the top­ics, con­flict and phys­i­cal­ity are dif­fer­ent.”

Chro­matic’s Win­ners and Losers pre­mièred this sum­mer in Toronto at Sum­merWorks Per­for­mance Fes­ti­val. “The au­di­ences cer­tainly weren’t pas­sive. We had boos and cheers and peo­ple even tried to help the per­form­ers they were sid­ing with on cer­tain top­ics.”

This was par­tic­u­larly re­ward­ing for Rodgers be­cause she had re­vamped the show to let it be a plat­form for new voices.

“The world is chang­ing, and we know that the voices of women and peo­ple of colour are un­der­rep­re­sented. We must con­tinue to hear from a mul­ti­tude of voices, to cul­ti­vate em­pa­thy and un­der­stand­ing for ex­pe­ri­ences out­side our own.

“Art has the power to make change, and I think that in lis­ten­ing to Makambe and Va­lerie, the au­di­ence is ac­tively be­ing asked to ques­tion their own be­liefs.”

Chro­matic’s Win­ners and Losers is be­ing pre­sented in the Arts Com­mons En­gi­neered Air The­atre Nov. 15-25. Tick­ets for the per­for­mances are $25 gen­eral and $20 stu­dent/se­niors with pay-what-you-can pre­views on Nov. 13 and 14. To re­serve seats go to artscom­mons.ca.

DI­ANE + MIKE PHO­TOG­RA­PHY

Makambe K. Si­mamba, left, and Va­lerie Planche star in Chro­matic The­atre’s Win­ners and Losers.

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