Winners and Losers offers heated debates
Popular theatre piece pits pair of actors against each other in topical arguments
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.
Makambe K. Simamba, left, and Valerie Planche star in Chromatic Theatre’s Winners and Losers.