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High Performance Rodeo presents a show for all the Winners and Losers

By Gurman Sahota, January 24 2017 —

Topics like race and privilege are often left unspoken due to their taboo nature, especially when among friends, family and coworkers. But James Long and Marcus Youssef made a performance based on just that discomfort.

Presented by Theatre Encounter, Winners and Losers is what Long calls a “structured conversation of topics that are often untouched and how that correlates with the idea of winning and losing.”

Long co-created and acts in the play.

“We started early on having a conversation about the idea of winning and losing and what it means to feel like a winner or a loser,” Long says. “[We] devised this game called ‘Winners and Losers’ where we started to name random elements in the world — people, places, things — and then debate whether those things are winners or losers and transcribed it all and then turned it into a script.”

Improvisation played a vital role in the development of the show and its ongoing performances. However, the show built consistency over nearly five years of performances.

Long and Youssef have presented the piece around Canada and on international stages. Calgary’s High Performance Rodeo will host Winners and Losers from Jan. 25–28.

“We’ve taken it 19 times around the world, everywhere from Montreal to New York City, from Iceland to Italy,” Long says. “All over the place where people sort of speak English, essentially.”

The show is primarily Canadian and references Vancouver locales, Long says each audience — whether it international or local — takes to the performance differently.

“The show is very exposing for us as human beings because we talk about ourselves in it so that’s a big difference,” Long says. “But when we do it in a place like the United Kingdom, for example, the questions of class and privilege we’re talking about has a much different feel [than] in Canada.”

For example, Long says the play promotes “real open conversation about class and privilege” in the U.K.

Much of the show is based on the biographical roots of the performers. Long says a challenge he faces with the show is working with the consequences of the dialogue being so exposing and intimate.

“You have to say things about yourself and the other person that you would never, ever say in public,” Long says. “We said things to each other and about ourselves [then] suddenly we’re saying these things in front of our friends, families, colleagues and it gets really uncomfortable.”

Though the performance does tune in to the discomfort of its actors, Long says this feeling keeps the show fresh and creates a “tricky little phenomenon.”

Long says the show relates to more than just its Canadian home in reference to the international political climate.

“The show is built on the idea of winning and losing — a real binary system of looking at the world as one or the other,” Long says. “I think in particular with the inauguration of [American President Donald] Trump, that idea of one or the other is very much heightened and exposed than it was when we made the show a few years ago.”

The technical aspect of the show features Long and Youssef improvising basic topics — neither will know what the other will say until the show happens — as well as a taking a few launching points from the audience. With world events affecting the show, the underlying themes of each show may vary, but at its core, Winners and Losers remains a conversation of ‘have’ and ‘have not.”

Theatre Encounter’s Winners and Losers will perform at West Village Theatre from Jan. 25 – 28 at 9:00 p.m. Ticket prices vary.

For more information, visit theatreencounter.com

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