When was the last time that you felt wonder or connected with the art of play?
A collective of twenty-something actors were asking themselves that very question as they were devising theatre. Called the Secret Shark Collective, the group composed of University of Victoria theatre alumni were grappling with shared experiences of feeling dragged down by a distinct lack of connection in many realms of their lives, said director Ciaran Volke.
“Everyone is glued to TikTok and Instagram reels, everyone is addicted to productivity, and almost everyone I know has some form of mental illness. Global disasters and genocide are still occurring, and there is no accountability from our leaders. What’s more, we’re conditioned to be polite, reasonable adults when there is actually nothing reasonable about life at all,” he said.
“We wanted to create a show that addressed this disconnect, and wonder was our way in.”
The result is the show Game:Play, produced under the mentorship and support of the Belfry Theatre’s Incubator Program. Through shadow puppetry, clown, and audience participation in actual games, it’s both the actors challenging themselves to re-find that wonder in themselves, while inviting the audience to do the same.
Directed and facilitated by Volke, co-creator of the hit musical improv duo COWBOY, Game:Play follows four central characters who over the course of the hour, rediscover their inner sense of childlike wonder through games and vignettes offering glimpses into the courses of their lives.
“As soon as you take a moment to be curious and to allow yourself to connect to this amazing life, something comes undone,” Volke said.
Games have always been used in a variety of ways in the theatre world, particularly in the realm of improv, but through art, the Secret Shark Collective is philosophizing on the other values they hold.
“Games connect us to each other. They say to us, ‘Let’s look at this situation in a different light and play with it,’” Volke said.
In terms of whether or not the cast re-found their wonder through the process of devising Game:Play, Volke said the transformation is a “life-long process, but it is definitely happening.”
“It can be so easy to fixate on trivial problems, so much so that they become the only thing we can see. But intentionally bringing more wonder into our lives has widened that focus, and has shown that it’s never been that serious,” he said.
“Devising theatre can be extremely frustrating— there’s always a point where everything gets too much. Too many ideas, too many directions. Everyone is juggling twenty balls and there’s no end in sight. So you drop all the balls. This is the best part: once you hit this point, you’re able to step back and see what’s so amazing about it. We have the privilege to do this awesome thing, to share it with so many people, and to have fun. It’s at this point that everything becomes clear, almost euphoric. You pick up the balls again, but maybe this time you don’t pick up so many. And maybe you can play catch with each other instead of juggling. And maybe now you have a play.”
The four cast bringing play to life are Ryan Kniel (Paper Street Theatre), Kaylee Cavanagh (Garden City Improv), Una Rekic (Hapax Theatre, Blue Bridge Repertory Theatre) and Volke with shadow puppets by Kiley Verbowski and lighting design by Syrah Kahn.
Game:Play is family-friendly, though the target audience is “adults who don’t believe they can play,” said Volke.
It runs Dec. 7 to 16 at the Belfry Theatre. Tickets are $30 at belfry.bc.ca or rush pay-way-you-can. Those interested in supporting the production can visit Secret Shark Collective’s Indiegogo Campaign at igg.me/at/gameplay/x#.