Tonight is the opening night of Playing with Fire: The Theo Fleury story, and this is officially the first time that I’ve ever worn a hockey jersey, never mind one with a Calgary Flames logo on it. I didn’t know what to expect from this production. When I started at ATP in October, there was a lot of excitement around producing this project, but I have to admit that I was a bit skeptical about the subject matter. I’m not a hockey fan, and I’m new to Calgary – so I don’t know much about Mr. Fleury or his story. I was intrigued by the ambitious production design that transformed the Martha Cohen Theatre into a hockey rink, Jumbotron, synthetic ice, penalty box and all, but I didn’t know what was at the heart of the performance until I saw the first preview on Tuesday night. Turns out, hockey and theatre have a lot in common – passion, risk and the fans.
Developing a new play is a labor of love, and above all a gamble. No one knows what a piece will become at the beginning of its process. Playing with Fire has evolved into an artistically challenging, immensely theatrical work that is unlike anything that I have ever seen before. It is a gigantic endeavor with a staggering design, and when actor Shaun Smyth jumps over the rink boards and onto the ice, every element works together to tell the story of this funny and ferocious man. I am struck by Smyth’s ability to connect with the audience in a way that feels effortlessness intimate. He is a raw nerve, a party animal, a troubled hero, and a friend. Like an athlete, his performance is pure determination – an amazing feat to watch. Playing with Fire truly is a spectator sport.
|Shaun Smyth as Theo Fleury|
Near the end of the show, we hear the line, “you came here tonight because you were curious about a sports superstar behaving badly…”, and I think this might be the popular conception of what Playing with Fire is all about. That it is a piece made for hockey lovers, or those who already know the story. In fact, what I’m really excited about is how this play functions as a metaphor for itself; how the gargantuan investment made by the creative team who built and trained for this show over the past year will be put to the test each night on our stage. Every performance in theatre is Game 7 – where it’s all or nothing – and we rely on the strength and energy of our audience to cheer us on.
I’ll be hollering in the stands tonight, perhaps feeling more and more like a real sports fan. I hope you’ll join us for this, the last show of our season. It is an experience not to be missed.