Game On: Winners and Losers playfully challenges its performers and audience

Two people start a friendly competition, a rousing debate about who in the world is winning and who is losing: but the game itself should have a winner and a loser. So whose view of the world comes out a winner? How can you possibly keep it friendly when you square off about deeply held values, personal perspectives and lived experience?

Winners and Losers is about the way we often engage in the world today; it explores our compulsion towards comparison, conflict and competition.

Director Jenna Rodgers and performers Makambe Simamba and Valerie Planche have been developing this original adaptation of James Long and Marcus Youssef’s show for about 18 months. Long and Youssef took a game they developed with each other after years of friendship and played it with raw honesty and incredible vulnerability for audiences around the world for five years before retiring the show in 2017.

After seeing the original Winners and Losers, with its revealing insights into male friendship, Rodgers wondered what the show would be like with two women. Long and Youssef have been very supportive of this new version. Rodgers and the cast started by stripping the show back to its game structure and building new material from improvisations between the performers. The show, produced by Calgary’s Chromatic Theatre, had a run this past August as part of the Summerworks Festival in Toronto.

The game may be the similar in this new adaptation, but the players and their relationship are quite different. “We adapted a structure from a show by two male-identified people who are about the same age and who had worked together many times. The conflict in our version is between two female-identifying people of different generations and cultural backgrounds that haven’t worked together before,” Simamba explains.

“It is challenging to explore the relationship between two humans when you don’t really know each other,” Planche adds.

But Simamba and Planche are up for the challenge. Are they competitive? “I like the joy of competition, but I don’t need to win,” says Planche.

And Simamba? “ ‘All I do is win, win, win,’ ” she sings, quoting the 2010 DJ Khaled hit. “I like to win. I was raised to believe I have to win. It is the immigrant narrative: we came here to prosper,” she continues.

Simamba and Planche may not be the only ones who find themselves playing the game of Winners and Losers during the production. “Audiences inevitably start playing along in their heads. We can hear it in their vocalizations and reactions to our positions,” says Planche.

The experience often leads to spirited discussions and shifted perspectives from audience members. “Audiences explore and shatter some of their biases about the worlds Val and I come from and what their expectations are,” says Simamba. “(The show) is different from anything they have seen before, including the original.”

(Photo courtesy Diane Mike Photography.)

You can play along November 13-25, 2018 at Engineered Air Theatre in Arts Commons as Chromatic Theatre’s adaptation of Winners and Losers is presented by Swallow-a-Bicycle Theatre and Arts Commons Presents.

Vicki Stroich is a Calgary based theatre artist and arts administrator with a passion for the arts, culture and the environment.