There’s not much that’s conventional about A Game of You, the immersive theatre project performed within a red-curtained box in the lobby of the Harbour Centre. But one notable eccentricity is that instead of applause, the audience acknowledges the actors’ impressive character work by writing a message in the guest book.
“What a lovely little moment that was,” one guest writes.
“Didn’t realize I was such a douchebag until I was on the other side of the mirror,” another says.
“L’expérience a été si salvatrice. Je l’ai grandement apprécié. À faire absolument.”
“The experience has been so life-saving. I greatly appreciated it. Absolutely worth it," from a third.
Some people write paragraphs. Some scribble only a few words. Presumably, many leave without writing anything all. But as evidenced in the book, the responses to this one-of-a-kind show are as diverse as the experiences of the show itself.
Running 30 minutes long, audience members enter the maze-like set and are guided through a number of rooms where everything you do and say is incorporated into what comes next. Of course, there are the expected technical stage tricks, as well as impressive improvisation from the actors. But the biggest takeaways are the personal interrogations that A Game of You forces you to make: about how you see yourself, how others see you, and how the art we create (and consume) somehow always reflects pieces of ourselves.
Stas Manouvakhov, the show's producer, tells the Straight that he wanted to bring the show to Vancouver from the moment he walked out of his own experience in Moscow, “laughing non-stop” after what he’d just experienced.
“Not because it was funny, but what happened inside short circuited my brain,” Manouvakhov says.
He connected with Belgian playwright Alexander Devriendt, who then visited Vancouver with his theatre company Ontroerend Goed, to help train the actors and build the set.
Ontroerend Goed is notorious for works of immersive theatre, drawing controversy for their fourth-wall breaking experiments. The 2004 show The Smile Off Your Face blindfolded guests and pushed them through the set on a wheelchair, subject to the whims of the actors. Their 2007 piece Internal involved audience members sharing intimate secrets with cast members, only to have those secrets later shared with the entire assembled group.
But A Game of You, the third piece in the trilogy, takes a softer approach to immersive theatre. Manouvakhov says it isn’t meant to be scary or uncomfortable. Even if you don’t say a word when you’re inside, the players will find a way to build the show around you.
“There’s a difference between interactive and immersive. If people buy a ticket, I don’t want to put pressure on them,” Manouvakhov says. “You’re a part of the show, but even if you do nothing, it’s still a game of you.”
This is part of Manouvakhov’s goal—to create a work that anyone can walk into and enjoy, without the bourgeois air of exclusivity that sometimes applies to traditional theatre.
“In half an hour, an act can be as powerful as a three-hour show,” Manouvakhov says.
Manouvakhov spent the first few weeks of A Game of You’s run hanging out in the lobby, talking to people exiting the theatre, and he was warmed by the range of responses—and the range of attendees.
“There was one 15-year-old kid the other day who said, ‘I’m actually an interesting person. I’m going to change my career.’”
He then met an elderly couple from Florida who told Manouvakhov to “spread it to the world.”
“They all say it was amazing for different reasons. To me, that has depth,” the producer recalls.
If there’s one thing A Game of You teaches you, it’s that forced self-reflection makes for impactful theatre. We often don’t think of our personas as performance, or our daily lives as art. As one guest put it best, it’s a chance to look at yourself as an interesting person. And it’s comforting to know that the person behind you is, too.
A Game of You is at the Harbour Centre until September 15. Tickets and information can be found here.