Campus play is humourous, personal and deep
[media-credit id=1 align="aligncenter" width="600"][/media-credit]When a group of theatre studies students decided they wanted to perform a collective creation acted and directed by themselves, they also chose to level up the expectations. Josh Anderson-Coats, Lara Gordon, Gloria Mok, and Andrew Turk decided to write the play, too. And that’s when The Black Sheep Project came into being.
The play presents the characters trapped in some sort of game show-video game hybrid, where they are competing to “win at life.” They must overcome a series of awkward situations foisted on them by an omnivoyant but unseen game show host, most of which are derived from the actors’ own experiences.
“All of us just put out what situations we’ve been in before where we felt uncomfortable or like we had to act a certain way to please people. And then pretty much word for word put them out there. And obviously edited them a bit for theatricality,” said Gordon.
“It was about a year ago when we decided we wanted to do this. And then we all got together, and it was a lot of talking. We went through a lot of ideas, and then realized it made more sense to write about what we actually knew,” Gordon added.
The bus scene, for instance, offered a verbatim account of Mok’s experience with a stranger on a bus. The man – clearly intoxicated and portrayed by Turk on stage – insisted on sitting beside Mok, who prefers to keep her personal space to herself. He then proceeded to not only drunkenly hit on her, but to ask prying questions about her ethnic origin (Mok is of Chinese heritage). It’s a scene that anyone who has ever been sober on a late-night bus can surely relate to.
But what makes this play interesting is not just that the situations draw on real life, but that the characters do too. Indeed, the actors are for the most part just being themselves.
“Some things are exaggerated, but otherwise it’s us,” said Anderson-Coats.
“We kind of just play hyper-real versions of ourselves,” added Mok.
It made for a much more powerful show. When Turk delivered a monologue detailing his brother’s inspiring story – running in the Special Olympics despite doctors saying it was likely he would never even walk on account of cerebral palsy – there is no doubt the tears were real.
Despite heavier moments such as this, the play was for the most part humourous. Using references to game shows and classic video games such as Alien Invaders or Mortal Kombat, the play explored the absurdity of life in an absurdly comic way.
In one scene, Anderson-Coats is forced to come out to his parents on a TV game show. The twist is that the parents are convinced he is gay, and are devastated by the news that he is straight after all.
There’s more here than comic interpretations of unusual social interactions, though. What The Black Sheep Project really gets at are the challenges of social conformity, and the difficulty of being oneself in face of the expectations, judgments, and beliefs of others who surround us on a daily basis. With this comes an exploration of the meaning of life: why does life exist, why can’t you leave, and what’s the point – if there even is one?
Astoundingly, in a run time of just less than an hour, The Black Sheep Project touches on all these and more. But what is most impressive is how it presents these topics in such an entertainingly humourous way. These students have truly produced a job well done.
The University of Guelph's Independent Student Newspaper
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