Byron Abalos (left) and Colin Doyle are having a ball in Monday Nights.
MONDAY NIGHTS written and performed by Byron Abalos, Colin Doyle, Darrel Gamotin, Richard Lee and Jeff Yung. Presented by 6th Man Collective and the Theatre Centre at the Theatre Centre (1115 Queen West). Previews from Friday (September 5), opens Monday (September 8) and runs to September 20 at 7:30 pm; see theatrecentre.org for schedule. $30, stu/srs $25. 416-538-0988. See listing.
Shooting hoops is good for community-building. It also leads to an unusual theatre production.
The collectively created Monday Nights is about a group of guys who bonded during regular Monday games and found something precious in what they learned about themselves and each other.
And audience members not only get to watch what they discovered; they can, if they want, join the five on the court.
In the summer of 2008, theatre artist Richard Lee sent an email to a group of friends saying he'd be at the basketball court at Bathurst and Queens Quay at 10 pm. Anyone who wanted to join him was welcome.
"That's the dark night in theatre, a time we could all come out after we'd done with our work, our kids and our laundry," recalls Byron Abalos. He and Colin Doyle, Darrel Gamotin, Lee and Jeff Yung make up 6th Man Collective.
"People showed up, older guys past our physical prime but happy to play a game we loved. We were searching for something, though we didn't know it at the time. And while we felt really rusty, made bad shots and had aches and pains the next day, we also felt wonderful about the experience of getting together."
Nothing could keep them away. They did it for the rest of the summer, every Monday, until the lights were turned off.
"There was something special about this group, and we wanted to explore why and how this game allowed us to transform as friends and people. We loved basketball, and we decided to share that love for the game and each other."
"How we play says a lot about who we are as people," continues Doyle. "I wanted to explore that thesis, because you learn about each other quickly when you interact in a game, with all its frustrations and joys. You discover who gets nervous in a tense moment, who's willing to take a big shot, who tries to be better than he's been so far."
A few years down the road, the idea already in their heads, Theatre Centre's Franco Boni invited the quintet to be part of the Centre's residency program. Doyle thinks Boni recognized the diverse community around the theatre and saw this group of five men - Filipino, Chinese and Caucasian - coincidentally reflecting that community. As it turned out, the Theatre Centre's previous home at Queen and Dovercourt was a YMCA at the turn of the 20th century and housed one of the city's first basketball courts.
"We did two years of residency there but six years of talking about the show," smiles Doyle, who fell in love with basketball as a child and played it in high school, as did Abalos.
"That developmental period gave us ownership of the piece," adds Abalos. "We did one version that was predominantly text-based, another that focused on movement. The most recent was an interactive durational version that was part of SummerWorks 2013, a five-hour version at Trinity Bellwoods Park that invited people to play along with us.
"People kept coming back to watch and play. It clearly struck a chord."
The current show divides the audience into groups, each of whom backs a certain player and his team. Using headset broadcasts, different for each player, we learn about the man whose team we root for - what drives him on and off the court.
"We think about the performance as a kind of bromance," says Abalos, whose narrative focuses on his growing relationship with the woman who became his wife. "We're sharing our real stories and names, what broke our hearts and what we're afraid of."
The two compare sports and theatre as public events that gather a group of strangers who have a communal experience involving both escape and celebration.
"We five may be the leaders, but the fun is with the individual audience members who maybe nervously take a shot at the basket," says Abalos. "But in a sense we all gather around that story and tell it together. At the end of the day, it's not the score that matters but that we came together, played and supported each other."