By Aaron Zaretsky & Paolo Pagcanlunga
Basketball is more than just a sport. At least for Toronto. #GoRaptorsGo
It’s not just a hobby, passion, or even career choice. There is a saying that basketball is life, and in the interactive, heartwarming theatre performance of Monday Nights, the crowd jumps from the bleachers into an intimate glimpse of the journeys of four men on and off the court.
There are six performers: two referees and four team captains, each representing their team delineated by the colors black, blue, green, and red. The audience is split into teams by selecting various items from a bag. Each item is a personal belonging of each team captain, immediately creating a connection with the audience even before the show begins. The connection is deepened with an introductory monologue, pre-recorded by each captain that audience members listen to via headphones, and so it is understood that every person’s experience of this show will be unique throughout the night.
One of the performers, Jeff Yung, who is team Green’s captain, only started to play basketball a few years ago. At a stage in his life where he was struggling with his career and trying to find himself, he turned to drugs, and it got to the point where he had to be high to do just about anything. But then Jeff found a group of guys in a pickup game, and his addiction quickly turned into a Basketball Jones. They would play against each other all the time, and when Jeff wanted to learn a new basketball skill, they would give him time for that to happen. There was never pressure from this group, and eventually, they came together to form Monday Nights.
Another performer is team Blue’s captain, Richard Lee, who found basketball while combating with depression. It was in the summer of 2008 that Richard sent out an email with a wish that he wouldn’t be so alone. The email found five other people, and the games began. Then eight. Then, the pick-up basketball mailing list grew as large as 20 people. Richard found himself with a full heart and good company, and he wanted to share this discovery with the world. Luckily, Richard isn’t just a baller, but a theater junkie as well. His group formed many iterations of Monday Nights, from a scripted play to a dance performance. After finding a happy medium, the group started a residency with The Theatre Centre, which has a partnership with Luminato Festival. The rest, as they say, is history.
There are several opportunities for audience members to participate in the performance. There are in lay-up, rebounding, and dribbling drills, which are three foundational skills in basketball. There are 1v1 or 3v3 games. It is totally up to each individual to participate as much or as little in the show, and the only requirements are sneakers and an understanding that the court is a safe space. The Monday Nights captains treat each volunteer like they treat each other, and it is because of the crowd’s willingness to join in on the fun that every performance is different from one to the next.
“Who you are is how you play,” Richard states when explaining the philosophy behind Monday Nights. Through the different stages of the performance, every movement is a thousand words that tells the stories of these different people coming together because of a sport. Monday Nights concludes with the captains taking turns shooting free throws, with each shot thrown with a personal wish. For this ragtag group, Monday Nights is a wish come true.
Monday Nights has performances rest of this week, concluding on Sunday, June 23rd.
*Editor’s Note: VIBE105 is the Community Media Partner of Luminato Festival 2019