Playing with Fire

You don't need to know anything about hockey to love the exhilarating, heart-breaking, and triumphant true story of courageous Canadian hockey legend, Theoren Fleury. From October 16-November 4, Neptune Theatre in Halifax presents Playing with Fire; The Theo Fleury Story, starring Shaun Smyth. Recently we spoke with the actor about what audiences can expect.

When and why did you first become interested in theater?
I became interested in theatre at a young age. I remember always wanting to come up with something to do at the school concerts. In grade three I had a strong desire to direct something on the stage for the holiday concert. I went to the library and found an Edgar Allan Poe story. I remember searching our house for creepy lamps and that Halloween spider web asbestos stuff. That production never happened but the memory of trying to make it happen was real. I don’t know why I have been drawn to theatre, it was just in my gut.

Are they the same reasons that you continue to be involved today?
Yes, I believe they are. I like a good story and I love that theatre has the ability to transport an audience to another time and place. The live element will always be the theatre’s unique gift.

What are the challenges of the vocation?
The biggest challenges are steady employment, a living wage, long-term security, you know little things like that. An actor must work very hard at defining themselves and working hard at their craft. When hard work meets opportunity mixed with a dash of luck, that’s the perfect recipe.

What are the rewards?
The rewards are getting to tell meaningful stories that reflect our experience on this planet. I believe being able to use your mind, body, and soul to accomplish this is a rare and precious use of this time on Earth.

How, when & why did you get involved with Playing with Fire?
I was approached by the director, Ron Jenkins, who I had known from my Edmonton days.  I had always admired his work and he called and asked me how my hockey playing was? I said not great but if you give me the part, I have a year and I will train my butt off and be a great hockey player. I flew to Calgary and read for Kirstie McLellan Day and Theo. They offered me the part and I went and bought a pair of skates the next day.

From your perspective, why has the story struck such a strong chord with audiences?
There are a few ways this show resonates so strongly with audiences. We get people coming for lots of different reasons. Some admired Theoren as a player, some have had to deal with the trauma of sexual abuse and find healing in this story, and some just love theatre. In the end, it is a story of resilience, of becoming a victor over victim. It’s empowering, it’s therapeutic, and it’s also a great sports story. And it’s funny as hell. Comedy and tragedy are neighbors.

What can audiences expect to experience during the Halifax run?
Audiences can expect go on a wild ride of a night; laughter to tears and back again. They are going to see one man on skates in full hockey equipment, skating for two hours, dropping F bombs, and taking them on a journey from a young five-year-old boy to present day. All the while shooting pucks and smashing into the boards. Fasten your shoulder pads folks!

What are your thoughts on the current state of theater in Halifax & Atlantic Canada?
I have worked in this part of the country a bit, Once at Neptune in the studio space and for two years on TV show called Pit Pony which was shot in Cape Breton. I have always been in awe of the talent in this province. That will never change. The storytelling tradition is strong here and I don’t see that changing. The sense of humour, the musical talent and the audience appreciation for those things will always be here. Neptune Theatre is in great hands with Jeremy Webb and I know there are many other companies here doing amazing work also.

How can that be improved?
I can’t speak to the specifics of what, if anything needs to be improved in your community. All I can say is that when I was at theatre school at the University of Alberta, Edmonton had an incredible theatre scene. This happened because there were many streams feeding the pond all the time, U of A drama grads, Grant MacEwan grads and the Fringe. Every year there was a new crop of talent flooding the cultural landscape. Because of the Fringe, young actors, writers and directors were creating their own opportunities and being provided chances to perform and practice their craft in front of audiences. I will also add that because of these opportunities, most of the artists remained in the community. This seems to me like a recipe that will always keep a healthy arts culture.

What's next on your creative agenda?    
I have a few different irons in the fire, I am adapting a book for the stage, I just completed a short film, and I run a Film Acting studio in Hamilton, Ontario. I am a father of two daughters who are seven and four, so there is a lot of creative work happening there.

Playing with Fire; The Theo Fleury Story
October 16-November 4
Neptune Theatre, Halifax

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