“This is the real secret of life,” said the English writer, speaker and philosopher Alan Watts, “to be completely engaged with what you are doing in the here and now. And instead of calling it work, realize it is play.”
Watts, who made a name for himself by popularizing Buddhist, Taoist and Hindu philosophies for the masses, frequently referred to life as a game. There is no point in worrying about which move is the right one—there is no “right” or “wrong” move, he argued. We simply go to the next experience, and then the next, and each will bring us something different. Our only “job” is to play.
It’s heady stuff for a cabaret show, to be sure, but for Sarah Sperber, CEO of Rogue Worx, Watts’ ideas were the catalyst for The Game, the company’s most ambitious production to date.
“I wanted the concept to have more meaning this time,” Sperber said. “We went from #Millennial (RogueWorx’s first show, in early 2022), which was a total parody comprised of vignettes, to Hush, a murder mystery (in early 2023). The Game is really about being present and waking up by way of life’s peak experiences (portals, as we call them in the show). I was listening to an old Alan Watts recording, wherein he refers to life as ‘The Game,’ and it totally clicked! A cirque-style, psychedelic game show about life’s peak experiences that demand your presence … it seemed perfect.”
Sperber wrote the script, created video interludes and conceived of the portals, including selecting music and overall descriptions for each number, along with ideas about costuming. Overall, she envisioned a futuristic/cyberpunk aesthetic and a choose-your-own-adventure premise.
The show is presented as a collection of cirque-style performances including songs, high-energy dance and acrobatics, tumbling by Andie Murray, the incredible fire-dancing contortionist Jenae Gerstmann, and a breathtaking aerial silks act performed by Sperber and Gerstmann. Though Sperber choreographed the specialty acts, most of the dance numbers were choreographed by Sierra Taylor Cline and are performed by Cline, Sperber, Shannise Mora, Alexandria Clearwater, Ivy Case, Meghan Cooper and Mickayla Clune.
Meanwhile, a story thread runs through the show. Our main character, Xander (played by Alex Moya), is our Everyman and “symbol for all of humanity,” as Sperber explained; he is being propelled through portal after portal. The audience casts votes, via their phones, for which of the six experiences, or portals, is presented next. With direction from our somewhat goofy emcee, Cypher (played by John Wade), Xander is dropped into each portal and forced to let go of control, experience being present and enjoy playing the game.
“It has become common for shows to be billed as ‘immersive’ when they really aren’t. We have been guilty of this in the past, and I wanted to push that boundary a bit more,” Sperber explained.
In addition to the text-to-vote component, the audience also gets to see an alternate reality, thanks to the rainbow refraction glasses everyone receives that turn dancers’ light-up costumes into a hologram-like kaleidoscope of light.
Speaking of costumes, they’re all extraordinary. Sperber, whose background and formal education are in fine art (she earned a bachelor’s degree from Maine College of Art), curated the costumes, which are a spectacle in and of themselves.
Despite its existential theme, that’s merely a hook on which to hang The Game. Ultimately, the show is just plain fun, with plenty to wow the viewer and appeal to the senses, making it a great way to pass a Friday night.
The Game continues at The Theatre, 505 Keystone Ave., on Friday nights through Nov. 17. Doors at 7:30 p.m., with the show at 8 p.m. Tickets are $35-$80. Tickets and information here.