A few days after Christmas Adrienne Wong sat in a CBC studio in Vancouver and played Scrabble against the entire province of British Columbia.
She’d draw the letter tiles and read them out over the air, and then listeners would call in with their choice word.
“People are crazy about Scrabble; some were setting up their boards at home and playing along,” she says while sipping herbal tea at a Whitehorse cafe.
Needless to say, she got her butt kicked.
But she also created a community in the process and using something fun, like a game, is the best way to bring people together, says Wong, who lives year round in Vancouver.
“Everybody likes to play; everybody likes to have a good time,” she says.
“There’s an anonymity in the city; in Vancouver I don’t feel like I know my neighbours or have the chance to interact with them.”
And creating that opportunity for interaction is the basis for most of Wong’s projects.
She’s also started a letter-writing project by which people can receive personalized letters specially tailored to their likes and dislikes.
“It’s an opportunity for writers to write and readers to read and receive some personal mail other than the usual bills,” she explains.
Wong booked her ticket north after meeting Yukon Art Centre director Chris Dray at an industry conference.
“He was really interested in the radio Scrabble, but he said, ‘I can’t just bring you up here to play Scrabble, what else can you do?’
“I told him about the letters project and said I could do this youth workshop and he looked at me and said, ‘I think you just make some of this stuff up.’
“And I said: ‘That’s exactly what I do,’” Wong says with a smile.
“That’s my job.”
This week Wong is working with a group of people, 15 to 30 years of age, in a performance camp that she’s dubbed Siege, at the Wood Street Centre.
The group gets together and experiments with different concepts, such as how to tell stories and communicate without using words.
Then they take the ideas out of the studio and test them on the unsuspecting public.
On Wednesday the group was “flocking” on the downtown streets.
“It’s just like follow the leader,” Wong explains. “You follow the person who’s in front of you — just like birds and fish do.”
And maybe the flock’s leader would be one of the performers, and maybe it would be a person on the street.
Mostly, the group got funny looks, but by the end of their flight some people had actually joined in.
“It’s low-profile art,” explains Wong. “When we go out there, the city streets become a little different and people start to look at them differently.”
There are no costumes. “We’re disguised as regular human beings,” she says.
There is no applause and no one gives a final bow.
“It’s theatre that is mundane,” she says. “I find other media like TV and movies too dramatic, too gory.”
So how do you keep audiences interested in the mundane?
“Good question,” she says and thinks hard as if trying to puzzle out the answer for herself.
“If we’re engaged with our performance, then we’ll engage other people.”
And, it’s all about how you tell the story.
“The approach is different — depending on if you have a captive audience, or one that’s walking by.”
When you’re on the streets performing for people who are going about their daily lives, you have to be clever and dole out the show in bite-sized chunks.
“For example, if somebody is walking from the bank to Zola’s Café and they see three weird things happen — that might be us,” says Wong.
Wong and her group are aiming to hit the streets Friday and Saturday afternoon from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m., so keep your eyes peeled for the out-of-place around Main Street.
Next week she’s planning to pull the tiles and call the letters in a live radio Scrabble game to be broadcast on CBC Radio One from Whitehorse. The exact time and place have yet to be determined.