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‘People connect to the bad’: Theo Fleury applauds Regina play based on his life

The Globe Theatre’s much anticipated production “Playing with Fire: The Theo Fleury Story” premiered in Regina on Tuesday night.

The play is based on the best-selling book by former Stanley Cup and gold medalist winner.  The Oxbow, Sask. native details his life growing up in a low-income family, his time playing under his abusive former coach Graham James, and his struggle to deal with the aftermath as a star in the NHL.

Fleury was in Regina for the production’s debut and sat down with Global’s Teri Fikowski the next morning. The interview has been edited for length.

Question: Welcome back to Saskatchewan! It’s been a little while since you’ve been back?

Answer: Yah, I was in Wadena a bit ago to speak at a sportsman’s dinner there. I travel back and forth across the country quite a bit.

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Q: How was the premiere?

A: As usual, Shaun Smyth {who played Fleury} was absolutely incredible and amazing. I think it was one of the best performances I’ve seen him do of the play. It was kind of a different setting because most of the time we do this stuff in theatres and so there was tables all around and it was really good. I enjoyed it. Actually, my billets from when I played in Moose Jaw {were there} and it’s been a long time since I’ve seen them so it was great.

Q: It’s fitting that the play is in Saskatchewan because you had a lot of life-changing experiences here. When you were playing in Moose Jaw this is where you suffered abuse by Graham James. So, what’s it like watching it play out on stage, the good, the bad and the ugly?

A: The first time I saw it, it was trippy!

The reason why this play has been successful, the reason why the book has been successful, is because of the bad. People connect to the bad.

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They’ve had their own traumatic experience and so that’s the commonality in the story with them. So many people after the performance last night came up and said, “me too. This happened to me too.” That’s why we’ve sort of exhausted every way, shape, or form of putting the story out there because for many years I thought my experience was uncommon and what I realized and found out is it’s the most common experience: trauma. How we deal with trauma and the after effects of trauma that leave us in pain and suffering. When that happens to us we tend to gravitate towards the dark side of life and get involved in all kinds of addictions because we don’t know how to deal with the emotional pain and suffering that’s left behind. Shaun does an amazing job of showing that to people and you can almost feel in the theatre, when he plays out that sort of addictions and dealing with the pain, you can see the audience have empathy for the character and not only that but they’re also self-reflecting on their own experience.

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Shaun Smyth is the only actor in the play and is on skates on synthetic ice for the production.
Shaun Smyth is the only actor in the play and is on skates on synthetic ice for the production.
Shaun Smyth is the only actor in the play and is on skates on synthetic ice for the production.
Shaun Smyth is the only actor in the play and is on skates on synthetic ice for the production.
Shaun Smyth is the only actor in the play and is on skates on synthetic ice for the production.
Shaun Smyth is the only actor in the play and is on skates on synthetic ice for the production.
Shaun Smyth is the only actor in the play and is on skates on synthetic ice for the production.
Shaun Smyth is the only actor in the play and is on skates on synthetic ice for the production.

Q: You’ve now taken those experiences to make a difference in the lives of so many and something else you’ll be coming back to Saskatchewan for is The Victor Walk. Take me through that project and why you’re so passionate about it?

A: After I wrote the book we absolutely got run over by people saying, “me too.’ I wanted to do something to keep the conversation going.  The first year we walked from Toronto to Ottawa and did 10 marathons in 10 days in kilometers. What we did was document the whole walk so this year’s walk we have the Victor Walk documentary and we will be showing in each town we stop in. I’m more than happy to be out there and continue to talk about something that’s been buried and swept under the rug for way too long.

Q: Do you ever get tired of being asked those questions and being tied to Graham James?

A: No, not at all. It’s part of the experience and I think we can all learn something from all of this. Obviously, I’ve done my work, I’ve spent a lot of time on therapists’ couches but I see how many people we’ve been able to touch and reach. What gets me out of bed every day is looking for those opportunities for people to find their own voice. When you find your own voice empowerment comes behind it. When we create more advocates, the more likely change will happen. There’s ten million survivors of child sexual abuse in Canada. Can you image if we all voted in an election? It would be our agenda, it would be what we wanted to get across and I can see that happening in the next 10 to 20 years.

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‘Playing with Fire: The Theo Fleury Story’ runs until March 3rd at Casino Regina.