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"As I Must Live It' written and performed by Luke Reece

A Co-production with Theatre Passe Muraille and Modern Times Stage Company

Credit: Cesar Ghisilieri

Zoe Marin

You can feel the excitement that Luke Reece needs to share his story”

“As I Must Live It’ is a new solo-show written and performed by Luke Reece, an award winning poet, playwright, and producer whom you may know as the Associate Artistic Director of Soulpepper Theatre. Using poetry, projections and audience interaction, Reece offers a glimpse into his personal experiences with mental health and growing up in a mixed-race family.

The show is all over the place in the best way possible. ‘As I Must Live It’ jumps back and forth between spoken word and prose, comedy and tragedy, or even between deeply personal stories and seemingly random rants about pop culture. At times, Reece is breaking your heart with stories about his father’s OCD, his parents’ divorce, or the racism he experienced as a child. In other moments, he’s reciting a pun-filled poem about dinosaurs while dressed as a T-rex or making the audience sing Bob Marley’s ‘Three Little Birds’ with him. These diverse vignettes successfully capture Reece’s own complicated, and sometimes conflicting feelings about his upbringing.

From the top of the show (which begins in the lobby where Reece himself makes the necessary pre-show announcements and then starts the show), you can feel his excitement and need to share his story with the audience. He hands over props to the audience for later in the show and reads a short story from when he was a child. He recounts how only the first paragraph had been published in his school journal, marking the first time someone had ‘edited’ his voice. With ‘As I Must Live It’, Reece proclaims: “I just wanna say what I want to say.” Then he brings the audience into the theatre.

The childlike playfulness that Reece embodies in this opening scene permeates the rest of the show and is enhanced by Jackie Chau’s set and costume design. Upon entering, you notice that Chau has transformed Theatre Passe Muraille Mainspace into a playground with a merry-go-round covered in colourful paper as the centerpiece. While most of the action happens on the platform, director Daniele Bartolini utilizes the space to its fullest capacity. Reece eventually takes the merry-go-round apart, allowing for more playing space. Eventually, I think he ends up performing on every inch of that theatre. He wears a bright backpack where he stores his various props and sometimes he provides visual examples to his stories by drawing with invisible ink on his T-shirt.

Because the show’s aesthetic is so rooted in childhood, it keeps the serious subject matter light enough for the audience to warm up to it. It also makes the various shifts in tone and emotion feel playful rather than jarring. As Reece moves into adulthood later in the show, the tone becomes a lot more serious. Therefore, the production design serves as a visual reminder of the joy and innocence from earlier and makes the emotional contrast a lot more palpable.

Bringing on Bartolini, a director who specializes in ‘audience-specific’ immersive work, makes all the difference. Reece’s initial entrance feels very casual and improvised, which gets rid of the awkwardness of interacting with a performer who is very obviously in character. By sitting in the round, you can always see the rest of the audience, which prevents feeling like all the attention is suddenly on you if you’re interacted with. These more casual, almost silly interactions warm up the audience enough to feel comfortable singing along with Reece later in the show, or covering him up entirely with paper as soon as he asks.

The projection design (Barrett Hodgson & Thomas Buttery from LIMBIC CINEMA) is also stunning. Although it is consistently used through the show, it is most compelling when showcasing old photographs. Through the use of various small, vertical screens, watching the show feels like flipping through a scrapbook of Reece’s family.

“As I Must Live It’ touches on various topics. But at its core it is a love letter to his entire family, especially his father.

Early in the show, Reece discusses issues with his father (who is Black) and his love for his mother (who is White), which made me wary that the piece would unintentionally further perpetuate stereotypes about mixed-race families.

However, we understand that Reece is recounting his childhood and that includes his sometimes limited understanding and also completely reasonable emotional responses to these events. At one point, he reads an essay he wrote as a child about attending group therapy for children with mentally ill parents. He notices that some of the details conflict with how he had been discussing these moments earlier in the past. This moment encapsulates Reece’s complicated, and frequently evolving views about his childhood and family.

In general, I found the mix of spoken word and readings from his past (school assignments, emails, letters) incredibly powerful. They give the audience direct insight into how Reece had reacted to those specific moments in the past, and the use of spoken word poetry allows him to now express how he feels about them.

A central piece of text is his father’s writings, which begins with “I simply live my life as I must live it.” In the writing he contemplates what it means to be human and one’s purpose in life. Although the text means little to the audience early in the piece, we know it’s important enough to become the title of the show. We eventually learn about his father’s struggle with OCD and depression, as well as being a Black businessman who is expected to be strong.

The writing contradicts with the image Reece has of his father and the image he had painted for the audience - but again points to the complexity of his relationship, as well as the complexity of any one person.

The performance runs until March 2 at Theatre Passe Muraille, 16 Ryerson Avenue, Toronto. For tickets, visit or call the Box Office at (416) 504-7529.

A Theatre Passe Muraille and Modern Times Stage Co-Production

Written and Performed by Luke Reece
Dramaturge and Director: Daniele Bartolini
Assistant Dramaturge: Indrit Kasapi
Lighting Designer: Sarah Mansikka
Set and Costume Designer: Jackie Chau
Sound Designer: Adrian Bent
Projection Designers: Barrett Hodgson & Thom Buttery
Stage Manager: Ada Aguilar

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