The Mirror Test

A Langley man’s transformational experience at a binge-eating disorder camp inspires the script for his first play

Langley-born counsellor-turned-playwright Kevin Kokoska stars in his first ever production at the Cultch in Vancouver Jan. 14-16.

Langley-born counsellor-turned-playwright Kevin Kokoska stars in his first ever production at the Cultch in Vancouver Jan. 14-16.

■ What: The Mirror Test

■ Where: The Cultch, 1895 Venables St. Vancouver

■ When: Jan.14-16 at 8 p.m.

■ Tickets: $15

■ Purchase: Online at tickets.thecultch.com

When Kevin Kokoska was sent to facilitate a binge-eating disorder camp in California, he thought he would be changing lives.

Little did he know, he was the one to go through the greatest transformation.

Working at the camp during a practicum for his counselling psychology masters at UBC, Kokoksa says he was taken aback by how challenging it was for him — a healthy, young Canadian —  to connect with some rather unhealthy American youth.

“It was harder than I had anticipated to find a way to connect with these people,” said Kokoska, a DW Poppy grad, Kwantlen Polytechnic University basketball alumni and former youth worker on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.

“(I was) trying things I had learned in school, and some (were) working out better than others. How do you build that bond while staying true to yourself in this setting? How do you be yourself within the parameters … how do I bring myself to work in the way the camp wants it done, which may not be congruent with my way?”

It was a journey of self-awareness, and one that Kokoska is now sharing through one of his favourite forms of communication — theatre.

The Mirror Test — aptly named for its themes of self-recognition — runs Jan. 14-16 at the Cultch in Vancouver.

Starring Kokoska as himself and the personalities of several attendees at the camp, he commands the stage alone for the full 75 minute production.

“There’s various characters in the play, but primarily it’s a relationship with me, or a version of me, and one other male camper that is a fictionalized person (and) a combination of different themes to create a character that mirrors off of me,” Kokoska explained.

“I’ve been taught this thing, which is how to do psycho therapy or the very basic version of that. Even in that sense, that’s a character. That’s the Kevin who’s learning how to be a therapist … that’s different from the real Kevin.

“There’s always different versions of self, so I had this new version of self that’s therapist Kevin. Let’s bring him down to California to see if he can connect with these young people. But when that doesn’t go well, then what do you do? At some point you’ve got to bring the real Kevin into the mix, and how does that go and how does that mix?

“It’s my struggles trying to figure that out. Finding how to get that connection, when I have very little experience doing it in a therapeutic way.”

Although this is the first time Kokoska has created his own theatre production, it is not his first introduction to acting. He fell in love with the art while completing a writing course, prior to his masters.

“What I found was that the most exciting part about the writing program was when we would go to cafes and read the work out loud,” Kokoska said.

“There was something about reading out loud that I enjoyed more than writing it and passing it on to someone else just to read off the paper.

“I had no experience or training in theatre, but things kind of came together for me when I returned to do my masters at UBC. Studying to be a counsellor requires a lot of acting and role play. Before we would actually see clients ourselves, we would be each other’s clients and I would take something going on in my life and I would ramp it up for the benefit of them having someone to practice on.

“And then I thought, ‘I like this so much. I’m supposed to be learning how to be a counsellor, but I’m enjoying pretending to be a client just as much. So I better do something about this.’”

He started taking theatre classes at UBC and other acting schools in Vancouver. And although his masters is now complete, Kokoska still considers The Mirror Test as the thesis of his work.

“The connection of having your friends and family and other audience members there — that’s a thrill to me, having that human connection that I think you don’t get with just the writing.”

To build on this, Kokoska is also working on a new teaching program to bring therapy into acting.

Partnering with an acting coach, the sessions will show actors how to safely access personal emotions for scenes.

“It’s very common for an actor to get into character and enter through emotion,” Kokoska said.

“It seems like actors are just triggering themselves for a living. If some of those scary emotions haven’t been processed or are really new, that can bleed into your personal life if you’re not careful. (It’s about) being able to separate it and being able to be more self-aware of where these emotions are coming from.

“I think it’s healthy for the work (and) I think it’s very healthy for the individual.”

More information on The Mirror Test is available online at http://thecultch.com/events/the-mirror-test/.

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