Video game theater series gives audience the controller

Video game theater series gives audience the controller
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

The players are on stage — and in the seats, too.

A video game-inspired theater festival plays with the way reality and the often-cloistered world of gamer-geeks intersect with dramas about dungeon-crawling and zombie-killing game enthusiasts as well as interactive installations and performances that let audiences grab the controller and direct the action.

“Of Dice and Men,” a comedy with a serious edge, is one of the more traditional plays at the Brick Theater’s Game Play festival, tells the story of a group of 30-something Dungeons and Dragons players who must confront the real world — and grapple with what it means to grow up — when one of them goes to war in Iraq.

“It’s a celebration of why we game and how it brings us together,” said producer Gyda Arber.

In another play, the actors are video game characters themselves.

“Kwaidan” is an interpretation of Lafcadio Hearn’s classic Japanese ghost stories that unfolds on a giant screen starring video game avatars from “World of Warcraft” and “Halo: Reach” — pixelated players that are controlled by gamers on the internet.

The festival aims to blur the lines between stage and seat, and game and player, in everything from audio-video installations to interactive theater.

“There’s so much participation; it makes the experience that much more visceral,” said Arber.

Another performance turns viewers’ phones into game controllers by letting the audience decide what performers should do by sending texts mid-show — and actors respond in real-time.

The Brick Theater even riffs on the classic pre-performance warning, informing viewers: “This is a ‘Text-Based-Aventure’; please do not turn off your cell phones.”

The festival also has live music — augmented, of course, by games.

In “Modal Combat,” two classical guitarists duel to the death, but their strums don’t just make music, they trigger kung-fu characters to do battle in a modified version of the classic game “Mortal Kombat.”

Artists also updated the drab gray lines of the original “Etch-a-Sketch” by designing a knobbed toy that lets festival-goers create drawings decorated with text and scored by random cello notes.

It all amounts to a unique and inventive theater experience that explores game culture and interactive storytelling, Arber said.

“It’s easy to sit and be passive during entertainment,” said Arber. “But sometimes it’s more fun to be involved.”

Game Play festival at the Brick [575 Metropolitan Ave. between Union Avenue and Lorimer Street in Williamsburg, (718) 907–6189, www.bricktheater.com], July 6–28. Tickets $5–15.

Reach reporter Natalie O'Neill at [email protected] or by calling her at (718) 260-4505.

Actors Justin Plowman and Amy Overman in “Of Dice & Men,” at the Brick Theater this July, as a part of the Game Play festival 2012.
Photo by Stefano Giovannini