Last year I wrote about a live roleplay drama loosely based on Dungeons and Dragons/Pathfinder roleplaying game mechanics that a guy was experimenting with. This year he was back at it again. Apparently he felt like it was moving in a good direction and quit his job in order to focus on more fully developing his product with an eye to doing residencies at universities and performing arts centers.
As I mentioned last year, what the creator, Martin Noyes, does is work with a core group of people for about a week developing characters for a story in a fantasy setting. When asked if the story I was seeing was set in the same world as last year, he pulled out a map and pointed out three-four other continents/landmasses where future stories will take place.
They had about 8 performances over two weeks, all improvised based on character goals/motivations and dice rolls. Each performance started where the last one left off, providing some incentive to attend on multiple days. Noyes is adept at gauging how to balance allowing the actors time to develop their character through active interactions and poignant silences against moving the action along with a narrative framework that keeps things from dragging and devolving.
He has done a fair bit of work since last year in terms of streamlining the mechanics to make things move along faster. As a result, he has been able to involve the audience much more than last year both in terms of rolling dice to determine the outcome of encounters and as participants in the action. There were a number of audience members who came in costume and got integrated into the action.
Not only were audiences three times as large as last year, there were a greater number of people returning from performance to performance.
I suspect the fact they offered a discounted pass for multiple performances might have contributed to the repetition. More likely was the fact that you could roll a 10 sided dice at the door to determine what amount between $1 and $10 you would pay for admission.
An important element I didn’t mention last year that I think contributes to the success of the project is the pre- and post-show interactions between the audience and performers. The show is performed in a blackbox space. When you enter, the actors are chatting among themselves and with the audience about everything from other roleplaying games they play; how the foam weapons were constructed; how the weapon or costume piece contributes to the character development; what happened in previous performances; what their character was thinking during a tense moment or what their motivation was at that point.
When the director calls for the show to start, everyone takes their places. When it is over, actors and audience members mingle again on the playing area to discuss whatever interests them at the moment.
Due to the way the event is structured, the quality of performance and storytelling isn’t at a very high level. (Though much better than you might expect.) But the conceptual separation of the audience and performer that results from a more formal format doesn’t manifest either.
I am hoping Noyes has the opportunity to bring us the stories of the other landmasses over the next few years. I am interested to see how this approach continues to evolve. I am just hoping he doesn’t get so many bookings that he debuts new stories from other landmasses in other places first.
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