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Column: Pixels On Stage

The Theater Of The Arcade At FringeNYC

September 3, 2011 1:00 PM |

theaterofthearcade.jpgThe oft-mentioned Theater of the Arcade recently made its long-awaited return at the New York Fringe Festival. There have been performances all throughout August, and it was supposed to end its run last Saturday. But all shows that weekend were cancelled due to Hurricane Irene, so tonight is everyone's final chance to catch the finest video game-inspired stage production one will find anywhere.

As also noted previously, the production made its premier at last year's Game Play Festival. The brainchild of writer Jeff Lewonczyk and director Gyda Arber, it remains largely unchanged, save for one actor being recast. Otherwise, the five classic games from before are retold in the same, highly unconventional and thoroughly entertaining manner.

Unfortunately, the following is filled with spoilers, especially since figuring out which game is being referenced is half the fun. So I must implore anyone that's remotely interested and capable of seeing tonight's final (for the foreseeable future) showing do so. You will absolutely not regret it. To secure tickets, simply head here.

But for those who require more convincing, or simply cannot attend, please read on.

Game Play 2011: Mastermind and foci + loci

July 22, 2011 1:00 AM |


Part one of my Game Play 2011 overview detailed a Shakespearian tragedy that unfolded in the midst of World of Warcraft, along with an adventure game in which the actors on stage were characters and the audience was the players. Next up we have two of the more abstract offerings from this year's showcase: Mastermind by by Jason Robert Bell and foci + loci.

To detail Mastermind, let's first refer to the description found on the Brick Theater's website: "Mastermind is an immersive staging of an elaborate, futuristic multimedia 'game', waged between two 'Hyperestheticnaut' players (artists that have prepared half of an agreed-upon epic story of cosmic battles between forces of Order and Chaos), with 'play' to be administered by a projected game master, who acts as a conductor and master of ceremonies. The players attack and counterattack each other as if in a chess match, but the goal is not the decimation of combaters, but the production of a great work of art." Furthermore, we are told that it's inspired by The Glass Bead Game, which itself is an extremely metaphysical and philosophical exercise in synthesizing the arts and sciences. Needless to say, expectations going in were rather high.

And maybe that's precisely what happened, though I mostly witnessed someone just showing off video art that was whipped together in iMove, the result of being confined to his apartment from some kind of injury. Then later on, he puts on a poncho that's decorated with flames and attempts to project video from his iPhone as some sort of other persona, onto a breadboard that his friend is holding up. A few other things took place, but to be completely honest, it's all a big blur and perhaps doesn't matter all that much in the end.

I hate to come off as sounding snarky, as well as uncultured, but I simply didn't "get" it (though in my defense, I am no stranger to the works of Laurie Anderson and Bill Viola, so I'd like to think I have some frame of reference when criticizing performance and video art). True, one could extrapolate a few "game" elements, in the same way that one could also believe brushing your teeth is also a game, since it's part of the never-ending war against tooth decay. Not helping were countless technical issues that hampered the proceedings; the aforementioned iPhone video thing was him trying to project footage of the final speech that Charlie Chaplin makes in The Great Dictator (in the end, he simply held the phone up so everyone could try and look at the tiny display). I have since gotten the chance to check out Bell's other work, and as a whole it's not bad. But for whatever reasons... actually, several... Mastermind simply missed the mark.

Game Play 2011: Romeoo and Julietet & BrainExplode!

July 16, 2011 5:00 PM |


First mentioned a few weeks ago, this year's edition of the Game Play festival at the Brick Theater recently went began. Thus far I've gotten the chance to see two productions: Romeoo and Julietet by EK Machinima Theater and BrainExplode! by Sneaky Snake Productions.

It was Romeoo and Julietet that I was looking forward to the most; the definite highlight of Game Play 2010 was their production of Grand Theft Ovid, in which the ancient Roman poet's tales were given life though "digital puppetry." On stage is a long table occupied by laptops and manned by boys, all around the age of 13; each is an actor who performs via his avatar and in assorted games, which is all projected for the audience. But this time there's only one story, Shakespeare's romantic tragedy, and just one game: World of Warcraft. The end result is something far more focused and refined.

The adaptation is fairly faithful, with only a few minor changes here and there, for effect. Along with how the star crossed lovers are portrayed by an orc and some half woman, half something, of course. Though the primary thrust is a classic tale unfolding in the middle of a MMO that is populated by other players, all completely oblivious to what's happening. The end result is quite amusing; when was the last time you saw a production in which, during a scene between Romeo and Benvolio, a giant spider suddenly appears and starts knocking stuff over?

Alongside the actors is someone who mans the camera, to get the optimal view of everything, and who does a great job of focusing upon the actors yet also capturing the spontaneous action unfolding as well. Unfortunately, compared to Grand Theft Ovid, there wasn't as many random players trying to get in on the action and cause havoc, but it could have simply been a time in which not as many WOW players were handy. So at the very least, each performance will be unique. But overall, it's a fine exercise in improvised theater and dynamic machinima that is absolutely worth seeing.