It’s Fringe Season in Philadelphia! For the next three weekends the city will be drenched in culture and creativity. Performances take place all over the city and the best of them stretch the boundaries of what we think is possible in the theater. This guide is a list of shows that I’m excited about because they’re diving into the intersection between games and performance. Some of these pieces and their creators are very well known to me; others are complete mysteries. All of them catch some curiosity of mine around presenting theatre in new ways that create investment and agency for the audience.
Today’s post is something different. I have been writing fiction quite a bit recently, some for my D&D group, some just for myself. I’d like to share a short piece here as a little snapshot of my other creative work. I originally wrote this at the beginning of my current D&D campaign a couple years ago. This isn’t backstory exactly; it’s what happened the day before my character met the rest of the party. I present to you the first page in the tale of Rory, Gnomish Fighter:
Bella wasn't actually listening. She'd heard what she needed; it was enough to know that he'd be paying for his room and all of his meals in advance. That kind of commitment wasn't often found, even in Vestrim's market district. Besides, who had ever heard of a broke gnome?
Hi, I’m Devin, and I play a game of Dungeons & Dragons with a gang of new-found friends over the internet every week. At some point, a couple years ago now, a college buddy put a brief post on Facebook asking if anyone would be interested in trying out D&D. I said I would be, and a few weeks later I was whisked away to a fantasy world featuring an all-star cast of people that I had never met before. At the time that this game started, I was midway upon the journey of grad school, deeply entrenched in a full-time performance training program focusing on physical comedy and clown. Every Friday of my grad program I had a required performance, some piece of original theatre that most often had been assigned the Friday before. It was a gauntlet. You might not be able to imagine how valuable a silly little game of Dungeons and Dragons was at this point in my life. Some might see it as a waste of my very limited time, but having a weekly obligation to something other than making an audience laugh was a critical strategy of success for me during my training. So with all of that laid out, let me summarize it this way. I am a performer who had been in the practice of presenting live theatre every week while at the same time, on a different channel as it were, playing a game of D&D with some strangers-turned-squadron online.
A funny thing happened a during one session several months ago. It was around Halloween time, and I had just performed in a Halloween cabaret, but on this night I was just playing some D&D with my friends. We were doing our version of the weekly announcements*, and I told them that I had done a cabaret performance a few days earlier. I said.
“it went pretty well, I performed Invisible Touch by Genesis except with [proprietary blend of herbs, spices, and my shenanigans].”
Tom Hiddleston, who plays the rogue in our party laughed and said,
“that sounds amazing, I can totally see it, I’m going to hear the song that way every time from now on”
and I laughed and thought to myself, “That’s weird, these people haven’t actually seen me onstage before...they don’t have any idea what I’m like as a performer.”
It was such a bizarre moment in hindsight. Seeing the joy from my party as they heard me tell a brief tale of an onstage victory made me feel an intense amount of support. They were all acting like they had been there! It wasn’t until that moment that I realized that of course realize I’ve been performing for them as much as any other audience in the past two and half years. It should have been obvious, but it wasn’t, and I think that is part of what made it such a gift.
These folks mean the world to me. I feel so fortunate to have this game as an open stage. It’s a place where I can show up every week and try to discover a character and a story with them. It’s a place where we don’t always have to know what our characters are doing or thinking, and we can pursue what is fun and exciting. In my creative work, I have begun exploring the relationship between role-playing games and theatrical performance, because I want to bring that sense of curiosity and open play from my gaming life on to the stage.
As long as I’ve been playing this game, I’ve been on a journey, trying to discover and reinvent myself as a performer. Trying to take ownership of the kind of work I want to make and the impact that I want to have on the world. It wouldn’t have turned out the way it did if I didn’t have these friends playing this game alongside me. I am so very grateful for these heroes, showing up every week to cultivate a space where we can be bold, take risks, make mistakes, and discover what matters together.
*(I haven’t told any of them this, but the weekly announcements are one of my favorite parts of the whole adventure, pretending we too are that jetsetting troupe of roleplayers bringing our particular brand of courage and carousing to the rest of the world)