Audacious Theatre's latest, Woodlands & Wyverns, pays tribute to role-playing games. The interactive play, inspired by the legendary RPG Dungeons & Dragons, lovingly pokes fun at the game and the intensity of the nerdy community built around it.
But that doesn't mean you have to be a gamer to enjoy the show...though it helps.
The script is straightforward and doesn't require insider knowledge, says Elizabeth Porter, first-time playwright and Audacious company member: “Any time we drop any kind of lingo that’s based around RPGs, there’s a moment that explains it, or it’s very obvious in terms of context clues. The show doesn’t actually contain us scribbling math and rolling tons of dice. It’s much more focused on the story part of an RPG.”
The idea was born during a rehearsal at Porter’s apartment for last year’s Halloween production Van Helsing’s Daughters. Surrounded by her vast collection of Dungeons & Dragons books and games, Audacious Theatre Artistic Director Ren Manley suggested that she write a play inspired by the game, and Porter immediately agreed. From there, she started thinking about the most human, and thus relatable, aspects of the game.
“The key concept — to me — of D&D is the variable nature of it,” she explains. “You can go in with the most hard-lined plan, either as a player or as the person running it, and then the second you get in and start rolling dice, it all goes to hell. You can give the most clear-cut plot in existence...and then you’ll get the player who just wants to hit on the barmaid for the entire time.
“But that’s what makes it memorable and unique from other games and activities," she continues. "So I wanted to find a way to capture that, and that’s where I came up with the idea of rolling for different scenes and scene changes.”
She’s referring to the choose-your-own-adventure style of the production, which includes four different endings and ten possible scene variances that can shift the plot. Before the show, attendees will have the chance to opt into these interactive elements, though not all audience members have to participate.
“There will be very clear-cut moments where I as the storyteller who is leading the game will call upon an audience member to come up and roll the D20 [a twenty-sided die]," Porter says. "Depending on whether the results of that roll are a success or a failure for our characters, that will change what spells they have, what items they get, change the dialogue — we have all of that memorized and scripted — and then those things all factor into the final battle.”
Jordan Aburto, who plays Brett in the show, points out that each night could be a different experience.
“That’s actually been one of the major challenges of learning the script,” director Logan Custer notes. “The play itself is only about an hour and a half, but the script is a little over one hundred pages because of all of the different ways that things can go.”
The actors take on the roles of game players and the fantasy creatures from the game world. As Manley puts it: “It’s us as human beings being actors who are playing other people who are also playing characters.”
This transition between characters is achieved mostly by costumes, but also by a device the group has borrowed from LARPing (live-action role playing), in which you place your fist on your head to indicate you are communicating as you and not as your character. The play jokes around about this concept and other common gaming tropes — especially “character bleed,” in which a portrayal comes a little too close to the player’s personality.
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“When you’re talking in character, but you’re actually talking as yourself, and your real emotions get intermixed — that’s something we play with in the script,” Porter explains. “It’s a very intense game, a very emotional and engaging experience. What if your character comes too close to who you really are and your real feelings get pulled into the game?”
Manley says Woodlands & Wyverns shows how strongly people feel about Dungeons & Dragons. Aburto refers to the play as “a love letter to the people who play RPGs.”
Porter agrees, pointing to the game as an escape from all the hopelessness and daily pressures of the world. “At least,” she says, “I can go into this game, and in this game, I’m the hero. I’m the one who can actually effect change and bring about improvements in the world.”
Woodlands & Wyverns debuts at at 8 p.m. Friday, July 12, and continues Fridays and Saturdays through July 27 at Vision Comics and Oddities, 3958 South Federal Boulevard. Arrive early to fill out the Woodlands and Wyverns character creation form. General admission tickets are $25; VIP tickets — which include prime reserved seating, a Woodlands & Wyverns bag and dice set, and photos with the cast — are $35. Purchase tickets here.