Friday, June 29, 2012

GAME PLAY Artist Interview: Richard Lovejoy ("Rock, Paper, Scissors")

When people say video games aren’t art I tend to refer them to Every Day the Same Dream if I'm in a good mood.  If I'm not in a good mood I usually mutter to myself, often tripping and spilling whatever beverage is in my hand.  (Note, I always have a beverage in hand for just such occasions.) 

An obstacle in the general acceptance of video games as an art form is that they are often thought of as toys.  Actually, I think the big thing holding them back from being accepted as art is that there is an assumption from a lot of mainstream gaming companies that the only people who play video games are young men.  As a result, the video game market gets deluged with sexist, childish crap that isn't anything close to art at all (this is something comic books also struggle with.)  Which is a shame, because there is so much you can do with a game that you can't do with any other art form.  When you think about early games like Adventure or even Pong, people would gather around and watch someone playing these games (in the case of Adventure, large groups of people would be working out the puzzles together, and telling the person manning the keyboard what to type down.)  That was a promising start, and I don't know what happened or why video games got as derailed as they did, but the mainstream did go astray.  And now, rather than "video games are art" being a generally accepted statement, you have to make an argument.  Which is a shame, because all that energy you spend making an argument about why video games are art could be better spent creating or playing a video game that is art.

My most emotional reaction elicited by a game was the sheer excitement of pulling the cloth map out of the Ultima V box...  Or the sadistic glee I felt after finally figuring out how to turn Mannanan into a cat (you can bet I kicked him plenty of times.)  It might have also been the sadness I felt after watching the Kilrathi blow up the Tiger's Claw in Wing Commander II, or even the sense of accomplishment I felt after I united both sides of Xeen.  I think I have a lot of more.  Do you want to hear them?  Hey, where are you going!  Get back here!  I wasn't done reminiscing.  GET OFF MY DAMN LAWN!  Oh, wait, I just told you to keep running.  Sigh.

I discovered the merit of video games as a theatrical medium after writing a play in the style of an old Sierra adventure game.  Chris Chappell and I were drunk, reminiscing about those old EGA adventure titles, and how bizarre their plot structures were when you thought about the events as literally occuring.  Adventure Quest (which was in the inaugural Game Play Festival) was born out of that.  It is currently published here:  (cough, cough.)

True or False: video games are now more culturally important than they were in the past. I think this is actually a deceptive question.  The answer is obviously true, but it is more complicated than that.  Video games are more prevalent than they were in the past, but I don't know if they're necessarily more "culturally important" now.  It really depends on what you mean by "cultural importance."  I think in the late 70s, early 80s, they were very cutting edge and new (and thus important.)  I feel as though a lot of video games today are the creation of large firms (as opposed to passionate individuals) and as a result they're marketed, focus group'd and committee'd to death.  To me this makes them less "culturally important" than they could be, in the same way that new sitcom with a tired premise is probably less culturally important than, say, the latest Soderbergh film.  Of course, that could just be my own bias interpreting "cultural importance" as being something with an attempt at substence when, in fact, you could make the case that something like Friends is more culturally important than The Honeycomb Trilogy (even though the Honeycomb Trilogy was brilliant and Friends was arguably rubbish, it still affected society and culture 'at large' more than the Honeycomb Trilogy.)  It depends on whether or not you think things that are cotton candy entertainment are "cultural."  Which, I suppose, they are... Maybe I'm overthinking this.  I mean, heck, McDonalds could be considered "cultural" since it is, in fact, part of our culture.  Now, to focus back on video games, Brian Fargo's Wasteland 2, which was crowd sourced is, to me, culturally important on multiple levels.  We're definitely in a transitory moment, and the old business models are crumbling.  I think there's a real opportunity for video games to be "cultural pioneers" again and it starts with wresting control of the medium from corporations and putting it back in the hands of the actual artists.  Don't get me wrong - corporations SHOULD have a hand in art.  When big companies provide corporate assistance to things like the NEA, or donate money to theaters to keep them running and capable of paying artists for their work: that's a good thing.  Patronage is great for the arts.  But video games aren't treated like part of the arts, they're treated like commodity.  And that holds them back from being culturally important in the way that only art can be.  I don't want video games to be culturally important in the same manner that bottled water or summer blockbusters are.  I want them to be culturally important in the same manner that theater, film, and television is culturally important.  And when I say theater, I mean everything from Broadway to Indy theater.  When I say film, I mean everything from the aforementioned summer blockbuster to the microbudget mumblecore art house flick.  I want video game companies to be patrons for video game artists - the Brian Fargo's and Roberta Williams's of the world.  So, yes, TRUE.  I mean, this festival exists, right?

Richard Lovejoy is the author of Rock, Paper, Scissors. The show runs July 7 28, 2012. Tickets can be purchased here.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

GAME PLAY Artist Interview: Charles Battersby ("That Cute Radioactive Couple")

My piece explores the intersection of theatre and gaming by starting the story as a play, then continuing it as a video game.  After the show, the audience can download a custom mod for a game called Fallout: New Vegas.  In the mod, players can visit locations seen in the play and meet the characters to find out what happens to them after the events in the play.  The actors from the show voice the characters in-game too.

When people say video games aren’t art I tend to name 100 games that are.  Have you played The Longest Journey?  No?  Go play it right now.  Seriously, why are you still reading this?

An obstacle in the general acceptance of video games as an art form is all the terrible games your mom plays on Facebook.  Buy your mom a copy of Ico.

My most emotional reaction elicited by a game was sheer terror when Psycho Mantis moved my Playstation controller with only the POWER OF HIS MIND!  How did he know I like Eternal Darkness?  HOW!

True or False: video games are now more culturally important than they were in the past. True. A whole generation of consumers has been raised with Playstations.  They have their own cultural references that non-gamers just don't get.

I discovered the merit of video games as an artistic/theatrical medium after making my first Neverwinter Nights mod.  I could make the video game characters say whatever I wanted, just like actors in a play.

What video games in performance can provide that traditional media cannot is interactivity!  What is Skyrim but a story that the Player gets to tell?

Why should people see your Game Play show? Aside from the game aspect, it's the funniest play about the apocalypse you'll see this summer.

Charles Battersby is the author of That Cute Radioactive Couple. The show runs July 7 28, 2012. Tickets can be purchased here.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

GAME PLAY Artist Interview: Kathryn Funkhouser ("The Sequel")

My piece explores the intersection between theater and gaming by making the characters who inhabit the game just as "real" as the characters playing the game.

When people say video games aren't art I tend to point to comics. Like video games, people considered comics to be just violent stories for kids, but the genre evolved into something sophisticated enough that people now take it seriously. When video games find their equivalent of Watchmen, I think they'll start getting more respect.

An obstacle to the general acceptance of games as an art form is the focus on mindless violence in a lot of popular games. However, if you made the argument that all movies are not art because of the existence and popularity of Transformers, people would think you were crazy, so hopefully video games can travel a similar path to movies, where crowd-pleasing violence exists but so does more thought-provoking fare.

My most emotional reaction elicited by a game is probably how nostalgic I get for growing up with my brother when I play Mario Kart. We were (and are) a spectacular DoubleDash!! team.

What video games in performance provide that traditional media cannot is connecting us to the human side of gaming. People put a lot of themselves into games: when your avatar gets shot, no one says "my character died." You say, "I'm dead." Having the human experience you have playing a game represented by other humans in a theater piece helps you think about that experience. That may or may not make sense...

People should see my Game Play show because our team is determined that you'll have as much fun watching it as we're having doing it. Also, zombies!

Kathryn Funkhouser is the author of The Sequel. The show runs July 7 28, 2012. Tickets can be purchased here.  

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

GAME PLAY Artist Interview: Cameron McNary ("Of Dice and Men")

Of Dice and Men deals with the world of tabletop roleplaying games rather than that of video games, although the issues of why we game, what it means to be a gamer, and how gaming impacts peoples' lives are much the same whether you're rolling dice or working a controller.

My piece explores the intersection of theatre and gaming by presenting the act of running a tabletop RPG as theatre: giving the uninitiated an accurate picture of what roleplaying is, what it looks like, what it feels like, and (most importantly) why people do it. I used to be mystified that anyone would ever want to watch other people play D&D... until I realized TRPGs are just a form of participatory improv where the players are (usually) the only audience. It was a pretty short leap from there to putting a game session up on stage. In a broader sense, the play toys with the line between the game and the play itself... the character of John Francis is the Dungeon Master for the game within the play, but he's also the DM for the play itself. Similarly, presenting each of the Player Characters as they are perceived by their player (often in completely stylistically different ways), and then showing how that comes together into a common play experience is something I think you could only do on stage. The ability to play with stage conventions allows you to comments on the player, their character, and the relationship between in a way I don't think any other medium could quite pull off... putting a cheap fake beard on a woman in her forties, giving her a hammer and letting her tell Dwarven dick jokes directly to the audience would be awful hard to make work on film.

When people say gaming isn't art I tend to want to smack them, hard, because this is such a settled issue at this point. Games exist to generate narrative, and anybody that says a medium that can generate narrative can't be art has no idea what they're talking about.

My most emotional reaction elicited by a game was... there are too many to count at the tabletop. You kinda had to be there for just about all of them. In terms of video games, it was when SHODAN killed Dr. Polito and finally showed her stupid face in System Shock 2. Hands down. I was so hurt and furious and betrayed at being denied the only human companionship I had known for so long that I emptied two clips into SHODAN's face even when I knew it wouldn't do anything, and that ammo was incredibly precious in that game. I didn't reload my save, either; Polito deserved that much.

True or False: games are now more culturally important than they were in the past. Resoundingly, triumphantly true. We now have two or three generations who grew up knowing what hit points, mana and leveling up are.

Why should people see your Game Play show? Because it's a really good play. If you're a gamer, this play speaks for our tribe; you'll see yourself in it. If you're not, you'll get who we are and why we do what we do. Also there's a dragon.

Cameron McNary is the author of Of Dice and Men. The show runs July 7 27, 2012. Tickets can be purchased here.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Meet a Master Mason Monday: Michael Criscuolo

Tell us about the first person you met at The Brick. The first Brick person I met was Gyda Arber, but this was long before either of us was ever connected with The Brick. We met about 10 years ago through a mutual friend, and became pretty fast friends ourselves. A few years after that, she started telling me about this place in Williamsburg that she’d discovered and totally loved, and for a while after that it seemed like every time I saw her she would say something like, “You’ve got to come do a show at The Brick. You’ve got to come meet the people there. They’re awesome.” Eventually she wore me down.

Tell us about your first show at The Brick. The first show I saw at The Brick was An Evening with Roberta Combs at the Moral Values Festival in 2005. It starred another mutual friend of mine and Gyda’s, Cathy McNelis, and was directed by yet another mutual colleague of ours, Tim Haskell. I remember liking it quite a bit, and thinking to myself afterwards, “Ah, so this is what Gyda’s been talking about.”

How did you first get involved with The Brick? In my own roundabout, heel-dragging way. For many years I reviewed shows and interviewed indie theater artists for, and one of my favorite interviews I ever did for them was with Kevin Doyle, the artistic director of Sponsored By Nobody. I remember thinking that I really liked where Kevin was coming from, and I liked his sense of humor. Definitely the kind of guy I’d go have a beer and shoot the shit with. Fast forward about a year and a half after said interview: I happened to find out that Kevin was having auditions for his next show, FOX(y) Friends, which was going up at The Brick’s Pretentious Festival in 2007, and I figured “What the hell?” So I sent in my picture and resume, and a brief letter reminding him about our interview. Next thing I knew I was auditioning for the show, and before I knew what else was happening Kevin had cast me. And, suddenly, there I was on stage at The Brick. The rest, as they say, is history.

What aspect of The Brick do you love? The community, hands down. The people that gravitate towards and orbit The Brick are big-hearted, loyal, compassionate, generous, and just all-around awesome. They work hard, play hard, and love hard. They’re fearless, inventive, and infinitely resourceful. They trust and like each other, and embrace newcomers with open arms. They did that with me way back when, and they have been great friends to me in about a million different ways ever since. I cannot ever thank them enough for that.

What is your favorite show you’ve seen at The Brick? I’ve seen dozens and dozens of shows at The Brick that I’ve loved, but the two that have stayed with me the most are Robert Honeywell’s Greed: A Musical Love Story, and Michael Gardner’s production of Mountain Hotel by Vaclav Havel. Both were truly brilliant, and I still think about them quite often. They tuned me in to the full power of all things Brick. Plus, the day I saw Mountain Hotel was the same day Havel himself came to see it, and he stood behind me in the bathroom line. I mean, come the fuck on!

If you could move The Brick anywhere where would you put it? I’m not sure I would put it anywhere else. Part of its identity is its location: in Williamsburg, in that particular former auto garage/yoga studio/whatever-the-heck-else-it-was. But if they did eventually move elsewhere, it would obviously have to be somewhere that had lots of bricks.

In your opinion, what makes The Brick an incubator of emerging theater artists? They encourage ambition. That’s the kind of atmosphere they cultivate. They want people to walk in there and take huge risks. If you’ve ever dreamed of starring in the same play you’ve written and directed, The Brick is the place to do it. They want auteurs there, for lack of a better word.

What have you gained from your experience at The Brick? Oh Lord, where should I start? A lot of things. Like a lot of great friends. And the kinds of opportunities to grow and challenge myself artistically that I probably wouldn’t have gotten anywhere else. And enough magical, wonderful, memorable theatergoing experiences to last a lifetime. And a chance to fulfill my lifelong dream of performing at The Public Theater. (Big up to the 365 Plays!) I even got a survival job from a friend there. So I owe them a great deal. And that’s just the stuff I remember. Did I mention the kick-ass parties? The Brick is always an adventure.

What’s the best benefit of being a Master Mason? The free spankings, for sure.

What’s something unknown about you that you want your fellow Master Masons to know? I’m already kind of an open book. If I reveal anything else publicly, I may end up sleeping with the fishes.

What is one thing you would change about The Brick? I’d make sure there was hot running water in the sink. Number one priority.

What do you see in The Brick’s future? More of the good stuff, and then some. The sky is really the limit for The Brick.

Anything you want to plug? Oh yeah. I will be Fringe-ing this summer with two of my fellow Master Masons. I'm going to be appearing in Maggie Cino's terrific new play, Decompression, directed by Patrice Miller. Maggie and I have acted together many times before (which is always a blast, by the way), but this is the first time we'll be working together as writer and actor, so that's an extra special treat. And this will be my first time working with Patrice, even though we've been friends for a while. So, I guess you could say that this will be a show of many firsts. Totally Brick-style, in other words.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Meet a Master Mason Monday: Josephine Cashman

Tell us about the first person you met at The Brick. My friend Peter Brown was in a play, and I traveled out to the then sketchy looking Lorimer Street. I think Robert Honeywell sold me a ticket to my very first Brick play (I think it was Jenna is Nuts). But, like Trav, I knew a bunch of people from working at Nada with Ian, Beppo, and many others. I met Ian from being in King John, which Daniel Kleinfeld directed, Berit stage managed, and Ian was hanging lights for the show (even then he favored bare light bulbs). Ian/Berit/Peter went to The Brick, and I happily followed, where I met Robert and Michael and Hope and Jeff and...

Tell us about your first show at The Brick. My first show at The Brick was World Gone Wrong playing Ida Wolfe. Amazing show, amazing cast, and I had a blast. There wasn't AC yet, so I brought ice packs to pass around backstage. The sound/costumes were superb, and I'm very proud to have been in that show. 

How did you first get involved with The Brick? I started seeing shows, and realized I'd found a creative theatrical playground with people who were smart, talented, and hilarious. There was no way I was leaving. 

What aspect of The Brick do you love? It's a place where people are encouraged to take risks and do what they love.  

How has gentrification affected your personal life? The food/drinks are more expensive in the neighborhood. And I don't worry so much about being mugged anymore.

If could move The Brick anywhere, where would you put it? If it had to move and money wasn't an issue, I'd move it to the Union Square area. Right now, I wish we could punch through the east or west wall to have another theatre/cabaret area.

What have you gained from your experience at The Brick? I've worked with brilliant people, made terrific friends, become a better performer, but most importantly, I think we all "get" each other.   

What's the best benefit of being a Master Mason? The Induction Ceremony. And the epic parties.

What's something unknown about you that you want your fellow Master Masons to know? Drat; they know all my secrets. 

What is one thing you would change about The Brick? Two bathrooms and sinks with hot/cold running water. New black curtains.

What do you see in The Brick's future? Greatness. The occasional growing pain. 

If The Brick had its own superhero team, what would it be called and what heroes would be in it? I don't know what we'd call it, but we'd have a Hulk.

What would make a good premise for a Brick-based video game? A Dear Hunter style/Space Invaders hybrid game—you use the rifle to shoot zombies (and the occasional Trustafarian) to keep them from taking over The Brick. Also, a Sims game based on creating and running a theatre like The Brick.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Meet a Master Mason Monday: Trav S.D.

Tells us about the first person you met at The Brick. I met many (maybe most) of the core Brick people long before the Brick was even a twinkle in Honeywell and Gardner's eyes. Back when there was a Todo Con Nada, a Present Company Theatorium, a Collective Unconscious, and a Surf Reality. The first of the bunch I met was Ian W. Hill, in 1996 when he was Nada's Bad Lieutenant. I distinctly remember discussing Harold Clurman with him while he swept the floor with a push broom. The first person I met at or around the Brick-Brick per se was Alexis Sottile, I think. She and I were ALSO discussing Harold Clurman while Ian swept the floor with a push broom.
Tell us about your first show at The Brick. I think the first show I produced at the Brick was a revival of my radio play "Cold Fire", which was in the Hell Festival in 2004. It was a very good experience as I recall. But, soft! Wait! Prior to that, I was in a playreading of a four hour long comedy by Jeff Lewonczyk, which is where I first recall meeting Danny Bowes and Alyssa Simon, who used to go around with an E in her name. Bowes ought to take his E out, too.
How did you first get involved with The Brick? Well, like I said I was friends and/or sometime collaborators with most of the folks prior to the founding, not just Ian and Berit, but also Hope and Jeff and Michael Gardner, etc etc. I remember being especially overjoyed when he and Robert (I hadn't met Robert before the Brick) started the theatre because it was literally only five minutes from my house. Because I had lived in outer boroughs since 1989, I had never had this luxury before, of being so super close to a theatre where I wanted to work. To have it be THE ONE theatre where I wanted to work was almost too good to be true. Consequently, I spent an awful lot of time there for many years, being in shows and watching friends' productions. It's been a little harder now that I've moved a little farther out.
What aspect of The Brick do you love? The aesthetic of absolute freedom; the ethic of absolute support. I honestly think most of the people who spend their time there do so because they frankly can't stand the assholes who rule the rest of the world (including the theatre world) and don't wish to become such themselves. The people who work there on an ongoing basis tend to value camaraderie over conquest. That doesn't mean there aren't spats. But everywhere else you go, such conflicts tend to mean the end of professional relationships, which is very cold. I don't know a single person at the Brick who is cold in that way. Isn't it preferable to work with your favorite people? I obviously think so!
What is your favorite show you’ve seen at The Brick? Though I was in it, I think I would have to say the Penny Dreadful serial, by Bryan Enk and Matt Gray.
What are your thoughts on Williamsburg? How has the art scene changed over the years?
Well, see, I go way back. I moved to the area in 1994. And yes, though I hate to say it (not), it was actually full of actual cool people back then, much more like Bushwick is now. In other words, actual starving artists and anarchists in unheated lofts and cold-water flats, people with no doorbells, and who put plants on their fire escapes. When I first moved here, the liquor store next to the Bedford Street L stop had bullet proof glass in front of the cashier. It started to change around the turn of the millennium. There was that re-zoning that allowed the building of high rises. And then very rapidly the neighborhood was invaded by the GREAT WASHED. It has not yet recovered from the influx.
How has gentrification affected your personal life? It's much easier now to get those apricot scented cleansing bars I like.
If you could move The Brick anywhere where would you put it? I confess that I am a strong proponent of moving the Brick. It is growing; everyone can see that. I think the theatre needs (and can fill) a house that can seat more people, sell more tickets, raise more revenue, pay more
 staff. It is of course a labor of love -- it's not about the pay for anybody.  But these are brilliant and talented people with a lot of art inside them. They deserve to be able to make it for real. It ain't no hobby. It's a life. Furthermore, as one of the artists who works there from time to time...a back entrance to the stage would be nice, more storage space, bigger dressing rooms, and a special refrigerator for my gin. As to where? I think it should remain in the neighborhood. If I were to go lookin’, I'd say somewhere over near the waterfront in some of that old warehouse space near the Brewery and Brooklyn Bowl. But I'm sure I'm dating myself. It’s probably already been turned into hat boutiques and mineral water factories by now.
What have you gained from your experience at The Brick? The very nice feeling that I don't have to do "this" alone.
What’s the best benefit of being a Master Mason? 
I went to this one party once where they had Cheetoes!
What’s something unknown about you that you want your fellow Master Masons to know? Yeah! Somebody stole my goddamn top hat from back stage.
What is one thing you would change about The Brick? Bathroom needs a sink. It also needs another bathroom.
What do you see in The Brick’s future? Only wonderful things. Much growth, greater fame. Many of its core people are in the middle of exciting growth spurts even as we speak. The Brick's legend will only spread.

Anything you want to plug? Oh, thanks!  
Yes, two things: 
1. A workshop version of my play The Fickle Mistress (about the life of 19th century actress Adah Isaacs Menken) is being presented at Dixon Place by Theatre Askew as part of the Hot! Festival on July 25. 

2. And my vaudeville revue Travesties of 2012 will be in the New York Musical Theatre Festival July 19-28. Thanks again!