Live-tweeting and online watch parties may be old hat where prestige dramas, sporting events and award shows are concerned. But now, the ability to digitally react in real time and the sense of community that comes with it will be part of the Alaska theater experience.
“In Love and Warcraft,” a joint production from Juneau’s Perseverance Theatre and the San Francisco-based American Conservatory Theater, will be a live video production shown over Zoom. The pandemic restriction-friendly medium comes with a chat function that allows people watching the show to share thoughts, root for characters and otherwise communicate.
“I love the comments,” said director Peter J. Kuo, Associate Conservatory for ACT, who also helmed ACT’s previous live video production of the play. “You’re hoping that first audience member that comments invites that conversation. What I found in both of the original performances is there wasn’t a lot of criticism in what they were watching, there was engagement.”
“In Love and Warcraft,” by Madhuri Shekar, tells the story of Evie, a college senior and self-described gamer girl, who writes love letters for people as a side hustle and unexpectedly finds herself in her own in-real-life romantic entanglement that creates conflict between real-life and online personas.
Kuo and James Mercer, who plays online paramour Ryan, said the existence of competing love interests naturally lends itself to some faction-building, and what they described should be familiar to anyone who remembers Team Jacob T-shirts.
“I hid the chat function [while performing], but I read it after and laughed,” Mercer said in a video interview. “The thing that got me is that there was a Team Ryan vs. Team Raul. I couldn’t believe the was a battle going on with it.”
Mercer said the play’s video game-intensive subject matter also lends itself well to the live video medium.
“To have it turn into this digital thing, it was kind of perfect,” Mercer said. “It was like it was written in the stars before this happened.”
While the show does feature a snippet of game footage to animate a scene, Kuo and Mercer said a deep familiarity with either “Warcraft” in particular or video games is not necessary to grasp the shows larger themes, such as how identity is formed in young adulthood and the way social pressures and perception shape sexuality and relationships.
“I think that entertainment is also education, and I think this show really talks a lot about relationships and people’s identity,” Mercer said. “This show really explores those topics when you’re coming of age and you’re a young adult.”
Actors in “In Love and Warcraft” — aside from two who live together — will perform from separate locations, Kuo and Mercer said, and some tricks are used to create the illusion that characters are sharing space.
“For many folks who have been social distancing for a very long time now, what we’re missing and yearning for is contact,” Kuo said. “We play enough visual and camera and mind tricks that if you’re ready to engage and let your imagination run wild, you have a sense of gathering.”
Mercer said live video theater comes with some challenges for performers, such as managing sightlines for a camera, and Kuo said that there is a slight learning curve for audience members as well. Kuo recommended people join the livestream early to make sure their connection is working or to adjust screens as necessary.
Despite some challenges innate to the form, both Mercer and Kuo said there are many positives, including removing barriers that may prevent people from otherwise seeing live theater. Anyone with an internet connection can buy a ticket and watch the Sept. 4-12 livestreams.
“There’s so much hope for it to be able to reach audiences who live theater hasn’t reached in a long time,” Kuo said.
It also allows live theater to take place before an audience without intensive precautions to mitigate the risk of spreading COVID-19, and Kuo said there is inherent suspense to anything happening live.
Perseverance Theatre’s artistic director Leslie Ishii also spoke to the virtues of live storytelling in a statement.
“Stories performed live and witnessed together help us to process life,” Ishii said. “Providing the opportunity to continue to connect to live storytelling is so needed during this pandemic.”
However, people interested in the play but unable to catch one of the livestreams will still be able to watch the production of “In Love and Warcraft” at their leisure. From Sept. 18 to Sept. 25, the play will be available in an on-demand basis.
However people take in the show, Mercer recommends people who do decide to stream the play to go into the experience with open minds and enjoy the experience of live video theater.
“I would really encourage people to go into this without any expectations,” Mercer said. “Be willing to go on a ride. Be willing to be surprised, because we were surprised while we were making it by what we could do.”
Know & Go
What: “In love and Warcraft”
When: 5 p.m., Friday, Sept. 4; 7 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 5; 10 a.m. Friday, Sept. 11; 7 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 12; and on-demand shows will be available Sept. 18-25.
Where: The show will be livestreamed over Zoom.
Admission: Single-ticket admission costs $15-$20. Tickets are being sold through ACT and can be found through https://www.ptalaska.org/in-love-and-warcraft/. Additionally, tickets to the livestream are part of various Perseverance Everywhere packages. Cost of membership in the livestreaming platform ranges from $8 per month to $20 per month depending on the membership level.
• Contact Ben Hohenstatt at (907)308-4895 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @BenHohenstatt