How The Twenty-Sided Tavern Lets Audiences Choose Their Own Adventure | Playbill

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Regional News How The Twenty-Sided Tavern Lets Audiences Choose Their Own Adventure

This show from Gamiotics is inspired by Dungeons and Dragons and other RPGs.

Sarah Davis Reynolds and David Andrew Greener Laws (background), Eryn Barnes, Travis Klemm, and R. Alex Murray
Sarah Davis Reynolds and David Andrew Greener Laws (background), Eryn Barnes, Travis Klemm, and R. Alex Murray in The Twenty-Sided Tavern Kelly Tunney

Role-playing video games seem tailor-made for live theatre. After all, they’re built on investing in your character, making strong choices, and serving the story — all familiar to anyone who’s studied acting. Yet it’s still relatively rare for theatre artists to attempt to recreate the RPG experience onstage. In Chicago, Out On a Whim has been presenting an improvised stage interpretation of the classic Dungeons and Dragons in both live and digital streaming formats for a few years. Now there’s The Twenty-Sided Tavern, a live show where audience members choose the characters, the paths they’ll take, and the outcome of the journey via their phones. (At the Broadway Playhouse through January 15).

The creators — David Andrew Greener Laws (who goes by DAGL), Sarah Davis Reynolds, and David Carpenter — are longtime gaming fans who also have broad experience in theatre and multimedia development. Carpenter, whose company, Gamiotics Inc., provides the digital engine for The Twenty-Sided Tavern, was the lead producer for the Broadway run of the cirque spectacular, Slava’s Snowshow. Reynolds is a multidisciplinary artist and manager who has worked on several large-scale pro- ductions (including Slava), while DAGL has logged time running tabletop games in the Off-Broadway production of Drunk Shakespeare. In The Twenty-Sided Tavern, he is also the “resident Gamemaster,” while Reynolds is “Resident Tavern Keeper.”

David Andrew Greener Laws, David Carpenter, and Sarah Davis Reynolds
David Andrew Greener Laws, David Carpenter, and Sarah Davis Reynolds Motion Craft Entertainment

Role-playing video games seem tailor-made for live theatre. After all, they’re built on investing in your character, making strong choices, and serving the story — all familiar to anyone who’s studied acting. Yet it’s still relatively rare for theatre artists to attempt to recreate the RPG experience onstage. In Chicago, Out On a Whim has been presenting an improvised stage interpretation of the classic Dungeons and Dragons in both live and digital streaming formats for a few years. Now there’s The Twenty-Sided Tavern, a live show where audience members choose the characters, the paths they’ll take, and the outcome of the journey via their phones. (At the Broadway Playhouse through January 15).

The creators — David Andrew Greener Laws (who goes by DAGL), Sarah Davis Reynolds, and David Carpenter — are longtime gaming fans who also have broad experience in theatre and multimedia development. Carpenter, whose company, Gamiotics Inc., provides the digital engine for The Twenty-Sided Tavern, was the lead producer for the Broadway run of the cirque spectacular, Slava’s Snowshow. Reynolds is a multidisciplinary artist and manager who has worked on several large-scale pro- ductions (including Slava), while DAGL has logged time running tabletop games in the Off-Broadway production of Drunk Shakespeare. In The Twenty-Sided Tavern, he is also the “resident Gamemaster,” while Reynolds is “Resident Tavern Keeper.”

“In 2019, I’d been experimenting with a Dungeons and Dragons-esque live show,” says DAGL. “When the pandemic happened and everything went online, that had to take a back seat. And I started working with Sarah and David online with Seize the Show (an interactive live theater experience utilizing Gamiotics). We were doing Zoom theatre, and there came a time when, through that, Sarah had a D&D show that she was pitching. And I was like, ‘Oh, I have been working on one, too. So we’ll work on this together. And I’ll sort of hold on to my best ideas until we see if this works, see if this sticks.’ And when it really did take off, we went, ‘All right, let’s put all our eggs in this basket, shall we?’”

That “basket” first landed in an experimental run a little more than a year ago at the Philadelphia Fringe Festival and has since traveled to sold-out engagements in New York, Pittsburgh, and the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Along the way, the creators worked out two different versions: the two-hour one coming to Chicago, and a shorter 70-minute show, better suited for the time limits of fringe festivals. But both achieve the aim of combining gaming and live theatre.

As the title implies, the show is set in a tavern, and the producers warn that, “As such, within these walls, you may encounter coarse language, adult themes, alcohol use, depictions of violence, jugglers, stunts which should not be imitated at home, pick- pockets, loose women, loose men, loose non-binary folx, and fantasy creatures which may not be suitable for all adventurers.”

Travis Klemm in The Twenty-Sided Tavern
Travis Klemm in The Twenty-Sided Tavern Kelly Tunney

DAGL says, “I think most of our performers have some gaming experience and some love for gaming, but really where they shine is the eclecticism of their comedy form. We have actors who are strong in improv or sketch comedy. It’s a very funny show.” There is a loose storyline, but where the characters go depends on what the audience decides via the Gamiotics interface. At certain points in the adventure, a large 20-sided die, aka, “The Decider,” comes out to help move things along. The actors also use smaller versions of dice, which the audience can see via overhead camera projections.

Gamiotics is a browser-based software that audiences access from their phones, so they’re not downloading an app in order to affect the onstage action. The range of decisions audience members make for the actors, include things like, “Do you want us to go through the middle or the right door? Do you want us to talk to this person or that person?” Says Reynolds, “And that’s all just from the phone, allowing them to really engage from wherever they are in the audience and at their personal comfort level. A lot of times, people are kind of scared of audience interaction because they think they’re going to get pulled up on stage and be made fun of. We do bring people up on stage and play games and we’ll run around, get names from the audience, and things like that. So it’s about balancing those together, having the digital interaction, as well as that analog interaction, with everyone.”

The creators find it gratifying that a project which started out as a way to fill the enforced downtime and isolation of the pandemic has created a space for people to gather again. “People are coming in costume,” notes DAGL. “I find that so incredible. It’s this project that we’ve only been doing for a year, and people already feel comfortable enough to express themselves in that way. It’s not just a D&D crowd. We have people who are coming dressed as Star Trek characters, and who are playing Magic: The Gathering (the popular fantasy trading-card game)out in the audience before the show starts.”

But the creators promise you don’t need a deep knowledge of RPG to enjoy The Twenty-Sided Tavern. Says Reynolds, “That’s always been a really important thing for me, to never say, ‘Oh, if you don’t know the rules, you won’t have a good time.’ Because yeah, there are a lot of rules, but again, at the end of the day, it’s about telling the story together and building a community together.”

 
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