Thursday, June 12, 2014

Informal Geek Performance Art

Contributed by Charles Battersby

The stage is a natural medium for passionate extroverts clamoring to get their manifestos in front of a cheering crowd. Unfortunately, nerds tend to be introverted and would rather express their thoughts through media that doesn't require direct interaction with other humans. This might explain why science fiction theater is relatively rare, but those shy nerds have other outlets for their artistic inclinations. Online multiplayer games have improvised roleplaying just as intense as any live improv show, and comic book conventions feature costume contests where the contestants perform skits to show off outfits as elaborate as anything seen on Broadway.

I've seen live Performance Art productions in which artists try to make theater out of online video games played live onstage. They do this by typing lines into in the game and projecting it on a screen. The stage is filled with computer workstations where performers sit onstage and type while “Virtual Actors” run around in the game. This isn't much fun to watch in a theater, and it gets in the way of other players who are trying to play the game.

However some of the more devoted players in games like World Of Warcraft will roleplay their characters with just as much gusto as legitimate actors, and create elaborate backstories that rival most playwrights. Many online games have official servers where all players are required to be in character when playing the game (They can't type things about the real world, and can only behave as if they really are their game character when playing).

Roleplaying in an online game is just like doing improvisational theater. It elevates the gaming experience to see people playing in character, and it's a creative outlet for shy people who don't want to perform in a theater, but still want to perform for a live audience – if a virtual one.

Cosplay is another form of improvisational performance art. Cosplay (A portmanteau of Costume and Play) is when fans dress up as characters from comic books, video games and movies, then run around a convention pretending to be that character. It's a blend of costume design, and acting.

Perfectionism is a common trait among cosplayers, who will add in minute details to their costumes. A theatrical costume designer is making the outfit for an audience that's far away in a huge theater, but cosplayers design their outfits for people who will be standing mere inches away (With high-definition cameras). The detail and extravagance is far beyond what's seen in most stage plays, and can include full-body transforming robot suits, or Space Marine armor that's really bullet-proof, and gowns that wouldn't look out of place in Broadway's Cinderella.

Some cosplayers will take it a level further, and totally immerse themselves in their character then stay in character for lengthy periods of times at conventions. This form of emulation is a different path than being a playwright, or performing on a proper stage, but cosplaying can be art.

This sort of informal nerd theater helps make the real world more like the fictional worlds that cosplayers and gamers love. As a performance art, it doesn't get much respect, and that's the fault of artists who remain willfully ignorant of geek culture. Fortunately for the theatrical community, there are a few writers and actors who learned their medieval dialects in Azeroth, or honed their improv skills at Comic Con.


Charles Battersby is a playwright, actor and journalist who is known for his plays That Cute Radioactive Couple, and sTopless Go-Go Girls at the Troll Hole. He also writes the bi-weekly Fallout Lore webseries for Shoddycast. He is a videogame journalist who has written for sites including Complex, Joystiq, Explosion, GamesReviews, and Explosion.

Charles' new play The Astonishing Adventures of All American Girl & The Scarlet Skunk is playing through June 25th in The Brick's Comic Book Theater Festival.

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