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Game Play Theater Festival: Romeoo and Julietet – Review

Machinima is all the rage these days.  That’s when people use footage from video games combined with voiceovers to tell stories. Unfortunately, very few people are doing it well.  For every hit like Red Versus Blue there are hundreds of failed attempts.  Such is the case with a live Machinima theatrical piece called Romeoo and Julietet.  It’s a production of "Romeo and Juliet" performed live in World of Warcraft.

The producers of the show have set up laptops in a theater in Brooklyn, with a projection screen showing the in-game events.  The players control World of Warcraft characters all named after characters in Shakespeare’s play, and they type out their dialogue in the game while a cast of recorded voice actors recite the lines for the audience in the theater.  All of this is done live in World of Warcraft, and anyone playing the game can watch the performance live in-game at the same time the audience in the theater is watching.

I feel like the producers of Romeoo and Julietet have their hearts in the right place; they’re trying to add some art and literature to the World of Warcraft, and also introduce new technology to live theater.  Technologically, the show works well; the players get their characters around the game on cue, and the recorded dialogue is delivered on time.  There’s a lot that could have gone wrong with such a show from a tech perspective and the director Eddie Kim managed to pull it off.  Unfortunately in most other regards the project is badly executed.

First, from a theatrical point of view, the show uses a heavily edited version of the play.  Over two thirds of the script is cut out to make a one-hour running time.  Given the inherently silly nature of the project, one of Shakespeare’s comedies would certainly have been a better choice (it’s hard to take this tale of tragic lovers seriously when Orcs are doing their funky dance moves).  Also, the performers and their laptops are set up on stage with the screens facing the audience.  While this does prove that the show is being done live, it’s also very distracting.

Then there is the use of recorded voiceovers. Having a live cast on stage is what theater is all about, and using recorded sound clips combined with video footage makes the show less theatrical, even if it’s being done live in an online game.  The voice cast sounded as though it consisted of a high school drama club, too.  While it’s appropriate for the two main characters to be voiced by teens, there’s no reason why the rest of the cast had to be performed by such young actors.

The basic premise of the show seems like the producers are just asking for trouble.  Imagine the sort of grief you’d encounter in World of Warcraft if you were running around quoting Shakespeare in a public location for an hour.  The other players are there to kill monsters and you show up to cram art down their throats.  You’d attract a following of griefers and jerks who demanded that you shut up.  Others might try to ruin the show by transforming into giant dragons and blocking your character, while other people might just follow you around screaming “WTF?!?!?!?!?!?!?!”

All of those things and more happened during the performance I attended, and based on my experiences in World of Warcraft, I’d bet that this sort of thing happens during every performance of Romeoo and Julietet.  I was waiting for the entire cast to get ganked by Death Knights.  Although that didn’t happen, something equally amusing did occur during the scene where Juliet kills herself; a griefer ran over and teabagged her corpse.

The piece is part of the Brick Theater’s Game Play Theater Festival and will be performed again several more times between now and July 17th.  Hardcore Machinima fans might be interested in seeing it in person in Brooklyn NYC, and anyone with a World of Warcraft account can watch it in Azeroth around the city of Dalaran on the Argent Dawn server.  More information can be found at the Brick Theater’s website.


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