Alumnus brings D&D inspired show to Boston

by Natalie Busch / Beacon Staff • March 30, 2016

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Courtesy of Ves Creative
Courtesy of Ves Creative

“We need to talk.” Those four dreaded words that signal the end of a relationship now serve as the title of a new improvised performance. Inspired by the tabletop role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons, We Need To Talk invites its audience members to act out a breakup. 

The show ran for four nights this week in Somerville at both the Aeronaut Brewing Company and the Davis Square Theater. The performance was co-created by Philadelphia-based artists Daniel Park, Nick Rome, and Arianna Gass, all in their 20s. It is the first official production of Ves Creative, an agency established this year by Nicholas Medvescek, ‘13. 

“You get to experience and go back through a process that would otherwise be a really scary conversation in an environment that is fun,” Medvescek, 26, said. “Then when you encounter those things in the real world, it’s a little less scary because it’s less unknown.”

During the interactive performance, a volunteer from the audience was challenged to break up with their partner, played by Park or Rome. The goal was to fill three out of five hearts, which represented their significant other’s emotional well-being. A heart is broken when the player is unkind or deceptive, and filled when they are honest and empathetic.

“It’s a game that rewards active listening and direct communication, not being passive aggressive or passive,” Gass said. 

Like Dungeons & Dragons, the audience member creates a character for their partner by choosing their name, age, gender, strengths, and weaknesses. Throughout the game, the player and improviser each roll an eight-sided die to determine the impact of the volunteer’s words. For example, if they tell a lie and roll a number higher than the improvisor, then the lie goes unnoticed. They can also ask the audience for advice by using power-up coins. 

John Williamson, ‘15, volunteered during the performance at the Aeronaut Brewing Company on Sunday night. He said he didn’t know what to expect but that he had fun navigating through the break up.

“The whole time I was up there, I felt like I was kind of performing,” Williamson said. “I feel like I still answered honestly, but I genuinely can’t say whether I was tailoring my answers to the audience or not.”

Gass who works as the program manager for the Entrepreneurial Game Studio at Drexel University, said she came up with the idea for We Need to Talk after playing a game similar to Dungeons & Dragons with Park and Rome in early 2015. Rome, an animator and developer, was her student at Drexel at the time. Gass said she was inspired by her own experience with breakups and intrigued by the idea of applying Dungeons & Dragons to real life problems. 

“For me, I was more interested in how to open up this format to actually talk about something that is really important,” Gass said. “It’s not really about how bad can a breakup be, it’s actually how good can it be. How do we communicate meaningfully with other people?” 

Park, a theater and performance artist, said We Need to Talk allows for a usually passive audience to take charge.

“Every single action that they take needs to have an effect on the show itself,” Park said. “Basically what that means is that it needs to be a system that takes input and creates a different output based on the input, like a mathematical equation. And that’s what games are. Games are systems.”

We Need to Talk was shown last year in Philadelphia at the FringeArts’ Scratch Night, a series which showcases works-in-progress. Park said Medvescek, a performing arts graduate, was the reason they brought the show to Boston.

“I think he’s incredibly driven and passionate,” Park said. “He clearly knows what he’s doing. He’s a very smart dude. It makes my life as a creative artist so much easier.”

Medvescek began his career at Emerson as an actor but developed an interest in producing in his second semester. As a junior and a senior, he served as the producing director for RareWorks Theatre Company. He said his experience as an actor helps his current work.

“I think it’s very important to understand how each one of those pieces functions in the greater whole,” Medvescek said. “Because my job is to make sure that all of those pieces are working properly.”

Play-at-home kits of dice and power-up coins were sold at the performances for $3 and zines including information and instructions for how to play the game were also offered for $1.

“The fact that it’s a performance that actually can live on beyond what you see on stage is really thrilling,” Medvescek said. “It’s going to be super fun for audiences.”

Medvescek said that We Need to Talk is a unique show that reflects Boston as a city of artistic risk takers.

“Ultimately I hope people have fun. That’s goal number one,” Medvescek said. “But really, at the end of the day, when people walk away from it, I hope that they leave [the performance] less afraid of difficult conversations.”