Bringing Together the World of Theatre and Minecraft
Adam Clarke & Victoria Bennett
For us, Minecraft is both a creative space and an artistic medium. Our interest is in pushing beyond the Minecraft world and its familiar characters. The simplicity, the juxtaposition of restraints and creative freedom, and its open accessibility, appeal to us as artists and storytellers. Our projects usually come about by having a ‘…why not?’ approach to our work. Want to feature live performance-poetry and music within a Minecraft literary salon? Why not? Want to showcase new writing within a purpose-built Minecraft library based on the ancient library of Constantinople? Why not? Want to create a Broadway musical crossover that brings together live stage performance, online streamed gaming, classical composition and musical theatre? Why not?
Well, there are probably several reasons why not, but mostly these are practical considerations, which means they are surmountable. At the initial ‘bubbling up’ stage, our role as creators is to get out of the way and let the ideas go into the water. During this time, we make sure that we feed the ideas with conversation, outreach and research. Some sink, some swim straight away and some settle down into the dark to wait for the right combination of timing, opportunity and interest to rise to the surface.
Building the Project
One such idea was the crossover of live theatre, YouTube and Minecraft. We had long talked about wanting to bring together live theatre, Minecraft and online streaming. What we came up against was the practical barrier of not having any connections within the ﬁeld of live theatre production.
The great thing about ideas is that quite often, you are not the only one in the world having them, and this is where that old favourite, synchronicity, plays its part. At the same time as we were having discussions around this idea, we received an email from Mark Nargurski, of Derry-based Makematic. Having previously worked with Mark at Culturetech, and then on Templecraft in Derry, we are always interested to hear about any project that Mark is involved in.
The idea Mark proposed was to create a live stage-based Minecraft theatre, in collaboration with young participants and theatre producers. This was the kind of opportunity we had been talking about, so we were very interested in being part of its development. A collaboration was developed between The Playhouse in Derry/Londonderry, Makematic, myself (Adam) as the Minecraft producer, and with The Space (BBC London) as funders.
As with all ambitious ideas, especially those that are multiagency, there is a lot of ground to cover between the initial project idea and the ﬁnal outcome. This process included many discussions about possible writers, approaches and creative direction. In the end, the group decided to invite Alex Scarrow, author of the Time Riders series, to write a specially commissioned piece that would ﬁt into this storyline. This was then worked through, draft by draft, as a group, and looked at both from the perspective of Minecraft and from that of live theatre. Additional conversations were also had about staging, costumes, actors, technology and the physical logistics of presenting a play that would be simultaneously acted on stage and within Minecraft, with audience involvement from live theatre audience, live streaming audience, and a selected number of in-game YouTubers. It was a lengthy, and not always easy, creative process, but an interesting one that negotiated the similarities and diﬀerences of these two worlds.
A New Type of Performance Practice
So, how do we tell a dramatic story, simultaneously, on multiple distinct platforms? In Playcraft Live, we aim to bring together live theatre, Minecraft, and online gaming and livestream. Doing so presents a number of creative and technical challenges. Marrying together stage actors and Minecraft puppeteers in a live stage and online production, means creating a new form of performance practice. This has been seen in ﬁlm, using digital performers and motion capture. Andy Serkis, when he ﬁrst became interested in ‘cyberthespianism’, stated that, ‘…we need to change our mindset, cross-fertilise our talent, and encourage writers, directors, and producers, to think on a much larger scale…’
Is Playcraft Live a digital performance with real actors, or real performance with digital actors? With this project, we are aiming to achieve that cross-fertilisation, investing in digital performance in a way that has not been done before — a ground-breaking ﬁrst step in shifting the barriers and preconceptions around what a video game is, and what it can be.
On 14 October 2017, The Playhouse, Derry, will present a world ﬁrst: a live staged play, happening simultaneously within Minecraft, online, and on stage. Leading up to this date, there will be several online ‘Calls To Action’, inviting and involving professionals from YouTube, Minecraft and theatre, as well as young people from around the world. Technically, it will stretch the skills of all involved – requiring live actors to act alongside live Minecraft puppeteers, within a stage designed and built to be set on stage and in game, under the direction of theatre and Minecraft experts, in front of a live theatre audience and in conjunction with a live global online audience. Added to this, we will have selected YouTubers streaming from within the Minecraft play to their audiences. Will it work? We are quietly conﬁdent. Is it exciting? Most deﬁnitely.
One of the inspiring things about working together in Minecraft and digital gaming is that Victoria and I are constantly ﬁnding new ways of using it creatively, pushing against our boundaries, and ﬁnding new ways of working together within this playful, digital space.
For us, it feels something like being creative pioneers and yet, here we are working within a commercial video-game space that is hugely popular, and largely seen as the domain of boys and girls between the ages of eight and twelve. Although we seem to have covered a lot of ground, there are projects and ideas that remain on our horizon that we want to explore. Persuading people to open up to the credibility of our work as artists using mediums such as gaming, virtual reality and other digital technology, is both challenging and rewarding. Through its popularity, accessibility and continued capacity for creative inspiration, Minecraft provides the paradigm shift needed to open up the door.
Broadway? Here we come…
Adam Clarke & Victoria Bennett
Adam & Victoria’s CVs, if they had them, would include, amongst other things, Digital Producer, Global Speaker, Artist, Poet, Publisher, Minecraft Educator, You-Tuber, Creative Activist, Home Educators and Dad and Mum.
Their work, both as artists and parents, is about bringing together their experiences, skills and intentions, to create an inspiring space filled with possibilities, a space that encourages curiosity, creativity, investigation and collaboration, be that real, virtual or on the page. Through their creative work they aim to continue to engage themselves and others in exploring the personal, cultural and social narratives that we build every day.