Courtesy of Casey Tonnies
This weekend, Claire Sattler ’23 will present an original comedy, “Roll With It!”, with an element of audience interaction. The show, based on fantasy tabletop role-playing game “Dungeons & Dragons,” allows viewers to directly engage in the game and influence its plot development. The performances will run on April 30 at 8 p.m., May 1 at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. and May 2 at 2 p.m.
“Roll With It!” tells the story of a group of friends who meet each week to play “Dungeons & Dragons” together. The play explores how the medium of a tabletop game allows people to express themselves and their personal issues in novel ways.
“On the surface, it’s a very goofy comedy, but it’s also a ‘coming-of-age’ story about friendship at its core and what it means for different people,” Sattler said. “My characters are real complex personalities, not just a group of stock characters, like the jock, the nerd and the shy one. The viewers just can’t relate to that, and that’s why they don’t care. I hope the audience will care here.”
In the play, on one such game night, the Dungeon Master — played by Zach Lee ’22 — turns to the audience for help finishing his story arc. There are five moments of audience interaction, during which viewers can influence the narrative. At the Dungeon Master’s request, the audience can type suggestions for the story’s development in the chat. These suggestions are hidden from other actors. Lee will then choose a plot suggestion to incorporate into the story. Throughout the play, the audience can also participate in pre-prepared polls to choose the narrative’s direction.
Before the pandemic, Sattler originally planned to stage “The Trail to Oregon!” — an interactive comedy musical based on a video game. Due to technological challenges and difficulties obtaining production rights, Sattler was unable to direct this show. Instead, in October, she proceeded to write the first draft of her own comedy play.
“I wanted to avoid the Zoom fatigue that has become a problem for so many virtual productions when the audience just stares at the actors’ faces for two hours straight,” Sattler said. “When you know that you can be asked to control the story at any moment, that’s when you have some stakes in the game and actually want to watch the play, because your choices do matter to where the story goes.”
To account for various permutations of outcomes in the show, Sattler wrote several different plot lines, which were all memorized and rehearsed by cast members. Based on viewers’ choices, a different version will take place every performance night.
Because the story is mostly driven by the audience members’ suggestions, there is a substantial degree of improv on the actors’ part.
“We’ve had so many rehearsals experimenting with various directions that the play might go, and because there are just so many, the story always feels new and exciting,” actor Isa Dominguez ’24 said. “We’ve rehearsed enough to the point where we’re all very in touch with our characters. Sometimes, we might even improvise in-between lines, feeling that’s what our character would say at the moment. It’s almost as if our D&D character has become our second nature.”
When Sattler finished the script over the winter break, she contacted Casey Tonnies ’24 to produce the show. For both, “Roll With It!” was their first time directing and producing.
According to Tonnies, the two strove to make the rehearsal process “fun and enjoyable” and wanted team members to have “a great dynamic with each other” despite physical separation. Dominguez said that Sattler and Tonnies did a phenomenal job of putting the team together, coordinating the rehearsal process in an entertaining way and producing an impressive final product.
Instead of presenting the show on Zoom, the production team chose to use Twitch — a live streaming service for video gamers — because of its flexibility and convenience. For instance, it allows the crew to make the chat visible only to the Dungeon Master as well as insert graphics ordering the actors. To make the play visually engaging, the designers have incorporated visuals such as battle maps and character tokens to help the audience to engage with the game.
The team hopes audience members will “get fully immersed” into their fantasy world and be reminded of the importance of friendship, according to Tonnies.
“I’ve written this play because I feel like there’s not enough comedy right now,” Sattler said. “And I think we need it now more than ever. So, my main wish is for the audience to have fun and to laugh a lot. Hopefully, my goofy sense of humor will do for that.”
“Roll With It!” will run for two and a half hours with an intermission. Those who want to attend need to create a Twitch account with their email address, so the production team recommends logging on at least 10 minutes before the show.