Fighting Zombies and Saving Cities — Video Game Marathons That Bond Broadway Stars

News   Fighting Zombies and Saving Cities — Video Game Marathons That Bond Broadway Stars
 
When actors James Snyder and Anthony Rapp met during the pre-Broadway, Washington D.C. run of the musical If/Then, they searched — as all actors do — for a way to connect.

They found it in zombies. Not a love of zombie literature or zombie movies and TV shows. But in joining forces to fight video-game zombies.

"We immediately bonded," recalled Snyder. "'You like video games?' 'I love video games.' We became really good friends because of it. We shared a love of what video games can be."

During the Washington run, Rapp brought down his PlayStation, making appeals to Snyder of, "Dude, you’ve got to see this game."

"It’s funny," said Snyder. "The reason I don’t call myself an avid gamer is because of people like Anthony Rapp, who truly seek out and share these stories, and play them."

Idina Menzel and James Snyder in <i>If/Then</i>
Idina Menzel and James Snyder in If/Then Photo by Joan Marcus

The ways actors bond over the course of a show’s run are many. They run scenes over and over, trying to perfect them. Stories of past experiences are shared over late-night meals and beers. Games of baseball and pick-up basketball are arranged. But as public amusements have changed with the times, so do bonding rituals, and an increasing number of actors are finding gaming a potent way to relate with one another. Rapp, who seems to be a bit of a ringleader in this particular offstage activity, began getting interested in modern console games a few years ago.

"They've really impressed me with their sophistication and storytelling," he said, "and in some cases, the writing and acting is better than some films that I see."

Most gaming actors seen a natural link between the performing they do for a living and the gaming they do for fun. Both activities, after all, involved playing a character and telling a story through that character’s adventures.

"I love the imagination part of it," said Snyder. "It gets really exciting. It turns me into a kid. It’s that sense of play that I also think is so important for an actor to have."

Rapp agrees "100%," he said. "There are different games for different moods. There are some games that are just pure fun. The story games are very rich and involving."

Actor Alex Boniello, who appeared in the national tour of American Idiot and is in the Deaf West production of Spring Awakening, thinks the quality of video game stories has improved so much that traditional theatre and film writers could learn from them.

"If people who write plays and screenplays would do video games, they’d find there are more interesting ways to tell stories," he explained. "Some of the most interesting stories that have been told to me in the past few years have come from a game. Maybe that’s because you’re a participant, so maybe you feel a responsibility to the story you wouldn’t feel if you were watching a movie or something like that. If the story’s good, it can take you on a journey."

Rapp admires the gaming world so much that he would like to get involved in the increasingly expanding and lucrative world of video game actors. Recently he met Troy Baker, a busy video game performer who has voiced lead roles in popular games such as "The Last of Us" and the "Batman: Arkham" series. Rapp has spoken to his agent about his ambitions and plans to pursue it while working on a film in California this summer. "A lot of the video work is in California," he explained.

Idina Menzel and Anthony Rapp in <i>If/Then</i>
Idina Menzel and Anthony Rapp in If/Then Photo by Joan Marcus

Some of the video-game acting goes beyond voice work and involves the whole body, in which the performers wear motion-capture suits to track a character’s movements.

"If you get past all that stuff," said Rapp, "it’s still a rich and rewarding experience." Boniello thinks there are other ways theatre artists can cross over into video-game work. He said he would love it if some playwrights started to write for video games.

“I think the best playwrights we have are the best writers we have in the world in general,” he argued. “With video games, people are getting ridiculous license. They’re not being held down by a studio or something like that. In a lot of cases, their imagination might be able to go a little more crazy.”

Because many of the modern video games are so engrossing, actors rarely play them backstage before shows or between scenes. There’s just not enough time.

"The last few shows I’ve done have had absolutely no time for that," said Boniello. "I did American Idiot where you never leave the stage. The furthest I would go would be a phone game, a quick thing to zone out for a few seconds. But the last thing I need is to be neck deep in some game and the next thing I know I’ve missed my entrance."

One part of the rehearsal process that does afford ample time for gaming, however, is tech — that days-long period when all the technical cues for a show are nailed down, and actors often have little to do for hours on end.

"They’re too involving for me, at this point," said Rapp of video games. "Although, in a very long tech process, if I’m not on \stage all the time and I have hours of down time, I’ve brought my stuff to the theatre for those hours when I’m sitting backstage."

"There was a time, I was playing 'World of Warcraft,' and I was doing a show at Pasadena Playhouse during tech week," told Snyder. "It was enough time that I could grind out a bunch of goals and finish a bunch of accomplishments. I remember sitting at tech, just grinding, grinding." (For the gaming illiterate, the term "grinding" refers to a repetitive task a player must do again and again in order to advance in a game.)

Otherwise, fellow enthusiasts take the time to get together outside the theatre.

"My family is actually heading out of town pretty soon," said Snyder recently. "So once my wife goes on vacation to L.A., I’ve already scheduled video game time with Anthony."

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