What I didn’t get to see was what drew me to these shows. I’m talking about Eight and Romeo and Juliet: Choose Your Own Ending, both presented at Capital Fringes past. Ella Hickson, the British writer of Eight, gave us eight characters of which we, the audience, could pick four; those four would give us a monologue about their life, and the others remained silent and unknown.
With R&J:CYOE, local writer-siblings Ann and Shawn Fraistat offered three inflection points during the familiar story in which we, the audience, could vote on Romeo’s next action – starting with whether he pursues Juliet or Rosaline – meaning there were eight possible conclusions we could reach, and seven we would not see.
I loved the sense of loss, of responsibility within possibility, that attended these two shows (as well as others I’ve seen since). It’s a powerful feeling, knowing that there are other stories out there that could have happened, if you, as the audience, had chosen differently. Unlike with, say, a choose-your-own-adventure novel or a video game, the medium of theatre means that those other choices are truly gone, unless you want to shell out for another ticket – they’re not a mere page-turn or reload away. What happens in one showing at the theatre is the entire story, in a sense. It makes those stories that did happen really yours.
This inspiration is what has led me to create Play Cupid, under the banner of “New Game Theatre,” at Fringe this year. I want to explore the effect that Eight and R&J:CYOE had on me in a variety of other stories and contexts. An interactive matchmaking show seemed like a good way to do it – open-ended, easy to wrap your head around, and familiar. The audience comes in, meets five characters who are looking for different things in a date, talks to them, and then sets two of them up on a blind date. Then they see what happens as that date unfolds, then repeat the process and send off a new couple.
This concept, while intended to be a fun Fringey experience, also allows us to ‘hold the mirror up to nature’ a little bit, and delve a little deeper. Giving the audience responsibility for the characters they pair up means that the results of those pairings reflect the audiences’ judgments and assumptions. We hope that if the date ends poorly, the audience feels sorry for it; if it ends well, we hope they take the credit. (And if it ends awkwardly, we hope they will laugh in solidarity with the hapless daters.)
The work of creating Play Cupid with the ensemble has been exciting and challenging – the goal is to be true to the characters as we’ve conceived them, so that the every date scenario feels like a natural and believable encounter between these two people on a blind date. We don’t want to pull any surprises or tricks – it would be awfully cheesy if one of the characters was a serial killer or a secret billionaire or something. None of that. Just real people and the real ways in which they interact.
I’m thrilled to have five completely different experiences at our five showings. Every time, we’ll get to see the results of the audience’s choices – and we’ll also have the privilege of not seeing the results of the choices they didn’t make. I hope everyone who comes to see it is as drawn in and invigorated as I was by my inspirations, and goes home thinking about the unique future they created for the five characters.
Brett Steven Abelman is the creator of Play Cupid and the New Game Theatre concept, as well as the show’s writer/director and emcee. He is a local playwright and a proud member of the next generation of The Welders (thewelders.org).
He has reviewed theatre for dcist and City Paper prior to writing for DC Theatre Scene.
July 8 — July 24, 2016
Atlas Performing Arts Center
1333 H Street, NE
Washington, DC 20002
Show details and tickets