29 October, 2012
I had occasion to go to Las Vegas recently. I’m not a big gambler (at least not when it comes to risking money), but I did go see a show. I went to see Tony and Tina’s Wedding, a show I had wanted to see for a while. I particularly wanted to see this show because of the possible lessons one could learn as a game designer for stories in a multiplayer environment.
Let me explain a bit more about this show and what I learned.
A non-traditional play
Tony and Tina’s Wedding has interested me for a while. While reading up about interactive storytelling (the type game developers put into a game), I came across references to this play. As a game designer with an insatiable thirst for knowledge, I read about it before seeing it.
The play is dinner theater, but it has a strong theme. The audience members are guests at a wedding where the actors play key members of the two families. These actors wander around, in character and interact with other actors as well as audience members. There is a script, but most productions don’t stick to it verbatim; a lot of the lines and interactions are ad-libbed based on the situation, although the characters are fairly well defined. There’s a flow to the show, though, as it mirrors a wedding ceremony and reception.
It helps that the family members are completely dysfunctional. For example, the groom’s father is a womanizing, alcoholic older man with a younger girlfriend, while the bride’s mother is a strong matriarch, until she’s reminded of her dear, departed husband and then breaks down in tears. The characters seemed to be designed for conflict, which keeps things lively. It really remind me of a good session of tabletop role-playing, where you have a defined character, but then you react to situations as they come up.
I read originally that the play was elaborately produced, with the ceremony taking place at a church and the reception, being some distance away, had the audience travel to the reception hall. The presentation I went to was a bit more constrained as it took place in one room.
There are a few other plays in a similar vein, including Joey and Maria’s Comedy Italian Wedding and an older play Dimboola. Pretending to be at a wedding seems to be a popular concept theater. I also read in a magazine in the Las Vegas hotel room about another interactive play going on, Marriage Can Be Murder, which is more murder mystery and gives specific parts to audience members as need arises; the article said the couple that writes and acts in the play actually re-write parts on an ongoing basis to mix things up.
Lessons for game designers
Games are the primary example of interactive entertainment that we can study. But, oral storytelling has elements of interactivity, where a good storyteller will slightly alter a story based on the moods of the audience. If the audience is showing signs of boredom, then adding in a bit of conflict to draw attention back to the story can help keep interest. On the other hand, if the audience is a bit unruly, it might be a good idea to tone down an active scene or skip it altogether to get to a more calm part. In fact, a lot of the old stories we know are actually just one version, often the popular version at the time when the story was put into printed form for the ages. If you study fairy tales, you’ll find that there are some variations of your favorites that are quite violent, gruesome, and completely unsuitable for telling to children.
As I said, I was particularly interested to see how the play handles the interactive elements because there tend to be few of these types of examples outside of games. I figured there might be some lessons to learn, particularly relating to how we run events in MMORPGs.
The biggest lesson is that no matter what, someone will miss something. From my seat I could see interactions between actors across the room, but I couldn’t hear them. Some of the arguments were exaggerated and physical, so it was easy to understand what was going on without the dialog. But, the actors were talking and interacting all across the room, so even if I could have been near that fight I might have missed some other interaction. There’s also issues with social convention, where it’s pretty rude to run up to someone fighting just to listen to the fight. It seems you probably need to see it multiple times to get it all, probably by design. Even then, I imagine the goal is to have the interactions change slightly every performance.
It was also interesting to see how the actors responded to differing levels of participation from the audience. Obviously some audience members are going to be more enthusiastic than others. Some people want to ham it up a bit, while others just want to watch. I wonder if more could have been done to get people “in the mood” for the setting. In a game, we obviously have the rest of the world to get people in the mood for a big event; for this, all most people probably have in preparation is the blurb they read when buying tickets.
Finally, it was interesting to see how distractions work with the play. There was a lot more dinner in this presentation than it sounds like there are in others. Personally, we went to the show shortly after the 9 hour drive to Las Vegas, so I was hungry for real food. Plus I was wanting to watch and observe, so I might not have been the best target for interaction. I imagine others might be in a similar situation, especially if they came more to eat dinner and watch theater rather than participate.
A specific review
Given that some people might be interested in seeing this show themselves, or might have gotten here via a search, I figure I might say a few words about my general experiences.
The venue was fairly nice. A very lovely location in Bally’s on the Las Vegas strip. It didn’t look like a theater, and looked very much like a nice location for a wedding reception with a small stage in the middle. There was the general admission seating and a VIP area separated by a short barrier and some steps.
Definitely look online for tickets. I was about to buy normal tickets when I did a search and found a site that was offering a 40% discount off the price. Given the cheaper prices, I upgraded to VIP. However, I don’t think the extra money was worth it. The main difference was being sat in the VIP section, which was a bit further away from the stage, actually. The actors would sit down in the general area, so there could have been some banter missed. There was also an antipasto type salad that was a bit nicer than the Caesar salad served at the other tables, along with a bruschetta appetizer. But, I didn’t think it was particularly worth the extra money.
Food was served by walking to the kitchen area and getting served buffet style. The food was okay, typical American Italian fare with pastas and chicken parmesan. Definitely not for you if you’re on a low carb diet, though. As I said, I was hungry for some real food after a day of driving, so I ate it without complaint. :)
However, the beverage service was pretty stupid. Tap water was free, but they charged me $4 for a 12 oz plastic tumbler of diet pop. No prices were listed, so it came as a bit of a shock. Given the price of tickets, one would think they could include soft drinks. But, it wouldn’t be Vegas if you weren’t ripped off somehow, right?
Overall, I enjoyed it. I’ll probably see it again sometime soon, perhaps for more than just professional interest in seeing variations of the show.
What do you think? Have you seen the play before? Interested in seeing it? Do the lessons learned sound reasonable in the context of game design?