ED2017 Caro Meets ED2017 Interviews ED2017 Theatre

Chloe Mashiter: Adventurers Wanted!

By | Published on Thursday 15 June 2017

The Edinburgh Fringe is well known as a testing ground for different and interesting stuff, and I’d say that ‘Adventurers Wanted!’ very much fits into that description.
The show – if ‘show’ is really the right word – is basically a marathon session of a table-top role-playing game, which Fringe-goers can observe as audience members, or get more involved with by becoming  a player.
To get to the bottom of exactly what to expect from the production, and to find out what inspired it, I spoke to the creative force behind the project, Chloe Mashiter.

Caro: So, this is a bit different, even for edfringe, where all the odd stuff turns up. Can you explain what’s going to happen?
Chloe: I love that this comes across as ‘the odd thing in the odd things’! Basically, we’re going to play a game – much like Dungeons & Dragons for those who know it – and the invite’s open for people to come and watch it or to get involved and play themselves.

In a way, all that will ‘happen’ is, each hour, five people will sit round a table – the Game Master running the game, and the players, each playing their own unique character. The Game Master will describe the world the characters are in, and play anyone they meet; the players will describe what their characters do – and, out of this, everyone will end up telling the story of a huge adventure. Often, this gets mixed in with different levels of performance – people getting up and acting things out, or having conversations with each other ‘in character’, or miming how they destroy an enemy.

As for what will ‘happen’ in the game: people might die heroically, might die non-heroically, civilisations might be destroyed, gods might be toppled, monsters might swallow cities whole: it’s an epic fantasy world so a lot can happen! But exactly what *will* happen will depend entirely on what the players make their characters do, so that can’t be predicted.

Caro: Is there any interaction for the audience?
Chloe: There’s not as much for the audience – really, if you want to get properly involved, go and buy a player ticket! We don’t want to pressure anyone to get involved if they don’t want to, but we’re also not going to pretend the audience isn’t there – they might get called upon for their opinion on what a character should do, and if there’s anyone in the audience who clearly wants to be part of telling the story in some way, we’re trying to plan ways of responding to that. But is very much up to the audience member themselves – if you just want to sit back and watch, we’re not going to stop you from doing that.

Caro: Just how involved is a person likely to get when they buy a player ticket? Do you feel there’s any risk inherent in allowing strangers to the project to be closely involved in the action?
Chloe: Players will be onstage, controlling their character, and therefore partially controlling what happens in the game and the story. When people buy player tickets we let them choose their character’s species and class (so what they are and what they do), and then custom-make a character for them. They can just then rock up to the show and play, or they can can customise some elements of their character, read up on the world of the game, watch the preview when it’s livestreamed, and arrive as an expert on the game!

The Game Masters create the world that the story happens in, and the players will determine what story actually gets told – it’s entirely responsive to what their characters choose to do. So in a sense they are very involved!

I guess you could say it’s pretty risky giving so much control or power to whoever chooses to buy a player ticket, but I’ve not been thinking of it in those terms. I’m definitely coming at this from a place of faith – I’ve done a lot of interactive work before, that’s invited people’s input or contributions to a performance, so that’s not entirely new to me. But it’s also not like we have ready-made something, and players could spoil the thing we’ve ‘made’ – this is something we’re making with them. And it’s what makes this exciting! I think we’ll get more surprises, more moving scenes, more exciting stories, for opening things out like this.

Caro: Will the narrative be ongoing throughout the month? Or will each hour tell its own story?
Chloe: There’s one big story being told over the course of the whole month – which is of a ship and its whole crew navigating a bizarre world and trying to get home. We will ultimately tell a 250 hour long story! But each hour will have its own adventure, its own thing happening – we’ve sometimes talked about it as bit like Star Trek – there might a different planet that they visit in each episode (or something like that!) but there’s also the arching story you can get over a whole season. We want people to be able to enjoy it even if they’re only seeing an hour, so one thing we’re working hard to try and manage is make sure there’s still a little story for them follow.

Caro: Is the fantasy world in which this unfolds one that already exists in fiction, or in the world of role-playing games?
Chloe: We’re taking elements from Dungeons & Dragons – like monsters and types of creatures you might find in D&D games – but the actual world, the islands and cities and civilisations and history of it all is being written entirely by our three Game Masters. They’re coming up with this incredible sprawling world, basically chasing what we find cool and interesting and fun to create the world of the game. It’s all been thought out and designed specifically for this show.

Caro: Where do the characters come from? Will they have been created before the run begins, or are they created as the story goes along?
Chloe: Both, really! Some characters are already created, like villains and monsters that the Game Masters will play. But since each player has their own unique character, those are created each time someone buys a player ticket – and there’ll definitely be instances of Game Masters writing up characters as the story goes along. One of the things I love about games like this is that an offhand comment could turn into an ongoing joke which could turn into a specially written character – so there’s every chance one player’s comment could then result in a character being created!

Caro: What made you decide to list this in the theatre section?
Chloe: In a way, the answer to that is: why not? When this is about people telling stories, playing characters and everyone suspending their disbelief and using their imaginations to conjure up an epic tale, why wouldn’t we call it theatre?

However, a longer answer would probably refer to a couple of things. I’ve written here about why, to me, Dungeons & Dragons and games like this count as theatre. Also, we’re very much playing the game sincerely, rather than using it solely as a jumping off point for comedy. The core team are theatre people, and for us it’s just as much about those incredibly moving moments and compelling characters that emerge out of games like this, as it is about the jokes that naturally come through. There’s also some hilarious shows – shout out to The MMORPG Show and Questing Time – that blend these kind of games with comedy, and us marking ourselves as theatre is partly about saying that we’re different things.

Caro: What made you want to create a show like this? What’s the motivation?
Chloe: I’ve spent the last two years working in theatre buildings, mainly as an assistant director, helping other people’s ideas come to life, so I knew I wanted to do something that was totally different and go hell for leather at a kind of ambitious, unwieldy project! There are so many things I love about this show, but I guess once I started mentioning the idea casually to people and seeing their responses – surprise or excitement or even just a kind of good bafflement! – it pushed me to think it could be something really cool to do.

I also fell in love with the idea of having a room, a space, that people could go to pretty much any time during the Fringe, and make something together. That it’s not ‘we’ve made a thing, come and observe the thing we’ve made’, but it’s a sense of – come and join in. Of course, people can simply watch if they want and see what gets made up, but the idea of this being a story that is communally told by hundreds of people (since there’s 500 player tickets on offer!) is something I find so exciting. Part of the motivation is my own curiosity about what happens when you give that many people a chance to step in and be part of telling a story and defining what that story is.

Caro: What sparked your interest in role-playing games?
Chloe: I’ve played things like Mafia and Werewolf for as long as I can remember, and this only really feels a few steps down the line from those. There’s always something fun about playing something with friends where how you are with each other can get turned on its head, like finding a friend completely betraying you and killing you in one of those games! I guess I got into things in a more hardcore way after seeing Dungeons & Dragons featured on ‘Community’ (a brilliant American sitcom), then listening to people playing it on Harmontown podcasts, then watching HarmonQuest, getting further and further in, before giving into my curiosity and playing myself. I’ve always liked improv as well as epic, outlandish stories, so it was pretty easy for me to get sucked into role-playing games.

Caro: What has the creative process of bringing this together involved for you? How does it compare to the other work you do?
Chloe: It’s been pretty unique – most of my work is as a director or a writer, but this is a totally different set-up. It started with meeting a whole host of potential Game Masters then whittling them down to three who’d work well together. Then it was kind of about winding those guys up and letting them go!

There’s been a lot of work focused on basically making sure all the practical and creative elements of the show sync up, that they’re developed in tandem. So, for instance: we have custom-made character sheets for the show (these are given to players and have all the important information about the character they play). The final design is the result of ongoing conversations about what information the Game Masters want the players to have, versus making things as simple and easy for the players, versus sticking to accessibility guidelines for written documents, versus making it still look pleasant and feel themed to the game!

So much of the work on this show is about ongoing conversations, because it’s an entirely new format and so little of it can be set in advance, and we have to be ready to be responsive to what the players and audiences might throw up. That feels quite different to other stuff I do, which is often scripted and feels a little more ‘contained’!

Caro: Can you tell us a bit about the other work that you do?
Chloe: Especially recently, my work’s been really varied – I’m directing a devised show for Nuffield Southampton Theatres as well as making an audio game for Headlong.

I’ve mainly worked as a writer, director or assistant director in recent years (along with necessary money jobs like kitchen porter!). I can be a bit of a magpie – one of the things I really enjoy about working in theatre is all the different things you can explore, so I’ve done one-on-one headphone-based shows, new writing based on gothic ballads, interactive pieces, or devised work based on real-life interviews.

Really, I lean towards new writing and shy away from naturalism or traditional missing-fourth-wall kinds of performance. I like making work where you acknowledge that the actors and audience are in the same space, rather than separating them, and where people’s imagination is given a proper workout, rather than everything being spelled out onstage.

Caro: Have you taken a show to the Fringe before? What made you decide that it was a good place to stage this?
Chloe: I’ve never brought a show to the Fringe before – I’ve come to the Fringe to see shows 7 out of the last 10 years, and acted in a show at university (a pirate adventure done in the style of a silent film, with live ceilidh band!). I absolutely love the Fringe and have wanted to bring something up, but have always said – since it’s so much work and such an intense place to be – that it’d have to be something I was willing to properly destroy myself over. And this is the first thing that’s felt worth it!

I’ve always been a fan of the sheer scope and surprise of what is on at the Fringe – dance shows on buses, silent discos in the street, clowning shows in roof gardens. I go to the Fringe for the ambitious, bizarre, surprising gems that you might not find elsewhere – so, to me, it feels like the perfect fit for ‘Adventurers Wanted’. Also, as soon as I started playing Dungeons & Dragons, it felt shocking that tabletop roleplaying games – for all their creativity and imagination – aren’t really represented at the world’s largest arts festival, so a part of this is about changing that.

Caro: What happens after Edinburgh? Do you think it would work elsewhere?
Chloe: I’m trying, for the most part, to just focus on making Edinburgh work! But I can’t deny I’ve thought about afterwards – I think it would be a slightly different thing wherever it was – there’s definitely not somewhere that comes to mind where it could still be 250 hours long! But I think there’s a lot of appeal to it – D&D is something that I know a lot of people are curious about, and the moment they actually play it, they love it. Really, anywhere there’s people who are ready to gather in one place to be part of telling the story of a huge adventure, we can make this work.

‘Adventurers Wanted: A 250-Hour Epic Tabletop Roleplaying Game’ was performed at Sweet Holyrood at Edinburgh Festival 2017.