For anyone who’s played Final Fantasy XIV, the chat window is a useful but fairly benign element of the graphical user interface. Like most online RPGs, the window displays a combination of in-game information, communication from those nearby, and direct messages from friends and fellow clanmates. However, for a couple of hours this weekend, the chat window will display text of a different sort – Elizabethean dialogue.
On Friday, Saturday, and Sunday (September 27-29), A Stage Reborn, a non-profit charity dedicated to bridging the gap between digital and traditional art, will stage a live performance of William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream within the world of Final Fantasy XIV. The text of the play will display in the chat window, while actors on stage will use emotes to perform the play itself. Couple this with some in-game special effects, and the audience will receive quite the treat – a unique production of a classic play that has been staged countless times around the world.
The co-director of the production, Steve Pederzani – who goes by Wanderer within the game – says the commonality of the play helped make it a good choice for the group’s first attempt to bring Shakespeare to the world of Eorzea, a task that is not without its benefits and drawbacks. “There were definitely moments where the medium limited us,” Pederzani said. “For example, set changes are possible but very difficult depending on how you use player housing to construct the set, so we kept it one scene.”
One actor from the production who goes by the handle Anonymoose echoed this sentiment. “You’re working with a medium that wasn’t intended for putting on a play, so you have to use what you have creatively, whether it be in how you design macros to time your lines against your emotes, or how you design a plausible outfit for the adaptation, or even how you design the stage itself so people can get around and use the objects on it.”
However, Pederzani, who has an undergraduate degree in theater performance, said the medium also allowed them to enhance what they could do in ways that traditional theater doesn’t allow. “In my alma mater, our department chair … enjoyed underscoring Shakespeare with music. We did something similar here, using an in-game jukebox item to underscore many of the scenes with music from the game itself.”
Additionally, the digital nature of an in-game performance such as this carries with it other benefits as well, including access to actors and an audience which may not be an option using a more traditional theater model.
“We’ve had actors and crew participate in our activities that have disabilities that keep them from doing traditional theater, but they can still learn theater concepts like method acting and apply them, just in a different medium,” Pederzani said. “[We want to outfit] those with socioeconomic disadvantages, physical or mental disabilities, or simply a lack of access to the arts a way to do so without many of the limitations the real life arts can demand.” Pederzani said that this also translates to audience enjoyment as well. “It’s a different experience, but it doesn’t cost anything and you can enjoy it from home.”
Actor Patrick Plude, who plays Theseus in the show, agreed. “I think we’ve been able to provide a way to enjoy the show that’s accessible to more people.”
But launching such a production has taken some time and has brought with it a fair amount of challenges. A Midsummer Night’s Dream is the fifth production the group has performed within the world of Final Fantasy XIV. The previous four productions included original scripts based on in-game plays from other Final Fantasy titles, like “I Want to be Your Canary” from Final Fantasy IX and “The Story of Maria and Draco” from Final Fantasy VI. A Midsummer Night’s Dream is the first production from the group of a play outside of the series. “We wanted to do a longer show with greater literary significance and educational value to the community,” Pederzani said. “We figured A Midsummer Night’s Dream would be one of the better shows of Shakespeare to introduce to a community that may be timid about approaching the material, actors and audience alike.”
After choosing the play, the group then set on the long task of putting the production together, including holding auditions for actors to play the various parts. Once casting was complete, the troupe set out on the seemingly insurmountable task of trying to finagle multiple schedules to make rehearsing the play even possible. Emi Koch, who is co-directing the play, as well as playing the part of Puck, said “One of the toughest parts was trying to find time to rehearse when everyone had different schedules and obligations.” Plude agreed, adding, “It’s a lot like herding cats. We have more time-zone differences, but because we don’t have a set meeting place, we can make things like that work.”
Once rehearsals started, the cast and crew also had to develop how to tell the story on stage using the emotes and macros system within the game. “There’s a limit as to the emotes you can choose, and so it can be tough trying to find something that matches what you want to portray with your character in that moment,” Koch said. “Overall, I think the actors were able to push the boundaries of what they could do with those limits and take advantage of the freedoms that a game brings with it.” Within these limitations, though, Koch said the actors all stepped up, becoming “more confident with themselves. [They] would rehearse together to figure out what emotes would work well together and really build out a scene.”
The end result is a production that all of the cast and crew is very proud of. “I’m extremely pleased with how far the cast has come in particular,” Koch said. “A good number of them hadn’t acted in a video game before, and some hadn’t acted at all, but we were able to put it all together! Watching everyone learn about acting and seeing them go from being guided along the way to making their own acting choices has been so amazing to watch.”
Anonymoose added, “It’s Final Fantasy XIV in a light you don’t usually see it, and it’s theater in a light you don’t usually see it. This is the only way you’ll see the two of them meet, and if you FFXIV or theater, I think it’s something worth experiencing for yourself.”
For more information on A Stage Reborn, you can visit their website and Patreon. A Stage Reborn will perform A Midsummer Night’s Dream four times this weekend. On Friday, September 27th, and Saturday, September 28th, performances will be at 6:30 p.m., PDT, and Sunday, September 29th, will feature two matinee performances at 12:00 p.m. and approximately 2:00 p.m., PDT. The performances will be free to watch live in game (in The Lavender Beds 8th Ward, Plot 3 on the Diabolos server), though attendance is limited to around 84 players per show, and on the groups Twitch page. The show itself will also be archived on Youtube.