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WMU blazes the way in interactive theatre

March 26, 2009

KALAMAZOO--A play being staged at Western Michigan University is believed to be the first to have video games created based on the play to enhance the experience for theatergoers.

Patrons of the play "Mother Courage and her Children," running March 26 through April 5 in the Gilmore Theatre Complex's Shaw Theatre, are invited to try out the games a half-hour before the play begins and during intermission.

In an exciting collaboration with WMU game and digital media artists, the University Theatre has created a revolutionary way to interact with theatre. Kevin Abbott, project lead for special projects in the WMU Office of Information Technology, has created four video games based on the script that incorporate the design elements of WMU student and faculty designers.

Cast members have become models for their digital counterparts, creating an opportunity for the audience to become part of the world of the play. The project builds on the technological approach used two years ago in "Doctor Faustus," which harnessed stereoscopic 3-D projections, motion capture, computer-generated imagery and other technology to enhance it.

Heralded by some as the greatest play of the 20th century, Bertolt Brecht's "Mother Courage and Her Children" explores the complexities of gain and personal loss as the wily Mother Courage scrambles to profit from a war that threatens the lives of her children.

"The games are derived directly from action in the show," Abbott says.

In one, for example, titled "Bombardment of Riga," players must try to get Mother Courage and her wagon across the bombed city while also protecting her children. They find out that it's impossible to get across without at least one child being killed.

"We're trying to support what Brecht is trying to say in this play, that war is a game you can never win," Abbott says. "We tend to trivialize war as a culture, especially when it comes to video games. The core concept of the show is, if you're involved in war, it's going to be bad for you."

The show's director, Mark Liermann, says the gaming concept evolved as the show developed.

"We wanted to drive home the view that the only way to 'win' a war is not to play at all," Liermann says. "As we started looking at the production from that point of view, we kept using gaming concepts to describe what we were talking about and it quickly became clear that we should be addressing the gaming aspect directly. We also wanted to tap into something that our younger audiences would immediately understand and relate to."

Emily Duguay, director of arts management for the University Theatre, says the addition of video games to the production is revolutionary and is enhancing it for both students and the audience.

"Students are creating roles, creating costumes and creating sets and they get to see it all come to life in video game form," Duguay says. "And the audience will see when they play the games what they will see in the live performance. The games are a very exciting component of it."

Performances are at 7:30 p.m. March 26, 8 p.m. March 27-28 and April 2-4 and 2 p.m. April 5. Seating is general admission. An opening night reception will take place after the performance on March 26.

Tickets can be purchased by calling (269) 387-6222 or visiting the Gilmore Theatre Box Office from noon to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. Admission is $20 for the general public, $15 for seniors and WMU faculty and staff and $5 for students. Group discounts are available. The box offices at Miller Auditorium and the Epic Center also sell tickets to University Theatre productions. Tickets and additional information are available online at wmich.edu/theatre.

Related article
Virtual technology takes the stage in 'Mother Courage'

Media contact: Mark Schwerin, (269) 387-8400, mark.schwerin@wmich.edu

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