Theatre Replacement’s new production uses the computer game Minecraft to start inter-generational dialogue.
When: Nov. 14-17, various times
Where: Shadbolt Centre for the Arts, 6450 Deer Lake Ave., Burnaby
Tickets and info: From $15, shadboltcentre.com
Theatre Replacement’s latest work Mine is what happens when a performing arts parent gets actively involved in their child’s play — in this case, creator Maiko B. Yamamoto becoming involved in playing Minecraft with her 11-year-old gamer son, Hokuto MacDuff.
Developed over the narratives the two discovered playing the popular video game, the play involves a group of inter-generational gamers/performers between the ages of 10 to 45 enact different stories built up around the game and also transposed into real world events. Or something like that, in this confused digital realm.
“The show was inspired by a conflict I was experiencing with my son who, at around age eight, was becoming completely obsessed with digital screens and the game Minecraft,” said Yamamoto.
“We limited his screen time as we’d been advised, but it was still really hard for him to leave and it became this kind of Grand Canyon rift between the two of us. It was really hard because I didn’t want to be the one taking away this thing he was really into, but zoning out and spending all your time in a digital world isn’t taking care of him either.”
The conflict grew and, in seeking solutions to it, the parents found MCKids Academy, which uses Minecraft for learning positive and safe experiences. For many younger people, the building process is more important than the survival aspect of the game and the creativity exercised in making things in the online environment can become a means to positive play. Eventually, Yamamoto accepted her son’s entreaties to play the game.
“And I was such a newb, could barely walk in a straight line and kept breaking things while he was an expert running circles around me asking what he could show me how to do,” she said.
“He was the expert, but I was still the parent, as he would ask me if he could bring home a dog before he “tamed” one or put his bed next to mine. Suddenly, there was a possible work of theatre coming about.”
Collaborating with game-savvy local theatre artists such as Hong Kong Exile’s Remy Siu and Conor Wylie, as well as a quartet of local gamer/performers ranging in age from 10 to 14, Mine was created. Yamamoto said that slowly the parent-child narrative develop between mothers and sons with an online lens of sorts.
“You watch a group of gamers between ages 10 and 45 enact different mother/son relationships through all of their various moments as well as try to navigate this whole new digital world that we are in,” she said.
“Hokuto is on stage with me and we’re navigating and the hardest thing for me is letting go, letting them/him become this confident human in this new world.”
Using stories ranging from Bambi’s opening between the mother and son to the heavy-handed prophecy of Terminator, the play exposes many sides to the parent-child dynamic. There are a lot of conversations about fears.
“The kids onstage are meant to appear like these gods who can do all these things while the parents are barely able to keep up with them,” she said. “And the wonderful thing is we are always playing the game too. If it’s night time, zombies and creatures will suddenly start wandering in and, in daytime, you have pigs and other animals presenting, it starts raining, odd things happen all the time.”
Mine is something of a huge, unstructured improvisation based around the game and it won’t play out the same each time. As to whether the makers of the game were pleased about it being used in the play, Yamamoto says they were.
“Ultimately, it’s a pretty Minecraft-positive show and we talked to lawyers who made it clear that many others are doing this and you really just need to say ‘this is not an official Minecraft product,’ and it isn’t,” she said.
“We’re not changing the game, we’re using it, and we’re a non-profit, so we aren’t making money on it either.”
But the real question to answer is did the research for the play turn the parent into an obsessive gamer like the child?
“Minecraft became a natural part of our conversation and I became able to see why it’s hard for him to leave at times,” she said.
“He’s in the middle of building a hotel and he needs to focus on it and his response is no different than my own when I go ‘not now I’m busy.’ So now I ask him first about what he is doing and how much time he needs, in the same way he does for me.”
Mine will touch different nerves in different age groups. Where younger players might just see vanquishing a zombie as what you do, parents could think that a child alone in a room obsessively killing characters could be a precursor to some American style school shooting outburst. There are multiple levels to the play and they are designed to foster discussion.
“Theatre Replacement is trying to create a show that adults and game age kids can watch together and then discuss,” she said.
“And they may likely have very different reactions to things taking place. We’ve been able to use our imaginations like never before with this, because you can do that with Minecraft.”
Mine is not an official Minecraft product nor is it affiliated with Mojang. It is touring to London and Cambridge in March 2019.