For EK Theater, a 10-minute piece takes 20 to 30 hours to create, from matching plays with games; to building characters; to choreographing, blocking and rehearsing. The theater’s repertoire comprises short and full-length adaptions of plays including, among others, Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart and the myth of Niobe from Ovid’s Metamorphoses. The latter—titled Grand Theft Ovid, after the video game Grand Theft Auto—was part of the 2010 Game Play Festival at The Brick Theater in Brooklyn, and garnered praise in The New York Times as “an impressive feat of engineering, coordination and storytelling.”
Before founding EK Theater, Kim directed traditional plays with live actors, costumes and sets. While producing Cathleen ni Houlihan for the Tiny Theater Festival, for example, he was also directing a more traditional adaptation of the ancient Greek tragedy Medea with Liam O’Rourke ’00. (Kim and O’Rourke first worked together at Amherst, when the two theater and dance majors presented their joint senior thesis, an adaptation of The Tempest.)
In the case of Medea, Kim says, communicating the story was the easy part. The process of hiring a crew and finding a venue and rehearsal space was complicated compared to staging a play using a game. Video game theater brings its own challenges; one is that nonhuman actors can only do so much. “Just like a puppet has a limited amount of action—it’s built to move its mouth, its arm—games are designed with a limited amount of actions,” he says. “You might not be able to shake hands, but maybe you can pass an item to someone else.”
Another challenge for EK Theater is that many people view video games as inherently violent or lacking in educational value. “There aren’t enough people talking about the positive impact games can have,” says Kim, who spent many hours as a teenager playing Street Fighter II and Mortal Kombat in arcades. And, he points out, it’s not as if old stories are always peaceful—Romeo and Juliet depicts war and teen suicide, The Tell-Tale Heart’s narrator commits murder, and Ovid’s Niobe watches her children die. “Students can use games to tell these stories in their own way,” Kim says.
In addition to performing in professional theaters, Kim and his students have traveled to London, Taiwan and numerous U.S. cities to perform and give workshops for students and educators. Students tend to see video game puppetry as an accessible art form, Kim says, and educators see the value in bringing video games into the classroom. Both instances affirm the mission of EK Theater. “We’re doing this,” Kim says, “to keep the classics alive.”
Rachel Rogol covers the arts in the College’s Office of Communications.