Eddie Kim ’00
“We’re doing this to keep the classics alive,” says Kim, whose theater company is made up entirely of himself and his students.

Few people would say that William Butler Yeats and World of Warcraft have anything in common. One is a 20th-century poet; the other is a video game. But a 6-foot PVC cube brought the two together—and inspired Eddie Kim ’00 to start a unique theater company. 

It all began in 2007, when Kim took part in the Tiny Theater Festival in Brooklyn, N.Y. For this annual event, every piece has to be performed in a hollow cube made from plastic tubes on an otherwise empty stage. “I decided to stage a performance using a video game,” he says, “so that I could have whatever landscape I wanted, and however big of a world I wanted, within this tiny cube.”

Kim—a theater teacher at Pierrepont School in Westport, Conn.—recruited two of his students to help. They chose Cathleen ni Houlihan, by Yeats and Lady Gregory, and used characters from World of Warcraft to tell the story. 

Sitting at a small table with laptops, the students read the play aloud while reenacting the plot through the video game and projecting the action onto a sheet hanging from the cube. The performance was so well-received that Kim set out to tell more stories using video games. He started a theater company, EK Theater, made up entirely of himself and his students. Its tagline: “Retelling classical stories through acts of digital puppetry.” 

Grand Theft Ovid
At laptops, students reenact a Poe story through the BioShock Infinite video game and project the action.

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. But 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.