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Theatre Exile’s timely play about isolation and gaming culture kicks off its first virtual season

The South Philly theatre company's "D-Pad" follows the journey of a game developer trying to finish building her game. Entrepreneurial Game Studio's Frank Lee advised on tech and context.

Ang Bey plays Alex in Theatre Exile's "D-Pad." (Courtesy photo)

For the first virtual performance in its history, South Philly theatre company Theatre Exile will present “D-Pad,” a production following a game developer’s journey in the independent gaming scene.

Actress Ang Bey plays Alex, a young woman in the process of creating a game in a sometimes misogynistic gaming culture that eventually causes her to isolate herself from friends and family. The theme of isolation are timely during a year in which society has been separated by a public health crisis.

Playwright Jeremy Gable originally created the idea for “D-Pad” in 2014. Given its subject matter of online gaming, Gable said the surge in gaming during the pandemic gave its story an added significance.

“The pandemic was the impetus for adapting this work into a virtual format, and the way that games like [Nintendo’s] Animal Crossing and [Mediatonic’s] Fall Guys skyrocketed in popularity during the pandemic has only made the story more relevant,” he said.

With the pandemic changing the way artists and creative talents share their work, Theatre Exile’s producing artistic director, Deborah Block, wasn’t even sure if the company would have a season at all. After much discussion with her team, Theatre Exile decided to proceed because of a responsibility members of the organization felt as artists to help others “navigate the world.”

Theatre Exile’s “D-Pad.” (Courtesy image)

“D-Pad” features online conversations between characters that were designed to emulate the organic conversations gamers have with one another and add a component that works well with a virtual stage play. Block is optimistic that the play’s themes can connect with an audience of viewers that are trying to navigate the pandemic in different ways.

“The themes of isolation and friendship are incredibly resonant right now,” she said. “I believe that we need stories, more than ever, as a guidepost as we navigate these confusing times.”

Drexel University professor Frank Lee leads the college’s Entrepreneurial Game Studio (EGS) and consulted with Block and “D-Pad” Director Brey Ann Barrett for their production. Lee was already familiar with playwright Gable, a nominee at the internationally renowned Independent Game Festival during the same time Lee’s students were nominated for best student game.

“The main help that I provided [was] in helping to connect them with actual young people, alumni of EGS, who have gone through the same experience of trying to start their own game company,” Lee said. “The former students included Erin Truesdell, Arianna Gass and Tom Sharpe. I felt their story and especially their proximity to the story of the protagonist of the play might help them provide more, richer context to their production.”

In addition to providing perspectives on the gaming industry, Barrett said the EGS alumni also offered guidance on how to virtually stream a performance via technology used by Twitch and YouTube streamers.

“D-Pad’s” 16-show ticketed run begins on Dec. 2 and runs through Dec. 13.

Michael Butler is a 2020-2022 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Lenfest Institute for Journalism.
Companies: Drexel University

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