Why Critical Role is the Future of Theatre

The Cast of Critical Role

Theatre is a topic very close to my heart for many reasons, not the least of those being that I have poured a lot of time and thought into it. It was my first passion when I was old enough to have my own passions, and my love for the craft has never died.

I haven’t been to the theatre in years.

It isn’t because I have no desire to go, of course. I love seeing plays, even bad ones. I love sitting in those uncomfortable seats, chatting with friends about the show in the lobby during intermission, and feeling the energy of the crowd gathered all with one united purpose – to watch this show. No, I stopped going to the theatre because the price of tickets is just, as they say, too damn high.

So what’s a person to do?

Take matters into your own hands, that’s what.

Art Finds a Way

There will always be people finding ways to tell their stories to others; it’s just a fact. I remember seeing a piece of the Berlin Wall once in a museum in Prague, and it was covered in vibrant colors and graffiti because some people will always refuse to listen when told to keep quiet (and thank heavens for that). That’s who we are, it’s a part of us, a part of being human. Some of just have to tell stories or make art.

Right now on twitch.tv/criticalrole a team of nerdy-ass voice actors get together every week to play Dungeons and Dragons (DnD) for a live audience. I could talk at length here about why I love DnD and see it as a great tool to foster community storytelling – but I’ll leave that for another post. What they are doing is so much more than just playing a game. They are producing a weekly long-form improvised show with DnD as the format, and somehow it’s not just working but thriving.

Their kickstarter project to create an animated series based on their first campaign racked up record-breaking donations. Their channel is continuing to grow by adding content such as a draw-along show (Pub Draw with Babs Tarr), a let’s play series (Travis Willingham’s Yeehaw Game Ranch) that somehow also includes a puppet show, and an interview show (Between the Sheets, which has already had guests such as Amanda Palmer grace the channel). They are creating an entire subculture, with a fanbase hungrily lapping up new content while also producing an incredible array of fan-made art inspired by the show.

There was a time, not long ago, that I would have believed that the internet was at least partly to blame for the decline of live theatre. Realistically the process probably began much earlier than that, with movies and television, but the internet seemed to have the power to distract and entertain almost indefinitely. Why even go to the theatre? You can experience so much now without ever leaving your desk chair. It turns out, though, that people crave that experience. It just isn’t the same, experiencing a second-hand story. We want to be there, to be a part of something unique and transient that will never happen again the same way. When turning to the old forms of theatre, more and more they are being found wanting when it comes to providing the real connections they should. Just another art form for the elite.

The cast of critical role has taken ownership of their story, and the people have spoken – we want more. More stories for us, by us, dealing with issues we care about and without a prohibitive price tag. Will you answer the call?

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