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OSF, The Civilians team up on interactive theatrical experience

Kyla Jeanne Butts, who plays Sabine, and her friend Jonas (Christon Andell) star in "Black Feminist Video Game." The play is a mashup of live performance, video game design, and online interaction. Screenshot courtesy of The Civilians.
In "Black Feminist Video Game," Nicole (Starr Kirkland) blows a kiss to Jonas (Christon Andell). Premiering May 11 via OSF, the play is a mashup of live performance, video game design, and online interaction. Screenshot courtesy of The Civilians.

Tech expertise and artistic innovation combine in a groundbreaking online theatrical experience when the Oregon Shakespeare Festival presents The Civilians’ “Black Feminist Video Game” live May 11-16 and on-demand May 17-23.

Live performances will be given nightly at 6:30 p.m., and the on-demand stream will be available via the festival’s website as part of OSF’s O! virtual programming initiative. Tickets at $10 are available at osfashland.org.

Written by Darrel Alejandro Holnes, a former member of The Civilians’ R&D Group, where the play was first developed, “Black Feminist Video Game” is directed by Victoria Collado and features an original video game created by Che Rose and Jocelyn Short of Cookout Games.

Holnes is an award-winning Panamanian-American writer, performer and educator. Collado, a Miami-born Cuban-American, lives and works in New York City.

The Civilians, founded in 2001, makes new theater at the intersection of art and real life. Its signature work is “investigative theater,” projects created through field research, community collaborations and other methods of in-depth inquiry.

The Civilians has participated in several RAM Next Wave Festivals, has been produced at many major regional and Off-Broadway theaters and was the first theater company to be artist-in-residence at The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

OSF is one of several organizations nationwide collaborating to premiere the work, following an initial presentation by The Civilians that began April 27 and runs through May 9.

Also participating are 59E59 Theaters’ Plays in Place program of NYC; Center Theatre Group, a Los Angeles-based company that launched a multi-media digital platform in 2020; and co-commissioner Williams Center for the Arts at Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania.

The play centers on Jonas, a biracial teenager with autism, who broadcasts all aspects of his life online, including a disastrous first date with his crush, Nicole.

Desperate to regain her affections, he dusts off a long-ignored gift from his mother, a classic 2D Black feminist video game, hoping that it will grant him the key to winning her back.

But Jonas soon discovers that, with only the Game Master and his friend, Sabine, to guide him, he must confront his own misperceptions of the women in his (real) life or risk losing not only the game but also his first chance at love.

In this mashup of live performance, video game design and online interaction, Jonas and Sabine stream their play, video chat with each other, and find their path through the game together. Along the way, at-home viewers will help (or hinder!) their progress by responding in real time to the choices they make.

“I think of the video game space as a place of people’s wildest imaginations,” said playwright Holnes, who made his New York debut with “Black Feminist Video Game.”

“Gaming has taught me that I am not the narrative projected onto me,” he said. “I am the free will I exercise. I am HOW I play the game, not the character I am assigned.”

The play asks questions about love, how people can be better allies, “and why Black feminism can set us all free,” he said.

The cast includes Christon Andell as Jonas, Kyla Jeanne Butts as Sabine, Starr Kirkland as Nicole, Holnes as DJ/Hype Person and other voices, Constance Fields as Mother, Phillip Patrick Wright as Mark, Michael Diamond as Hans, Mia Anderson as Marguerite, and Brandiss LaShai Seward as Audre Lorde.

The Civilians worked with members of the autistic community and neurodivergent members within the company of the show to develop “Black Feminist Video Game.” The show is intended for audiences ages 16 and up.