A quick introduction to Robbie Taylor Hunt: AIRLOCK theatre
I’ve been playing Dungeons & Dragons for about a year. I came to it through CollegeHumour’s Dimension20, where comedians play in seasons of epic, ridiculous, accessible campaigns. The show also led me to the joyful Not Another D&D Podcast with some of the same team. I was struck by how filled with heart, humour and fun they were, but also how easily and expertly queerness was interwoven into the fabric of the games. Diverse, complex, well-rounded LGBTQIA+ characters were everywhere, effortlessly. After all, in a fantasy world where goblins roam free and anything is possible, why invent homophobia?
I’ve been indoctrinating anyone I can into playing D&D ever since. Honestly, as someone working in theatre, I think all theatre-makers should be playing it. During a session, you have to collaboratively tell stories, build and develop characters, quickly respond to dramatic events, make your friends laugh, work as a team, and react truthfully to the situation you’re in.
Firstly, these are all skills that we love to see in a rehearsal room.
Secondly, when else do we ever get to just play like that?
Considering we work in a creative industry I think it’s rare that we ever get to be creative solely for fun. Perhaps because we made our creative passions into our jobs!
The unbridled delight of getting to let your imagination run wild is such a rare thing, and something I think we need a lot more of. This is true as well, of course, for people working outside of creative professions; we all need some creativity and playtime in our lives.
With this stewing in my mind, it’s hardly a surprise that I was very excited to learn about Game Play Festival. A weekend of games (roleplaying, video and board) in a theatre? Sign me up. I loved the focus on young people and their families, and that participants could enjoy exploring the weird and wonderful delights of gaming within a theatre setting. We’re always talking about wanting to engage young people in theatre, and The Place is really delivering. When I saw that they were looking for commissions for brand new game-based theatre pieces to be developed for Game Play Festival 2021, I was incredibly keen to apply, and was thrilled to be accepted for one of the slots.
I knew that I wanted to explore queer themes in the commissioned game piece. Partly because I felt confident from Dimension20, Not Another D&D Podcast and my own campaigns that roleplaying games were a safe space for these things, but also because I’ve been making queer-based work for years with the theatre company I’m a part of, AIRLOCK.
how we love by Annette Brook (VAULT Festival 2020)
However, I’ve also always thought a lot about how you can really engage cisgender, heterosexual people in the experiences of the LGBTQIA+ community. Even those who understand our experiences in academic terms, struggle to comprehend how it feels to grow up as queer, and the deep and complex implications it can have on our lives. Theatre is a perfect place to explore queerness because theatre makes people feel, sympathise, understand and listen, and I wondered about the new ways that a game-based piece could further this.
When you play a character in roleplaying games, you really want them to survive and thrive, you live in their shoes, and you feel connected to them in a way that you may not always feel connected to a character on stage.
Additionally, I’ve thought about wanting the game to be comfortable and playable for LGBTQIA+ young people, and realised that being explicit in the queerness could cause it to be too personal and therefore uncomfortable for some.
With these things in mind, we’re currently grappling with how to make a game exploring the core feelings and experiences of queerness, without it ever being explicitly referenced. Queer people grapple with our identities in a unique way, and often go through phases of hiding who we are, and most of us have to go through the fraught process of ‘coming out’. What do these experiences look like, and feel like, within a roleplaying game’s dystopian or fantasy setting? How can we get audiences grappling with these things in a safe, creative, empathetic way?
Luckily, I’m not alone in trying to work this all out. AIRLOCK has a wonderful team and has worked with brilliant collaborators over the years, and I know this is going to be a well-supported, group-driven venture. I’m thrilled to be working closely with AIRLOCK colleague and wonderful person Rosanna Suppa, considering her experience in making queer work and in game-based performance at the West End’s Crystal Maze.
I’m excited to get to playtest the game with young people, new gamers, and expert gamers. I hope people share their experiences with us about what they want from queer games, what they feel is missing, and what they’ve seen work and not work in the past. Please get in touch with us on social media and have a chat if you’d like to, we’re keen to hear it. There’s lots for us to think about and learn.
For now, I guess the best thing for us to do is to play lots more Dungeons & Dragons.
Sigh, what a shame.
Robbie Taylor Hunt