Gavin Reub wants to put Gamer Culture (and sub-culture) Front and Center: Umbrella Project in conversation with director of Annex Theatre’s PUNY HUMANS.

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Gavin Reub, director of Puny Humans opening tonight at Annex Theatre, takes us deeper into gamer culture, Comic-Con, and the best way to unwind after journeying into the world Bret Fetzer & Keiko Green have created.

NE: As dramaturgs, we always start with: Why this play now? What are Seattle audiences going to connect to in this play?
GR: Just two weeks ago the Emerald City Comic-Con dominated downtown Seattle. People dressed as their favorite hero/villain/poke-creature and gathered together to celebrate a conglomeration of cultures that, until about a decade ago, had been pretty much ignored in the United States. Like some kind of hyperbolic Michael Chekhov exercise, people could close their eyes, step into their fantasies, and run a muck in a place of comfort.  Video games, movies, and comics are doorways to our imagination.  For many this is the way to find safety, and a new form of identity.

The Con may get some press in Seattle for its costumes and downtown traffic, but it’s what you see when you zoom in that really matters; whole sub-genres and sub-sub-genres of culture whose stories have not only gone untold, but generally ignored. It has been well documented that many people who partake in ‘non-traditional’ cultures are labeled as odd and then left to their oddness, when the reality is that this is how they find solace in their differences from the ‘normal’ world.  People with depression, mental, and other unseen illnesses, are often attracted to comic culture, and are then washed off as ‘another one of the strange’ by the mass perspective.  

Take This is a non-profit that seeks to inform our community about mental health issues, to provide education about mental disorders and mental illness prevention, and to reduce the stigma of mental illness.  This comes from their experience of the ignored diagnosis in gamer culture.

This is also the scene of the famous, and growing “gamergate.”  The tide of female gamers is more than just here, it is up to our neck, and it is beyond time that it was recognized.  Sexism is still ridiculously prevalent in gamer culture, at times being a give-in for the gaming community.  I knew I grew up playing under the incorrect assumption that most players were men.  I still often do.  Women are a classically forgotten facet of nerd/geek/gamer culture, but the light is expanding in attempt to give an equal voice to non-male identifying portions of the community.  For a culture that is so often associated with open choice and flamboyant flag flying due to it’s colorful comic-con showings, there is still a deep-seeded hate that runs through the community.  An anonymous culture that is so riddled with loathing and trolls that abuse has become the norm.  Finally the tide is turning, and these aggressively racist, homophobic, and generally bigoted people are being stood up against.  This play is one of those voices.  

Also, I just don’t want to see another play right now that is about my parents in a living room.

NE: Amen. What has it been like to work with two playwrights, co-authors, on the script?
GR: It was great.  Bret and Keiko are wonderful writers, with unique voices, who came together seamlessly to build this script.  It felt like they started in individual places of inspiration, then formed into a beautiful Voltron of constructive criticism to build a script that is a complex portrait of the changing face of culture, nerdom, and the world.  They became their own critics, voices of reason, and tag team, allowing me to focus on the work I needed to do in tying the whole thing together.

Sometimes I felt like they came together to create one playwright and one dramaturg, working together throughout the process.  It’s nice to be given the gift of perspective when working on a piece of art.  PLUS, we could fit more sub-cultures and references into the play with a two-headed writing team, then any singular nerd could concoct.  It’s our own mini Justice League, methinks.

NE: So, what’s been the biggest surprise for you so far in directing this play?
GR: You know… people say costumes change a play, but I’ve never seen that be so true.  When you are running on a shoe-string budget, a beautiful but sparse set, and a reference laden play, you don’t have a clue what you really have until the first time you see Batman and Joker play Magic: The Gathering against one another, then you TRULY know what beauty is.
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I’ve also been surprised by how excitedly people have clung to this play.  It is obvious there is a deep seeded need for more characters and stories like these.  It’s not just the growing fan-base, either; it’s the late night conversations with actors about which HP house Batman would be in (still a heated debating going about Ravenclaw or Griffindor), the arguments about Pikachu’s selfie skills, and the place of Dragonball amongst the great comics of all time.  Would you rather read Dragonball, or Watchmen?

NE: I’ve yet to read either… sounds like I have some homework before tonight! Any specific recommendations before audiences come to see the show?
GR: I’ve been binge watching Anime.  There is a new Gundam out which is rad. If I were you, however, I’d arrive a half hour early, play some video games, get a drink, and then read the entirety of Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke. Really though, you should plan a week of prep.  This play has so many references that I will honestly buy a drink for someone who gets all of them.  

Monday: Star Wars.  

Tuesday: Dragonball.  
Wednesday: Play Magic with a friend.  
Thursday: Zelda
Friday: Watchmen.  
Saturday: Spirited Away.  
Sunday: Street Fighter.  

​Then you come see the show (maybe after a cup of joe at Ray Gun), and stay to have a drink with the cast.  We will talk for hours.

NE: Afterwards, audiences will want to…
GR: I usually spend the nights after tech going to Cal Anderson with my two light-sabers, a side blaster, bad ass helm, and play this song on repeat while defeating my enemies: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uILUCplfi-M
Kind of like this but with more blasters and hip hop: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=emrSVgJ_x5I

​NE: What’s next for this play?
GR: As our character Gordon says, “It doesn’t matter.  What I’ve said will resonate through this facility, and now . . . the world.” We’re excited to see who this play resonates with and where it might go next.

Puny Humans by Bret Fetzer and Keiko Green opens tonight at Annex Theatre and runs Thursday/Friday/Saturday nights at 7:30pm through May 14, 2016. Buy tickets here.


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