PORTLAND: Role Playing on the Stage
A few months ago I backed a Kickstarter campaign for the Cleveland High School PTA. The Portland-area school was getting ready to put on an original play that was a prequel to Paizo Publishing’s current Pathfinder Adventure Path—Hell’s Rebels.
Let that sink in a moment . . . a high school putting on an original play based on the characters and situations from an RPG adventure. And apparently this wasn’t their first time doing such a thing. They’d also done original productions based on Pathfinder material in 2009 and 2011.
THIS was the kind of creativity I wanted to support, so I backed the Kickstarter at a level that got me a ticket to one of the performances.
Well, that performance was the weekend after Thanksgiving. So after taking a day to fully digest the turkey and assorted dressings, side dishes, and desserts, I headed south to Portland to see what this group of student thespians could do.
The answer turned out to be: They could do quite A LOT!
First of all, rather than being performed in a standard high school auditorium, Night of Ashes was being produced in the beautiful Winningstad Theater, part of the Portland’5 Center for the Arts. And the show definitely deserved to be performed in such fancy surroundings.
My quick review is that the show was terrific—entertaining and definitely steeped in the source material. The actors were solid and handled some very difficult situations (not to mention concepts) skillfully, including several full-stage, dozen-performer fight scenes. If it was still running, I’d suggest you go see it for yourself.
That’s not to say that it didn’t have some challenges. The world of Golarion is a complicated place that, like any long-lived RPG setting, is filled with locations, cultures, characters, religions, and social mores that have been explored in depth in game products, comics, and fiction. In other words, there’s A LOT to know and communicate if you’re going to get it right. That’s tough on the actors, and even tougher on the non-gamer members of the audience. Night of Ashes is filled with proper names, Gods, place names, and other details that would be overwhelming if they forced the audience to dwell on them. Thankfully, the production treated them just the right way—as background information, details that are fun Easter eggs for the initiated, but easily digested concepts for those new to the setting.
I said before that the fight scenes were skillfully done, and that is probably understating it. They were fully choreographed pieces where every character had a sensible course of action, reaction, and dramatic conflict. That actually is where the problem came in. You could watch any of the characters throughout the whole of the fight scene and feel fully engaged in the story. But, of course, some characters were more important than others, and some actions had major impacts on the story . . . and if you were too busy watching the sideline characters have their fight, you’d miss the important plot development that came out of the main character’s fight. At least once I had to ask the folks around me what the important take-away was because I’d picked the wrong character to follow during the fight.
Still, I think it says a lot about the show that my two biggest “complaints” are that they might have gotten the details TOO right, and that the fight scenes were TOO WELL choreographed.
Bravo to the Cleveland High School drama squad for putting on a show that was absolutely worth driving three hours to see! I hope that, based on their past record, I’ll have the chance to come down again in 2018 to see a NEW Pathfider-themed production. And if you live in the Pacific Northwest, or want to plan a trip out here . . . you might want to pencil it onto your calendars, too.