AN INTERVIEW WITH CAMERON MCNARY, AUTHOR OF OF DICE AND MEN
|Script is available (in ebook form) at all major online
retailers, and at Smashwords.
Cameron McNary is the author of Of Dice and Men,
a play in two acts about a group of friends and roleplayers who find
themselves having to cope with some life-changing, real-world
decisions. The show has found some critical acclaim, and even changed
some minds about the roleplaying hobby and the people who play
it.Cameron explains the inspiration for the play in the introduction to
Around my 30th birthday, the following things
- I got married and became a father, and moved out of my
parents' house for the last time.
- I was in a truly stellar production of a truly mediocre
- I realized I had never seen any art about tabletop
roleplaying geeks that was not suffused with self-loathing, if not
- My best friend enlisted in the Marine Reserves, and was
deployed to Iraq.
This left me:
- An adult, all of a sudden, albeit one with all sorts of
- Inspired to write, as only forced participation in bad art
can make one.
- Inspired to correct an oversight.
- All kinds of conflicted... and with something to write
The basic questions I was struggling with are the same one
John Francis is faced with in the play:
how can one be an adult with these goofy, childish hobbies?
How can playing a stupid little game about
wizards and orcs and unicorns mean anything in the face of my best friend
leaving for war?
Why do I play at all,
This play is my answer to those questions.
The first draft came out in one fevered lump:
120+ pages in just under a month, from someone who had never managed to finish
writing even a short play before.
took a couple years of shaping to get it into performable shape, but it was
It never sat quietly
on my hard drive; it was always demanding to be finished.
I don't know if I have more stories to tell,
but I had to tell this one.
Cameron spared some of his time to talk to me about the play and the story that lies behind it.Tell us briefly what is so great about Of Dice and Men.
a real, honest-to-god play about D&D players in their 30s, and what
happens when one of them enlists to go to Iraq. It's the first work of
Gamer Geek Art (that I know of) without a trace of self-loathing in the
humor. It's a play that speaks for our tribe; it's one you can
take your grandmother to, sit her down, and have her *get* why we
game. It repudiates gamer stereotypes, and speaks to a broad,
general audience, as well as to ourselves.
We (Critical Threat
Theatre) premiered it at PAX Prime 2010, in a professional, Equity
production, after a very successful reading at PAX East. If I may
be frank, we blew the doors off the joint. Packed a 550-seat
theatre, turned away too many people to count, just... rocked the
house. It was one of the high points of my artistic career.
play made Tycho's (of Penny Arcade) mom cry, a lot, and then go watch
her son play D&D for the first time ever (at this
), and then apologize to him for the
D&D/fantasy-related rift that had existed in their relationship in
his youth. He wrote about it on the Penny Arcade
. This was also one of the highlights of my
(You can see some video from that production here
.)Why a stage show and not a short story or film? What made you choose this particular medium?
1) I've been working in live theatre for over a decade; it's the medium I know best and am most comfortable with.
I saw a unique opportunity to portray the in-game characters using
direct address that wouldn't work the same way on screen or in a
book. I wanted to show that each gamer's experience of the game
is very different - when you see an in-game world portrayed on film,
it's usually a shared, generic world with the players in fantasy
costume. Having each of the Player Characters come out and
address the audience meant I could play with the audience/actor
relationship (by having Throg try to attack the audience, for example)
in a way that commented on their each of their player's personalities
and relationship to the game. It also meant that when I did portray the
shared imaginative game-space, I could do it in a nonrepresentational
way that I think really captures the joy of tabletop roleplaying - in a
way you'd have a really hard time doing onscreen.
tabletop RPGs are a shared storytelling experience, which means they
ARE theatre, by and for the people playing the game. It
translates so well to the stage because RPGs and plays are really just
different uses of the same medium. If you don't believe me,
roleplay with some actors some time -- generally speaking, we rock it
pretty hard once we grok the concept, because it's what we do, just
with a different set of conventions.
mention that the show is free of geek self-loathing, and how it
repudiates stereotypes, yet one of the best parts of the show (in my
opinion) is the opening of the second act, which starts with one of the
players trying to tell the audience about her character, and the GM is
trying to make her stop. Is there a line where self-loathing becomes
self-parody, and if so, where is it?|
is often rooted in self-loathing in one way or another, and that's not
always a bad thing. Some of the funniest comedy out there is
based on baring one's own self-hatred. But it struck me that
every portrayal I had ever seen of tabletop roleplayers in popular
culture not only featured it in some way, but was usually predicated on
it. Gamers were always the punchline, just because they were
gamers, even in gamer art made by gamers for gamers. That's no
surprise, really; the trope of the cheeto-stained, overweight virgin
with his dice and wizard robe has been internalized in many ways by a
lot of us (myself included). I thought it would be interesting to
see what would happen if I refused to let myself use it -- if I refused
to let any of the humor be based on making fun of the characters simply
because they play D&D, or because they're "geeky". The play
definitely deals with self-loathing -- it's an integral part of the
geek experience, after all -- but the audience is laughing with these
people, not at them.
For example, the laughs in the scene you're
referring to come at the expense of Tara's character Alaya, not Tara
herself. For one thing, the scene is about Alaya (portrayed by
the actress that plays Tara) telling the audience about herself; Tara
is not telling the audience about her Player Character Alaya. For
another, it becomes clear during that scene that not only is Alaya a
completely over-realized, overwrought fantasy cliche, she is
WONDERFULLY over-realized, overwrought fantasy cliche, that Tara loves
and enjoys immensely. And that's infectious: it's hard to come
out of the First Act not liking Tara; it's very hard to come out of
that scene not loving Alaya.
The absolute closest the play
flirts with geek-loathing is at the top of the show, when John Francis
laments living in his mother's basement, and being "the fucking
stereotype of my hobby". But even that's self-aware; a real geek
stereotype wouldn't know he was one. Either way, the play itself
doesn't buy into John Francis's self-pitying bullshit. And it
assumes the audience doesn't buy into it, either.
Are the rights available for anyone to do a production?
rights are available for professional, semi-professional, and academic
productions. The ebook of the script is available at all major online
retailers, and at Smashwords (link
). How has the audience response been so far?
recently got back from watching the opening weekend of the regional
theatre premiere at the Impact Theatre in Berkeley. I was blown
by the audience response, and some of the reviews the play has gotten there have just been stellar. For example:
"If you have ever been a D&D aficionado, get a ticket immediately.
The audience loved it, tittered continuously, laughed loudly, and
applauded uproariously..." -- The Oakland Examiner (link
"Nerd-on-nerd love is something to behold. It’s sweet, it’s smart, it’s
funny – at least it is in Cameron McNary’s sharply etched play Of Dice
and Men..." -- TheaterDogs (link
"Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Of Dice and Men is the ease with
which McNary turns a fantasy game into an all-inclusive metaphor — for
romance, football, the Iraq War, brinksmanship, and the nature of
cliques." -- East Bay Express (link
personal feedback I have gotten from audiences and individual audience
members has also incredibly positive, and gratifying. The
audiences at the shows I went to were incredibly responsive, and the
ovations at the end were really quite impressive for such a small
house. Laughter was consistent, strong, and where I wanted
it. I left Berkeley a very happy playwright.
Has the positive response to the play inspired you to plan any other geek-related projects in the future?
the play was the impetus for my wife Maureen and I to form Critical
Threat Theatre, with a mission to perform "Great Plays. About
Geeks." We're currently reading scripts, trying to figure out
what we want our second project to be. There are plenty of
out there; the "great" part is a little tougher.
In terms of writing something, I'm definitely open to the possibility
of telling another story related to geek culture, but I definitely
want to make sure I have a story to tell. The muse hasn't struck yet, but that doesn't mean she won't.
Thanks for taking the time to tell us about Of Dice And Men, and I wish you the best of luck with it!
Thank you, W.J. It's been a pleasure!
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