Mega Monster Battle Arena™

Context

In 2009, the Westland muni­cip­al­ity cel­eb­rated its fifth anniversary. Dario Fo — renowned pro­du­cers of music theatre who involve local com­munit­ies in every aspect of their work — was asked to cre­ate a series of operas for the dif­fer­ent towns that make up the muni­cip­al­ity. They would pro­duce eleven works, one each month, which is reflec­ted in the project’s name: 11kernenopera. Each of these operas would address a bit of local his­tory or a top­ical theme.

Brief

Hubbub was asked to par­ti­cip­ate in the cre­ation of an opera for the town of Monster. Dario Fo wanted the piece to have an appeal to young people, so they felt it would have to deal with games cul­ture in some man­ner. There were also sev­eral local groups that we were asked to involve, such as a fireman’s choir and a com­pany that provides aer­ial work platforms.

Process

The core team con­sisted of a game designer from Hubbub, a com­poser — Daniël Hamburger, who was the one to get us involved — and a writer. We star­ted off explor­ing dif­fer­ent sites in Monster, since the show would be per­formed out­doors. We looked at a camp site right behind the dunes of the Monster beach, a town square, and oth­ers. (We would even­tu­ally settle on a marketplace.)

Scouting loc­a­tions in Monster

One of the biggest chal­lenges was to come up with a concept that would accom­mod­ate both a com­pel­ling story and a game-like par­ti­cip­at­ory aspect. For this we sought inspir­a­tion in mar­tial arts movies and ulti­mately arrived at an Enter the Dragon–like setup, which fea­tures a storyline mixed with fight­ing set pieces. The fights would be impro­vised on the basis of game rules. (We also took cues from games like Street Fighter and Pokémon for both story and char­ac­ter design.)

Much of the sub­sequent work for us went into pro­to­typ­ing and playtest­ing the rule­set. We spent sev­eral after­noons with a group of young stu­dents at Dario Fo’s own theatre school. For each ses­sion we brought in a rule­set and played sev­eral matches, fig­ur­ing out a bal­ance between fun-to-play and fun-to-watch. All the matches were recor­ded and ana­lyzed after­wards for improvements.

Young dan­cers in mon­ster out­fits dur­ing a rehearsal

We also worked with the com­poser to fig­ure out a suit­able sys­tem for the adapt­ive music that would accom­pany these scenes, played by a live band. Finally, a cho­reo­grapher was brought in once the rule­set was stable to dress up the per­form­ance with cool-looking mar­tial arts moves.

Outcome

Mega Monster Battle Arena™ was per­formed on 18–20 june 2009. It told the story of Myra and Cassendra, two young female war­ri­ors who par­ti­cip­ate in the tit­u­lar tour­na­ment. What starts as a fun fight for fame turns into a battle for sur­vival once they dis­cover that Masta Rex, the tournament’s host, is up to no good. The piece fea­tured a live band play­ing a rock­ing soundtrack, war­ri­ors who com­mand their mon­sters from aer­ial access plat­form and a loud-mouthed mon­ster choir.

Masta Rex; the vil­lain of the piece

The shows were well-visited by an audi­ence of mixed ages and back­grounds. MMBA was cer­tainly one the most exper­i­mental ones in the 11kernenopera cycle. So much so, that the pos­sib­il­ity of new per­form­ances is in fact being investigated.

Many thanks to Emi Barendse for per­mit­ting us to use some of her photos.