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.