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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.