“D-Pad” brings two virtual worlds together in one show


Less than a month ago, Theatre Exile—the nonprofit theater company dedicated to enhancing the cultural experiences of Philadelphians— premiered the first virtual show of their 2020-21 season. Jeremy Gable’s “D-Pad” explores the world of independent gaming through the lens of a female developer, and interestingly enough, the digitally-focused show has become the theatre’s maiden venture into virtual theatre. To make this happen, Exile partnered up with one well-known game studio and utilized some of their own creative abilities to make the world of gamin come alive for audiences.

The release states that “D-Pad” was first introduced in 2015 during Studio X-hibition, Theatre Exile’s new play development program that produces live readings of local playwriters’ scripts while they are in progress. “D-Pad” is also part of Philadelphia-based playwright Gable’s “Glass Ceiling Series,” an ongoing collection of plays about strong, complex women finding success in industries typically dominated by men.

Ang Bey. Provided

The show was brought to fruition through Gable’s own efforts in the gaming field. The playwright has had his hand in the gaming world for some time, and has even created “140: A Twitter Performance” and produced the video game adaptation of his play “Watch Me Jump,” a finalist for the Excellence in Narrative Award at the 2019 Independent Games Festival. Both of those productions had their premiere on Twitter.

“Adapting ‘D-Pad’ to a virtual production felt like a natural progression of the story’s setting. There are development teams who spend years making a game and never meet in person,” Gable said in a statement. “This year has proven that art can be created with people from completely different parts of the globe. Putting each of the characters in physically separate spaces has added an interesting new dimension to the script.”

The production follows the lead character, Alex, played by actor Ang Bey, as she finds herself having to face a series of different obstacles from production delays, self-doubt, and a rabid fan base. The official description of the show reads: During the course of the play, Alex slowly separates herself from family and cuts herself off from friends — a means of coping as she struggles to navigate the misogyny of gaming culture and finds herself in a state of isolation.

That theme of isolation rings true now more than ever and is explored through the vibrant world of gaming.

The show, which runs for 90 minutes premiered on Dec. 2 and due to popularity, has been extended for an additional run, so Philadelphians will have the chance to view the production past the original 16-show slot. The world premiere stream of Theatre Exile’s virtual production “D-Pad” has been extended until Dec. 20, adding eight shows at times friendly for all time zones. Specifically adapted for a virtual presentation, the show can be enjoyed in the comfort of your home on a smart TV, laptop, or tablet, following suit to the video gaming world that the plot mimics.

“’D-Pad’ was the play that gave us confidence to know that we could do a season under these unusual circumstances,” said Deborah Block, Producing Artistic Director at Theatre Exile in a statement. “The online conversations between the characters in D-Pad are organic, so it won’t feel like a stage play that was unnaturally put behind a screen. The themes of isolation and friendship are incredibly resonant right now. I believe that we need stories, more than ever, as a guidepost as we navigate these confusing times.”

Theatre Exile has additional plans to premiere more shows virtually, but there was a lot more that went into this specific production to help bring the work to life on screen.

Michael Doherty. Provided

To make this virtual production truly one of a kind, Theatre Exile has partnered with Drexel’s Entrepreneurial Game Studio to ensure an elevated digital viewing experience exploring the gaming industry. The EGS is a creative and experimental game development studio and publisher focused on developing the next generation of leaders in the game industry, and the goal of this organization is to “provide a safe and encouraging environment for students to become entrepreneurs, by assisting them in developing and commercializing their games.” They used their mission to help provide a format for Philly’s own experimental theatre a way to showcase an important message through gaming. According to the release, the staff at Theatre Exile is utilizing technology including customized green screen backdrops, asynchronous filming of scenes to create a cohesive theatrical experience, and the HD-compatible PatronManager viewing platform to bring audiences in on an innovative and creative show.

Directed by California-born but Philadelphia-based director Brey Ann Barrett, and Theatre Exile’s Interim Associate Artistic Director, “D-Pad” will also feature a cast of talented local actors including Ang Bey, Paloma Irizarry, Anthony Martinez-Briggs, and Michael Doherty. If you’re interested in checking the show out, single show tickets are $15 during previews, $45 for opening night, and $25 for the run of show. Tickets may be purchased online, or by calling 215-218-4022.