Hipp gets grant to develop play about gamers

The Hippodrome Theatre on Friday, January 11. The National Endowment for the Arts awarded the theater a $30,000 to develop "Leveling Up."

Suzanna Mars/Correspondent for Gainesville Magazin
Published: Friday, January 25, 2013 at 5:58 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 25, 2013 at 5:58 p.m.

Local play enthusiasts could be watching holograms on stage at the Hippodrome Theatre thanks to a federal grant.

The National Endowment for the Arts awarded the theater a $30,000 grant to develop a production of “Leveling Up,” a play that explores the hazy line between virtual reality and actual reality through the lenses of gaming culture and military drone operations.

Deborah Zoe Laufer, the playwright who wrote the piece, has worked with the Hippodrome on productions for two of her other plays in recent years — “End Days” and “Sirens.”

“I think, for one thing, Deborah Zoe Laufer is one of America’s best new playwrights,” said Mary Hausch, producing director for the Hippodrome. “She connected so well with our audiences.”

Laufer’s new play, which premieres at the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park in February, centers on young gamers engrossed in that virtual world. The distinction between their two realities blurs when one character is recruited to pilot remote missiles because of his gaming skills.

The Hippodrome was one of 832 nonprofits across the U.S. that received an NEA Art Works grant. The NEA evaluated 1,509 eligible applications it received in March 2012 for the grant, according to a news release.

The Hippodrome has been awarded other NEA grants over the years as well, Hausch said. It applied for this grant — for which it originally requested about $60,000 — because it would need extra funding to implement the technology-centric play’s technical elements.

The staff is researching ways it could incorporate technology such as holographic projections and infrared tracking into the production, which is planned for February 2014, she said.

To achieve these kinds of effects, the Hippodrome is partnering with community organizations including the University of Florida Digital Worlds Institute and the UF computer and information science and engineering department.

The theater may also work with local technology incubators to develop innovative on-stage visuals. This production will be different from anything the Hippodrome has previously done, and its use of technology could be groundbreaking for Gainesville and theater in general, she said. Since putting together the grant application last year, technology’s capabilities have already grown.

“Our design staff and artists here are always excited about new challenges,” she said.

Laufer, who lives in Mount Kisco, N.Y., and works full time as a playwright, said she enjoys writing about aspects of culture she finds fascinating.

For “Leveling Up,” the growing trend toward virtual technology was central to her writing. The play is also focused on the generation of people who are graduating college during a bleak economic climate with few job opportunities and trying to cope with their virtual and real-life realities.

She’s excited about the Hippodrome’s ambitions for the technological aspect of the production and is happy to have another chance to work with the theater.

“It really feels like a home,” she said. “There are few theaters I go to where it feels like everybody loves it there, and it really feels that way there.”

Contact Morgan Watkins at 338-3104 or morgan.watkins@gvillesun.com.

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