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Broadway Actors Love 'Rocket League,' 'Ori And The Blind Forest,' Escapism

Jessica Jones and theatrical actor Alex Boniello on modern actors' obsession with gaming.

Actors on Broadway are known for a lot of things. No, we don't all sing everywhere we go, and no, we probably can't get you tickets to Hamilton. What may come as a big surprise is that the Broadway actors' community has a small and incredibly passionate group who are obsessed with all things gaming.

This past year, I found myself engrossed in the crazy world of performing on Broadway. During that time, I became fascinated by what links gamers and actors together, and how my life of performing and playing games is heavily influenced by the communities around me.

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My name is Alex Boniello, and I'm an actor. It's extremely likely that you have no idea who I am, and that's cool. If you watched Marvel's Jessica Jones, you totally saw me piss my pants at the hands of Kilgrave. Like a lot of actors will tell you, at my core, I'm a guy who needs to tell stories.

For me, games satisfy that need in a strange and nuanced way. Sure, players are working within the confines and structure of the world that the developers set forth, but we get to be the central character and relate to the story on a uniquely personal and emotional level. You just don't get that exact same experience by consuming most other forms of media.

At first glance, it might not seem like games and acting scratch the same itch, but as performers, we get the same types of confines and parameters that are found in games. Rather than the limitations given by a developer, we have the limitations of the script and the needs of the director and the production. We get to be the creative vessel that tells the story. I don't think it's that much of a stretch to make the correlation here.

In February 2015, I joined the cast of an off-Broadway musical about superheroes living in Brooklyn called Brooklynite. It was a hoot, complete with spandex and superpowers. It was here that I met fellow actor (and, full disclosure, now friend) Matt Doyle.

I knew Matt from around the business. He had recently starred as the lead role in The Book of Mormon, so I already expected to respect him. What I didn't expect was to see him reading an article on his phone analyzing the nuances of Ori and the Blind Forest. Naturally, I assaulted Matt with questions about his thoughts on the game. I was thrilled to see him light up with equal level and enthusiasm. So I of course brought up how games could be the thing that links us to performing.

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Header and Ori And The Blind Forest screens courtesy of xxx

He brought up his addiction to escapism and recognized it as such. We agreed that it wasn't far off from the addiction that comes along with stepping out on a stage.

"I think I'm addicted to escapism. Whether it's a video game, a comic, or a Broadway show, if I'm taken on a journey that I don't want to end, it's the greatest feeling in the world. I think Broadway geeks and gamers have a lot in common. These are small, passionate communities that live for the next great thing in their world," he told me.

Matt and I remained close after Brooklynite closed, connected by our passion for games and he was the one that told me there were more of us in the Broadway community. I pictured them as cloaked, meeting underneath a train station or something.

You may know Andy Mientus as the Pied Piper on CW's The Flash. With one Twitter direct message, I learned a two things about Andy. Firstly, Matt reached out to him and told him that we should be friends, meaning he's probably one of those mystical Broadway video game fans I heard about, and secondly, he was offering me a job. Frankly, these are both two great reasons for wanting to be friends with someone.

As Andy and I got closer and worked together on a show out in Los Angeles, we started discussing why we love games. He echoed my thoughts on storytelling.

"I think when you take the storytelling of gaming seriously and start to unpack what makes that long-form, interactive storytelling so meaningful, it really breaks open the possibilities of what storytelling can be," he said. "Theater is a form that can be very literal or very abstracted or anything in between, and as an actor you are asked to jump between those styles often. I'm sure that outside-the-box thinking I learned from watching gaming stories has allowed me to be more flexible creatively."

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Andy is openly bisexual, and recently married the love of his life, who is also a man. As I looked around at the people attending his wedding, I saw friends from our Broadway community, which included people who were white, black, gay, straight, multiethnic, bisexual, and trans. It made me appreciate the community that I had found, but also made me consider that I might've been hunting for a community more closely than I realized, in both games and in performing.

"I think a lot of strong communities form in the face of ignorance and ridicule," Andy said. "We find our own to protect us from the ones who make fun of us (or worse) and so I think actors or queer people or even gamers (I happen to be all 3) create a lexicon and culture that is purposefully exclusive."

No one knows more about community than Daniel N. Durant, my partner and Deaf cast mate from Spring Awakening on Broadway, where we played the role of Moritz together. He used American Sign Language (ASL) to tell the character's story and I provided the voice, speaking, and singing for him. I remember being intimidated the first day I met Daniel, since I had no idea how to use ASL. I was pleasantly surprised when he charged right up to me, phone in hand, and typed into it.

"I was just told that you love video games too!"

As we got closer and I started to learn ASL, Daniel taught me about his community. The Deaf community is a tight knit one, filled with culture, slang words, and passion for their language. I asked Daniel how he felt about Broadway, gaming, and the Deaf community coming together.

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"The gaming world gives you a sense of community," he told me. "Being a person who is Deaf, it was so crucial for me to get connected with other gamers. Starting off in the mainstream environment meant I was often isolated and found it difficult to relate to my hearing peers. When I connected with the gaming community I felt a sense of belonging."

Above: The author and Daniel, performing together.

Games bridged the gap between Daniel and I. We connected over them initially, and during the run of the show, played them backstage together frequently. Rocket League became our game. There was no trash talking, no distracting one another with conversation. We were just two different people doing what we loved: playing games, and performing.

After all these discussions with friends, and stewing over why I felt the need to play games and act, I really was surprised to learn just how much the idea of a community meant to me. It is, after all, the best part about being involved in a profession or a hobby. You have "your people."

I had a chat once with theater nerd Cliff Bleszinski about this topic, and he left me with this:

"When I moved to Southern California after the loss of my father when I was fifteen years old I had a horrible time trying to fit in. It was only when I joined the drama department and started acting in plays that I found my crew. From gaming to theater it's all narrative, when it comes down to it."

It's simplistically beautiful. It's why I act. It's why I play games. And I guess it's what makes life interesting.