Heading into the final weekend of The Oregon Trail, our fearless leader Geordie Broadwater chatted with Broadway World about directing a play based on a video game he grew up with (but could never beat!).
BWW Interview: Take a Trip With the Director of THE OREGON TRAIL, Geordie Broadwater
by Marissa Sblendorio
For anyone who grew up playing the classic computer game "The Oregon Trail" (especially in computer class, and especially if you filled up your wagon with pop stars and classmates you had crushes on), Bekah Brunstetter's ("This Is Us," Be A Good Little Widow) new play THE OREGON TRAIL, is going to hit all the right buttons.
Directed by Geordie Broadwater (The Flies, And to the Republic), the play stars Jane, a 13 year old girl in 1997 who escapes her life by playing "The Oregon Trail" in her high school's computer lab. Audiences get to watch as Jane grows up and moves through her life while simultaneously watching "Then Jane" and her family navigate 1850s frontier life, traveling down the trail, all under the guidance of the all-powerful Voice of the Game.
Since the show is about to enter it's final weekend, BroadwayWorld was able to chat with the show's director, Geordie Broadwater on all things OREGON TRAIL, and how he never could beat the computer game when he was younger. Check it out, below!
So, what is THE OREGON TRAIL about?
It follows a girl in 1997 playing the computer game "The Oregon Trail" in the computer lab of her school and as she plays, we start to follow 13 year old girl in 1848 on the the actual Oregon Trail with her family, traveling from Independence, Missouri to Oregon. And then the play shifts again and the girl in 1997 is fast forwarded through time by the same video game framing device and is in her adult years, living on her sister's couch. The whole time, she's interacting with the game the same way she's been since she was playing it. And then it follows her struggle with life as an adult as you check back in with the other girl and her family on the Oregon Trail.
What drew you to the project?
Well, the first thing is that Bekah Brunstetter is my favorite people to work with and is a playwright that I admire and would direct anything she ever writes. But, also I remember the "The Oregon Trail" very distinctly from my adolescence. It's something that whenever I mention the play to somebody from my generation, all they do is pause and then say, "Wait, like the video game?" Everyone seems to remember it. The second thing is that when you actually read the play or see it, there's this amazing thing where, of course it's very funny because Bekah has this amazing humor, but there's this gut punch of emotionality in the play that, I think, really surprises you. It sort of takes this whimsical, funny framework of the video game and this 13 year old girl and makes this about what we're doing in the universe in this amazing and powerful way.
Were you a fan of the game when you were younger?
Oh yeah. But, I don't remember ever beating it. And now that I've played it a bunch of more as an adult, I beat it all the time. I feel like a real pro!
Did you play it in preparation to direct this?
Yeah. Thank god you can play it online for free, because I don't know how we would have tracked it down, otherwise.
As the director, did you come up with the way the 2-D game was presented in a 3-D stage? Or, was that a collaborative process involving the entire creative team?
It was was certainly a process involving everyone. We've been working on this play together, Bekah and I, for many years, and we never staged it together, only readings and workshops. So, it was actually very daunting to say that well, we actually had to put it up on it's feet. And we discussed using projections and all sorts of techniques, but, the most important thing we kept coming back to was that the characters of the past in the game had real emotional lives and are people we can relate to, as well. So, removing anything that kept us from caring about them was really important. There's actually an interesting thing with the cast, because we've been workshopping this play for three years at least, we've worked with a couple of actors over the course of three years. So, there's some actors that aren't in the show that was owe a great deal to, who helped shaped the roles over the years. And the two of the actors in the show, Laura Ramadei and Emily Louise Perkins, have been a part of this play for the same three years Bekah and I have. It's great to have this sort of history of development in the room and then also we have these fresh perspectives from the other three actors, so they ask all the questions we might have ignored over the past three years.
You're both and actor and a director. Is there one role you prefer over the other?
No. I'd say that acting is like a wonderful, fun vacation from directing. Directing is extremely satisfying, but, for me, it's a lot more work. Acting is lot of work in it's own, but it's invigorating and, in the end, you're responsible for yourself, where in directing your responsible for everything. I always say that when you're directing, if it goes well, it's everyone else's hard work and talent, but if it goes bad, it's completely your fault. There's not one I like more than the over, but they certainly feel very important to me.
Do you think you would ever do both in one production?
I don't know. I don't think I have enough self awareness as a performer to be able to direct myself.
It's 1997. Alone in her computer lab, 13-year-old Jane finds her escape from the awkward throes of puberty by joining her sister and her unattainable high school crush in a covered wagon headed west on "The Oregon Trail." Under the guidance of the all-powerful Voice of the Game, we watch "Then Jane" and her family navigate the deadly perils of 1850s frontier life, while present day Jane navigates the different but all-too-real dangers of high school, college, and eventually adulthood. Jane soon finds herself in her 20s, unemployed and battling an undefinable lifelong depression, even as "Then Jane" continues to face the tribulations of the trail. With nearly two centuries between them, both Janes face hardships that seem impossible to overcome-until they find one another.
Tickets for THE OREGON TRAIL are available by visiting www.faultlinelinetheatre.org.
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