Uncovering a New Dimension: Director Peter J. Kuo on the Making of In Love and Warcraft (Part One)

By Allie Moss

Madhuri Shekar’s In Love and Warcraft is a play for our times. While there’s no mention of a pandemic, it expertly draws out questions of intimacy and relationship-building in virtual space. The play centers on Evie, a college senior who is navigating a budding in-person romance alongside an online relationship with her long-distance gamer boyfriend, with whom she plays World of Warcraft. By rehearsing and presenting the production on Zoom, life mirrors art as six of A.C.T.’s MFA actors are tasked with reaching through the screen to create deep connections. Peter J. Kuo, the production’s director, is profoundly aware of this overlap. “It’s not just that [the show] translates well into the online medium,” he says. “It actually shows that internet relationships have meaning and are palpable.” 

Peter J. Kuo. Photo Courtesy of Peter J. Kuo.

This play resonates for Kuo in part because he has personal experience building relationships over the internet. “My main introduction to the internet was through an online game,” Kuo says. “That’s where I made some of my early friendships.” And later, when he started making YouTube videos, online was where Kuo found a strong sense of community. “The audience members and fellow content creators became a community of friends from around the world, and we would Tinychat (the Zoom before Zoom) late into the night,” Kuo writes in an essay on Howlround. “To this day, I annually vacation in person with these friends.” 

Even though virtual relationships were a big part of his life, Kuo kept his online world separate from his IRL (in real life) theatrical career for a long time. “Theater values the ‘in-person-ness'; it’s all about in-person creation and experience, and so in a certain way, I think that part of my life and culture didn’t mesh well with theater.” However, he has noticed a shift now that everything, theater included, has been forced to move online. “Right now, it feels like because of the pandemic, things are converging, and those skills are coming together.”

And while some elements of creating a play on Zoom are very different, much remains the same. As Kuo and the cast think about how to make the two-dimensional screen feel like a three-dimensional space, they use the tools of theatricality. Kuo thinks about how our brains make patterns and tries to use those techniques to guide the audience’s attention so they can follow the story—which sounds remarkably like directing live, in-person theater. He also emphasizes the importance of encouraging actors to listen deeply to their scene partners, especially because they aren’t able to have the usual eye contact that is often foundational for building a relationship between characters.

This is part one of a two-part interview. Check back next week for more! To catch a performance of In Love and Warcraft directed by Kuo, click here

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