From Super Mario Bros in 1993 to the recently released Sonic the Hedgehog, Hollywood’s obsession with video games has spawned dozens of live-action movies based on these popular digital properties. Translating them to the stage, though, has been an entirely different matter.
Until now, that is, as Vancouver’s Theatre Replacement presents MINE, a show inspired by the relationship IRL between the company’s co-artistic director and her son’s obsession with the video game Minecraft.
But this is not merely a re-creation of the worlds inside the best-selling video game. Instead, Vancouver’s Theatre Replacement uses Minecraft as the backdrop for an exploration of the role technology plays in modern parent-child relationships.
“The audience walks into the theatre and sees a video game, but it’s more than what meets the eye,” says 12-year-old Hokuto MacDuff, who goes onto explain that while the actors initially build and act as characters inside Minecraft, they soon find themselves teleporting to different places on the game map to tell stories.
Describing it as a very visual show, with the video game projected on a trio of screens behind the actors, MacDuff’s mom Maiko Yamamoto says those stories are in some way all about mothers and sons.
“The narratives all intersect and mash together with the visuals to tell an overarching story about a son wanting to step forward into his life, into the unknown and to grow up,” she says. “And a mother who desperately wants to hold on to her son and keep him safe.”
Part of the MINE creative team from its inception in 2018 at just ten years old, because Hokuto MacDuff plays himself his “character” continues to evolve as he gets older. “When I’m 13, I can act like I’m 13 and when I’m 14, I can act like I’m 14. Well, you get the idea,” he says. “Because it’s based on real-life, it’s meant to grow with me.”
“The overall lesson is that connection is key,” adds MacDuff. “Stay connected to your mom. Stay connected to your son.”
Framed within the world of Minecraft, it is also about navigating the fears many parents have about the digital age in which we live today. “As a parent, it can feel pretty scary to be raising kids at this time. Lots of unknowns and stigmas,” says Yamamoto.
Featuring a multi-generational cast aged 11 to 47, alongside its key players that include MacDuff, Yamamoto, Conor Wylie and Remy Siu, are four local gamers.
All sharing a love for Minecraft and an interest in theatre, it is a line-up that changes as the show has toured. In this iteration, though, most of the youth are returning from the show’s 2018 presentation. “We have a couple of new youth who are joining the team, which is exciting,” says Yamamoto.
These “youth experts” become an integral part of the show, not only performing but in helping to build the show itself. “The youth gamers live-build all the scenarios for the stories in the game [and] play different characters throughout the show,” explains Yamamoto. “The wonderful thing about Minecraft is that it’s like a common language, so things gel pretty quickly.”
They also assist in localizing the work. “They provide a few local references that would be good to use in the show, which is always fun,” she adds.
But while Yamamoto enjoys working with the young gamers they bring into each show, it is in watching her son on stage across from her that has given Yamamoto the greatest joy. “And I do like playing the game, too,” she says.
For those worried that gameplay might take a backseat to the theatrical aspects of a show like MINE, MacDuff says it is a little complicated. “That is not a simple answer, because the gameplay is the show,” he says. “We live-play and operate the game to create all the parts of the show, all the magical things.”
As for who the target audience is for a show like MINE, MacDuff says it may start with parents of kids who play Minecraft but reaches deeper to include those who enjoy experimental theatre. “And people who are curious about the intersection of technology and videogames and life,” he concludes.
MINE plays The Cultch’s Historic Theatre (1895 Venables St, Vancouver) March 18-22. Visit thecultch.com for tickets and information.