Theatre B fights for love this Valentine's Day with swords, spells and the influence of Q
“Quest for Love” follows a group of fantasy adventurers as they enter a town cursed under a cloud of distrust and hate.
MOORHEAD — Theatre B is rolling the dice on love this weekend with a new production. Literally.
In the spirit of the heart-filled holiday, the local theater troupe is exploring notions of love through the lens of fantasy and role-playing games.
“Quest for Love” follows a group of fantasy adventurers — an elf, a gnome, a barbarian half-orc — as they enter a town cursed under a cloud of distrust and hate.
If that sounds a little like much of America right now, that’s no accident, according to story creator Jacob Hartje.
“They’ve lost their way. They forgot how important unconditional love is. They have all of these insecurities and negative emotions that get in the way,” Hartje says of the doomed villagers that the explorers encounter. “In order to love someone, you have to be brave, stand up for something.”
The project started when Hartje, a Theatre B ensemble member, was tasked with finding something budget-friendly to produce for Valentine’s Day. Since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, Theatre B has been running mostly virtual performances available for people to watch online, a program called B at Home.
He read about 40 plays and thought he could do something better himself. The troupe responded with encouragement and advised him only to do something he was passionate about.
A longtime enthusiast of tabletop games like Dungeons & Dragons, Hartje jumped at the chance for a fantastical take on love.
“I wanted to make something more than just romantic love,” he says. “Familial love. Brotherly love. Communal love. All of these things that people celebrate with more than chocolate and roses.”
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Hartje wanted to underscore the sense of how we can be better when we are united by our commonalities rather than divided by our differences.
“In a world where politicians can prey on separating you from your neighbor, you have to have something to hold onto to overcome this constant state of disarray and duress,” he says.
The two-hour production will be sort of a show within a show as the actors will play human characters taking part in a fantasy game via a Zoom call. As the campaign begins, those individuals will lend voice to their player characters as they head into the village.
The actors helped create their player characters and develop the story, though even they don’t know all of the twists and turns. The randomness of dice rolls will be taken over by viewers voting online for the next development.
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Hartje brings credibility not only as a tabletop gamer, but also having participated in Theatre B’s first online performance, a dramatic reading of the first "X-Men" comic. He not only got into character, but even got into costume, donning Magneto’s helmet to play the villain.
While “Quest for Love” won’t focus on romance, there’s an appearance from Cupid, the arrow-shooting cherub, though Hartje has renamed him Q.
Asked if that could be construed as a reference to the shady figure behind QAnon, the bizarro conspiracy theory collective that helped fuel the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection, Hartje bursts out laughing.
“Oh. Maybe I should rethink this,” he says.
While the direction to find something low-budget was made out of financial concerns, using the device of a fantasy role-playing game allows Hartje and the cast to get creative, using their imagination and inviting the audience to do the same.
“You could say we’re limited, but we looked at the limits and saw what we don’t have, but what we do have. This has been an opportunity,” he says. “I’m really excited to introduce theatergoers to a new game and to introduce gamers to the format of theater.”
Whether viewers come from a theater or gaming background, he hopes they find a common message in the show.
“I hope people walk away making a conscientious choice to harbor love,” he says.
If you go
What: “The Quest for Love”
When: Part 1, 7:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 12; Part 2, 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 13
Where: Broadcast on Theatre B’s Facebook page ; www.facebook.com/TheatreBFargo
Info: This performance is pay what you will; get a pay-what-you-will virtual ticket at theatreb.org/box-office/