Phones are unwelcome interlopers in most theaters these days, but for "FRAY," a dance show making its world premiere at Stanford Live, audience members are actually encouraged to play on their phones — before the performance starts, at least — because it's part of the show.
"FRAY," which takes place May 26-27, blends elements of ballet and hip-hop in the story of two brothers, Tullio and Ziya, whose tight bond is further strengthened as they grow up playing video games together and begin to develop games of their own. But their relationship is threatened when Ziya falls prey to both dark external forces and inner demons.
A mobile game, called FRAY Jam, will help immerse audience members in the brothers' story by allowing them to play a game that Tullio and Ziya create in the show. In the game, players step into the role of Tullio, who has to learn choreography presented to him by "challenger rats" and keep to the beat of the music. Audiences can play the game prior to the show.
In addition to the mobile game, the theme of gaming is interwoven into the show through the use of large-screen visuals onstage.
"FRAY" is the second original show by CandyBomber Productions, a San Francisco-based company that aims to bring together dance, music and the visual arts in its performances.
Kate Duhamel, founder and creative director of CandyBomber Productions, began developing the show with a fellow dancer who had grown up with a fondness for video games. The show was created over a couple years in about three phases, Duhamel said, with several different groups of dancers helping to develop the choreography. "FRAY" also features original music.
Many members of the creative team also worked on CandyBomber Productions' first show, "FURY," a multimedia dance performance inspired by the movie "Mad Max: Fury Road."
Duhamel said that the idea of incorporating video games into "FRAY" initially offered a way to explore the story's darker aspects, but quickly became an essential component for the show.
"As I got deeper into writing the story, the video game element became more and more important and central to what's going on between the two characters in the story. The younger brother comes to believe that the video game is like a superpower that he has to stay connected to his older brother and to ultimately give his brother a reason and a path back to health," Duhamel said.
The mobile game is not where the gaming element ends, either. Duhamel is working with game developer Herobeat Studios, based in Barcelona, Spain, on developing a PC game that's a full version of a project the brothers work on in the show. The PC game is still under development.
"We landed with making a PC game because it's a very artistic and story-driven project. ... The idea is that as a person engaging with the FRAY project, you can see the story on stage and you can participate in the story as a player in the video game, to really try to put you in the shoes of the character. (You're) facing challenges through dance, and you acquire energy through dancing."
The PC game, also called FRAY, will have four levels, and the player's ultimate objective is to help their brother see that he has a choice to return himself to health.
Though video games are a major element of "FRAY," producing a game was not the show's goal, Duhamel noted. Rather, video games are used primarily as a storytelling tool that highlights the connection between characters.
"The reason we have this video game aspect of the project is because it's very much very important to the two characters. So it came out of the story, as opposed to the desire to be a video game," Duhamel said.
The idea of connection and communication is central to "FRAY," with a story that's relatable not only for gamers or dance fans, Duhamel said, but also for the many people who struggle when they find a close relationship tested.
"The story is a real story. It's about loving someone who is making choices that are not good for themselves and what is it that we can really do to love someone that we could be losing? And so what I hope people take from the story is a sense of connection to others who have that experience ...
"I hope it prompts conversation and reflection about that and a sense of a connection that there's so many of us sharing this challenge in life, and that people feel a sense of hope about what they can do and feel inspired by that," Duhamel said.
Stanford Live presents CandyBomber Productions in the world premiere of FRAY May 26 and 27 at Bing Studio, Stanford. Tickets are $45. The company will also perform the show June 4 and 5 at The Midway in San Francisco. For more information, visit live.stanford.edu.