“Die” Relies on Fate to Tell a Story
The thrill of live theatre is that anything can happen on a given night, and that concept is pushed to the extreme by Die: Roll to Proceed, a comedy running on Friday nights at the East Village’s Red Room.
Written by Joe Kurtz and developed and directed by Christian De Gré, Die follows a man named George during an event-filled night when he decides to abandon free will and put his fate in the hands of a six-sided die.
What George is actually doing, though, is placing his fate in the hands of the audience. At three pivotal moments, an emcee invites a volunteer to step down to the front of the stage and roll the die. Each number corresponds to a distinctly different path that the rest of the show can take.
The show stems from the mission Mind the Art Entertainment, De Gré’s company, to keep the audience engaged. “In an age where digital media is the main source of entertainment, forcing people to attend an event and truly enjoy its impact is one of our primary goals to keep the live performing arts relevant and alive,” he says.
Staging a choose-your-own-adventure story has been uniquely rigorous. Though Die resembles improvisational comedy, where performers change a scene with spur-of-the-moment ideas, it requires almost superhuman preparation. The cast has to master 72 possible permutations of the plot, and they almost never perform the same sequence two nights in a row. (Fans can purchase a script with all potential outcomes at the show.)
“Essentially you have close to six hours of scripted material in a show that runs around an hour,” says De Gré. “The challenge for me was to ensure that every character arc was fulfilled in some way through every possible outcome.”
Kurtz, the playwright, adds, “The hardest things about the rehearsal process were having time to really go over the script and make sure, no matter what the die decided, the play still flowed smoothly.” Kurtz alternates in the role of George with another actor, and he says that memorization was tricky as well: “We might have a similar back and forth in two different permutations, but they’re subtly different and if we don’t get it right, then it doesn’t work for the roll we’re in.”
Philip James, the other actor who plays George, says his greatest hurdle has been “keeping things fresh without losing the timing of the comedy.” Kurtz agrees, adding, “The only time I’m a little disappointed is when it lands on a roll that happened in the previous performance. I’m always excited when a roll pops up that hasn’t happened in a while.”
As the die would have it, one particular outcome seems to emerge more than any other.
“During four years of workshops, the die never landed on ‘George prostitutes himself,’” De Gré says. “And we have landed on prostitution three of five nights so far plus both dress rehearsals!”
“A little prostitution’s never a bad thing, though,” Kurtz says.
Doug Strassler is a critic, reporter, and the editor of the NY IT Awards newsletter
Photo by Rachel Esterday