I’m The Hero? This Fringe, Daniel Park says YOU ARE THE HERO

Daniel Park is a happy guy, and he’d like to make you happy too. First, he’ll give you a Sturburst, then he’ll invite you to unwrap it with him, then he’ll give you the chance to save the world. His YOU ARE THE HERO is billed as “one part The Legend of Zelda, one part theater”. Daniel tells Phindie about this engrossing Fringe piece, his obsession with happiness, and his favorite Starburst flavor. [Elixr Coffee, 207 S. Sydenam Street] September 10-19, 2015; fringearts.com/you-are-the-hero.

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Phindie: What’s your favorite Starburst flavor?

Daniel Park: Orange. Without a question.

Phindie: Apart from Starburst, what should audiences expect from YOU ARE THE HERO?

DP: An experience like they’ve never had before. It’s actually worse to go into it with too many expectations, because it’s so not anything most people have seen. I would for sure say expect a lot of “audience interaction” but that doesn’t mean what it usually means. I’d actually love to know how anyone who’s seen even just a small bit of the show answers this question.

Expect the fact that you came to see this show to matter. It literally couldn’t happen otherwise (which makes rehearsal very difficult). Imagine if the Hero never showed up for the journey!

Phindie: How did you come up with the idea for the show?

DP: The seeds of this piece were all living with me for a while before the show actual came into being. My semi-obsession with Happiness came while I was studying abroad in Italy. My interest in sincere audience interaction (audience engagement that actually affects the outcome of the art) came when I saw an early version of Beertown by Dog and Pony DC. And my love for sincerity and adventures and video games came from growing up in the 90s and the rebirth of sincerity in contemporary TV shows like Adventure Time and Steven Universe. Originally I had imagined this piece as a Happiness Carnival or as some sort of adaptation of The Bacchae.

Phindie: How did it develop from that into its current form?

DP: The show first started to take shape while I was part of the Core Company at the Orchard Project up in the Catskills. I knew the basics of wanting to create a piece that centered on finding/allowing Happiness (and how that takes a lot of work) and incorporated the audience in a way that was completely integral to the show. I was inspired by a monologue from Dionysus in ’69 by The Performance Group, where the Messenger tells the audience that they COULD stop the tragedy from happening, but every night they just sit passively by and let it happen. So the first thing I wrote was this really awful monologue where the Ally (at the time called the Protagonist) shamed the audience for not doing anything to save the world. That part of the show dropped away really quickly, because who wants to be scolded during a performance?

Phindie: Er, no one? 

DP: Right. What I ended up realizing was that I wanted to very literally use the Hero’s Journey as the basic plot for the show, in a meta-theatrical way. While I was researching that in mediums I was familiar with (The Legend of Zelda and Adventure Time) I also happened to stumble on Reality Is Broken by Jane McGonical. That’s when the idea of video game/theater hybridization started to fascinate me. My work already focuses so much on empowering the audience, and games give you the opportunity to take action in a fictional world, so why not blend the two together?

Phindie: Why not indeed.

DP: From there I slowly but surely shared bits and pieces of the show over the next six months. I would say it was in February or March, with only about a third of the show written, that the opportunity to organize a tour for myself about a month-and-a-half later appeared. I foolishly decided to take the chance, and banged out a first draft of the show, rehearsed it, previewed in Philly, then went to Chicago, Toronto, and Boston.

Phindie: How did the tour go?

DP: It was a ton of fun, but it helped me realize just how much the show relies on the audience. I thought we had been able to rehearse about half of the material, but it actually turned out to be more like a quarter of it. In Boston I met the show’s associate producer Nicholas Medveseck and we decided to work together to bring the show to Philly Fringe. I’ve spent the last few months developing new material and refining what was already there (the games in the show have changed a lot!) and now we’re back to rehearsing.

Phindie: Have audiences generally been willing to go along for the ride?

DP: Yes! Amazingly!!! I HATE audience interaction and sometimes I think I might hate this show if I was in the audience. But one thing the show does really well is slowly build in the audience engagement. We start just by giving you a Starburst. Then we all unwrap the Starburst together. Then you just have to raise your hand. Then maybe come up on stage, but it’s okay, you’re doing something you’ve probably done before, and everyone in the theater is on your team.

Phindie: Do you find some people are unwilling to participate?

DP: On tour I found that even the most reticent audience member would eventually feel comfortable enough to contribute to the team effort by the end. And some audiences’s created entirely new endings to the show that I had never imagined, finding their own way to save the world. Which in the end is really part of the point of the show, taking action and affecting the world around you. The audience is only uncomfortable when the rules of engagement are unclear. Like any good game, if the goal and the boundaries are clear, the players will unleash their creativity to find fascinating solutions to very simple problems.

Phindie: What do you like about Elixr as a performing space? Apart from the excellent coffee.

DP: Their location is great! Not only are they accessible, but their clientele is incredibly diverse. Hipsters, yuppies, artists, business people, staff from the local shops, tourists, pretty much everyone and anyone who comes to Elixr feels comfortable there. I’m really excited to see what the space will feel like in performance. We’ve yet to rehearse there, but our small photo shoot got me really excited to take over, ha ha. Tom, the general manager, has also been so accommodating and kind. If you go here, tell Tom how awesome he is! The whole staff really!

Phindie: Do you have any other picks for this years festival?

DP: I already have my tickets for The Extra People and 100 (other pieces that seem to be using a little bit of game theory, if their descriptions are to be believed). I think It’s So Learning will be a ton of fun, so I can’t wait to check that out. As far as more traditional work goes, I love theater that demands that I pay attention, so I really want to check out Spookfish.

Phindie: Thanks Daniel! Game over.

You are the Hero and Redcap’s Corner Gaming Emporium are teaming up to bring you some FREE +1 Fun at Elixr Coffee on August 29th. We’ll be providing a library of games all day from 7:30 AM to 8:00 PM, so come and play to your ♥’s content. Five minutes, 30 minutes, or hours of entertainment (if you happen to be a Risk-oschist).

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About the author

Christopher Munden

Your faithful correspondent and publisher Christopher Munden has written and edited for many publications, websites, and cultural institutions. He was an editor/publisher of the Philly Fiction book series, collections of short stories written by local writers and set in Philadelphia. He's also a soccer coach and a pretty good skier.