Xavier Theatre surprises audience in Zoom-like production

Leveling Up offers societal commentary in a live, virtual performance

By: Chloe Salveson, Multimedia Show manager

Live theater has taken on an entirely new meaning in Xavier Theatre’s recent production, Leveling Up. The online play successfully explored thematic elements we face in today’s society using an innovative format. 

The Zoom-like show consisted of four characters: Ian, portrayed by senior George Grandi; Chuck, portrayed by senior Steve Lindner; Zander, portrayed by senior Max Carlson and Jeannie, portrayed by senior Emmy Rice. Each actor demonstrated dedication in  portraying the gaping divide between the virtual world and reality. 

Leveling up depicts the relationships between four twenty-somethings as they navigate the online world and the real world from behind their computer screens. Ian, the most skilled gamer (and the one most reluctant to go outside), lands a job with the National Security Agency (NSA) launching very real drones and missiles. This pushes him and the others to evaluate their life decisions while learning what it means to grow up in the real world. 

I will admit that I was nervous this production would remind me of class and prompt me to fall asleep. The notion of watching characters stare at screens the entire performance wasn’t exactly enticing. However, I appreciated the more intimate view of the actors, as I could see the facial expressions I wouldn’t be able to see in person. 

The acting made me believe that each character was legitimately playing video games. The constant squinting, frowns and subtle grunts were all too similar to those made by my 12-year-old brother. The tech crew also prerecorded some scenes of the characters clicking the space bar or rapidly typing and occasionally cut to those shots.

This performance also convinced me that chemistry is easily transferable from the stage to the screen. I was pleasantly surprised that emotional characterizations, ranging from intense arguing and rage to romance and desire, were not awkward in the slightest. I could feel the tensions between the characters as if I were at a live performance, which only enhanced the persuasiveness of their portrayals. 

Photo courtesy of @xaviertheatre on Instagram

Leveling Up is not without its faults, though. In what was meant to be a pivotal scene, Ian faced an ethical conflict while caught up in the emotional stress of his NSA job. I found the incident to be a source of confusion since the actors were not in the same physical location. There was also a slow pacing to the show that I cannot entirely blame on the online format. Nevertheless, I was impressed with the lack of technical difficulties and smooth transitions.

Technology is shaping our world —now more than ever — and the cast and crew of Leveling Up took advantage of this. The characters reveal the moral ambiguity of virtual reality to their audience. This production allowed the cast and crew of Leveling Up creatively (and safely) continue the art of conveying a theme, and ultimately, touching the souls of the audience.

I challenge everyone to make the stage your computer screen and see what’s next for Xavier Theatre.