One Girl, Two Cities

Fringe Q&A: Dungeon by Hit the Lights! Theater Co.

A young man falls into the unknown to rescue the thing he holds most dear. Inspired by kabuki, video games, horror movies, and pixar shorts, DUNGEON builds a world where darkness speaks louder than the light.

I unfortunately won’t be doing as much fringing this year as I have in the past couple years because I’ll be out of town for the first half, but DUNGEON is one that’s going on my must-see list. Hit the Lights! Theater Co. hails from New York City, and the company members took time to answer some questions for me.

Q. How did Hit the Lights! originate?
A. Hit the Lights! started as a conversation on a couch in 2013. None of the members of HTL! knew this at the time. However, hindsight has a funny way of putting things into perspective. The conversation dealt with gathering a group of alumni from the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music’s Acting department to make a play that the participants could feel proud of and empowered by. That conversation lead to the creation of DUNGEON, which was performed in New York, Portland Maine, and Cincinnati Ohio. The name Hit the Lights! came while creating DUNGEON; since the show takes place predominantly in the dark, we took to the habit of announcing the phrase to the room whenever turning off or on the lights. Since that first show, HTL! has continued to create following the principals of less talk and more rock, and striving to tell simple stories in unconventional ways.

Q. What’s the inspiration behind DUNGEON?
A. Casey, one of the founding members of Hit the Lights! has a big passion for video games and was playing Sword and Sorcery around the time of DUNGEON’s creation. Upon completion of the game, he found an essay by the game’s developers. The essay was entitled Less Talk, More Rock, and it talks about both the ideal process for creating video games, and presents the theory that the ‘native language of video games’ is one without words and dialogue. Casey read this article and asked himself why these rules could not also apply to a piece of theater. He then took this idea to Mikayla, another founding member of HTL!, who was intrigued by this idea. She felt excited that the absence of dialogue could create a simple story that would be deeply felt by the audience. From there, they three found other members interested in playing, and other ideas worth exploring: hand held lighting, shadow puppetry, punk rock branding, kuroko from kabuki theater, and horror movie underscoring. DUNGEON premiered at Portland Maine’s PortFringe, and later went onto the New York City and Cincinnati Ohio Fringe Festivals, where it won the Audience Pick of the Fringe.

Q.  Is DUNGEON scary? What’s the age recommendation for the show?
A. DUNGEON is a thrilling experience that happens almost entirely in the dark, that includes chases, hunts, and a battle with a giant spider.  The show is suitable for audiences 7 and older.

Q. What makes DUNGEON a good Fringe-specific show?
A. DUNGEON was created for the Fringe experience. It is portable, with our shadow screen and instruments being the only set. It is experimental, casting aside typical theatrical conventions in favor of story telling through movement, color, music and action. It is collaborative, having been created together with no lead director or writer guiding the process of creation or performance. And, most importantly, it’s short (under 45 minutes). 

Q. Tell us about some of the more challenging aspects of the show.
A. When reading this, the members of the HTL! laughed. The largest challenge is that DUNGEON takes place in total and complete darkness. Our technical specs often read we will perform in any location, so long as the stage can go to total darkness. The performers are in charge of all lights and sounds that occur while the show is in going on. One wrong move, and the whole show might spin out of control! The intention for this is two fold: having the performers in charge of the lights and sound helps us create the dark, haunted atmosphere that we believe to be necessary for DUNGEON to succeed, and we believe it is interesting to watch a group of people telling a highly stylized, choreographed story with almost zero light to go by.

Q. What brought you to MN Fringe, and what do you enjoy about touring your shows?
A. HTL! has had their eyes set on the MN Fringe for quite some time. Minneapolis has one of the largest and most interesting theater scenes in the country, and we have been chomping at the bit to explore it and get to know the city and its people. HTL! loves touring for three reasons. One: to explore this interesting world and meet new and fascinating people while also offering something entertaining to said people. Two: touring allows us to gain fresh perspectives on our shows, helping us figure out what parts still need work and how to best work them. And three: we love drinking local beers and making up games, and those two things seem to be expedited in new places. A word of advice: Don’t play against Kristopher or Mikayla, because whatever the game they will be victorious.

See DUNGEON by Hit the Lights! Theater Co. at The Jungle Theater August 5, 6, 8, 9 and 12. Click here to visit the MN Fringe website.

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Photos provided by HTL!

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