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  • Writer's pictureMartin Aitken

Gaming Vs. Theatre

I feel unbelievably lucky to work in a job which I truly love. As the saying goes...

Do what you love and you'll... work super hard all the time with no separation or boundaries and take everything extremely personally.

I'm just joking, although I'm sure there's some truth in the statement above. The excitement, the creativity, the buzz of an audience - you can't beat it in my opinion. There are several questions I face regularly when I tell people I work in the performing arts:

  • Who is the most famous person you've worked with?/What are they like?

  • What is your favourite show?

  • Will you move to London/New York etc?

  • That's such a cool job. What do you enjoy most about it?

And recently I've been giving that last question some serious thought. What do I enjoy about it? Why do I enjoy working in the arts?

Another love of mine is video games and during lockdown I rediscovered my passion for it. I'm not really into your popular console games (first person shooter etc), more specifically I enjoy playing tycoon and strategy games on my laptop - the games where you build a home or a business. Why do I enjoy these games?

I think a lot of it has to do with control and predictability; developing an understanding the algorithms or AI which drive the game forwards. There is (almost) always a clear path to success. If you pay £1000 to upgrade the sign outside your shop you’ll receive 10 more customers each day who will spend a pre-defined amount. After 5 days you WILL have made your money back. There is no risk. It's a guaranteed reward for your investment after 5 days. Or, in another example, If you have 8 charisma points you will get the job. No ifs, buts or maybes.

Even where there is “emergency" or "random" events in a game, those are often predictable or controllable. Your staff might go on strike, but only if their happiness is under 50%. (Of course, your staff are fitted with handy "happiness meters", so you always get a true and accurate reading of exactly how they feel). If you give them at least 85% of their desired pay and one day off a week you can maintain their happiness at 100%. They will not strike. Your toilet will breakdown every 5 days and you’ll have to spend £40 to fix it, but if you buy the premium toilet it will never, ever breakdown so these random or emergency events can often be controlled or mitigated by putting in well thought out control systems.

I guess it’s that same predictability which draws me to theatre. You can set-up a show in 6.5 hours - every time. The show will last 1hr 45 - every time. Your cue line will be the same - every time. You develop a rhythm, get into the tightest, most reliable routine. You get to know your performance inside out. You know the weaknesses or risks within a performance and what you can do to control them.

Sure, there are always an edge of unpredictability in all our lives, but rest assured that theatre folks do everything in our power to be prepared for all eventualities. We travel with spares and backups. We have scenario rehearsals. We have evacuation announcements recorded, understudy “put-in” rehearsals and we all have rigorous checks (and double-checks). We have almost ritualistic pre-show and warm-up routines and we take every step we can to ensure the show runs exactly as it’s meant to.

And that's part of my job as a Producer - to try to beat the system and make the unpredictable a certainty. To forecast the demand for a production, how tickets might sell, which audience it might appeal to, where the risks are and what we can do to mitigate them.

Imagine if life was as simple and predictable as a video game. Games are created in a world of unlimited resources. While I sit at #1 on the leaderboard in my home, many thousands of other people are atop the leaderboards in their own homes too. In real life, we can't all come out as number 1.

I've always thought I'd be quite good at business. Real-life business. Very long hours don't scare me. Hard work doesn't scare me and working until I get what I want doesn't put me off either. But the uncertainty does scare me a little. The realist in me provides a constant reminder that I can take a day's pay for a day's work from an employer or I can gamble it all on an uncertain outcome. Can you imagine how blissful life would be if it was more like a video game? Every investment you make has a guaranteed return. If things went wrong you could just restart the level or restart your scene and learn the perfect sequence to get to the place you want to be.

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