Officially, on paper and in the program, Sierra Banack serves as the properties designer for No Rules Theatre Company’s production of “In Love and Warcraft,” which runs through Sunday at Signature Theatre in Arlington.
Unofficially, she is a script consultant, a marketing guru, an assistant fight choreographer and a go-to person whenever anyone involved in the show has questions about pretty much anything.
“But Sierra is much too modest to tell anyone that,” director Joshua Morgan said.
Banack, 27, is a gamer. She is also, Morgan said, “a terrific props designer.” So when she asked to work on “Warcraft,” a play about a college student who finds herself in a love triangle with real and virtual boyfriends, Morgan said yes, not knowing what a personal connection she had to the story line.
“She was a great barometer,” he said. “We should have paid her a lot more.”
Since she was a junior at Fairfax High School, Banack has been playing “World of Warcraft,” a fantasy role-playing online game that claims to have 11 million players across the globe. By her freshman year of college, she had achieved a high rank in the game and was a member of an elite guild — a team of players who combine forces to advance in the game. Along with her best friend, she set off on a road trip to meet some of her fellow guild members. They drove to South Carolina, flew to San Diego and, with some trepidation, Edmonton, Alberta, to meet Jason Banack, the guild member who eventually moved across the continent to be with her “in real life,” as gamers say.
They’ve been married for six years. They are going to Dragon Con in Atlanta this year dressed as Captain Canada and a red-white-and-maple-leafed equivalent of a USO girl.
“I am a nerd through and through. I don’t hide that,” Banack said.“But a lot of theater people are still surprised when they find out.”
Banack earned a double bachelor’s degree in history and theater from George Mason University, and has been working as a freelance stage manager for years. She stumbled into doing props last spring, when NextStop Theatre asked her to help make staffs for a production of “Into the Woods.” She’s now the regular props designer for the company, and she joined No Rules for its production of “Boeing Boeing” last season.
You could argue that finding a loaner Alienware gaming laptop for “Warcraft,” was more in her wheelhouse than finding suitcases for flight attendants, but Banack says she enjoys the thrill of a good Etsy hunt.
“I love stage-managing — I’m very organized — but I also love cosplay, and doing props let me be more creative,” Banack said.
“Cosplay” is short for costume play, and Saturday’s matinee of “In Love and Warcraft” will begin with a parade of theater patrons who come dressed as characters from the fantasy, gaming or comic universes. First prize is a three-day pass to D.C.’s Awesome Con (set for May), and all gaming fans are entitled to half-price show tickets (discount code: JMWow).
There’s also a gaming-related convention at National Harbor this weekend, and Banack and Morgan are working to bring some new audiences to No Rules.
“Whenever gamers are in the audience, they are like kids in a candy store,” Morgan said. “They love this play.”
Perhaps they set themselves up for this, but after losing a venue and a major in-kind supporter, it’s looking like lean times for Lean and Hungry Theater. Undeterred, Executive Artistic Director Jessica Hansen is optimistic that the local company known for producing radio broadcasts of Shakespearean classics such as “The Tempest” will find other ports in a storm.
Rehearsals were underway for her March production of “Othello” when Hansen learned that WAMU-FM, Washington’s main public radio news affiliate, was withdrawing its support. Since 2010, the station and company had been partnering to produce plays that were performed live, aired live and made available to other public radio affiliates across the country.
“Certainly, it’s disappointing, but there are a lot of changes happening at the station,” Hansen said.
General Manager J.J. Yore, who came on board in August, has cut or redirected a variety of WAMU programs and resources. The syndicated pet-centric show “The Animal Show” got the ax last fall, and more recently, the station opted to eliminate afternoon traffic reports. The theater company was apparently also on his cut list.
“We terminated in the contract in November, and we tried to give them as much notice as possible,” said Kathleen Allenbaugh, a WAMU spokeswoman. “Lean and Hungry required a great deal of resources, and we thought those resources could be better deployed in other areas.”
Although the theater company received no funding from the station,WAMU took care of logistical support and marketing. Past plays are available for download on the station’s Web site, but that will soon change, and the theater will need to host those podcasts, Allenbaugh said.
Hansen said the March 22 performance of “Othello” will go on as scheduled at Artisphere, the Rosslyn venue that is scheduled to close next summer. In June, Lean and Hungry plans to produce a steampunkv “Alice in Wonderland” at Arlington’s Lubber Park instead of its usual venue, the outdoor amphitheater at American University. The company will be back on campus, but indoors, to stage “King Lear” next year. Lean and Hungry also plans to ramp up its efforts to produce podcasts for use by classroom teachers and blind people, Hansen said.
“We are set for at least a year,” she said. “Things are going to be okay for Lean and Hungry.”
Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company hosted a cocktail party last week to celebrate the launch of a Web site. The scene hardly resembled Silicon Valley luxury (or debauchery), but all who gathered to raise a glass hoped they had helped create the next big social networking site for theater people.
The New Play Exchange, as the site is called, is a searchable, online repository of scripts created by the National New Play Network, a coalition of theaters that support new work. The network is headquartered at Woolly Mammoth, and it contracted local playwright Gwydion Suilebhan to serve as project manager. (The design firm, Quilted, is based in California.)
For a nominal fee, playwrights can create a profile and upload a script or script sample, then enter searchable metadata. A theater company can get a subscription and go hunting for plays.
“If you want to look for a play with African American characters written by a female writer living in California, you can do that,”explained Nan Barnett, the network’s executive director.
Suilebhan received so much feedback about the project that Google briefly shut down his e-mail account.
“It’s been a little crazy,” Barnett said. But the only other glitch thus far was that the site wouldn’t let users with names like O’Malley include apostrophes. As far as Web launches go, however, that’s not too big a crisis.
As so many other social network creators have probably pronounced: “We hope to have lots of success stories,” Barnett said.
Ritzel is a freelance writer.