On the last Wednesday of every month, dungeon master Eric Fell and his band of fellow comedic adventurers invite you to his parents’ basement (aka Vancouver’s Rio Theatre) to play a little bit of Dungeons & Dragons.This is The Critical Hit Show: A Live Dungeons & Dragons Comedy Experience, an improv comedy show where the performers take to the stage and become elves, trolls, clerics, etc. and set off on a quest with hilarious results. I had the chance to sit down with Eric Fell and his fellow cast member and long-time collaborator Shaun Stewart to talk about the how Critical Hit came to be.
Fell says the idea was sparked while he was flipping through a dungeon master’s guide one day at a local gaming store and began spotting the parallels between the game and improv. Soon Fell, Stewart and another future cast-mate Allen Morrison were on their podcast show spit-balling ideas and characters. It became clear that there was real potential in the idea. The next step was to assemble the cast.
Fell notes: “[Shaun and I] made a list of who we’d like to work with, who we thought would be good and every single person we asked said ‘Ooh! Yes! Please!’”
Stewart chuckles and adds: “So we ended up with a longer list than necessary.”
Fell: “That’s the tough thing – fitting everyone in. There are so many talented people in this town, so many great people. It is impossible to fit them all in.”
The regular cast has been constant and enthusiastic through the sixteen month run of the show so far. Joining Fell (the Dungeon Master), Stewart (Brask Hellbeard, the Dwarf Fighter) and the aforementioned Allen Morrison (Spitz Luben, the Human Wizard) are Ian Boothby (Benoit the Anointed, the Half-Elf Cleric), Lauren McGibbon (Grima Windwords, the Human Thief) and Joanna Gaskell (Edda, the Elf Barbarian). Gaskell is also the creator and star of the award-winning webseries Standard Action, which is also set in a D&D-like fantasy land. Guest stars at Critical Hit have also included improviser/magician Brian Anderson as well as actor Billy Campbell (The Killing, The Rocketeer).
The show itself operates very much like a normal game of Dungeons & Dragons would. Fell sets up the scenarios and rolls the dice to determine the fate of the characters. The players have their character sheets in hand on stage and are usually in home-made costumes. Stewart points out that the aim of the show was to be as similar to the actual game as they could make it.
So are we just watching other people play a game? Well, in some ways yes, in some ways no. The game gives the performers a certain structure to work within, but it is still most definitely a show. The characters are over-the-top, the adventures and action are fun, and the experience is often interactive.
Says Fell: “When they fight monsters, we bring up audience members and give them foam swords. There’s always a good component of the show where the heroes travel through the audience, solicit assistance from the audience, sometimes there are things hidden amongst [them].”
For anyone who has played Dungeons & Dragons before, they will know the amount of power and knowledge that the Dungeon Master has as the storyteller of the game. Critical Hit is certainly no exception to that.
Stewart: “That is the other fun thing about this show. Eric knows things that are happening that we don’t even know are happening.”
Fell: “It’s great fun. [But at the same time] I love not knowing what’s happening until they say something on stage like ‘Let’s turn left instead of right’ or ‘Let’s talk to this bush’ and the story can go in a totally different direction. It’s unpredictable.”
But with Dungeons & Dragons being something so deeply entrenched in nerd culture, I had to ask if being a nerd or D&D fan was necessary to truly enjoy the show. Both Fell and Stewart give and emphatic no.
Fell: “Absolutely not.”
Stewart: : “I’ve received that feedback many times ‘I don’t even like D&D and this was so much fun!’”
Fell: “I had some girls come up to me…’We don’t know anything about Dungeons & Dragons, we just wanted to see a comedy show and it was awesome!’ A lack of knowledge of the game is not a problem.”
Fell also adds: “The thing about D&D –and this is what I really like about it– is that its very inclusive. It’s not about shutting people out. It’s about a bunch of people sitting around a table having a good time. So that’s the premise of the show too. It’s everyone in the theatre being included and having a good time.”
If you want to check out The Critical Hit Show, their next live show is Wednesday June 26th at The Rio Theatre.