Drew is a mild-mannered thirtysomething teacher, but by night, he fights sorcerers as Leopold the archon.

Dana is an administrative worker with an assertive side, struggling with a fractured marriage and uncertain family life. By night, she is Lilith, a powerful duchess.

Drew and Dana are participants in live action roleplay (LARP) and the protagonists of Test, the latest play by local playwright Stephen Near and one of 47 performances at this year's Hamilton Fringe Festival.

LARP is when people gather together, dress in costume and assume the personas of their characters to play out an elaborate storyline. It usually involves fantasy or supernatural elements.

Test tells the story of two LARPers who fall in love as their characters, and find a way to tentatively be together as themselves too. Near, who also plays Drew, knows something of this — he's also played in Hamilton's underground LARP scene, and his love of LARP is what got him interested in theatre.  

"These games put the type of thing you see in Game of Thrones to shame," he said. "There are epic stories of betrayal and ambition and treachery. It's fantastic stuff."

This underground world, and the way it allows people to play with identity, seemed too interesting not to incorporate into fiction, said Near, who identifies himself as a geek playwright.  

Drew and Dana lead fairly mundane lives. Dana, played by Sara Weber, is in an unhappy marriage when the play begins. Through role-play, she brings out her powerful, aggressive nature in a way she can't in her daily life.

Drew is also in an uncertain relationship when the play starts. But "when he takes on the mantle of this character, he's able to be stronger and more vocal about what he wants," Near said.

Near got interested in role-play in his teens through Dungeons and Dragons. That led him to LARP.

"In many ways, it really prepared me for crafting stories as a playwright and helped me get into the mindset of characters," he said.

Role-play led to a career in theatre

Near, who moved to Hamilton about two years ago, is the founder of Reaching Symmetry Theatre, which recently produced Monstrous Invisible at the Theatre Aquarius Studio Theatre. His science fiction play Interface won first place in the 2011 Hamilton Fringe New Play Contest. Test won second runner up in this year's new play contest.

Redeemer University alumnus Aaron Joel Craig is directing the play.

"The thing I like about the script is that it's a love story first, and it's about gaming second," Craig said. "It's more of a backdrop for the piece than the primary function."

The play is a challenge. Craig and Near have limited resources to ensure that the audience understands the world within a world. Lighting helps, Craig said.

"The script itself is very good too at giving nice clear lines to us, even though the lines between Drew and Dana are kind of blurry."

The festival runs from July 18 to 28.

Test showings:

  • Friday, July 19 at 10:30 p.m.
  • Monday, July 22 at 9:30 p.m.
  • Tuesday, July 23 at 7:30 p.m.
  • Friday, July 26 at 11 p.m.
  • Sunday, July 28 at 9:30 p.m.

Location: Hamilton Theatre Inc., 140 Macnab St. N.

Tickets: $10