We chat with A Stage Reborn, Final Fantasy XIV's player-run theater troupe

A Stage Reborn is a community-run theater troupe of Final Fantasy XIV players that’s taken to performing in-game events, including their most recent performance of “I Want to Be Your Canary”, a play that originally appeared in 2000’s Final Fantasy IX.
It’s been a big hit with the game’s community, and has garnered a following that’s offered to volunteer in the production and has invested in their future projects as well.
Steve Pederzani (in-game name Wanderer Sabaku of Diabolos), is founder and chair of A Stage Reborn’s board, and we had a chat regarding their recent show and how it all comes together.
Nova Crystallis: How did A Stage Reborn get started?
Pederzani: A Stage Reborn started after I attended a Free Company’s [FFXIV’s term for a “guild” of players] public event on my server in October 2015. It was a costume contest, and a lot of players were hyped over it and enjoyed the event. With how serious people sometimes treat endgame content and how boring waiting for the next patch could get, it was refreshing.

I realized this level of player-created in-game entertainment was something the community could really benefit from, and would also be a great way to engage people in creativity. Nobody was doing events like this regularly, so I decided to step up and begin hosting various monthly events (costume contests, skit competitions, giveaways, etc.) The more events I hosted, the larger the turn-out became, and the more people joined the team. Eventually we grew strong enough to start considering doing some real fun things such as music videos and theatrical productions.

Above: A Stage Reborn’s trailer for their performance of FFIX’s “I Want To Be Your Canary”

Why Final Fantasy XIV? Have you hosted events like this in other online games?
FFXIV is home to an amazing community, and the game itself is developed in such a way that it allowed us to create the stage magic you see in our show and videos. Personally I’ve only written small story ideas and done some recording on other games early on (like FFXI, Phantasy Star Online) but never moved projects forward on a large scale like this. FFXIV has been my proof-of-concept that this is possible with gaming.
I’ve tried to get players in other games to get outside the box and do some things
Is Final Fantasy XIV’s role-playing scene is involved in the production?
Actually, nobody in the cast or crew role-plays. Think of us like actors at a regional theater or puppeteers event, controlling our characters like puppets. We’re never “in character” because we don’t role-play at all. Think of it like going to watch Hamlet at your local college or theater. Everything’s the same, except instead, our stage just happens to be inside a video game. We did have a few role-players show up in-character to our production which was a bit odd for us; however, the cast they interacted with played along. We like to encourage and support all creative endeavors.
How much time goes into preparation? I’m referring to the planning, props, costumes, publicity, and so on. What’s the toughest part?
We began preparation for Canary in March, but the cast did not start rehearsals until the beginning of November. A lot of our preparation was watching/re-playing Final Fantasy IX and drawing out potential plans for the set, writing an adaptation for the script that could easily be turned into macros, experimenting with emotes and items in-game to figure out special effects and actions for scenes, costumes, changing the set as new items were released (such as the troupe stages,) and planning promotional things like the photo-shoot and the trailer video. After November, a lot of time went into directing individuals at rehearsals, promoting the show, keeping a rehearsal schedule up to date, handling inquiries from various places (like Kotaku) and arranging that.
The whole production itself was probably the toughest part. A lot of people, even after seeing the show, don’t realize it takes a lot more than telling a few people where to stand and what buttons to push. Hours of rehearsal are involved just as a real theatrical production would have. It greatly mirrored my time working professionally in theatre before I went into law school; however, it added the challenge of having to do it all from the confines of a video game. In the real world, everyone’s local, you have a set schedule, you have deadlines. Here, you have a bunch of players over the internet. In some ways it makes it easier, but in other ways it’s much harder to bring everything together. Timezone differences were definitely a challenge.
Law and theater must be an interesting combo – or are they more similar than you thought?
My focus is intellectual property, in-house counsel, and nonprofit, so there’s tons of overlap. It’s nice seeing the inside working on the technology and creative industries.
Did your audience behave similarly even though they aren’t in a real-life theater? We often hear of griefing in online multiplayer games, did any of that happen?
They behaved the same as an audience at say, a convention panel or community theater. I was pleasantly surprised. We were a bit worried, especially with over 400 players arriving in-game each performance date, that something would happen. We spoke to a GM [Square Enix’s game moderators] about these concerns previously and they told us if there was an interruption from griefing that we could contact them for assistance.
It was great to see players actually take the time to stand up and applause and cheer at the end of each performance like a real standing ovation.
You’ll be doing the Opera scene from FFVI next – what about plays in the Final Fantasy series’ past has led you to recreate them in FFXIV? Any plans on FFXIV’s own story?
When playing through FFIX and FFVI, the plays themselves are short and interrupted by game components, but you can take them apart and piece them together into a full production. You have to change a few things here and there to make it complete. They’re fun to write, to create, and some people might be curious to see what the full play would (or might) have looked like. We do have plans to do a video series that relies heavily on some of FFXIV’s lore as well as a few other games; however, we’re still carefully writing and editing our first season’s script before we start filming.

Above: A Stage Reborn performs “I Want To Be Your Canary”. (Click to expand)

For those who see FFXIV as a game where you are strictly logging on to experience designed content created by the development team, what do you hope they take away from a community experience like A Stage Reborn?
I hope the takeaway people get is that you don’t need to wait for a developer to hand you more content. It should be about the community you play with, not the content. Many players have told me that our events have brought a whole new dimension to the game for them. Some even contacted me after Canary to tell me they’ve re-subbed and are giving the game another try after being disappointed with content and unsubscribing months earlier. A lot of people also worry that only role-players or casuals do this sort of thing, too. A lot of our event volunteers and even some of the A Stage Reborn team themselves regularly do the latest Savage raid content. We’re all a bunch of normal players on the game. We just happen to do something to make the game something different for ourselves and for the community beyond what the developers’ content yields.
Would you like to see updates or content to accommodate player-run community events? What do you think those would look like, if you were to ask for them? Is part of the fun thinking of creative ways to work within the game’s restrictions?
I think it would be neat to have an event hall you could reserve and run events out of to address some of the restrictions that the in-game housing imposes. I’ve become pretty known for pushing housing design in-game to the limit. It’d be nice to have a place where there were absolutely no restrictions, like a sandbox, where I could reserve set time each month and run something out of there. At the same time though, I love the challenge I’m given. I don’t know if I’d really enjoy that sort of change. Part of the fun absolutely is discovering creative ways to work within the game’s restrictions. I think the development team has been doing a fantastic job at continuing to provide players with the tools to create great things.
What would you suggest to players out there who would like to participate in A Stage Reborn, or perhaps host their own community-based activities?
For current FFXIV players, if you want to participate in what we do, just show up! We’re an open door! A lot of people keep having this misconception that we’re a Free Company, which we are absolutely not. We’re all in different free companies, and the free company you see around is only there to make it easier for visitors to, well, visit. For those who are new to the game, don’t be afraid to shout out to us!
For those who are considering hosting their own community-based activities, focus on the community. Put the events together as a community, celebrate them as a community, and take pride in them as a community. I only ran one or two events myself before realizing I couldn’t do this without a team. Now, we’ve united hundreds of players (and thousands of viewers) for something many once found an absurd idea to even consider doing.

If you’re looking to catch A Stage Reborn’s upcoming projects in Final Fantasy XIV, you can hit up their official site here.

You can also check out an archive of their recent live performance on Twitch here.

About the Author

Tony Garsow Tony joined Nova Crystallis in 2015, and has spent more than a decade writing in the Final Fantasy community. He also contributes to the Nova Crystallis Twitch and YouTube channels, where you can watch select gameplay highlights, previews, and streams.