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Burb's Eye View: Merging love of theater and video games

Next month, Comic-Con International takes over the city of San Diego to bring together the geek world in a potent smashup of adrenaline, dreams, TNT and marketing hype, then lights the fuse over three days for what has become Hollywood's Woodstock.

Rising above the explosion and homespun Iron Man costumes is a team from Burbank and Toluca Lake that's proving it's just as fun being a bridesmaid as being an A-list bride.

When Toluca Lake's Brian Bielawski first pitched his one-man show to the powers that be at Comic-Con, they'd already been burned by live theater.

Even his stint in New York as a recurring character on "Guiding Light" couldn't sway the opinion of the San Diego bookers — and as his time grew in Los Angeles without another acting gig, he had to do something with his play.

"I've been throwing myself at TV, but it hasn't thrown itself back," he said.

In 2010, Bielawski took "Gam3rs," an exploration into the life of a college dropout who plays video games during his information-technology job, to the masses after the doors at Comic-Con closed.

The play at once spoke to and respected the plight of early 20-somethings entering an economy that at once demanded experience before hiring for a limited amount of jobs yet paradoxically refused to offer that experience straight out of college.

The play merges Bielawski's loves of theater and video games, and in the Bielawski family these games represent much more. Every Monday night, Bielawski, his two brothers and his father in Illinois hop onto the Internet for a campaign in World of Warcraft.

No matter where they are in the world, the Bielawski boys know that at least once a week, they can share a virtual space and hang out together.

Bielawski wanted to bring the powerful inclusiveness of sharing a video game to his theater experience. Like Pac-Man in pursuit of pellets, he knew he needed something more to attract a crowd.

With the cooperation of the owner of the 10th Avenue Theatre, he installed several video game systems throughout the building and set up tables for people to play board games. The first Gam3rcon had hit its "start" button.

Then he made an honest mistake for a first-time con-runner and theater producer: Do it all with a couple of friends, and leave the heavy lifting to yourself.

"We thought if we were going to rent a theater and put on a show, let's do it as many times as possible," Bielawski said.

That first year involved 17 performances of a 70-minute one-man show over the course of five days.

At first, four or five people looking for something to do might have attended one of Bielawski's midnight shows. As the game space evolved, he scored points with the gamer crowd. By the end of the four-day convention (five if you include preview night on Wednesday), about 300 people had attended Gam3rcon.

Soon the actor found himself running an annual convention based on a play he wrote using a shoestring budget he himself had to supply. Now in its fourth year, Gam3rcon expects to top the 2,300 who attended last year.

To help with marketing, Bielawski has enlisted the help of Burbank marketing agency Reel Green Media. He hopes to expand the mini-Con con to include a "northern" version, possibly in Burbank where Monsterpalooza and many other sci-fi conventions already call home.

He also plans on passing the controller to one of his volunteer coordinators and put the 60 hours a week he saves for Gam3rCon back into his acting career, which may get a boost if RogueDigital, the digital division of Relativity Media, finalizes a short Web series based on Gam3rs.

"I would like ('Gam3rCon') someday to not be my baby, and have it swallowed by the community we've created," Bielawski said.

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BRYAN MAHONEY is a recent transplant from the East Coast. When he's not falling into the pit on World 4-3 of Super Mario Bros., he can be reached at 818NewGuy@gmail.com and on Twitter at @818NewGuy.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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