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Gaming the System: An Actor And Writer Find Unexpected Careers In The Shadow Of Comic-Con

How an MFA thesis that became a hit fringe show that became a gaming convention that’s becoming a web series, created full-blown careers for a San Diego writer and actor—and host of misunderstood gamers.

Gaming the System: An Actor And Writer Find Unexpected Careers In The Shadow Of Comic-Con

Gam3rCon is one of the many satellite events happening in San Diego during Comic-Con week (July 18-21 in San Diego) that’s not part of the official convention. How it started—and what it’s led to—illustrates the nonlinear way that creativity can flow and how being open to that process can open doors to new opportunities.

Four years ago, Gam3rCon began as an event to market a one-man show, Gam3rs: The Play, developed by writer Walter Meyer and actor Brian Bielawksi about gaming, that grew into a popular stand-alone convention attracting a few thousand patrons, corporate sponsorship, and studio attention. Last year, Relativity Media’s TV production arm, Rogue Life, signed the creators to a deal to expand the play and incorporate the convention into a Web series. For the past year, they’ve been developing scripts, casting, and shooting a trailer to attract partnerships with online networks and video game companies.

An entertainment news report from last year’s convention

Meanwhile, the convention continues its fourth year—featuring daily gaming challenges; industry panels, like how to stop bullying and increase diversity in gaming; a geek-themed art show; and comedy and music performances.

"The convention has brought together so many different communities of geekdom and created friendships among the participants that have continued year-round and led to other creative projects," says Meyer. "This whole experience has been a positive lesson in how the creative process is as much about creating your own destiny as it is being open to alternative destinies being thrust upon you."

Walter Meyer (left) and Brian Bielawksi at a rooftop party during last year’s Gam3rCon.

Eight years ago, Bielawksi was a graduate student in the University of San Diego’s Old Globe MFA program and needed to put together a final thesis—a 15-minute one-person performance. A mutual friend put him in touch with Meyer, an author and playwright. Overnight, they put together a high-energy monologue laced with geek culture references about a brilliant, aimless MIT dropout gamer waging the biggest battle of his life—saving his kingdom from evil elves, in the cubicle of his dead-end tech support job, while evading an overbearing boss.

"I got a call at 10 o’clock at night, and it was due the next day," says Meyer. "Brian knew what he wanted to say, but was having trouble putting it together. We stayed up till 5 a.m. writing it. When he read it in class the next day, it got the biggest applause of the seven pieces. A month later, he did a performance of it. A TV producer in the audience ended up optioning it for a TV series. Even when that ultimately didn’t work out, we knew we were on to something."

Teaser reel of Gam3rs: The Play.

In 2007, when Bielawksi was living in New York doing stints on Guiding Light and Off Broadway, he and Meyer developed Gam3rs into an hour for the Midtown and New York fringe festivals. It was a hit, enabling Bielawksi to take it to several colleges around the country.

By 2010, Bielawksi was back in San Diego trying unsuccessfully to get a spot for the show at Comic-Con. ("They used to do a lot more theater at Comic-Con," says Meyer.) When the 10th Avenue Theatre and Arts Centre invited them, word spread, and the two were inundated with requests from other performers and gamers whose projects were also shut out of Comic-Con. "That first year, with a month to plan, we had 500 people show up," says Meyer. "Last year, we had 2,300, and this year, we’re expecting 4,000."

Meanwhile, the two had been pitching the play as a TV show to various networks and production companies, when a friend of a friend got them a meeting with Rogue Life president Randall Cox. "He knew about Gam3rCon and loved the idea we were doing that," says Meyer. "I think it also proved our initiative. We were working our butts off to market this play, and that marketing effort had become an entity."

Filming the Web series: Writer Walter Meyer (in blue, center); Brian Bielawski (between Meyer and the cameraman) as the impossible boss; and star Luke Barats (in the purple shirt) as the gamer. To the far right is director Damon O’Steen.

Creating leaders

Another by-product of this journey for Meyer and Bielawski was not only developing leadership and managerial skills, but instilling them in and creating career opportunities for others.

"Gamers, for the large part—and I was one of them—are kids who were pushed around and mistreated in school, and just think differently," says Bielawski. "Because of that, they may be passed over or lack the confidence for certain jobs. But our event has volunteers who fit that description in key positions. Consequently, they’ve gone on to get jobs they might not get otherwise, because they were able to talk about their experiences with Gam3rCon.

"What I learned was how to allow people to contribute to my vision," he adds. "When I started, I was really maniacal about my vision. But over time, I learned to let go of absolute control and let people contribute their own ideas to the Web series and convention. One Gam3rCon volunteer had the idea to make the convention a game in itself—and that’s become a central part of the event. It’s about allowing others to expand the vision, which is, in fact, a very big part of the gaming process."

Gam3rCon runs July 18-21, 2 p.m. to 2 a.m. daily, at the 10th Avenue Theatre and Arts Centre at 930 10th Avenue in San Diego. "Gam3rs: The Play" performances on Wednesday at 9:15 p.m., Saturday at 10 p.m., and Sunday at 2:30 p.m.

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