Fun, hopeful and joyful: “Pando” writer/director Brad Poer discusses his play

"Pando" actors post in front of a graphic that reads, "PANDO."

The world premiere opening of the original play “Pando” happens this week at Kellogg Community College.

(Proceeds from ticket sales will go toward defraying the cost of travel for those participating in the August 2025 KCC Theatre trip to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in Scotland, where a shortened version of “Pando” will be performed for international audiences.)

We caught up with KCC Theatre professor and Theatre Program Coordinator Brad Poer — who wrote the play and is directing its production — to ask about the show and what audiences can expect.

What is “Pando” about? What’s the general plot? Are there any major themes?

I’m referring to Pando as a “philosophical comedy” set in the many worlds of video games. It’s essentially six short one-act plays, each set in a different video-game-inspired universe, all connected by a handful of shorter scenes between them. A core group of nine actors (and some stagehands dressed as ninjas) play all the characters in the games, and a couple of additional actors play the humans “playing” the games on the couch. Within the games themselves, there are lessons from ancient and contemporary philosophy concerning what it means to be human today and how to process the ups and downs of life.

Content-wise, this premiere production is aiming at the Pixar template, with lots of laughs for kids and emotional depth for grownups. Though it’s set with video games as a backdrop, it’s aimed just as much at those with no interest in games as it is for lifelong gamers like myself.

If you had to summarize all of the above in an elevator pitch of a sentence or two, how would you describe the play as an experience?

A comedy about how to translate the digital world into the analog world, and how imagined worlds can help us become better humans in the real world.

What inspired the play? How did the concept develop?

It started thanks to a conversation I had with a friend in graduate school back in 2005 or so. We both loved video games and thought it was sad that there wasn’t more theatre about gaming, since there’s a lot of natural crossover when it comes to role playing and figuring out who we want to “be” when we play games (not unlike actors figuring out how to portray someone else).

The rest of the layers of the snowball that became the show have come from my time at KCC. Choosing to perform a show at the Fringe Festival in Scotland (and the specific time and technical requirements that entails) created the “box” the show needed to fit in. The more innovative facets and philosophical threads all came from managing and directing the mix of folks involved in the productions we’ve put up in my tenure here (closing in on 20 shows at this point!) and researching content and teaching my Humanities class here at KCC. There are a lot of myths about what creativity means and where art comes from, and the show aims to bust a few of those myths.

The philosophical stuff comes primarily from modern day philosopher Alain De Botton. He runs a YouTube channel called The School of Life that I frequently use to tie art to modern life, and how the study of it can be beneficial to everyone no matter what you do for a living. There’s also one other key layer of inspiration that I’ll leave out for now, to avoid spoilers.

What about the play do you think is particularly unique, interesting, innovative or compelling?

The reason I call “Pando” a different kind of play is because of two key reasons: how it can be cast and what can be done with the dialogue.

Because I work with all kinds of levels of acting and stage experience, and because I had no clue who would sign up to go to Scotland to perform “Pando” at the Fringe Festival in 2025, I didn’t know what types of folks to write the show for. Most professional actors spend their lives being put in roles based on their “type,” meaning age, race, gender, physical type, cultural background and the like. It’s inescapable for the most part. Some shows will swap genders if a company has a lot more women than men or cast a white actor against an all-black cast in Shakespeare’s “Othello” to make a point about race, but shows are written with specific pictures of who should be cast as who.

In acting class, you sometimes do something called “open scenes,” where the characters are just named A and B and they have simple conversations that don’t really flesh them out as people, but anyone can play either part. So I tried to extrapolate that concept and write a complete show where anyone can play any part regardless of type. The characters onstage are given personalities by using something called the Enneagram. It’s a system for describing and organizing the nine basic shades of human personality, usually formed before things like racism, misogyny, religion or cultural norms finely tune us as individuals. We use those nine personality types as the basic molds for the nine video game characters in each scene.

The other innovative bit comes from my love for theatre that isn’t “cut and paste.” Seeing a perfect replica of a show that looks, feels and sounds just like what folks saw on Broadway is fun, but for me the most powerful kind of theatre is the kind that owns the place and people where it’s created and makes it personal and grounded in the here and now. Because of this, I’m breaking a common standard practice as a playwright: ownership of my own words.

If and when anyone else decides to produce “Pando” elsewhere, they will be allowed and encouraged to alter the verbiage and slang the actors speak onstage (with some basic caveats) to better fit the individual actor, audience and region/neighborhood the show is performed in. If someone wants to say “Howdy!” or “Yo!” where I wrote “Hey!” for example, more power to them! The plot can’t change, but how things are said can be.

I want every production of this script to be different from the next on purpose, because it’s edited to fit by each production company. We did this with our premiere production you’ll see in the Binda this spring, too: a dozen or so lines were altered from the original script by the cast in the first week or two of rehearsal.

What elements of the play or upcoming production are you personally most excited to see?

Mostly just to see how it hits people of all ages. The cast really believes in what the show is trying to teach and are very excited to hear a mix of laughs from kids and grownups. And if we do it right, maybe some thoughtful, heartfelt sniffles from the adults here and there, too.

What do you hope audiences take away from the show?

My sincerest hope is that folks walk out of the theatre a little lighter on their feet and more curious and empathetic with regard to the people they come across in the world. All theatre in the end is about what it means to be human. Our hope is that “Pando” makes the topic of being human more fun, hopeful and joyful.

“Pando” will run for six showings March 15-17 and 22-24 in the Binda Performing Arts Center, on campus at 450 North Ave. in Battle Creek. Friday and Saturday shows will start at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday shows will start at 3 p.m. Tickets are $10 each for students, KCC faculty and staff and seniors, and $15 each for the general public. They can be purchased onsite before each show or reserved in advance through the KCC Theatre Box Office by calling 269-965-4154.

(Promotional photo by Jennifer Philp.)