Critical Role wants to host even more live shows, especially outside of the US

Left to right, Sam Riegel, Laura Bailey, Taliesin Jaffe, and Ashley Johnson on stage in London in October 2023. During the Wembly Arena show they wore elaborate costumes, including Riegel’s Union Jack onesie.
Photo: Critical Role

‘We come alive’ during those performances, says CEO Travis Willingham

Critical Role is no stranger to live performances — at gaming conventions, livestreamed in movie theaters, or most recently at London’s Wembley Arena. In fact, the actual play troupe that cut its teeth on Dungeons & Dragons (before building its own systems) has a live show coming up on June 15 in Los Angeles. And it’s at the historic Greek Theatre, no less! But CEO Travis Willingham sees an opportunity to bring his performers’ special brand of magic to even more loving audiences — especially outside of the United States.

The official poster for Bell Bells Live at The Greek Theater in Los Angeles features the cast rendered in lively and colorful art, with heavy lines and bright colors.
Image: Critical Role

“Where else could we go?” Willingham wondered out loud in a recent interview with Polygon.

Ticket sales clearly point to an unmet need for live-action actual play performances among the genre’s most devoted fans. Critical Role’s London show easily drew more than 12,500 attendees. More recently, Dropout’s Dimension 20 sold out Madison Square Garden, with a 19,500-seat capacity, in a matter of days. Live performance is back in a big way since the COVID-19 pandemic, and actual play needs to get on board — and start thinking even bigger.

“Especially after [Wembley and Dimension 20’s success selling out MSG], we have got to get out of the U.S. a little bit,” Willingham said. “We have to make sure we’re taking care of the rest of the U.S. [besides Los Angeles and the tabletop convention circuit], but can we go to Australia? Can we go to other targets in the EU? Can we go to South America? South America has been amazing in terms of our audience demographic, and we feel like it’s underserved.

“It’s a logistical challenge to figure all those things out,” Willingham continued. “There’s really no playbook for these things. But no playbook [has] kind of [been] our MO for the last five or six years since we went independent. So we take a shot at it, we try and figure it out along the way, and we just kind of act on where we think people are wanting or indicating to us that they want to see us.”

The challenges of a live show are many, but they’re also a chance for the actors to go outside their comfort zones. For Willingham, that means letting his guard down and putting on a goofy costume every once in a while.

A shot from behind the cast during Critical Role’s London show. The Wembly Arena is packed with nearly 13,000 fans.
Photo: Critical Role

“Me, I’m a T-shirt-and-jeans kind of guy,” Willingham said with a laugh. “We got some people in this group that just can’t be stopped. And then we throw somebody from wardrobe at them that can go out and source any crazy ideas we have, and it just gets taken to a 10.”

But what Willingham is most excited about is digging ever deeper into the larger narrative that’s being crafted by Dungeon Master Matt Mercer.

“One of the things that I love and applaud the most about Matthew Mercer is that he has the craziest red-thread board somewhere in his mind,” Willingham said, referring to the well-worn meme from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. “If you watch campaign one and haven’t watched anything since; if you watched campaign two, Mighty Nein, and nothing else since; if you tune in for the Greek Theatre live show […] there is instantly going to be components from both of those things that are already at stake. […] So whether or not you are caught up, or don’t even know who the characters are, there’s something in there for you. […] I’m sure our outfits will be worth it alone.”

Also? Maybe keep an eye on Willingham himself, who, more often than not, says he’s just trying to keep it together on stage.

“I’m terrible at keeping a poker face during our actual play,” Willingham said. “Matt starts getting into lore? I’m freaking out. Somebody starts flirting? I’m freaking out. So those things are just magnified with the screens that they have at the shows. But other than that, it’s just trying to control your heart rate before you take the stage and then knowing that you’re about to go through something incredible with thousands of people that have enjoyed the game that you love as much as they do.”

For more information on the June 15 performance of Critical Role at The Greek Theatre, see the dedicated website.

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