By KRISTEN DOWD/The Voorhees Sun
Equipped with knives, bows and the occasional grenade, they were ready to conquer the impending zombie horde – or die trying. These human survivors had so far managed to evade the grim reaper in this post-apocalyptic world, but with brain-hungry zombies closing in, it seemed their days were numbered.
This was the backdrop to the Voorhees Town Center on Saturday, July 7, as Mystic Realms Live Action Role Playing (LARP) teamed with Fusion Performing Arts Center to bring zombies to life (or back from the dead) for a Zombie Walk and Survivor Slaughter.
The event was center-stage of a zombie-crazed day at the mall, a joint effort between businesses Fusion Performing Arts Center, Adventureland Comics, Outside of the Box Games and Tilt Studio. More than 100 individuals participated in the Zombie Walk, which included a stroll through the mall and a final battle between brain-eating zombies and tough-as-nails human survivors.
And while the goal was, in fact, to kill your opponents through theatrics, it was all in good fun for the participants, which included a number of Mystic Realms members. It was also an opportunity to leave the every day behind.
“We’re a community of friends that supports each other’s creative endeavors,” said Anton Kukal, Mystic Realms president. “The Zombie Walk is about stepping away from the daily grind. It’s an expression of creativity. There’s a lot of monotony in day-to-day life. Unless you try to express your creativity, you kind of become zombified.”
Mystic Realms is interactive drama – a chance for participants to take on live action roles in a variety of worlds. It’s not always post-apocalyptic and it’s not always zombies, but, despite the day’s theme, the goal is the same – to create a seamless theatric environment while having fun.
Events like the Zombie Walk spread the word about Mystic Realms and bring in new members. Membership is always open, although you don’t have to be a member to take place in a live action event. And while the events may seem like fun and games, Kukal said there’s a lot more to it than just the entertainment value.
“Live action role playing is a multi-dimensional hobby,” he said. “It touches on so many aspects.”
Participants learn about theater, of course, as well as makeup applications and crafting. They learn about improvisational techniques. Some step up to be leaders. And through it all, participants pick up social skills along the way.
“These social skills will be with you all your life,” said Kukal. He said he has seen many Mystic Realms members start out shy and “blossom into extroverted individuals.”
“You’re learning life skills,” Kukal said.
Mystic Realms member Dominic Ciarrocchi was a survivor at Saturday’s event, but despite the fact that the zombies managed to wipe out their human counterparts during both of the day’s battles, Ciarrocchi said it wasn’t hopeless to take on the survivor role.
“It’s about the effort. It’s about working together,” he said. “You do it because it’s fun. It’s escapism. It allows me to leave my real problems behind for a few hours.”
He likened live action role playing to knitting.
“Everyone’s got their hobbies. Some people knit,” Ciarrocchi said, “and this is my hobby.”
Kukal’s wife, Bobbi, and three children – Alexandra, 10, Anthony, 8, and Emily, 5 – were part of the Zombie Walk, too, although the quartet opted to eat brains instead of try to survive like their zombie-hunting patriarch.
“It’s fun. You have that little kid inside of you who likes to place and this is a safe environment for that,” said Bobbi, who holds a degree in theater. “I think everyone’s been having a really good time.”
At the end of the Zombie Walk and Survivor Slaughter, all of the participants came back to life to return to reality. Kukal said he was happy with the day’s turnout, but added that Mystic Realms helps participants know the fun isn’t completely over at the end of the day.
“It reminds us that when we take our makeup off,” Kukal said, “we have to still be creative people.”
To find out more about Mystic Realms LARP, visit www.mysticrealms.com. Fusion Performing Arts Center is located at 1040 Voorhees Town Center, Voorhees.