At first glance, one might consider portraying someone’s older brother, boyfriend, or therapist, an incredibly unusual route for their creative voice. However, twenty-five year old actor David French has been doing just that, to great success, for over two years on his YouTube channel with over ninety different videos in his cannon. With his camera serving as the eyes of the viewer, Mr. French performs a one-act play, delineating one of his many characters as he acts out conversations that might occur in real life. His channel, entitled Dave’s Roleplays, serves as the home for his virtual theater in which he welcomes his audience with the masks of Tragedy and Comedy and invites them to “Leave Reality . . . Enter Fantasy”.
And Mr. French is not alone. On YouTube, there have been many other content creators who have created roleplay videos to accommodate the particular demographic of viewers who indulge in these types of videos. The most popular type of roleplays have been through the ASMR community (Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, videos created to relax the viewer through soft tingling sensations). Yet, what makes Dave’s Roleplays shine is his ability to do what ASMR roleplays will never be able to accomplish – Mr. French revolves his acting around deep human emotions in order for his viewers to feel like they are having a genuine conversation.
I recently had the opportunity to interview Mr. French about his particular brand of virtual theater from his residence in Chicago.
Colden Lamb: What is the intended purpose of these roleplay videos? Why is portraying someone else’s big brother, boyfriend or Lacrosse friend your creative outlet?
David French: The purpose of these videos is to be a distraction for the viewer in order to indulge oneself in fantasy and there is nothing wrong with that. I consider my virtual theater to be chocolate chip cookies for your brain or for your mental health. For me personally, it gives me the opportunity to work on my acting. I like to look back on these videos in order to critically critique myself and improve for the next video.
CL: Who are these videos for? Who is your intended audience?
DF: These videos are for anyone and everyone. When I make these videos, I think of specific people that I’ve met in life, or I attempt to throw myself into the shoes of a viewer and my job is to assure them the same way that I would like to be assured in certain life events. All it takes is one person to say, “It’s going to be okay”, “That’s totally fine”, or “You’re alright”. To hear someone comfort you with words like that is freeing.
CL: Why do you think there is such an appetite for these types of videos amongst viewers?
DF: I love this question. There is an appetite for these types of roleplays because human beings are emotionally hungry creatures. Especially today with our constant dependency on technology, and with the restrictions of the pandemic, there is this gigantic lack of intimacy and connection out there. With social media, tablets, and phones shoved in our faces, we are not really talking to each other anymore. I think my virtual theater is a supplement for that emotional connection that people are looking for.
CL: How did your YouTube channel come about in the first place?
DF: After I graduated from The University of Denver, where I studied acting, I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do and how to make the best use of my degree, however, I felt stuck. One night, while I was having difficulty falling asleep because I was struggling to find a creative outlet, I stumbled upon one of my favorite ASMR artists on YouTube, Gibi. In her videos, Gibi performs as different characters in short sketches – her most popular character is called Daisy – through the soft ASMR filter. It was through watching Gibi’s videos that I thought I could take the acting roleplay aspect of what Gibi does in her videos, but without the ASMR element. While ASMR roleplay videos make their audience feel nice and relaxed through audio sensors, usually accomplished by whispering, I wanted to make the sensors for my roleplays revolve around emotional pathos portrayed through my acting.
CL: Where do you acquire the dialogue for your videos, especially those in which you give advice to your viewing audience.? Are they other’s monologues, pulled from research or are they pulled from personal experiences?
DF: I would say a little bit of all three because acting reflects the truth of life and the human experience. I’ve pulled from personal experiences but I’ve also been inspired from monologues that I’ve read, particularly those written by Joseph Arnone, a playwright and founder of the online publication Monologue Blogger.
CL: What has been the response to these videos?
DF: The response has been mostly positive, however I do occasionally see someone who comments that my videos are weird or cringy. Some internet trolls say, “doesn’t he know he’s talking to a camera?” (despite the fact that everyone on YouTube talks to a camera). Those types of comments have actually inspired me to make content in which I talk to myself. I played with that idea of talking to myself and used that type of format in order to address my own worries and concerns by talking to my subconscious.
CL: What keeps you motivated to continue making these videos?
DF: I am motivated to continue making roleplays because I love acting. It’s like Halloween everyday – you can pretend to be something you’re not and have fun with it. A problem I have with my channel is the constancy of uploading new content. I don’t like my videos to be redundant, because if I make a certain type of video once, it doesn’t need to be repeated unless there could have been an alternate route I could have taken within that scenario.
CL: It seems these videos are cathartic for the viewing audience, are they cathartic to you as well?
DF: Sometimes they are cathartic to make because certain roleplays can help me lay out emotions. That being said, not all of these videos reflect me as a person outright or completely, hence, I throw in the disclaimer that these videos are for entertainment purposes only. I scream and yell in my videos but that doesn’t make me an angry man, nor am I a psychopathic serial killer – they are just characters I portray.
In regards to my videos being cathartic to me, I believe not. I don’t watch my own videos through the same lens as my viewers. Although creating virtual theater is my hobby – something that I really love to do – it is also my business and I try to conduct it as such. It’s part fun, part business and part ‘get my face out there’.
CL: What is the future of your channel?
DF: In the future, I hope to create more great storytelling experiences for my audience, characters that one can grow and connect with, which has always been my goal with this channel from the start.
CL: Is there anything else you would like to tell readers and subscribers about yourself or your virtual theater channel?
DF: So, I have this saying: “Be who you want to be”. At first, it comes across as ironic, especially since it’s coming from an actor who portrays different characters, but when people come to my channel, they feel connected – they feel that someone is listening and they can be their true selves. One should always try to find happiness in what they are seeking, especially since we only have one life to live. Therefore, “Be who you want to be”.
Colden Lamb is a Southern Californian based actor. He is also a graduate of San Diego State University.
This post was written by the author in their personal capacity.The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of The Theatre Times, their staff or collaborators.