Critical Role Art Exhibition and Live Show

In 2015, the Geek & Sundry internet streaming channel launched a show called Critical Role. It would broadcast live the weekly Dungeons & Dragons gaming sessions played by well known animation voice actors. What started two years prior as a home game between Matthew Mercer and his friends of fellow “nerdy ass voice actors” has since transformed into a pop culture phenomenon. The over 630 hours of dramatic storytelling and hilarious improvisational performances have captured the imaginations of fans the world over.

For over three years since Critical Role has been broadcasting, fans have submitted thousands of creative content in support and in celebration. From art work to songs to material used on the show and more, the love and appreciation has been quite overwhelming. Player Liam O’Brien, with assistance from fellow player Taliesin Jaffe, would go on to spearhead the creation of two art books, called The Chronicles of Exandria and named after the world in which the show is set in, showcasing pieces from the fan community. The success of the books would later result in the organization of an art exhibition at Gallery Nucleus in Alhambra, California.

Having hosted a number of unique events and galleries for such pop culture programs as Star Wars, Beauty and the Beast, Star vs. The Forces of Evil, Gravity Falls, Adventure Time, Steven Universe, and more recently Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse, Gallery Nucleus was an ideal setting for such an exhibition. However, it’s popular use did mean that the Critical Role gallery would only have a small window to be displayed, running from January 18 through 20. So that fans would have more to do than just checking out fan art pieces on display, a live show was set for January 19 at the prestigious Theatre at the Ace Hotel in downtown Los Angeles.

Tickets for the live show sold out almost instantly, to the point that the web site for the ticket provider apparently crashed within minutes and fans had to telephone quickly. In the meantime, the opening night festivities of the exhibition, known as The Art of Exandria, was as packed as one would see for a major program having a gallery at Gallery Nucleus. Members of the Critical Role cast and crew were present to see just how much love and appreciation the show received as fans from literally around the world showed up to see fan art showcased.

Over forty pieces from various artists were displayed. Chief among them were a pair of pieces by comic book artists Matteo Scalera and Moreno Dinisio. One, showing the primary characters from the first campaign known as Vox Machina, was used as the cover to the standard edition of the second art book. The other being a parallel piece using the primary characters from the second and current campaign known as The Mighty Nein. Prints of the two pieces were made available during the exhibition and a limited number would later be sold online at the end of January.

A highlight piece was a bust of second campaign character Jester, played by Laura Bailey. The wonderfully crafted display was made by Chris Gutierrez, Lindsey Crummett, and comic book artist Tess Fowler. Another eye-catching piece was a beautiful giant painting of a landscape in the continent of Wildemount, the setting of the second campaign. Along with the Jester bust, this was one of the most admired pieces and one that fans tended to get their pictures taken in front of. Other notable pieces included a campaign one scene illustration by Disney storyboard artist Wendy Sullivan and an illustrated portrait of the cast by Fowler.

The Theatre at the Ace Hotel has a seating capacity of approximately 1,600 people. It’s a big deal for a live show of self-proclaimed “nerdy ass voice actors” playing Dungeons & Dragons to sell out almost instantly. Fans began lining up at least an hour ahead of when the doors would open any way. About a third of the attendees managed to purchase VIP tickets, which allowed them to partake in an hour-long Q&A session with the cast prior to the live show. VIP attendees also received a cool swag bag that contained copper gaming dice, a copper pin of The Mighty Nein insignia, and a print of an illustration of Vox Machina signed by the cast.

Present for the Q&A was the full cast of the show in Matthew Mercer, Sam Riegel, Taliesin Jaffe, Marisha Ray, Liam O’Brien, Laura Bailey, Ashley Johnson, and Travis Willingham, along with Brian Foster, host of the after show Talks Machina, to serve as a moderator. When an opportunity arose, the entire audience sang “Happy Birthday” to Jaffe as January 19 was indeed his birthday. Foster didn’t have to do much in setting up or asking any introductory questions as they went straight to the fans, having a microphone be passed from person to person.

The majority of questions asked were considered spoilers to events that took place in both campaign one and campaign two. There were several that were a bit more open and general. One in particular was a question that every fan wanted to know, which was when the show would be adapted into an animated series. The cast directed the question to Willingham, who spearheaded the new animated introduction to the show in December. Willingham simply answered “Patience.” The others convinced him to change it to the more commonly used response on the show, “Wait!”

Another interesting question asked was when Johnson would serve as game master of a one-shot separate from the main game. While the question was extended for Jaffe to also answer, he, like the rest of the cast, has served as a game master previously. Johnson noted that she does have an idea for a game, but scheduling availability is an on-going issue for her. While Critical Role broadcasts live every Thursday from Los Angeles, Johnson is also a main cast member of the NBC drama Blindspot, which is filmed in New York through a large portion of the year. She was able to find an opening in her schedule to partake in the weekend’s festivities.

After the Q&A ended, there was an hour break to let the general admission attendees in. Many fans took this opportunity to take pictures of those in cosplay as characters from both campaigns in front of the stage as the gaming tables were being set up. A large gathering of artists within the fan community, a few having had their pieces on display in the exhibition, were seated on the balcony level and hung out with some well known friends of the cast such as voice actress Julie Nathanson and Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows writer Jody Houser.

The live show itself started at around 9 pm. Broadcasts of Critical Role typically run between three to five hours, including a fifteen minute break, depending on Mercer’s feel for when a good place in the storytelling to end the session would be. They were about ten minutes shy of 2 am by the time Mercer called it a night, jokingly saying that they needed to leave before everyone got fined by parking attendants. The show itself was absolutely fantastic, playing upon the always great storytelling Mercer does with the cast and the unwavering excitement and energy from a live crowd of 1,600 in attendance. It was a great way to end an amazing weekend.

For Critical Role fans, or “Critters” as they are affectionately called, the weekend was a majestic celebration of a show they continue to love and support. Those not quite as familiar with the idea of people watching animation voice actors playing Dungeons & Dragons may see this as a confirmation of its breakthrough into pop culture over the past couple years. To have an art exhibition at a well known gallery like Gallery Nucleus and then to hold a live show in a prestigious venue that sold out 1,600 tickets in minutes is no small feat. This weekend was highly successful for the cast, crew, and fans and one they will never forget.

Critical Role broadcasts live every Thursday on the Geek & Sundry Twitch, YouTube, and Project Alpha channels, which are then available every Monday on YouTube. The live show from January 19 will be available on the Critical Role Twitch and YouTube channels in February. The second volume of The Chronicles of Exandria art book is available through the Critical Role web site in both a standard edition, featuring the Vox Machina piece by Scalera and Dinisio displayed at the Art of Exandria exhibition on the cover, and a deluxe limited edition.


Below are exclusive pictures from the Critical Role Art Exhibition and Live Show. 

Fans checking out the Critical Role art exhibition at Gallery Nucleus ahead of the night’s live show.
Beautiful landscape piece of the continent Wildemount from the second campaign.
Portrait of the Critical Role cast by Tess Fowler.
First campaign characters Vox Machina by Carlos Ruiz.
First campaign characters Vex’ahlia (Laura Bailey), Pike (Ashley Johnson), and Keyleth (Marisha Ray) by Meg Simmons.
Second campaign characters The Mighty Nein by Matteo Scalera and Moreno Dinisio.
Second campaign character Nott (Sam Riegel) by Jonah Baumann.
Critical Role live show at a prestigious venue The Theatre at The Ace Hotel.
Fan cosplaying as first campaign character Percy.
Brian Foster, Sam Riegel, Taliesin Jaffe, Marisha Ray, Matthew Mercer, and Liam O’Brien during the Q&A.
Marisha Ray, Matthew Mercer, Laura Bailey, Ashley Johnson, and Travis Willingham during the Q&A.
The Theatre at The Ace Hotel housing 1,600 to watch voice actors playing Dungeons and Dragons.
Fans cosplaying as second campaign characters two as Jester, Caduceus, Caleb, and Nott
and first campaign characters Percy and Vax’ildan.
The cast of Critical Role and Brian Foster thanking the fans for attending after the live show ends.
VIP swag bag with copper gaming dice, copper Mighty Nein pin, and Vox Machina illustration signed by the cast.

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