Ned Donovan, bottom left, is an actor and co-executive producer on the new streaming series “Encounter Party,” following a group playing Dungeons & Dragons. Photo courtesy of Hasbro Entertainment

Ned Donovan considered himself a “sports guy” growing up, playing both soccer and lacrosse at Waynflete School in Portland. He even harbored hopes of playing in college someday.

But he also loved musical theater, a fact he never tried to hide from teammates, performing in school and community productions. He was not as open about his love of the fantasy role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons, however.

“I’ve been playing since I was 9 years old, but then it was something people made fun of, so I didn’t tell anyone,” said Donovan, 34, who now lives in New York City. “I think it’s a lot like acting, but society did not agree.”

Ned Donovan, a 2008 Waynflete School grad. Photo courtesy of Ned Donovan

Donovan hides his passion for Dungeons & Dragons no more. In fact, he’s now playing in a very public way, as an actor on the streaming show “Encounter Party.” It launched Nov. 14 on Hasbro’s streaming TV channel, Dungeons & Dragons: Adventure.

The show follows Donovan and six other actors as they play a game of Dungeons & Dragons, with all its fantastical twists and turns. New episodes stream Tuesdays and Fridays at 9 p.m., and the channel is available on the Amazon Freevee and Plex streaming services.

The 22-episode series is based on a hit podcast of the same name that was created by Donovan and co-producer Brian David Judkins, which ran for 66 episodes from 2019 to 2021. The new streaming series is one of three original series launching this month on the Dungeons & Dragons: Adventure channel. The other two are a comedy improv show and a cooking show.


On the show, Donovan and his fellow actors sit around an impressive gaming table, with large, colorful images of characters as background on set and dramatic music punctuating their dialogue and stories. The game, and the show, begins with this premise: “Six strangers share a prophetic dream that condemns two of them to death. As they chase down their impending demise, a dangerous question grows. Does fate change once you’ve seen it?”

The characters include Asher, a wizard prodigy whose sister has disappeared; Dryddian Rootwalker, who survived a violent raid on his homeland and is now out for revenge; Flik, Donovan’s character, who specializes in the acquisition of rare magical items; Tolo, a young warrior on a path of self-discovery; Ulavina Thrift, a student of the magical arts; and Vinh Erikson von Longstrider, a soldier in a famed battalion. The artwork for the characters has a Medieval vibe, with axes as the most dangerous weapons.

The best-known cast member is probably Khary Payton, who played Ezekiel Sutton in the AMC horror series “The Walking Dead” and has done voice acting in such animated projects as “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” and the TV series “Teen Titans Go!” The rest of the cast includes Donovan, Judkins, David Lee Huynh, Landree Fleming, Sarah Babe, and Andrew Krug. Their collective experience ranges from sketch comedy shows and TV drama series to Shakespeare. Donovan and Judkins are also co-executive producers.

Portland native Ned Donovan is an actor and co-executive producer on the new streaming show “Encounter Party.” Photo courtesy of Hasbro Entertainment

Donovan says the show is like watching people play Dungeons & Dragons, except without inside jokes or people explaining the rules. There is a storyline for guidance, then it’s left to the show’s trained actors to improvise character and story choices and give voice to those choices. The show runs for 22 serialized episodes.

Donovan says “Encounter Party” is sort of like a cooking competition, “Master Chef” for instance. Most of the action takes place at a counter or an oven, but it’s dramatically scored and the encounters between people on the show are lively and engaging.

“It’s very different playing on the show than at home,” said Donovan, who lives in The Bronx in New York City. “At home, I don’t perform. On the show, I know there’s an audience and we want to make sure the audience is having fun, too. ”



Donovan, who grew up in Portland, thinks he might be the longest-tenured student in the history of Waynflete School, where his mother taught history. He started there in pre-school and graduated from the high school in 2008.

Donovan says he was always encouraged to be a “well-rounded” student at Waynflete, so no one thought it was odd that he played varsity soccer and lacrosse in high school but also went out for plays and musicals and took dance lessons at Casco Bay Movers and Portland Ballet. He was also in two a cappella groups at the school.

He was in several community theater musicals, including “Gypsy” and “The Sound of Music” at Lyric Music Theater in South Portland. He was Prince Charming in “Cinderella” at Portland Players, also in South Portland.

Actors playing/performing on the show “Encounter Party.” Photo courtesy of Hasbro Entertainment

But trying to do sports and theater was tough, and Donovan said he was “not good at homework” because he had so many extracurricular activities. He had wanted to try to play soccer or lacrosse in college, but about halfway through high school, he decided to focus on theater and acting. As a senior in high school, he traveled to Chicago to audition for 17 different college musical theater programs in four days.

His final choice was between Penn State and Ithaca College in upstate New York. Since Penn State’s football stadium held more people than lived in Portland, he felt the size was overwhelming. So he chose Ithaca and then blew out his knee playing lacrosse. He told the school he wouldn’t be able to dance for two years. But the school took him anyway and helped him get care from the college’s sports injury physical therapy program.


“That program was great. That’s why I can dance today,” said Donovan.

After graduating from Ithaca in 2012 with a bachelor of fine arts degree in musical theater performance, he moved to New York City to look for work. He spent a few years couch-surfing and subletting apartments while trying to build a career.

He auditioned steadily and found roles in musical theater productions around the country, including several shows over a couple of years in Wisconsin. He also performed at theaters in upstate New York and Kentucky.

He came back to Maine for a while around 2014 and worked as a stunt coordinator on the indie comedy-horror movie “Night of the Living Deb,” which was filmed in Portland. He helped choreograph a crash between a 1970s Cadillac and a taxi cab in the Old Port, among his other duties.

He later acted in the musical horror web series “The Hunted: Encore” and did voice acting work, including on podcasts, and produced podcasts. Around 2018, he started talking with Judkins, a fellow Ithaca alum, about a Dungeons & Dragons podcast. As a longtime player, Donovan knew that there was a growing demand for podcasts and shows that follow people playing games.

But he and Judkins wanted a series that was different than just a straight recording of people playing.


“We talked about making a show that captures all the story and dreams of Dungeons & Dragons but removes all the things that don’t move the stories, like debating the rules and doing the math,” said Donovan. “We wanted to do something different, make it feel like a scripted show.”

The podcast “Encounter Party” was recorded in Chicago and released in 2019. Near the end of its run, Donovan and his co-producer began to pitch the idea for a streaming TV show to various companies, including the owners of the Dungeons & Dragons game, Wizards of the Coast, which is owned by toy giant Hasbro.

Hasbro liked the idea and decided to make “Encounter Party” one of the new original shows on the Dungeons & Dragons: Adventures channel, which is free and supported by ads.

“With Encounter Party, we saw the chance for these excellent storytellers to immerse the audience in the drama and laughter of their adventure by simply using each individual’s skill in the ‘theatre of the mind’ to bring it to life,” said Tom Danon, senior vice president of current programming with eOne/Hasbro. “I had no idea watching people play D&D could be so enthralling, “

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