This show has been the longest creative process I’ve ever been a part of. Over two years, on and off (not including David’s initial research residency), and probably a little over six months of time in the room. Being able to sit with a show for this long is quite a new experience. Being able to sit with the ideas and science behind the show for that long has been incredibly valuable.
The length of time has let us consider decisions longer than we otherwise might be able to, and also investigate particular paths with little pressure to stick with them. Back in 2012 we made Bateman’s Vegas with the express purpose to try it and throw it away – doing that was exciting and freeing.
The flip side of this process, though, is that twice – two years ago and this week – we have packed a lot of rehearsal and show building into a very short period of time. We’ve got the show from a rough skeleton to a pretty polished (imho) scratch to show audiences. Both times I’ve been surprised at how quickly and efficiently we were able to work, and at the standard to which we got.
We’ve had several discussions about the future of this work, and the potential to be commissioned to recreate the show responding to specific systems. I’ve found our ability to shift so quickly from dense, broad ideas into a workable show very encouraging. It shows that we’re getting better at translating the ideas into a show, and that the process we’ve been building over the last two years is developing very well.
How do we best record or document the process we’ve created so we can continue developing and using it?
So as we start our week at Battersea Arts Centre, heading towards our first public scratch season this Thursday. Setting up the space today, what felt really nice was how much work we’ve done in the last month and a bit. There’s a lot still to do, and a real distance from where we are to where we hope to get to, but it certainly feels like we’re fixing and tightening a working piece of theatre, rather than trying to build one out of sketches.
It’s so lovely having Gary’s design all here now to play with, and having a script to work off, and all the other elements that we’ve had to work hard to put in place. I felt a moment of being able to acknowledge how far this piece has come since we first began research, or even in the last few weeks.
Of course, along with that comes the awareness of how much there is still to do, and how far we hope to get. One of the biggest challenges with this work has been the shifting goalposts – every separate development, every week, every day, we’re working towards a different goal, and assessing ourselves against different measures. With a few days out from opening, I guess it’s really important to make sure we still have our eyes on the bigger picture.
So with that in mind, I guess my question is, How can we best use this scratch to set us up for the next stage of development?
Last weekend we caught an early plane to Germany, and attended three days of Essen’s International Spieltag, the world’s largest board game convention. We went a couple of years ago, on the hunt for exciting game mechanics we could fit to our show, and a great time was had. This time I wanted to spend some time learning games, and paying attention to instructions. I also went to buy – since visiting in 2012 I’ve seriously gotten into the hobby, though I doubt my collection or mastery will ever rival Muttley’s.
We learnt a lot of games, and played a lot of games, and bought a lot of games. We met some lovely people and had many games taught to us by people operating the stalls. I will forever be impressed by someone able to explain a complex game to strangers in a second language.
I spend a fair bit of time thinking about how to teach board games to other players. When I’m teaching a board game, I generally try to make my explanation fit the following structure. There are games that don’t fit it, but this works as a base – it’s how I think I can most efficiently learn games, too.
1. Who you are in the game and how you can win
2. What you can do to get to the win condition
3. What you’ll typically do on a turn
4. When/how the game will end
The reason I think this works (when it does, which is not always) is that it’s shaped around the player experience – and probably comes from my experience in interactive theatre as well. For the show, I think we’ve made a very good effort to keep our instructions framed within the audience experience. Our instructions are getting leaner and clearer as we get through more playtests, and I think by the time we do these scratches at the end of the week we’ll be feeling very good about them.
How do you best learn/teach games?
Our stage and some happy cricketers! all ready for a first walk through of our script
We went to Spieltage!!! And it was great. BUT what has been event greater is the amount of work we’ve covered in this last week. We had our second playtest last Wednesday night and then on Monday afternoon, fresh from a weekend of hard core board gaming at Spieltage in Essen, we crashed right on through and did our first stumble through of the show. This was a terribly exciting moment, and also terrifying because we had not really had a chance to see what this show is going to be like yet. Having written it all together – writing into the same script – and then reading it and editing one another’s work it has been a bit tricky to get a mental image of the whole thing together. I think this is partially because we have three aspects of the show – the system science concepts, the game rules explanations and playing and the little character/story vignettes that give a POV of some of the people on the ground of our little fictional festival – and these all in their own way are a little narrative in themselves.
The stumble through went pretty well for a stumble through. No major slashes to the script seem to be needed, all the games worked quite well even if they were a bit off, or needed a different explanation. We were by no means clear and concise but the foggy shape of a good show is there. Which at this stage is comforting.
What was interesting to me during the stumble through was the overlapping moments. Where something we’d already explained in a game was then repeated again and again in the story, the science, the rules explanation. This is an easy trap to stumble into because we REALLY want to convey these systems thinking concepts but in actual fact just makes it all incredibly boring and a bit patronizing too. We’ve been working hard in the days since then slimming down our script and trying to get the right balance of communication throughout all the aspects of the show while keeping everything fun, light and clear. We had another playtest this evening and – while I’ll leave it to someone else to elaborate on that if they like – I feel that we’re already more aware of the clarity in which we impart our information. Which is good news because we’re off to Battersea Arts Centre next week for our Scratch performances and the more we can have in place before them the more we can learn from them and the better our show is going to be.
On Wednesday last week we presented our second Scratch playtest at the London Science Museum. Around eight participants came to help us trial the different games we’ve been working on, to calibrate and attempt to break them.
One of the nicest things about the event was simply the fact that we laid out our set for the first time in this whole process – we’ve been doing a lot of talking, and it makes a world of difference to be able to lay out the pieces and see how the whole thing looks in practice.
We tried out three key games, based on the Site Construction, Access and Amenities sub-systems. These are three of our ‘all-in’ games, where the whole audience is engaged, more or less. Here’s a clip of the Amenities game:
And this is the Access game, where the participants lay paths to connect the different buildings.
Several things jumped out immediately from the experience, but the biggest one was that all the games more or less worked. There’s a lot of tidying to be done, a lot of details to be worked out, and in several cases, variations on the games to be decided between. But overall, I think we all walked away from the scratch feeling like it was a success – that this show, as bizarre as it is, is actually a fun experience for audiences.
Then we took off overseas for three days to Germany to attend Spieletage – but I’ll let someone else talk about that.
CONFIRMATION is showing at Battersea Arts Centre until October 25
Blogging is not one of my strong points, so I’m going to love you and leave you with a short update.
Last week we all took a trip up the road to Battersea Arts Centre to see Confirmation. I recommend you check it out. I got a lot from the show, not least some new ideas about communicating new and potentially complicated theories to an audience.
We’re heading to Essen on Thursday for Internationale Spieltage, which is exciting. If you have any food recommendations for a gluten-free vegetarian within walking distance of the Messe, get in touch! I don’t expect anyone to though because wow, what a boring request from me.
I’ve been focusing my attention this week on an earl segment of the show – our performance contract and ‘What is a System’. I think it’s a really important part of the show, because we need to communicate the spine of our show in a way that is engaging, understandable, applicable to everyday situations, and serves the remainder of the show by setting up some dominos that get knocked down later. I’m almost done having my second pass at it, and then I’ll hand it on to someone else to tweak and edit. Sharing is caring.
If you’re at Spieltage, come say hi! Last time we went, one of the games was handing out free bananas as promotion. I hope someone does that again!
Sheep! They look so peaceful. Bet they wouldn’t much enjoy a music festival being plonked down in one of their fields.
This last week we’ve been working on drafting the script for Best Festival Ever and making sure that all our pieces are fitting together. We’ve made an order of events – an order we think that this show should be explained in – and then have been fleshing out the sections from there.
This is the messiest part of putting this kind of work together. After you have spent so much time planning and organising and discussing and writing out your blueprint it’s disorienting to dig down into the detail and attempt to write between the dots as best you can. It’s uncomfortable and the script doesn’t look like anything much for a while. With five people writing into the document, and editing, it is even more confusing. You realise that while you all have agreed on a blueprint the differentiation in each persons vision of how this show goes are in its details. It’s important not to get too dragged down by this and to be able to quickly adjust to another idea but that in itself is easier said than done.
We have made this process more complicated for ourselves in the fact that we have decided to make a show that attempts to explain not just one concept of systems science and modelling but many. We are cramming a lot of detail into this little one hour piece and balancing the desire to give details against the need to be clear and concise is tricky. We could spend a whole hour (or more) on any one of the elements of systems science and modelling that are discussed in the show. One of the reasons we have decided to do this is to communicate the interconnectivity of each of these elements. We think our audiences can handle the complexity if it’s written well so we’re sticking with it. But it does make these periods of drafting a bit more dense.
Already in this drafting process questions of timelines, characters and levels of audience engagement have been raised. How the games are incorporated into explanations of resilient systems and modelling has been one consideration. How colourful can we make characters and storyline without over shadowing or making light of the scientific concepts and game mechanisms within the show. These are the problems that I don’t think you are able to see until you go through and write it all out.
Once this process is done we will have a much more level playing field in terms of the language and the details of the show. We will have more material to work with and we have detail rather than dot points. We will be able to get a much better perspective of what still needs to be attended to and where clarifications need to be made. And then we will be able to redraft it. This negotiation isn’t always fun but I think it is a hugely profitable one.
My question for this part of the process is, and one that I will be keeping in my mind is ‘
What are all of our goals for this show and are we hitting them as we draft it?’