We had the strange pleasure last week of having a whole week between our presentation of Best Festival Ever as a scratch performance and the beginning of our shows for the London Science Museum. We spent the week assessing and amending the script for clarity, consistency and to make the science lecture sections of the show a bit more palatable and fun. Attempting to make the transitions between our games, story and science a bit smoother and neater. We have come to terms with the fact that the show is a little longer than we had expected. We are cramming quite a lot of information into it after all and while it is a show dense with science, examples, flowcharts, game rules and play it seems that giving a little more time suits it more than cutting it down. We then spent time working on our props and touring kit, getting all the pieces ready for our show, but also making sure we can safely move this thing about without a lot of repair work to our props having to happen on the road. To do this we took the show out to perform design students in north London. This was a really interesting experience. Firstly to perform in a different venue from BAC, then to see how we would go setting up and packing down the kit and how long it would take us to do this. It was also an excellent way to see how the show looked and went in a space unlit by stage lights (with fluorescent lights and such) and unused to such a performance. Performance wise it was an excellent experience in what it might be like to present this show in a non theatrical environment – in one where interest in the show is not the reason they are there, and how we can move the show in its performance to meet these audiences. Because of its presentational nature the show runs along pretty well on its own, but it is also open enough in its engagements to encourage interaction for the games and also hopefully in interacting with us as performers. One of the things we have always wanted from this work was to be able to make it flexible and widely appealing not only as a touring work but also in terms of the range of audiences and environments we can go into. As our first foray into taking the show on the road I think it went pretty well. A few realisations and things to change but it is nice to realise them now and hopefully strengthen the show. We have a few of these engagements coming up and I’m really interested to see how they all go.
The show is now almost road worthy so our next phase is about to begin – the final final touches are happening tomorrow and Tuesday morning ready for our first public show on Tuesday night! Super exciting.
My question is what are the things to be aware in taking the show into different environments in performance, environment and travelling.
We’re nearing the end of our process and coming up to opening night at the Dana Centre. This means a lot of where we’re at is thinking about something we’ve not needed to think about for nearly the whole two year process: the performance.
I don’t really think of myself as an actor, and I don’t really think of this as a play. That said, the show requires quite a lot of Rachel, Nikki and me – moving between narrative, lecture, instructions and interactions. We need to be clear and confident in our communication, but we also need to be very responsible to an audience – read them, gauge the pace they need the show to run at, figure how carefully we need to guide them through the interactive parts of the show. The beginning is particularly tricky – there’s a lot of talking at the top of the show, and holding the audiences attention is important, because this is where we lay a lot of the foundation of the show. It’s difficult to be energetic and engaging at that point without pushing too hard, but that’s what we need to do.
There’s plenty of work that we’re drawing on when we’re thinking about the performance. Chris Thorpe’s CONFIRMATION, which we saw recently at Battersea Arts Centre, was exploring the concept of confirmation bias. Despite high theatricality and breakneck speed, the show was very generous and clear in its explanations – pitched at just the right point for what the show was getting across. I can think of other performance lectures, too – version 1.0’s Bougainville Photoplay Project springs to mind as something that walked between lecture and narrative very well.
We’re going to try see 2071 at Royal Court this week – a performance lecture (I read “anti-theatre” somewhere, though that conjures some names that maybe aren’t relevant). It’ll be interesting to see such a direct conversation about climate change on a mainstage – at the very least it will be useful to see how other artists are engaging with ideas that we’re looking at.
I’m looking forward to developing a strong set of strategies for performing this show. Presenting it to different types of audiences will give us a range for how the show might happen, and how we can make the best of the all the work we’ve done up to this point.
In a show where the performative components haven’t been the process’ main focus, what can we put into place to make sure the show has a consistent quality?
After a pretty big week, we finished up the third of our three public scratch shows at BAC last night – it was a really lovely experience, and we’re feeling very fortunate to get the opportunity to test the work out there.
It’s a pretty lovely thing to get to run the show three times with real audiences, and it gave us a set of ideas and understandings that we couldn’t have gotten through anything else. Broadly, I think, the show works – with lots of caveats and challenges that we now need to address. The biggest one for me is the flow between the science and the game elements – the ideas in the work sometimes felt a little choppy. What to do about this I’m not exactly sure yet, though I have one or two thoughts…
We’re now about to head into our last week of development before kicking off shows at the London Science Museum. This is an interesting challenge and opportunity. On the one hand, we don’t want to pull things apart too much and miss our chance to really tighten up and refine the slightly rougher elements of the work. On the other hand, we want to make the best use of this opportunity to really get our teeth into what’s working and what’s not, and to lift this play up a notch.
So I’m wondering, What can we achieve in the next four days to take us further forward?
Today I found this article from a news publication back home – Empathy Gaming
“An emerging category of role-playing computer games is demonstrating how the genre can be used to discuss awkward, even painful subjects, writes Patrick Begley.”
I’m familiar with games such as Papers, Please and as Nathan said when I shared the article with him, it’s great to see games from indie developers getting coverage in publications such as the Sydney Morning Herald.
With Best Festival Ever, we are certainly attempting to use gaming mechanics to bring to light moral ambiguities, decision making tactics and questions about ethics and systems management. While the article makes the point that many of these indie ‘empathy games’ are not focusing on fun, we definitely want the audience experience of our show to be very fun. Having fun means that you’re more likely to take risks, more likely to continue playing even when the results take a dive, more likely to participate in group games. (At least, I think so).
Take a look at the article and try out one of the games.
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?