Telling the story of managing a festival disaster

Isle of Wight festival puddle

So we are back in London, right back in the thick of Best Festival Ever creation. It’s really lovely to be making things again, after such a long pause it feels both like blowing away cobwebs and also like exploring very new territory. Very rarely in my creative practice (well, never) have I had the opportunity to kick off a development from a starting position of actually knowing what we’re trying to make, and it’s a novelty and a pleasure – and also a pressure. We’ve worked hard to get ourselves here, and that means we really need to get it right.

There’s a lot of aspects to the science and the gameplay that I want to make work, but one thing I’ve been thinking about a lot this week is the story. Last time, we spent almost all of the lead-up developing the games and establishing the structure of the show. In the end, the time to write a thoughtful playscript was incredibly constrained. This is a reasonably regular Boho challenge – in fact, probably a challenge for experimental theatre everywhere. When you’re rewiring the structure of how you tell stories, you leave yourself less time to finesse the actual content of those stories.

As much as the show is a science lecture and a toy model with tactile interactive mechanisms, it’s also the story of a music festival that goes horribly wrong. The tone is deliberately light and often over the top, but there’s a lot of richness in that story, and I really want to bring it out this time. Not to mention that for a lot of the games the audience will be playing, the mechanism itself is not enough of a reward to make the show work – it’s the stories that emerge from their choices and actions that really invite them to engage properly.

One thing we’ve discussed a bit in rehearsals these last few days has been how to make the system ‘play back’ at the audience. Instead of just giving them some starting conditions and a set of rules, then providing the results at the end of the game, this time we want the model to respond to the ways in which audiences play a little more actively. There’s some great opportunities for little moments of festival story to permeate the games, and for those stories to tie together the whole tapestry of the setting more closely.

article-2163073-13BCC848000005DC-41_964x635 aerial view of tents in a river of mud at the 2012 Isle of Wight festival

All of that takes time, though, and I’m conscious that even though we have more time than we did previously, generating a lot of content and refining it is a pretty extensive process in itself. And it’s not like we can segment this development into single-focus weeks; we’re looking at the science, the model, the games, the design and the story, all mixed in together and bouncing quite rapidly from one to the next. It’s a lot of balls to keep in the air.

For me, I guess the challenge right now is to figure out the best way of creating that script, generating all the countless little vignettes and flavour moments, and tying them together in a coherent document for the performers to be able to read / learn. That’s a question that’s arisen a few times in the past, during previous Boho productions; this time I want to get it right.

So my question is: How do you write the script for a show which is such a mix of concepts: a science lecture illustrated by a series of interactive games out of which unfolds the story of a world?

– David


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