The day the music died.

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My poor hard drive, RIP.

Best Festival Ever is a touring show. We pack all the set and prop items into 4 suitcases and 2 art cases, and lug it around in our cars and on planes. It’s fairly heavy and clunky, but we make it work.

There isn’t really a lighting design for the show, as we’re often performing it in board rooms or office floors with no theatre lighting. When we DO get to perform in a theatre, we have the luxury of theatre lighting (thanks Gillian Schwab at Street Theatre!). It lifts the show a lot, and feels a bit special.

As for sound, we enlisted the expertise of Nick McCorriston before our first Australian run to help us move the show’s sound from my old iPod to something a bit easier to use. The solution was to run a BFE Ableton session through my laptop (offstage) into either a PA system or our on-stage mini speakers. The Ableton session is controlled through the Touchable app on my ipad, which we keep in our little ‘presenting’ area on stage with us. It’s MUCH better than the iPod.

The problem is that I am a fool, and forgot to back up my computer before coming overseas.

The problem is that my laptop crashed 20 minutes in to the Kärrtorps Gymnasium show.

The problem is that try as I might, I couldn’t get the computer to restart and get the show back on track – my hard drive was completely dead.

I tried to solve our most pressing issue (no sound for the show we were in the middle of performing) by plugging my iPhone into our on-stage mini speakers and playing ANYTHING to provide backing music to our games. Not a great solution.

Compounding our troubles was the fact that Nathan was performing while sick (what a trooper), and our audience was a tricky one (see previous post).

With the crisp vision of hindsight, I know what we should have done. I should have backed up my computer and brought an external hard drive with me. I should have put the Ableton session onto Nikki AND Nathan’s laptops. We should have each had at least a playlist of the show music on our iPhones for times when something crashes mid-show. These are things we will do in the future.

For now, I’ve just picked my laptop up from the repair show with a brand new, blank hard drive. Tonight, I can set up my laptop from scratch – and can reconsider what I actually WANT from my laptop and set it up in a way that makes things easier for me to study, to work, and to play.

So I’m asking myself some questions that we ask in our systems mapping process – what do I want from my laptop? What do I use it for? Perhaps there are systems I haven’t considered before that would suit my purposes very well, but I have never tried them because sorting through my cluttered documents seemed like an overwhelming task. I’ve been forced to step out of the system that I used to use for several hours a day, see it from a larger perspective and ask new questions of it.

(I’m trying to be positive about the fact that I’ve lost all my data. Fresh start!)

Questions:

What are the systems we use everyday (like laptops) that would benefit from a do-over? A clean slate to build up from scratch?

To answer my own question a bit:

  • Kitchen pantry and fridge. I know that I am not going to eat trashy food if it isn’t in my house. It is much easier to turn over a new leaf of health and food if I can turn my pantry into a blank slate (ironically this might mean i end up eating a lot of trash in order to start a new ‘healthy’ phase)

-Rachel

Adapting to our audience.

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Each audience is different. Different ages, backgrounds, levels of science knowledge, investment in our process and our product. Some have contributed resources and/or expertise to Best Festival Ever. Some have no idea what they’re in for. Generally we have an understanding of each audience prior to performing each show. One of the first things we do when unpacking our props is decide who our eight headliner choices will be – this task usually falls to David Finnigan, who will take into consideration our perceived audience demographic as he chooses a spread of artists. We hope to have each audience member be familiar with at least one of the artists in our line-up.

The time of day generally has an impact on our audience – early morning is fairly formal, evening is casual, etc.

At the end of our first week in Stockholm, we performed Best Festival Ever for a group of students from Kärrtorps Gymnasium. These teenagers had been coming to work with Miljöverkstan in Flaten for several months, popping by once a week for a few hours to research the area in small groups.

There are a couple of things we needed to consider in order to perform BFE for this particular audience.

  1. English is their second language – and for some, it is their third or fourth. This means we need to enunciate and slow down a little in our delivery.
  2. They’re not here of their own accord. When performing in a theatre or science centre, we’re usually working with an audience who have chosen to come along of their own volition – they’re interested in the science or the games, or curious about seeing something new. They’re taken a step towards us, and we work to meet them in the middle. With ‘forced’ audiences, we have to take 2 steps to meet them. Not that they’re hostile! They just aren’t on the bandwagon yet.
  3. The jokes won’t land. We wrote the show for an English-speaking audience based in Australia or the UK – there are some jokes and humorous descriptions that some people might get, but most won’t. We have to ride that wave as performers the best we can, and try to keep our energy up without audible laughter.
  4. The trade-offs game may have less discussion of ethics.
    If our audience doesn’t have brand familiarity with our sponsors, they’re just picking based on weight.
  5. We may have to repeat some instructions
  6. They already have a social structure. Often we’re performing for groups that don’t know each other, and we have built an awareness of the moments where a sense of ensemble is established in the audience. It’s a little different with groups that already have a structure or hierarchy – still interesting for us to observe, though.
  7. They will NOT think we are cool, and might think we’re talking down to them. Teenagers ALWAYS feel as though we’re talking down to them a bit, maybe babying them, by asking them to play systems science games. Adults are much more on board, and often assume that teenagers would LOVE the show.
  8. We need to give audience members their scripts a bit earlier than usual. We have a few bits of dialogue that we ask audience members to read aloud for us. For an English-speaking audience, this is my process:

Rachel: *whispering* Hey, would you be able to read some lines out for me?

Audience: *nods*

Rachel: You’ll be playing ‘Ted’. *points to the highlighted lines* I’ll let you know when to start.

And then I stand a little behind them and give them a little tap on the shoulder when the line just before theirs is wrapping up. For a Swedish audience, I try to give them the text a line or two earlier to give them a bit of reading time.

When performing for an adult audience in Sweden, we still have to take some of these things into consideration – speaking a bit slower, enunciating, etc. Our three shows this week for various stakeholders and systems scientists went really well, and I hope that there wasn’t too much lost in translation.

The biggest problem for our Kärrtorps Gymnasium was my laptop dying mid-show (more on this to come…)

A question to end with:

How can we, as outsiders who don’t speak Swedish, creating a show to be performed in Swedish for a Swedish-speaking audience whose first language MAY NOT even be Swedish, make sure that our work AND the work of Miljöverkstan doesn’t get lost in translation?

-Rachel

The Personal Perspective

One thing we keep coming back to in this process is how to capture the experience of many different stakeholders in a representation of a system. The risk of making a game about any real life system is that it is impossible to capture all experiences of every person in it. As a result there will likely be people who play the game who find that it upsets their understanding of how Flaten works, or believe it misrepresents the area that they know so well. One of the things we are looking to do with this game is to try and engage people who already have a personal perspective of Flaten. For these people we don’t want to interrupt their perspective of it necessarily. We want to allow for their relationship with the area to be able to sit within the game. But we also want to find a way to include those who have never set foot in Flaten to make them feel like they have some experience of the place and be able to form their own connection to it somehow.

In an system like Flaten there are so many stakeholders. Stakeholders are anyone who has interest of concern in something. Stakeholders range from the people who walk their dogs in the area,  those who camp there for extended periods of time, to those who have governance over the area but may never visit it. One of the instigations Miljöverkstan has been to ask ‘Who has a right to Flaten?’. This poses further questions about the weight of voices of different groups in the area and who is most considered in decisions for the area.

One of the ways systems co modelling is used by systems modellers is by gathering all the stakeholders of a system together and facilitating a mediation between these groups. This can sometimes lead to an awareness among stakeholders of their role in the system and  the cause and effect of their interactions with it. This creates a more holistic view of the system in which they operate.

No one engages with an environment on a daily basis and thinks constantly about it as a complex system as well (Systems scientists possibly are the exception to this). We all get annoyed at train delays, or a traffic jam. But we also might experience joy at seeing a plant we’ve been watering bloom or get pleasure from feeling refreshed after having an early night.  All of these are small examples of experiencing a system from a personal perspective. For me, one of the beautiful things about engaging with individual stakeholders means getting to see a system from the personal perspective many times over.

Personal reflections relate our emotional connection to a system. Sometimes this is of annoyance and irritation, but it’s also where we express our love and nostalgia for a place or process. It’s from this perspective we can express what is special to us about an environment be it a place of wonderful or bittersweet memories, or just a place where we had a moments peace and magic such as a sunset over a lake quietly experienced during an evening walk, or a small creature witnessed going about their daily rituals. These little moments characterise a system to us. They make it part of us and something we care for. We might have different ways of how we think we should care for it – but we each have some interest in what happens there. They are also the reason that systems co-modelling is hard. If we didn’t have this relationship to systems then we wouldn’t be stakeholders.

When we think about planning for the development, maintenance or conservation of an area we often think about the big picture, about long and short term consequences, about finances, what we can do and for how long, and who this will upset. First person and personal accounts are often not taken as being very valuable. They are sentimental, subjective accounts of people who live in and care about a system. These accounts are given more or less respect according to how many of them say the same thing and how much power the groups complaining or pushing for something hold (aka how much money/political sway each group holds). A group of eight year old children have much less sway when it comes to discussing new developments in their area even though they may be the exact people it effects the most. These first person accounts are discarded or disregarded, mostly because they cannot be quantified in reports and research. And so those with the least presence in society get the least voice in how we develop systems that they have to use.

How do we create a language of value around different stakeholders personal engagements with Flaten, while also creating a wider reflection of the complex system (which might contradict some of them)? 

In a show about the system of Flaten how can we consider all the voices of those who use the system as equally as possible? 

How can we create a personal experience of Flaten for an audience who have never been there while also engaging those who have a deep personal connection with the area?

-Nikk

Some ramblings on land use

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A wall of ice recedes.
Image:Luca Galuzzi via Wikimedia Commons

About 15 000 years ago, Sweden was covered in kilometres of ice. As the Earth slowly warmed, the glaciers receded and revealed a changed landscape. The land was quickly colonised by plants and animals, and humans.

And humans came very quickly – there is no discernible gap between the ice receding and people being around. Which means that the Swedish ecosystem has always included humans. There’s no ‘untouched wilderness’. The entire ecosystem has our fingerprints on it. Continue reading

A contract with the audience

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So on Friday we spent a bit of time chewing through an alternative format for the show (what we’ve described as the Deer and Fish model), but also we talked in detail about what our audience contract will be.

This is a term that we use pretty regularly in our practice, both Boho and Applespiel – it might be that it’s a really widespread phrase in interactive performance practice, or it might be that we learned it from the same source (thx Chris Ryan), but it’s definitely a useful idea for our line of work.

Every performance (every public event, really) has an audience contract, but mostly you don’t need to state them or think about them too deeply, because you learn the rules when you’re young and they never deviate. In a traditional theatre show the contract is something like: The actors will stay on stage, they will pretend to be characters talking to one another, they will perform the story in a contained box which you can view from the outside – meanwhile the audience will stay in their seat, will be quiet, will be ignored by the performers until the very end, when the actors will come out and acknowledge them.

As soon as you step away from these conventions, you start running into challenges, because now the audience doesn’t know the rules. So part of our process, every time, is to figure out as a group, and then explicitly state:

– Who are the audience in this performance?
– What are their obligations?
– What are ours?

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Miljoverkstan have their own goals for what they want this show to do, but in order to be able to deliver them, we need to set up a framework that the audience/participants can be comfortable in. So in our first pass at it, that framework might look something like:

  • You, the audience, are people in the world
  • As people, we are all responsible for the management of complex systems
  • Flaten is an example of a complex system
  • By learning about Flaten we can learn more about the systems each of us are involved in
  • Flaten is changing, and has been in constant change
  • Many of those changes have been instigated by humans
  • We want to make more informed, active and intentional changes
  • We’re going to show you our conception of some of the parts that make up Flaten
  • Then we’re going to ask your input about what you might change in this system
  • Through this experience we hope to give you some tools to better think about the systems that are important to you

There’s no way we’d say this to the audience – at least not in these words – but it’s crucial that they understand what our intention is as artists in making this show, what’s expected of them, and how we hope they’ll view it. That’s not everyone’s practice in making theatre, but it’s a key part of ours, and it feels important here to be clear about that.

So my question is: Is this a fair description of our goals in presenting this show? And can we give the audience what we’ve promised them here?

– David

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Making a Game About A Real System Is Real Difficult

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One of the most exciting, and also daunting, parts of this process is that for the first time we’re applying the skills we’ve been developing over the last few years to a real-world socio ecological system. We’ve done a few mapping processes now, for a fictional beach town, a newsagents stands (that we realized afterwards didn’t actually exist), our friend’s theatre show and a music festival. But mapping the Flaten area, and translating that into a game, has brought a whole new set of challenges.

Continue reading

A Flaten string game

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An earlier version of a string game.

An audience gathers around a mat. There is a map of the lake area. Plenty of details, rock climbing, beaches, a path around the lake, etcetera.

Handed out to everyone there are several bundles of wool, each with card. On the card is a list of place to visit. You have to use the wool to connect each of the places on the list. Continue reading