Why are Boho in Stockholm?

IMG_4436

In 2012, 2 artists from Boho Interactive (David Finnigan and David Shaw) and 3 new Boho associates from Applespiel (Rachel Roberts, Nathan Harrison and Nikki Kennedy) were in residence at University College London developing what would later become ‘Best Festival Ever: How To Manage A Disaster’ (BFE).

BFE emerged from an initial prompt by the former Dean of UCL, climate scientist Lord Julian Hunt, to develop a module to help train policy-makers in systems thinking. Over the next few years, we delved into systems science to develop an interactive table-top performance that used game mechanisms to build systems thinking skills.  We used research from the Stockholm Resilience Centre (SRC) in this process, and at the end of a  development period in 2014 were invited over to Stockholm to share BFE with SRC.

Since then, Boho have been performing BFE in Australia and the UK, and collaborating with new partners to create new works that use systems science and gaming. Anna Emmelin, our friend at SRC, invited us to join a partnership and work on the Flaten project – also known as ‘Democratic Nature’.

IMG_4151

Flaten lake and bathing area in February – completely frozen.

Flaten is a nature reserve and lake in the suburban area of Skarpnäck, in Stockholm, Sweden. This beautiful lake area is home to a unique project that brings together partners from science, theatre, education and government to look at the sustainability and governance of the area. The Flaten project is a blend of four elements that power a process of engagement, learning and co-creation. These are:

Youth education and engagement (School children are brought to the area through their schools and camp programs for experience-based learning)

A table top game (that’s us!)

A political process (Flaten is being used as a role model for modern sustainable governance of nature reserves)

Data observation (Programmes and processes to capture, understand, share and act upon data. Lessons from Flaten can be applied in a local, national and global context)

In February 2016, Boho was in residence at Flaten with our partners and friends Miljöverkstan, who are responsible for the incredible experience-based learning opportunities for school children and programs for newly arrived immigrants. Over 4 weeks we gathered information about the social, cultural, political and ecological history of Flaten and began to play with game mechanisms that might use this information to teach skills in sustainability and governance.

Now we are back in Sweden for about 5 weeks of development to create a prototype of our game, and continue the networking and learning process with the Flaten project partners (Miljöverkstan, Albaeco, GivingOS, and many individuals who share their time and expertise with the project). We’ll be back in 2017 to turn the prototype into a polished game that can be played in galleries, board rooms, schools – anywhere. We’ll also be continuing to work and share with our new partners, because this project is a really unique opportunity to share skills and knowledge long-term. It could be that we’ll end up with a game-making process that can be applied to systems anywhere in the world, so we can travel around and create systems games anywhere.

IMG_4118

It’s pretty cool.

– Rachel

Resilience Pivots

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe had a great few days this week, running shows of Best Festival Ever for friends, funders and stakeholders of Miljöverkstan and Democratic Nature. Doing the show at this point in the process was really useful for me, reminding me of some of our goals, how the decisions we make at this point are reflected in a final product, and the joy that comes with sharing these sorts of games and ideas with an audience.

After the Friday show we got to have a long conversation with some people who are not only familiar with the Flaten area, but who work with systems science and environmental data. This is a very useful relationship for us, and one that will only increase in value as we get further into the process.

In the conversation we touched upon a concept that was new to me, that of resilience pivots. When a system is undergoing transformation, there are some parts of the system that don’t transform. The resilience of these parts is what in effect allows the transformation. In considering the transformation of a system, it is valuable to consider which parts stayed resilient as much as it is to consider which parts transformed.

I believe this is an idea better suited to studying past transformations than predicting future ones – though it might help to understand the impact of a suggested transformation. Identifying where in the system resilience will help transformation and where it will hinder could help create opportunities to effect change.

If someone wanted to turn the Flaten area into a big commercial tourist zone, one resilience pivot point might be the clean water and beauty of the lake – these qualities would have to not change for the transformation to work.

I look forward to understanding this better and figuring out nicer examples.

pivot

It’s clearly a concept that I’m still getting my head around, but I’m very excited that a few years into this process we’re able to talk to experts and learn more nuanced ideas about systems. It shows how far we’ve come since 2012, and even thought it might not be an idea we end up explicitly communicating in a show about Flaten, it’s a new way to look at the system and a new concept to add to our language of our process.

Here’s a paper that I’ve skimmed through and seems useful, Resilience Pivots: Stability and Identity in a Social-Ecological-Cultural System.

Can the concept of resilience pivots help us to understand past transformations of Flaten, and better articulate potential future ones?

– Nathan

Oak No You Didn’t

bart sad

Some of my favourite episodes of the Simpsons are where Bart (it’s usually Bart) recognises that something he’s done has had a profound (usually hurtful) effect on someone. I think realising that your actions can affect others is an important part of growing up as a child, and the Simpsons has a knack for showing these moments in a very earnest way. Bart seeing Mrs Krabappel sitting alone in a restaurant after faking love letters and a dinner invitation comes to mind. Also Bart watching Lisa walk off home from the carnival and realising that he’d gone too far. It’s that moment as a child when you learn to zoom out, perhaps only slightly, and see yourself in a bigger picture.

We’ve spent a lot of time the last week or so discussing an overarching principle for this show about Flaten – some sort of framing that clarifies what the show is trying to do. Something that helps an audience know what they’re going to experience, and to say quite simply, we believe x is important. We’ve been lucky enough this week to share in the knowledge and expertise of some very clever and wonderful people, and these experiences have helped me in grounding some of our ideas.

On Wednesday we had a walk around (and across!!!) the lake with Sarah, who works at the Stockholm Resilience Centre and has run guided tours of Flaten for the last twelve years. She wrote her phd on it!

IMG_4186

Sarah told us about how as the land mass of Sweden was formed, plants and animals quickly spread to it – and with them, people. So one can argue that Stockholm (and by extension, Flaten), has pretty much always had people on it. This land has more or less always been managed. Since the beginning it has existed as a socio-ecological system.

This feels kind of weird, at least coming from an Australian perspective – the Australian land mass existed for a long time without people, even though people have been in Australia for tens of thousands of years.

It also connects to the idea that oak forests, which have been around for hundreds of years, come from active land management, and need some level of active land management to survive. Again this feels kind of counterintuitive to me. I think there’s an idea you pick up as a child that if left alone nature will heal and revitalise, but in reality it’s a bit more complicated than that.

So with these and many more ideas bouncing around my head I’ve been trying to clarify at least one aspect of the why for this show.

We have a relationship to the environment we’re in. We influence it and it influences us, in ways both subtle and overt, simple and complex. The area of Flaten has always had a relationship with people, and over time that relationship has changed the system again and again. We have a responsibility, and an opportunity, to make that relationship the best it can be. We can do that by learning about the Flaten system, understanding its complexity, its uniqueness and recognising our own place within it. The more we can do that, the better choices we can make for the system and the better contributions we can make to a future that we want.

Flaten is a pretty unique area, and has a unique relationship with the people that are part of it. How do we ground the show in the uniqueness of the system while speaking to something larger?

– Nathan

Some ramblings on land use

Perito_Moreno_Glacier_Patagonia_Argentina_Luca_Galuzzi_2005

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

IMG_7878 copy

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?

IMG_7869 copy

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

IMG_7865 copy

A Flaten string game

IMG_7090 copy

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

Back to it – a glimpse of our process

Hej hej från Sverige, vänner!

Yesterday (Monday) was the first day of our second week in Stockholm. Last week, we were all sick. Today, I am sick again. Our delicate Aussie constitutions have been screwed around by the many hours travelling from beautiful, hot summer weather in Sydney to cold, wet London in a germ-filled plane.

Last week was about getting acquainted with Miljöverkstan, including taking a walk through the snowy nature reserve around Flaten and spending some hours systems mapping with Anna. Yesterday was our first real opportunity to sit around a table and begin to create our new game.

The first point of difference to our last few processes is that for Miljöverkstan, we are creating a game – not a show. Best Festival Ever is performed by three actors, who lead players through the narrative while also facilitating the games, managing the results and dealing with all the props and audience interaction. Taking into account that this new show is for a Swedish audience for whom English will probably be a second language, we are conscious of taking away some of the ‘show’ mechanisms and replacing them with ‘game’ – if there are bits of story to be read out, they could as easily be read aloud by an audience member with no performance experience. Miljöverkstan have also expressed a desire to have a game that could be set up in a gallery space as an installation as well as being something that can be played as an event.

These are our current boundaries as I understand them:

  • audience of 10-30 people
  • audience age range from 14 years upwards
  • modular – if time is short, a section of the game could be played for an audience or group of stakeholders rather than the full game, and it will still have an impact.
  • address the ‘respect x 3’ principle of Miljöverkstan – respect for self, respect for others, respect for the environment
  • be specifically about Flaten
  • using systems principles, encourage people to invest in Flaten as a natural resource – not just of clean air and water, but as a source of health. The Swedish ‘right to nature’ comes into play here, as well as the saying that Swedes don’t go to church, they go to nature.

Here’s what we did today for our first real creative day on the Flaten project:

  • gathered in the house in Skarpnäck, then walked together 20+ minutes across the highway and through the nature reserve to the beach at Flaten. There was some snow overnight, so everything looked nice and frosty.
  • we arrive at our Flaten workspace and take off our boots/gloves/beanies/coats. We make a cup of tea, and spread our systems notes out onto the big table.
  • we did a quick ‘check in’ and scribbled some notes on ‘what we want to get out of this week’
  • Nathan wasn’t at our systems mapping session with Anna, so we start the day by running him through all our notes on the big sheets of butcher’s paper. For the systems mapping process, we use the guide from Resilience Practice.
  • we spend about 5 minutes individually writing out our ‘ideal game’. This is a process we’ve done a few times, and it’s really helpful to get ideas out of ours heads and into a shared space. Also, once you’ve written down that idea that you thought would DEFINITELY be the one and only way forward, it’s easier to let it go. You HAVE to be able to let ideas go.

image

  • we share these ideal game ideas with each other. This was really inspiring – they were all great ideas, and we have a lot more scope that I previously felt we did. The more time you spend away from the creative work, the less capable you feel.
  • After getting another cup of tea, we wrote down a list of Flaten-specific ‘settings’. Based on our info from last week, this is a list of all the potential game settings and conflicts that we can use to make games – different user groups, areas, system interactions, etc.
  • we split into 2 groups, pick a setting each, and spend 25 minutes coming up with a ‘terrible game’. This doesn’t mean we’re aiming to make something terrible – it’s just a reminder that we don’t have to make something that is perfect or that even works.
  • After 25 minutes, we share these games with each other.
  • lunch!
  • we spend the next few hours talking through game formats, story ideas, creating a list of the systems principles that we might include in the new game. We make some plans for the reset of the week.
  • We bundle up all our sheets of paper, put on our boots, beanies, gloves boats, and walk back to Skarpnäck

image

My favourite idea from today was from Mutley (David Shaw). In his ‘ideal show’ he offered a format or framework that was centred around a familiar tragic tale – for example, Romeo and Juliet (or as I have renamed it, the Deer and the Fish*).

*there was no fish toy at Flaten so the duck is standing in for the fish.

Using a globally familiar storyline (star crossed lovers) gives us something to tether our games to, helps us with language barriers, places our game into a timeline that moves forward, etc. I think it’s a really clever idea and I’m keen to explore it more – but also aware that this is a process where we have to be ready to LET IDEAS GO so that new ones can emerge.

image

I’m really excited to explore a few different narrative paths – in the diagram above, you can see that there is one journey (black) where the audience all travel through the game together going clockwise. There is another option, where the audience are in two groups, with one travelling clockwise and one counter clockwise. This would be very difficult to achieve, but oh my goodness I really want to try it. I think it would be beautiful.

Our rule is that you have to end each blog post with a question.

How generalised can we make our game and have it still be applicable to Flaten?

 

  • Rachel