October – November 2014
Australian friends Boho Interactive and Applespiel bring their performance about systems and what we need to know to save the world to Battersea Arts Centre and the Science Museum Dana Centre later this autumn, and invite you to playtests over the next couple of weeks. Coney co-director Tassos Stevens has been an Ear throughout the piece’s development, and there’s been a fruitful exchange of ideas and practice. Read an account by David Finnigan of Boho Interactive, also an artist representing Coney, and look to the end for the dates of playtests and performances – we’ll see you there!
Heya Coney cats!
I’m writing to introduce myself – I’m David Finnigan. I’m an artist who sometimes represents Coney, and a member of Australian science-theatre ensemble Boho. We’re currently in London working on a project in collaboration with Coney called Best Festival Ever: How To Manage A Disaster, and we wanted to take a minute to talk a little with you about it.
Boho creates interactive performance work in collaboration with scientists, usually from the realm of climate and systems science. We’ve produced shows about Game Theory, Complex Systems Science, Epidemiology, and Climate Change.
Our 2009 show Food for the Great Hungers looked at Complexity Theory and Australian history. We created a work in which the audience moved through a series of turning points in Australian history, from the decision to join Britain in the First World War through to the end of the White Australia immigration policy. At each point, the audience made choices and decisions, resulting in Australia taking a different trajectory through history. Over the course of the show, the audience worked with us to create an alternative Australian history, unique every night.
Best Festival Ever: How To Manage A Disaster, which will have its first production at the London Science Museum’s Dana Centre this November, is based on concepts from Systems science. The science of Systems is an interdisciplinary field that studies the complex systems that exist in nature and society. It is a way of analyzing the dynamics of our world by looking at it as a whole rather than separating it into parts. Systems science concentrates as much on the links and interactions between things as it does on the things themselves.
The show came out of a two year residency at the University College London Environment Institute, where we worked with climate scientists and systems modellers to imagine: What might a show based on a Complex Adaptive System look like? Our starting point was conceptual flow-chart models such as this:
The show we’ve created takes place around a table for a playing audience of 30. Using mechanisms drawn from the world of board-gaming, the audience takes on the management of their own system – in this case, a music festival. Over an hour, audiences program their lineup, choose sponsors, build their festival, and then have to take care of everything from ensuring that the bands get onstage with all their instruments to keeping people safe in the moshpit.
Music festivals are fascinating examples of complex systems – they consist of biophysical systems (the flora, fauna and landscape that the festival takes place on), built systems (the roads, campsites and festival stage infrastructure created for the event) and social systems (all the fascinating ways in which thousands of strangers come together and interact over a weekend).
The issues and challenges of running a music festival have interesting parallels with those we face when managing a city, a farming community, a nature reserve or a school. For us, this show is an opportunity to provoke conversations around the systems which we are part of – how do they behave, how can we understand them and what can we do to manage them better?
From the start of this project (three and a half years ago!) we’ve been working closely with Coney. We’ve shared our learnings about systems – how to describe them, map them, identify systems behaviours and thresholds. In particular, we were invited to undertake a systems description of Early Days of a Better Nation, which was a really fascinating brief. We mapped the whole show (and the audience) in the same way you’d map a social-ecological system like a mountain range or a fishery, and looked for the fragilities and potential phase transitions. The results were really fascinating, and we learned a lot in the process (and hopefully provided some interesting dramaturgical avenues!)
In exchange, Coney has shared its own expertise in helping us pull Best Festival Ever together. In particular, Coney co-director Tassos Stevens has acted as an Ear on this and our last development, which is incredibly valuable. Tassos and I met three years ago at a Coney training event in Melbourne, and we’ve continued to collaborate since then – sometimes on Coney projects, sometimes on mine. It’s been a really valuable collaboration, and one which has grown as we’ve worked together representing Coney, and are now able to support each other’s work.
In the Best Festival Ever process Tassos is acting as the voice of the audience, reminding us of what participants in the show might be experiencing and feeling, and helping us craft a journey for the participants which is satisfying on multiple levels. It’s incredibly valuable to have that presence in a process like this, where we’re juggling a lot of elements and it’s easy to forget what an audience will and won’t understand when stepping into this work.
Over the next few weeks, we’ll be presenting several playtests at the Dana Centre for members of the public. These will be an opportunity for us to share and test out certain elements in the work, run them past real people and calibrate them. If anyone in the Coney network is interested in coming along, we’d be hugely grateful for your time and interest. And there will be snacks! We’ll also be running a short scratch season of the work at the Battersea Arts Centre at the end of October, which is pay-what-you-can and which will be a lot of fun.
If you’re interested in coming along, or finding out more about the work, please drop us a line – we’d love to hear from you: davidfinig at gmail dot c o m
Science Museum Dana Centre playtests
165 Queen’s Gate, South Kensington, London SW7 5HD
6pm Wednesday 15 October
6pm Thursday 23 October
(the playtests will run for 75 minutes and there will be snacks and drinks aplenty!)
7pm Thurs 30 October – Sat 1 November
7pm Tuesday 11 November
7pm Monday 17 – Wednesday 19 November