Sami Henrik Haapala on A Scratch Night of Play

Greetings and a Happy New Year from all of us at Coney!

We hope you’ve had a lovely break and enjoyed the Christmas festivities as much as we did. We’re back in HQ for 2016 and looking forward to what we’ve got coming up in the coming months – there’ll be more on this to follow soon.

For now, we’d like to share a lovely blog written for us by Sami Henrik Haapala (who came all the way from Helsinki) to A Scratch Night of Play at Camden People’s Theatre toward the end of last year. Curated by William Drew, we hosted an evening of playing theatre presenting short pieces and works-in-progress that invited the audience to play (in some way or other) either in the theatre or elsewhere in the building. We asked Sami to write a reflection on what he saw throughout the evening, over to him:

“Silly Social Life of the Greater Soupland

Games combining theatre and game design are social creatures. That’s what interests me in this combination. In traditional theatre, there is often one very certain kind of way people socialize and the ingrained social habits of the audience are not challenged. In the games mixing theatre and game design the social life of people becomes the stuff of art.

I’m currently doing an artistic doctorate about acting in participatory and immersive performances in Helsinki, Finland and through many a happy coincidence have met Tassos. He mentioned to me that there’s a Scratch Night coming up in Camden People’s Theatre and I came to London for one night to experience and research different ways of combining theatre and game design. I had previously been researching large-scale completed productions so this was a good chance to see different kinds of beginnings of things.

I’m drawn to the mix of games and theatre at this point in my artistic and personal life because I think theatre is too restricted to its habits. For most people theatre is still something that is watched from the auditorium. As probably anyone reading this knows there are plenty of other avenues to explore. I think that we are living in a time when in order to open up these new avenues for thought and action you need to realize the context where you create things and how it affects others. For theatre it makes no sense to stay in one specific format especially when the world is creating itself anew.

That’s why I particularly enjoyed the games at the Scratch Night that had a serious, often political subject at their heart. We could experience these topics in traditional theatre – climate change, immigration control, metadata as corporate property and the politics of choice to mention the ones I remember the best – but it’s a very different thing to be put in the position to having to come up with a solution. Trying things out through action makes us think in more varied ways – it makes us think multi-sensorially. If theatre is a rehearsal for the new world – as is often said in Finland – then games like these are the prime example as you are rehearsing action as a maker and as a participant, not just thinking about change. You already become part of the change. Of course, in the end it depends on each and everyone of us what we do with this beginning of a change.

Scratch 1

I’m part of the Finnish scene as one of the artists combining art and game design and have followed the British scene for some time – I see that there are some interesting differences.

British like being silly. Finnish people don’t (not talking about myself of course). I enjoy how the British combine very serious subjects with fun in ways that would probably enrage the leftfield live art makers of participatory contemporary art. In Finland the game scene consists of professional artists working with game structures on one hand and a somewhat different field of larp (live action role play) makers who don’t necessarily have an artistic education. Both do very interesting and artistically challenging games. Of course In Finland there’s also the highly successful commercial gaming industry, but here I’m sticking to artistic games.

In Finland the artists working with game structures are very much linked to critical theory and they discuss what various strategies of game design really mean. Britain is more advanced in the combining of the physical and the digital in various games, there is a more advanced skill in making games accessible to people who don’t have a strong connection with the art world.

Finland is socially a developing country. We are proud of being honest and on the flipside we often end up being rude. In Finland, I think artistic games and the thinking they enable are at the very centre in finding new solutions for a country that is – like so many countries at the moment – moving more and more towards a very violent right. We could use some serious silliness now more than ever and I for one am importing it in loads.

Oh, and I think I’ll have to justify that title. During the Scratch Night we played a game by Toby Peach and Anne Langford where we made up new countries and decided their politics in relation to climate change. As I’m writing this the COP21 climate change conference has struck a deal. I’m sure it’s all because of the amazing work we all did in the Sunday evening on 29th November at The Camden People’s Theatre Climate Summit in London.

Yours truly,
Eternally Faithful Citizen of the Greater Soupland,
Sami Henrik Haapala

We’re hosting another Scratch and a Salon at Camden People’s Theatre on Sunday 24 January as part of Whose London Is It Anyway? More info and tickets can be found here.


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