July saw the return of our week-long Masterclass, this time held down at the dazzlingly sunny Forest Hill in London. A dozen creative minds, from artists and programmers to designers and academics, joined us to share their superpowers and develop toolkits in responsive performance making, game design, and adventure-crafting. After honing their reconnaissance skills in the neighbourhood, they capped off the week by taking audience members on a freshly-scratched local adventure – after which you couldn’t help but crave carrots and yearn to move to the area.
Fancy being a fly on the wall? Here’s a peek into a day of play, discussion and loveliness-plotting
Nick Tee was one such Hornimaniac (seen below, mulling over a manifesto-map) – read on for his insight into the week of interactive exploration.
This July, I had the chance to attend a week-long masterclass on Making Interactive Theatre led by Tassos Stevens. As a Performance Arts student at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama where we had a term on immersive and interactive performance, this masterclass was a chance to reconcile what I had studied previously on a theoretical level with practice. Furthermore, I was interested in learning more about how interactive theatre could be used as a strategy for creating temporary communities. I came across this masterclass through conversations with Tassos after attending a similar course run by Coney at the Roundhouse. Thus, this was an opportunity to revisit things that I had learnt before and to explore them at a deeper level.
The masterclass started off with 3 days of skills sessions, followed by a chance to put what we had learnt into practice over the final two days, where we had a small showing for an invited audience. The group that attended the masterclass were varied in their practices and interests, ranging from theatre-makers to computer programmers, game designers to political consultants.
Over the first three days, we had an opportunity to experiment with different models of theatre making as explained through different Coney shows such as A Small Town Anywhere and Adventure 1. Through simple games, we managed to uncover the complexities of making interactive theatre. One such example was the simple game of Coin Jousting, in which each participant has a coin on the back of one of his/her hands and the objective is to knock the coin off their opponents’ hand. By tweaking the variables governing the gameplay, we were quickly able to understand different modes of play and experiment, break and dismantle the game. Similarly, the simple playground game Grandmother’s Footsteps was dismantled as we changed and added different rules to subsequent rounds. This technique of taking apart something familiar, messing around with it and testing it by putting it back into play became a recurring feature of the Coney play-making model and proved useful when creating our own work during the final two days. While we experimented with modes of play for different games on one hand, we also learnt more about the dramaturgical process of interactive theatre on the other, such that we were able to string all the different games together into a cohesive system and narrative.
We were tasked by Tassos to create our own proposals for a hypothetical interactive production. Prompted by the creative process of A Small Town Anywhere, we formulated the “world” of a show, thinking about the systems in play, mood, tone, music etc. Most importantly, we were prompted to think about our “playing audience”. Rather than talking about what happened during the show, when talking about our proposals, we were reminded to talk about the audience experience first and foremost. Like the other tools that Tassos gifted us from his bag of tricks, this focus proved to be essential when creating our work during the final two days.
Following the initial 3 days of skills sessions, we proceeded to create our own piece of work for the final showing on Friday. Having gained a common vocabulary of interactive theatre-making tools as a group over the first few days, I was surprised at how quickly we were able to brainstorm and create something through a systematic process of employing what we had learnt. What resulted was a fictional world where a descendent of an ancient king of Forest Hill has imposed his rule on the area and has campaigned to be independent from the rest of London. Audience members played the role of government officials who were tasked to go around the Forest Hill area to gather evidence in order to decide upon the legitimacy of the descendent’s claim. Along the way, audience members chanced upon characters who were scattered all over the area that they could talk to and get information from. This culminated in a discussion by the audience on the validity of the claim. The process of creating this final piece was really interesting because we got to put our newly acquired skills to the test while also drawing from the pre-existing skills of the group. Very quickly, we were able to create fake posters, tags and logos while Tassos helped us set up the phone platform which audience members could text to receive instructions.
Overall, this masterclass was really useful in helping me approach the making of interactive theatre in a more systematic way. Skills like dramaturgy or the process of testing modes of play could easily be transferred to other types of work. I’m really thankful for the chance to better understand the processes behind making an interactive show and for the chance to play with such a diverse group of people!
We’ll be holding another Masterclass in the coming months, so keep an eye out for updates. If you’d like to join us, drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll get in touch when more details are available.