Playground was a series of workshops run by Jamie Harper, on the use of play in participatory performance. It took place at Theatre Delicatessen in Broadgate, London – the same venue that we used for The Smoke 2018 – and here’s a bit of video of Jamie talking about it.
So I went along to the playtest that Jamie mentions there, which concluded the workshops. There were four short chamber larps on show, and I played in two of them.
This was a three-player larp, with roles of The Patient, The Doctor, and The Visitor. During the three scenes, the players rotated around these roles, so you played all three.
Reality was kind of vague. So it was never stated what was wrong with the patient, except they were blindfolded and had to be led around by the doctor. The doctor asked the patient a bunch of questions, while elsewhere the visitor filled in a questionnaire. Then the visitor was admitted and there was a touching sickbed scene.
But then we rotated the characters, and played out the same sequence again – except this time the visitor’s answers from the first iteration formed the basis of the doctor’s examination. And it became somewhat blurred as to whether the sickness was in the patient’s and visitor’s relationship, rather than in the patient themself. And then we rotated again, and reality now was pretty thoroughly abstracted – we were all caught up together in a network of sickness, possible recovery, grudges, possible forgiveness, and a sense of the hospital as Purgatory.
All in all a powerful and expressive experience, built from small and simple ingredients.
(I’m not sure if this one had an official name, but anyway it was about being in a cult.) Cults are not uncommon themes in larp, of course, but the focus tends to be on how sinister, manipulative, and disempowering they are. This was different in that it concentrated on the positive aspects!
We were given no real briefing but basically started play right away as established cult members, gathered to mourn and celebrate the dead founder, and to choose a new leader. The three GMs led us through the need to improvise practically all the content on the fly, smoothly and capably – without the worry about saying or doing something wrong that often bedevils such undefined settings. We built a shrine, prepared food, wrote songs and stories, performed for each other, shared blessings, and in the end voted for one of our number to lead. And it was all rather heartwarming and positive. Perhaps even too much so – it felt like going against the grain to introduce any tension.
(And of course it was still deeply sinister… cults being what they are.)
I can see this working well with an ‘audience’ of participants who don’t know anything about larp. It has a nice ‘permission to do stuff’ structure.
I hope that these two larps, and the other two which I didn’t get to take part in, get finished off and then run more publicly. And that all the Playground participants carry on being involved in the world of larp!