I know I’m months behind on here, but I wanted to do a quick post with some feedback I’ve been sent about recent larp runs.
So Women on the Verge… and These Are the Days of Our Lives are two subtly different versions of my chamber larp about the lives of a group of women friends over a thirty-year period. WotV ran recently at Consequences, and TADOL at Grenselandet and at Stockholm Scenario Festival.
Here’s some testimony from players about their experiences:
Carol L Johnson
They say you never re-live the past, but playing Women on the Verge… was like going backwards in time through my life and reliving an alternative version that was not me, but felt as real as my true memories of those three decades. This game allowed me the latitude to take roads I never took, some starting from kernels of my own life, others just spinning out from the relationships that started to develop between myself and the other women who were creating their alternate me’s with bravery and vigor.
I played a woman who started as a wild child, someone who was utterly independent and into taking big risks all the time. I have always felt utterly independent, sometimes to my detriment, but have never been a big risk taker (I have mostly been a look before I leap person who plans, plans, plans). Exploring risk as Lindsey was frightening (could I do it?) and liberating (I could let Lindsey lose three toes in a climbing accident!) Lindsey started wanting to be a lion tamer so was taking animal psychology and became a vet; she was all about jello shots and leaping into men’s arms as an opening dating gambit. Mostly she was about taking her four friends along with her, despite their reservations. The more they demurred, the wilder her suggestions became. Lindsey wanted their attention, I realize now, so very badly and would do anything to get it.
At 29 she was broken, but refused to be beaten – she was not introspective enough yet to understand giving up (something a person who overthinks everything never could master). She was left by her friend Gwen’s brother Steve (we both knew his name without consulting – how’s that for in sync!) after a fall into a crevasse where she lost three toes and her dreams of being a vet/lion tamer. But she latched onto helping children in Pakistan, a la Three Cups of Tea, and became a very bad carpenter (again with no understanding or awareness of it). For the group, Lindsey became an unenlightened but necessary positive force that fed into and out of the other women in our clique: Tatiana, our model of success and support, a fashion designer in Paris; Nadia, our moral compass and no-nonsense mother who soldiered on with caring but not coddling; Gwen, the modern woman, single mother, brilliant photojournalist, struggling positively in a sexist world as a inspiration to us all; and Cleo, a brilliant doctor who was crushed by sexual discrimination and bad luck and fell into the deepest dark places we all could have fallen into but didn’t.
I remember at 39, Lindsey was lonely and jobless (she really could not make things), living in Nadia’s basement after she took her in, but then failing her when her daughter got arrested for illegal substances and knowing Lindsey’s permissive views, while not encouraging were also not discouraging. Lindsey realized she was not independent and that her belief in independence caused her to miss the deep connections with her friends and other people in her life. It was revelatory for Lindsey and for me.
This game allows one to discover truths and falsehoods about relationships and how we act in the world in a safe place where one can do damaging things without creating real damage. It also allows one to do positive, nurturing, loving things and have them resonate and reinforce the good things most of us have in our lives and validate them. I sat there as Lindsey and decided in character to write a book about my amazing friends and what really mattered – the first genuine thing Lindsey did, the first connection thing Lindsey did. Lindsey’s book was Three Toes, Five Women, One Life and the way my/her friends reacted with joy at that title will stay with me forever.
The game let me a build a different life from so many mundane choices and create something extraordinary. When we did jello shots at Tatiana’s funeral – again we were so in sync that Tatiana was about to whisper the suggestion of it to me just as I as Lindsey said it and Nadia was nudging me about it also just as I as Lindsey said it – that was a moment of pure unity between five women players, all of whom knew other in passing but not well in most cases, that will outlast that 4-hour game.
Lindsey and her close, dear friends live for me, and her friendship with her four friends is real and I think will remain a real bond between us as players and as women.
Every Christmas on Boxing Day, my mother’s school-friend gang of five women gathers, with their families, for a long lunch that lasts till the late evening. Their husbands, their children (now grown ups themselves some with their own husbands and children), we all sit at the main table. They sit together, just the five of them, at the “kids’ table”, teasing each other and talking incessantly. These women met in school on a Greek island of the Cyclades, graduated in 1967 and their lives have been intertwined for more than 50 years. They have all been together in each other’s happiness and grief, in the birth of their children, in weddings, divorces and funerals, and I can remember them ever since I can remember myself.
Thinking back on my experience playing Women on the Verge…, the word “truth” comes to mind. Yes, these are created, fictional characters. But somehow they are anchored into our individual and collective psyche. During the game, I felt that I knew these women, as I know my mother and her friends, as I know myself. I could instinctively feel the characters’ hopes and fears, disappointments and desires as if they were real. From the free-spirited and creative Lindsey, to the introverted Chloe on a spiral of despair and self-destruction, to the strong and feisty Gwen fighting in a male-dominated world, to the motherly, warm and no-nonsense Nadia holding us together, to my popular and successful but not fully fulfilled, Tatiana. These characters took a life of their own; they were not who we are in real life but they have seeds of us in them.
The structure of the game is simple and clear and yet brings enough complexity to allow the story of these five lives to develop. A few techniques, like the internal monologue, were powerful and simple tools to convey a character’s inner thoughts, in circumstances where they could not voice their thoughts and feelings to the group.
The game had an understated but intense energy. Bad things may happen and good things may happen. What is important is the bond of friendship between the characters. This bond is ever-present but constantly evolving. The relationships and fallouts developed naturally throughout the game to become a story of strong friendship; the sort of friendship that lasts through time, through highs and lows, thorough arguments, through years of drifting apart. The sort of friendship that is special and treasured and unique for each of us but that (I feel) is common to so many women’s lives.
We told a story about five fictional women and their friendship but it felt that we also told a story about ourselves and our bonds of friendship. We love these women, even when we hate them, because they are part of us.
I find These Are the Days of Our Lives really interesting in all its simplicity. I also like how it gives the players as well as the GM great freedom in what kind of experience they want to steer for.
The two times I’ve experiened this game were completely different, both very rewarding. I GMed the first game and played the second, but that’s not how I find them different. I think it had more to do with timing (first or last game on a convention for example) the level of experience of the group, the way the workshop was conducted, the use of meta techniques and more.
The first game was very intense. It was in the beginning of a convention, which meant all of the players were pretty fresh and motivated to go all in. It was also an experienced group of larpers and improvisers, which gave me as a GM a lot of freedom to summarize parts of the workshop and then have more time to warm up the group, investigate some of the feelings and experiences we wanted to steer for and to work with the characters. The sharing afterwards was very moving since all of the players had such powerful experiences. One woman played her mother which gave her a lot of new insight to that relationship. Another player borrowed a friends destiny with a life threatening disease. And so on.
The second game was equally interesting, but in a completely different way. It was in the end of a convention. And having been through several powerful gaming experices, I was quite worn out, as was the rest of the group. So I allowed myself to play pretty close to home and just investigate a specific trait in that character, but in a light way. This also worked really well gave me some new insights about myself. In this game we also used the metatechnics more, which gave the players the possibility to communicate inner thoughts and be mirrored on their behaivours without acting it all out, which was ideal in that situation.
Thank you all, that’s fantastically interesting and powerful to read!