A larp idea that came to me last night… set in a writers’ colony in an authoritarian regime that starts as idealistic but becomes increasingly repressive. Writers are given free housing and food in the colony, but their work will only be published if it’s approved by the state. Some are secretly informers.
I’m seeing it in three acts, over a weekend. Act 1, the gradual realization that actually this is not so much a wonderful creative opportunity as a gilded cage. Act 2, the homeland is attacked by another nation, the reins are loosened a little, and the colony’s residents are torn between wishing to help defend their country and their mistrust of the actual regime. Act 3, the war is won and repression returns, more cruel and arbitrary than before.
(Or maybe Act 2 is just an act break where they workshop together what they do during the war? See note below.)
Most of you will probably have spotted that this is inspired by Peredelkino, where Pasternak and others were housed by Stalin. (What intrigues me about it is that he was allowed to live there for 20 years writing Dr Zhivago, despite both he and the authorities knowing that it was unpublishable. So, there is more to it than a simple ‘churn out propaganda or die’ kind of deal.) But the larp would not be set in the Soviet Union, or under Communism, or in the mid-20th century, or anything like that: it would be an analogous but invented repressive system, sufficiently distanced from the real world.
(I also had the idea of including, at the end, a brief epilogue that takes place like fifty years later, after the regime has changed. How does history now view each of these people? (Like a more serious version of the one in The Drinklings.) But perhaps that should just be a post-larp-workshop kind of activity?)
Lizzie Stark of course wrote an excellent short larp about an artists’ residency, which I read as being mostly of about the working through of personal issues — but this one is (intended to be) rather different in structure and emphasis, and to expose different themes.
This is probably something that will never get written, given the long list of planned projects and the small amount of energy that can be put into them. But I will keep on pondering about it for a bit, I think.
On Facebook, Oliver suggested: I could also see act two containing opportunities to create patriotic works as war propaganda, as a Devil’s bargain.
Me: yes! — that’s a good point, it will make the bargain feel much more real and painful if they actually do create some stuff in-game as part of the war effort, rather than just workshopping what happens.
Oliver: it’ll also be a good exploration of what they love about their country and what makes them stay, versus the current regime.
Rei suggested: Sounds like it could work as a hybrid larp, with the online group being folks on the outside trying to contact or get hold of their works and then dealing with attack. Write it well and the online folks start with sympathising with the idealists until they themselves are forced to make choices to survive the attack and have them be the ones who have now become the oppressive regime.