Last Wednesday I went to the Broadway in Nottingham to take part in Hide&Seek’s Sandpit Tour. The tour was part of a bigger, week long video games festival, a lot of which I wish I’d had the time and train fares to attend. It was a real celebration of the digital form, past and present, and was a real boon (yeah I’ve not heard that word for a while either) for the city. The event was free, and you could book ahead, or just show up, and was made up of pervasive and playful games. I did my big academic analysis on the pervasive side of it last week, so here’s a more straightforward record of the actual experience.
Thursday was a pretty simple game, and was thrust upon us as soon as we arrived. It (rather cleverly) encouraged people to chat to each other straight away, and also readied you a little for letting go of your inhibitions, as half the time you were asking people just at the Broadway to see a film, and with no clue about what you were talking about. You were given a card with a day on, there were many of all the days, apart from Thursday, the aim being to become Thursday by 10pm. You shifted days by asking “Are you Thursday?” If they were a day that was adjacent to yours (if you were Sunday, that would be Monday and Saturday) then you exchanged cards (advantageously or not). I got to Friday. Frustratingly close!
This was a simple ‘pick up and play’ game, used to fill in the time between games, and offered in a booklet for people to take away with them. Subverting Trivial Pursuit cards, a player would read out a question card, and the task of the other players is to reply with the funniest answer on the reverse of their cards. Whoever the questioner deems the funniest then receives a prize in the question card. Often a lot to do with delivery, I reckon with a few more drinks, an awesome little pick up and play. If I was going to be facetious and analyse it, I could say something about subverting the value in trading on information and education. It was also a lot more fun than trivial pursuit. Less stressful anyway (this may or may not have something to do with the way I approach it).
Vampires took place out in the streets, around an old church. We were a village within which 2 vampires had insinuated themselves. We had to explore the local area looking for 12 coffin nails and bring them back to the safety of the church, to save the village. Vampires were dealt several ‘bite’ cards, and once bitten, a villager became a minion, and could advise and aid vampires. Suspected vampires could be warded off by holy water (you had to rip up the holy water card and throw it in their face before they revealed a bite card). Holy water and coffin nail cards were all hidden around the space.
I enjoyed this game (despite being bitten pretty early on for trying to take a lead, don’t follow me in the event of a horror movie, kids). It took pretty recognisable rules and narrative tropes and set it in the streets of the city. It wasn’t so much a situationist détournement or dérive, but it did remind you of the spaces you inhabit, the spaces you pass by, and how you interact with them. In a way you realise how the way you experience space is entirely contextual, and a few rule changes, and everything morphs, fear, a new focus (the walls and doors, signs and litter bins were suddenly more important than our destinations). It was fun, very fun, but in terms of applicable uses to my PhD (which obviously isn’t everything), it was more empty play, than it was playing with the cracks between worlds, and beings.
Werewolves was another pick up and play game. And would be an awesome party game (people still do that, right?) There are more complicated ways to play, but the simplest iteration is that there are cards dealt, most of which are villagers, a minority of which are werewolves, and one who is a sheriff. All the villagers close their eyes, the werewolves wake up, decide who to savage, close their eyes and then all wake, to find a dead villager. This is overseen by one non player. It is then the player’s job to work out who to lynch (the sheriff has two votes). This repeats until the villagers wake to find no one dead.
Roughly 40 participants.
You enter a movie theatre, as people file through the door their voices hush, there is a table full of odd accoutrements in front of the screen. You sit down. Continue to talk quietly, wait. The screen flickers in to life. Letters flicker, form words, sentences and inform you that there was an intention, an intention to recreate attempt to recreate Claes Oldenburg’s 1965 happening Moveyhouse, a sculpture in light, time and space for the cinemateque at the 41st Street Theatre.
“Moveyhouse was a happening that occured in 1965 in a cinema in New York. It happened on three nights. Oldenburg said he wanted to create an abstraction of a cinema with the addition of a certain amount of fantasy. Moveyhouse lasted for about twenty minutes – the audience stood along one aisle of the cinema and watched a group of performers sitting watching a blank screen – they followed random instructions given to them on pieces of card that told them what to do – to stand up, to put on a pair of Mickey Mouse ears, to eat popcorn. etc. A man carried a bicycle across the seats – when he reached the front the event ended and everyone left.” (Source)
However, we were informed, this was not possible, they, that is to say, They, would not let us.
So we were to make our own.
Relaying to us from the film Love Happens in Leicester Square Odeon, several people sat in the audience, reporting what they were seeing, allowing us to re-enact their instructions.
This began with muttering, rustling of sweet papers, talking in the isles. It ended with warring factions between Mickey Mouse and Darth Vader, with hugs, holding hands and mass hysteria.
This was the most interesting, and the closest to performance of all the games I took part in that evening. It was also the closest to chaos, the most unnerving, and at times, the game that made me feel the most like I’d flung myself off a high cliff, into warm waters.
There was something deeply interesting about making the audience not only participants, but acknowledged actors, or rather, enactors. We understood we were enacting the happenings of another space, and another time, we were replicating, but it didn’t feel prescribed, because all of the parts were up for grab. If the relay said that a couple put their arms around one another, it was up to two people to do so, but it could be anyone. The actions started small, leading you in, rustling of sweet wrappers (provided), coughs, laughter, but it escalated and though the journey (‘narrative’ or ‘story’ don’t really apply) often felt like it was ricocheting about off mundane or gloriously ridiculous actions, there were also moments of time travel, of a speaker (that feels write, texter, writer, also applies) who wondered about the outside world, about past worlds, a small hush in the hubbub that grabbed your breath. I liked that although we were peering through a textual frame, to a reflection built by our representations, we were also reminded of all the other worlds, spaces, that we weren’t in, and to which we weren’t happening. For that reason it felt grounded.
Moveyhouse was a conversation about reiteration, about cultural experience, memory, and tropes. It was messy, and bits went wrong, but there were moments when I was more wholly involved in it that I have felt in a conventional theatre for a long time. I think I need to think more about it. Why? Out of all of the games and experiences I took part in that evening, Moveyhouse was the most interesting, and the most incomplete. I say that because I didn’t want it to end. I wanted more, I loved the piece of theatre that we had built. I felt sad, after only 20 minutes, to leave it. The piece felt like a rehearsal process. I wanted to do the final piece. And then I went outside, and realised that that’s probably real life.
“Theatre is live, handmade – reactive, ephemeral, messy. It is at its best when it shows its workings, when it acknowledges the processes that went into making it: the conversations, the long walks, the ideas, the wrong turns, the moments of improbable luck. It’s when this happens that theatre becomes not just art, not just entertainment, but a dialogue – an open invitation to think and talk about how we get on with things.”(From the creator of Moveyhouse, Andy Field).
Andy is currently developing Moveyhouse, and many more weird and wonderful theatrical experiences. You can follow him on Twitter, here.
The final, really interesting part of this evening for me, was seeing the open source ‘sandpit’ model in action, volunteers running the games, games built and altered in testing and on the wiki. I’m extremely interested in working (what I’m currently, and loosely terming) wiki-art into my research, more ideas on which will follow soon.
Like the idea of the evening? Run your own – all of the games on the wiki are creative-commons licensed. Reclaim play, reclaim your cities, your spaces, give it a go.