On Friday 12th April I ran a short playtest for Act 1, for the Mainlanders group of players. It was a bit impromptu, outside on a terrace, in the sun, with some beers, so I could only record sound, but it went well nonetheless.
I wanted to test a first draft of Act 1, explore how I could illustrate roles and characters to the players, and how I could make the setting and story clear, as well as discussing ways to tell that setting and story.
Here’s the audio for the test and discussion afterwards:
I tested it with three 2nd year IPDers and one 1st year, as I wanted a bit of expertise in the feedback as a first draft test.
I told the setting to the players in a narrative way, then dealt out some pieces of paper with on them the experiences of the characters. For example, one character spent a weekend on the Island, so she knew what it was like. Another had lost all his friends and family, as far as he knew. Another couldn’t swim.
Just little snippets of information to sketch the basics of a character.
Then, the actor-character, the Zeiler (Sailor), played by myself (badly!) introduced himself and the situation him and the audience were in, i.e. the bit of raised land they were on wasn’t fit for their survival, and he knew of an Island a few kilometres to the north where they could take their chances. Then followed a short discussion as to whether they should go to the Island.
-Suggestions for ways to tell the global setting at the start were very interesting.
One suggestion was to use light, cold, wet, and soundscapes to make the storm and its aftermath an immersive experience for the audience.
Another was to use the Zeiler as the narrator.
I think I’ll combine the two in a sense. The Zeiler narrates the story, mixed with a stormy soundscape and dramatic lighting. It might solve my problem of immersing the audience at the start of the show. Having them step into the magic circle, if you will. The Islanders can have a similar manner of introduction.
-I should have let the audience play their characters a bit further. However, the only goal in this playtest was to decide whether to embark on the journey to the Island or not, and I designed their characters and the setting in such a manner that the audience would almost always agree to that. One suggestion was to play out some discussion between the players while they’re on the boat on the way there. In this way the audience can establish their characters, get to know one another, have time to form a group identity, explore the setting, and prepare and plan for their arrival on the Island.
-The way the audience played their characters was perfect. I was aiming for a good balance between playing as yourself, and playing as a character. The audience played as themselves, but contextualised through their characters’ experiences.
-It wasn’t clear that yes, their homes and their lives were pretty much completely destroyed, and that they had nothing to return to.
-What the Island or the Islanders looked like, and who they were, wasn’t as clear, but perhaps this is for the best. Within the context, the audience would know a few things about the Island. They’d all done geography at school after all. But they wouldn’t know much outside of their own experiences with the Islanders (if they’ve had any).
-It wasn’t clear that the Island was inhabited!
-The players thought it would be interesting to allow for some conflict and tension within their own group. Maybe a few of the players don’t belong completely to the Mainlanders’ group, and therefore would be more susceptible to be “sacrificed”.
-Again, creating a group identity really needs some time. The only thing binding them together is their common suffering, which in itself is a strong social glue, but time is needed to get to know one anothers’ characters.
-More relations with each other! The players should have relations with a good few of the other players, even if that relationship is as simple as “I don’t think that guy is a very nice person”.
-More people should have a relationship with the Zeiler, so that the Zeiler becomes more trusted and accepted as a leader.