Conclusion of Research and Process (For Now)

The following is a short conclusion of the research and process I’ve gone through in making Vloedelingen as it stands at this moment.

I started in February with a collection of themes I wanted to work with, each with a common denominator. Politically motivated barriers such as the Berlin Wall, the Bethlehem Segregation Barrier and the US-Mexico Border;
the forming of cliques, subcultures, identities and eventually race identities and nationalities, and the interaction between them;
the ideology of national borders and the less obvious barriers used to protect them.
The common denominator being that they each are symptoms of the human drive to join the like-minded and discriminate the stranger, thus building which I called social and political walls.

I started off with a lot of research into these topics, trying to distill the dynamics from them: political, economic, psychological, philosophical, all the theoretical stuff. At the same time I collected anecdotal stuff: stories, experiences, opinions, arguments, articles, and personal experiences.

I also had a look into how other makers and artists expressed the topics of social and political walls, as well as politically-motivated media in general. I found lots of incredibly interesting and useful projects which I didn’t know about before, from Rot Op Naar Je Eigen Land, that documentary which pits six Dutch people into a first-hand experience of what an asylum seeker has to go through, Nordic LARPs, Forum Theatre, you name it.

The first part of my process was focused mainly on my personal driving factors as to why I wanted to make interactive theatre, and why this topic specifically. The main reason I love interactive theatre, is for its potential to grant the audience the opportunity for emergent gameplay.
The moments when an audience takes your mechanics, your story, your setting, and smashes it apart with a sledgehammer, then pieces together the debris into something wholly unexpected and interesting, that’s what fuels my passion for interactive theatre.

The main reason for choosing a political theme is certainly my belief that interactice, live experiences are an incredibly powerful activistic tool, whether you as  a maker want to portray your views or simply want to pose a question, or even want to provide a safe, playful environment to experiment with real issues. Or all three.
So why not try to change the world? Or at least give my audience a stepping stone to start thinking about it, anyway!

The second part of my process was relativising myself as a maker with other makers. With all the projects I discovered made by others, I could see how they communicated their visions, and have a look at what practical gamey mechanicy and dramaturgically thingys they did good, and did bad. It was also a nice opportunity to humble myself and realise what that what I’m making isn’t revolutionary at all. It’s just sticking a middle finger up at the local politician.
And that’s bloody great!

The past month has really been focused on piecing together all the real-life dynamics and translating them to game mechanics and dramaturgical methods, then testing them with my audience and seeing how they behave.
I translated the economic arguments against immigration into mechanics and the cultural arguments into the setting and story.

I spent a lot of time trying to figure out a well-fitting setting as well. That was difficult, but I found one that fit perfectly. It was close to home for my Dutch audience, yet fictional enough for lots of legroom to fiddle around with the specifics. And it works well to define boundaries for the audience.

I constructed the entire structure of the show, with its three Acts, which helped me pinpoint the choices, problems and questions I had to test.

I tested the first act, which would establish the setting and the characters whom the audience would play. In general this worked well, with some tweaks and clarifications needed.

I tested the entire playthrough, albeit shortened, functional and bare-bones, with a larger audience of 9. That didn’t work as well, mostly because very little conflict between the groups happened. I’m still trying to analyse why some things went wrong, and I have a few ideas, but that’s the very next step I need to do!

In the past couple of weeks, I’ve been doing a lot of practical, productional stuff as well, and recruiting people to help and advise me. I can safely say that people are incredibly lovely and helpful! I’ve got a few actors to talk to, as well as directors, a theatre designer, the brilliant crowd from Coney. I’ve got help for building and moving big things around for my final shows, too.

Oh yes, and those shows are on on 28 and 29 May!

So my journey thus far has been hectic, but I’ve learned more than I ever expected. I think I’ve got almost all the tools I need to start producing the final show. The biggest hurdles ahead are making sure I can encourage and steer the conflict between the groups, working with the actors, nailing down style and design, finding out how best to have the audience play their characters and to what extent, and finally, making choices to see what the best declarative layer for the resource management mechanic is.

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