In April I ran playtests with my two actors: Nico Gruneberg and Eduard de Vos.
We had met beforehand, and had a look through my concept, doing some briefing, and a bit of brainstorming with Yentl de Lange (the third actor who unfortunately couldn’t take part fully but helped along with ideas and production nonetheless!) plus Nico.
Some very interesting ideas emerged from that brainstorm.
In short, the most important ideas were:
How to create two opposing cultures, for example the planning, future-thinking Vastelanders and the traditionalist, carpe diem Eilanders.
Ideas on how to illustrate the cultures, such as through idioms, sayings, poems, pictures and folk tales.
Inventarising not only the cultural differences, but the associated prejudices. The Vastelanders don’t see the Eilanders as practical, but as short-sighted and backward.
How to instill an inherent sense of leadership for the two leaders. The Zeiler is now know as the Kapitein (Captain).
First I playtested with Nico as the Burgemeester/Mayor, and tried out Act 1 for the Eilanders.
A couple of days later I tested with Eduard as the Kapitein/Captain, and tried out Act1 for the Vastelanders.
Both tests were more to give the actors a feel for the project, and to play around with their characters. It went exceptionally well, and the biggest conclusion I could garner from both tests was that actors in leadership positions play a vital, exceptionally important role for my project in several aspects:
They can tell the story and setting very, very well.
They can facilitate a discussion like no other.
They can instill a sense of group identity and common purpose.
They can easily influence the audience to go along with discriminatory ideas and behaviour.
The playtests were also a chance to play around with the player-characters. I noticed especially that the audience absolutely loved, almost needed, relations with other audience members. In the second test I attempted to give every character at least one relation with another character.
Another thing that happened in the second playtest was that the audience read through their entire character card in one go. That was a pity. Eventually the Kapitein reacted to what was being read out in character, and that worked well to spark the realisation with the audience that they were that character, and could and should act according to that character instead of reading aloud on a meta level. Splitting the characters between “Who I am” and “What I’ve been through/what I know” helped that problem too.
The Vastelanders audience enjoyed the fact that they were a rag-tag group of people whose only common thing was that they all survived the same ordeal. While the Eilanders enjoyed the fact that they were very close.
There were a couple of problems regarding the length of the discussion. More discussion topics would be needed to flesh out the Act 1 for the Vastelanders.
The Eilanders really needed time to figure out the core mechanics, no matter how simple they may seem.
A very important piece of feedback was that characters needed some sort of dilemma when deciding whether they hated the other group or not. While the Vastelanders are quickly prepared to come to terms with their prejudices, the Eilanders should not be. As such the Eilanders have mostly negative preconceptions and experiences about the Vastelanders.
It would be much more interesting, exciting and justifiable as far as my message is concerned, to insert a few positive preconceptions in there as well. Then the audience will have to juggle them, meaning a much more rich dramatic arc per player.