Vloedelingen is het afstudeerproject van Joost Bos, student op de opleiding Interactive Performance Design, HKU.
Vloedelingen is een interactief theaterstuk over de sociale en politieke dynamieken tussen mensen in tijden van crisis en wantrouwen.
Het vasteland is overstroomd na een verwoestende storm, zeker de helft van het land is teruggewonnen door de zee. Een groep overlevende Vastelanders hopen naar het eiland in het noorden te vluchten, maar de Eilanders zijn ook geteisterd door de storm, en met slinkende voorraden en vooroordelen over elkaar, dreigt er geen wederzijdse oplossing te komen.
Als publiek hoor je bij de Eilanders of de Vastelanders. Op een spelende wijze beslist het publiek de koers van het verhaal. Weet jij de schaarse middelen goed te gebruiken en verdelen? Verenig jij de groepen of zet je alles in om wat jou eigen is te verdedigen?
Vloedelingen mengt games, rollenspel en publieksinteractie samen tot een live theatrale ervaring, om zo tot een speelse discussie over actuele politieke themas te komen.
I ran a playtest on wednesday 15th April with four players to test a few things.
The players sat with the Mayor (played by myself) around a table.
The global setting was narrated by me, explaining the who the Islanders are and the storm and its effects. Next, the players were allowed to read their character snippets; pieces of paper which illustrated who their character is, what they do, some things they know about the state of the Island’s resources after the storm, and some things they experienced in the past which could form their opinion of the Mainlanders. The characters included the Visser (Fisherman), Winkelier (Shopkeeper), Vuurtorenwachter (Lighthouse Keeper) and Oude Man/Vrouw (Old Man/Woman).
Next, I took on the role of the Burgemeester (Mayor), introducing the players to the here and now: we’re sitting in a café discussing the damage done by the storm, our lack of resources and how we’re going to fix that.
The players discussed with each other, the Burgemeester acting as a facilitator, using their character snippets and the resource management mechanic (which was pretty much some pieces of paper signifying fuel and food).
Here’s the video. Unfortunately my camera decided to be grumpy and only record 12 minutes of it.
And here’s the audio file of the feedback and discussion bit at the end:
-The logic, clarity, believability and immersiveness of the setting and story.
-How the audience played their characters.
-The relationship between audience members, and between their characters.
-What the role of the Burgemeester (as an actor) could be.
-How a simplified resource management mechanic influenced the play style and behaviour of the players, and whether it worked well and was engaging.
-If the players exhibited the kind of discriminatory behaviour towards the Vastelanders (Mainlanders) that I was aiming for.
-Most importantly, all the players enjoyed the playtest!
-The players thought the link between the story and the message behind it (i.e. social/political walls and the dynamics of immigration) made sense. One player already knew this link. This had a little influence, but not too much.
-Reading the character snippets took a while, perhaps fill up that moment with something (ambient sound?) to make it less bare and awkward.-The resources should be represented with very physical objects. Let food be actual cans of food, put water into jerrycans to represent the fuel. Also, the actions players do to use the resources could be physical as well. Pieces of paper don´t work as well.
-The Burgemeester shouldn’t only be a facilitator. He should facilitate, then according to the general wishes of the players, make a final decision. For example, during the test, the players thought that meeting the Vastelanders out at sea with their own boat to see what they had and wanted was a good idea. The Burgemeester at that point should announce that this is what they’re going to do, and lead the players to enact that action.
-The dynamics of the group were very interesting. At the start, most players felt as though they were playing purely for their own interests, and wanted to withhold resources and knowledge. However, what worked exceptionally well (and something I didn’t consciously intend), was that each character was dependent on another, and had something that the others needed. This, combined with the fact that they were all in the same boat (so to speak), they were all Islanders, and that the setting demanded they knew each other well, led to the fact that the players developed a sense of being a group. The players said “We were really a community”. Lovely!
-The relations between the characters should be much more defined. The setting demands that they already know each other all their lives. Their character snippets should reflect that. It also gives more context to their interaction with each other. For example, we could have a fisherman thinking that the housewife is his friend, while the housewife thinks he’s a bit of a fool.
-The character snippets, which were separate pieces of paper with text on, should be one single card. Easier to read and keep with you.
-The Visser’s character wasn’t defined enough. The player who was the Visser didn’t have a sense of what kind of person she was. Easily fixed by incorporating some more depth to the character snippets.
-The players, unlike the previous playtest, did not play as much “as themselves”, filled in with some experiences relevant to the setting. However, they much more took on their characters. I’m very conflicted as to whether I want this, as either staying the course and allowing this, or finding a way to lessen the importance of a defined character, has its pros and cons. I’ll have to make a decision on this.
-The passage of time wasn’t clear. The players wanted to build a waterwheel to generate power, but didn’t know how long it would take to build, so they just decided “Damn it, it’s built”. Problem is, only a few minutes had passed in story time. I think the solution to this lies together with the resource management mechanic. If the declarative layer of that is made physical, perhaps the passage of time (as well in combination with a Day/Night mechanic, I think) should be more clear. I’ll have to test that.
-To tie into that, the actions the players did, or wondered if they could do (such as building a waterwheel) were incredibly unclear. Could they do it? How could they do it? Did they do it? Is it working?
Perhaps I can fix that with a good core mechanic (resource management), but that’s going to be difficult.
-I’m not sure whether the Vuurtorenwachter should be paid by the government, or whether that should be explicitly stated. This heavily influenced the player’s decisions; if we don’t help the vastelanders, I won’t get paid.
-In extension, the influence of the government was a bit too much for my liking. Perhaps they should be more… fucked.
-It wasn’t clear that there were nets the players could use to fish. They did attempt to make some using old clothes, ropes and… toilet paper?
-It wasn’t clear what season it was.
-It wasn’t clear that the setting was in the present time.
-It wasn’t clear which technology they had and didn’t have, or what worked and what didn’t. The Vuurtorenwachter’s radio worked well as the only form of contact to the outside world, though.
-The lighthouse was seen very much as a beacon, they only way to find the Island. Of course, the Vastelanders would be arriving in the morning, and they’d be able to see the Island without a problem, but the players didn’t realise that and wanted to turn the lighthouse off to ensure the Vastelanders wouldn’t find them. But that’s also very interesting, so I might have them come at night.
Lastly, I’m not sure that I’m happy with how much discriminatory behaviour the players exhibited. Yeah, sounds nasty of me, but that’s what I’d like to try to influence. The Winkelier, also because of the self-preserving character, and that the player wanted to try to stir things up, did want to throw the Vastelanders from the lighthouse! But eventually decisions, while influenced by the characters’ negative outlook to Vastelanders, were fairly utilitarian and pragmatic. The players were just, at the end of the day, very nice people!
So, thanks to Charlotte’s (my classmate) advice, I’ll have to take a look at the Blue Eyes Experiment again, and see if I can replicate that.
But perhaps if the Islanders are faced with the reality of the Vastelanders arriving, they’d behave differently? Let’s test that, eh?
So in general, what I’ll have to solve:
Some general setting details. Nothing difficult, just need to clarify some things.
Build a core mechanic based on resource management. I’m hoping this will solve the biggest problems I found during the playtests: perception of time, and that players can make decisions and act them out.
Have a look at what other mechanics I can introduce which can influence for discriminatory behaviour and playstyles.
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.
So this post is a bit late, but I just quickly want to tell that I’d spent a couple of weeks building the show through the medium of paper and ink. From start to finish, before and after, and everything around that.
It’s now, after some playtests and new discoveries and ideas, a bit out of date, but still very relevant.
I think I’ll just post a ton of pictures of them and let them speak for themselves.
One quote of his in this interview really confirmed what I think my goals are in creating my own theatre piece:
“Wat je hoopt, in ieder geval, is om mensen wat bewuster te maken. Ik heb niet de pretentie dat de voorstelling de wereldwijde immigratie probleem kan oplossen. Misschien kunnen we in ieder geval de toeschouwers van de voorstelling het cadeau geven dat zij iets beter erover nadenken.”
Brazilian dramaturg Augusto Boal created and coined the ideas of Theatre of the Oppressed (his collection of dramaturgical experiments, methods and forms) and Forum Theatre (a specific form within that collection.
Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed techniques use theatre as means of promoting social and political change. In the Theatre of the Oppressed, the audience becomes active, such that as “spect-actors” they explore, show, analyse and transform the reality in which they are living.
Forum theatre is the most commonly known and used form Boal developed.
Boal developed and practised an orthodox methodology for forum theatre based on the interaction between his actors and his so-called “spect-actors”. The spect-actor attempts to overturn the oppression using some method unused by the actors, whilst the actors portraying the oppressors improvise to attempt to bring the production to its original, scripted ending. If the audience believes that the spect-actor’s actions are too unrealistic to be utilized in reality, they may call out “magic!”, and the spect-actor must modify their actions accordingly. If this spect-actor fails in overthrowing the oppression, the actor resumes their character, and continues the production until another spect-actor calls out “stop! or freeze!” and attempts a different method.
If and when the oppression has been overthrown by the spect-actors, the production changes again the spect-actors now have the opportunity to replace the oppressors, and find new ways of challenging the oppressed character. In this way a more realistic depiction of the oppression can be made by the audience, who are often victims of the oppression. The whole process is designed to come to a conclusion through the consideration of opposing arguments, rather than where an argument is one-sided and pushed from the actors with no chance of reply or counter-argument.
So, how would I use this? Boal is convinced of the power of theater to drive political and social change, through sketching a political or social situation, and using audience participation and interaction to explore a solution for that problem. In this way, forum theatre is incredibly similar to my project’s dramaturgical structure and overall goals.
I think I can learn from the techniques in his work, although I have some criticism. My largest qualm is the idea of a “spect-actor”. Boal touches ever so slightly on interactivity and audience agency, but it’s too facilitated, directed and controlled for my liking. The formal structure of forum theatre may not be effective in my goal of immersing my audience into a setting which in turn should make my audience care about the setting, their characters and ultimately their choices.
However, seeing that esteemed dramaturgists have before created theatre in this manner to achieve political and social change and awareness, really inspires me, and certainly gives me confidence that I can reach those goals!
To explore the themes of my project, I’ve been busy exploring the dynamics, reasons of existence and defining aspects of firstly political walls, in the very literal sense, and secondly discrimination, racial or otherwise.
There’s plenty of academic research on both subjects, touching on politicological, sociological, psychological and philosophical interpetations. I won’t go into a lot of length, but I’ll just link the sources and take out the interesting quotes and my conclusions of them.
PDF about an exhibition about political walls in de Red Cross/Crescent Museum in Geneva, by Frank Neisse and Alexandra Novosseloff.
Alexandra Novosseloff wrote the book Walls Between People. In the PDF there’s some interesting analyses of different political walls.
In short the following reasons why political walls are built:
-To prohibit the movement of organised crime. For example, the US-Mexico Border. The US government expresses the importance of a highly defended border as part of their War on Drugs, hoping to stop the import of drugs and movement of MExican drug cartels into the US.
-As a result of Ideological and Religious conflict. Through apparently irreconcilable ideas, conflict arises, and walls are built to protect either side. Or, to pacify that conflict. Ideologically speaking, we can take North/South Korea as an example. The tension between totalitarian socialism and capitalist democracy sparked a brutal war, which ended on a stalemate with the demilitarised zone between both countries. Religiously speaking, we can look at the Peace Walls in Northern Ireland between Catholic and Protestant neighbourhoods.
-To prevent economic migration, or immigration. The Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla in Morocco are a good example of this (including the US-Mexico border and other heavily regulated borders into the EU). The enclaves have high, almost impassable fences, which aim to prevent sub-saharan and other African immigrants from attempting to enter the EU. These immigrants are fleeing dire economic situations in the hope for better opportunities in the West.
-To combat terrorism and other forms of irregular war. The Berm, a long wall of sand banks, mines, fences and artillery, stretches along the border of Morocco in the Saharan Desert, in order to protect against incursion by the Polisario Front, a Sahrawi guerilla independence army.
-To preserve increasing precarity of vital and valuable resources. Most examples of walls have this reason, though it’s not often implicit. A list:
-Western Sahara: coastline, tourism, land
-Mexico: cheap labour
-Cyprus: land, water, tourism
-South Korea: economy
Using the case of walled borders, Brown shows that the walls of our present modernity are to be distinguished from those of the twentieth century. One critical difference is that they are not built as fortresses against other sovereigns, but against nonstate transnational actors—individuals, organizations, industries, movements, groups. She finds that these are rarely state-incited border crossers, and in this regard they are not linked to Westphalian logics.
Brown writes of walls as a part of an ad hoc global landscape of flows and barriers both inside nation-states and in the larger constellation. They divide rich parts of the globe from the poorer ones. In addition to this, I see a transversal pattern as well: the formation and strengthening of new types of geographies of centrality that cut across the ongoing divide between global south and global north. Brown brilliantly sees how states resorting to policing and blockading signal a “blurring between the inside and the outside of the nation-state, and not only between criminals inside the nation-state and enemies outside.”
So, according to Sassen and Brown, political borders and walls are much less rigidly defined limits to a nation-state’s power, they’re not fortresses to defend against other nation-states, and more pervasive internationally, serving to instead to hinder non-state activities over its borders, and within its borders too.
Also, it’s worthy to note the pattern Sassen and Brown mention of the division between the world’s north and south.
The threats perceived by the state regarding immigration are both internal and external. It’s hard to compare modern border policing and anti-immigration with, for example, the walls of Rome stemming the Visigoth migrations, something wholly external to the Ancient Romans. Modern anti-immigration policy revolves not only about keeping the “unwanted” out, but also about controlling and deporting the “unwanted” who are already inside.
And a conclusion by Sassen which I found interesting:
Citizens are losing rights, as are legal immigrants, and irregular immigrants are subject to increasingly acute exploitation. Yes, there are sharp differentiations in life chances and privileges among these diverse groups, but most of them are facing variable degrees of impoverishment and loss of entitlements. This structural approximation coexists with heightened nationalisms and virulent antiimmigrant sentiment. The tragic effect is to obscure the fact that the source of this impoverishment and losses is a larger political economy, which has also hurt immigrants, both legal and not. We will not solve the immigration question if we do not address these larger losses.
” The temptation of a wall is nothing new. Every time that a culture or a civilisation does not manage to consider the other, to consider itself as with the other, to consider the other within itself, these rigid barriers of stone, iron, barbed wire, electrified fences or closed ideologies are built, demolished and then return to us with new stridence. “ Quand les murs tombent, Edouard Glissant, Patrick Chamoiseau, éditions Galaade, Paris, 2007, pp. 7-8
Then, some research into discrimination.
First, a psychological enquiry into the reasons why people discriminate, by Psychology Today https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/more-mortal/201008/exploring-the-psychological-motives-racism
According to them, the motives behind racism include:
Self Esteem; bringing others down to feel better about yourself, basically.
Common Distinctiveness; the human nature of wanting to belong to a group which shares something in common with you, often causing you to find other groups, especially groups perceived as an opposite to yours, inferior.
Certainty and Structure; that people who find routine, structure and clearly defined boundaries and labels important, are more likely to be adverse to difference.
Survival; that when resources are scarce or perceived as such, people tend to want to protect their “own kind” first and foremost, driving to compete with other groups seeking the same resources.
Dominance; asserting that humans are hierarchally organised creatures, enacting dominance over a certain group, especially if they are in the minority or have less power, upholds and strengthens existing privileges and status.
A fairly difficult to read paper into the sociological dynamics of discrimination in the economy (focused on the United States) by Devah Pager and Hana Shepard.
Discrimination on an internalised level, for example individual psychological reasons, as exemplified above by Psychology Today.
Discrimination on a systemic, institutionalised manner, for example the laws of a state.
Discrimination on an economic and cultural level, where existing organisational structures within businesses, for example, can reinforce prejudices in employment, and social norms, values, cliches and tropes can perpetuate prejudice.
Here are a collection of articles and an interesting website by the European Greens on the topic of immigration and asylum seekers. Mostly supporting the view of more open borders and the responsibility of nation-states to help refugees as much as possible.
I spent last week trying to get back on my feet and trying to become interested and into my project and research again. I spent two weeks being sick and in hospital, so I missed quite a lot of time, but hopefully I can pick up the pieces and salvage it!
At least now I’ve made a gigantic leap forward! I’ve got a setting that works well and makes my creative appetite flourish. The setting was something that I’d been stuck on for about a month, so I’m glad that’s out of the way.
So this blog post is about explaining and exploring the world I’m moulding through which my project and research will take root.
Imagine a country very much like the Netherlands, but not the Netherlands.
There’s a small island several miles from the coast to the north. It’s inhabited by a small number of people, who have lived there all their lives, just as their forefathers have. A small collection of houses line the only street on the island, facing the harbour and beach. A lighthouse stands guard on a peninsula outside the village, where a lighthouse keeper earns his keep from the state. The rest of the Islanders are fishermen and housewives, with one shopkeeper and a ferry skipper.
The Islanders have always been isolated. Technologically backward, and quite conservative, but they like it that way. They’re proud of who they are, and their unique culture contrasts with that on the Mainland. The Islanders mistrust the Mainlanders; whether it’s because of the large trawlers fishing away their livelihood, the government always having ignored them, knowing that their opinion of them is that they’re inbred yokels. The Island was never even a part of the country before a hundred years ago.
The Islanders have very little in the way of food, apart from some homegrown vegetables and plenty of seafood. Everything else, especially fuel for heating and the boats, clothes, toilet paper, other food, comes from the Mainland. Brought over by the ferry skipper who sails back and forth once a day (except on Sundays), and sold by the shopkeeper in his small shop on the waterfront. Their electricity comes from a wind turbine, with generators as backup. Although the Islanders can receive radio and TV, the few that use the internet need to travel to the Mainland.
And then, something terrible happened.
The Mainland flooded. The past decade there had been calls to strengthen the dykes to protect the country against the rising sea levels, but these had fallen either to deaf ears or halfhearted, disconcerted efforts. The ocean slowly rose to a sinister height, and when the raging, week-long storm came, the dykes with which the Mainlanders had so long conquered their lands with, gave way.
Soon, in a terrifying rush of nature’s fury, the sea encroached further and further into the country, drowning thousands, evacuating millions, and trapping many unfortunate people in their attics or on small pockets of higher land. Half of the country is now reclaimed by the sea.
Now, two weeks since the storm started, the government and all its assets try to evacuate and rescue as many as they can. The international community has sent aid. Even so, there’s no telling how many can be saved, and it seems unlikely that the waters would soon recede, if ever.
There’s an island to the north. Not the island we were talking about, but a much, much newer one. Now surrounded by the sea, a few hundred survivors take refuge on what was formerly a suburb of a city, built on a picturesque hill. All they can see is water around them, here and there buildings rising; church towers, flats. The survivors are out of luck, though. No helicopters have found them yet, and the food they managed to scavenge won’t last them long.
One night, a small yacht strands on this pocket of land. A small group of survivors, upon finding it, fix it up, stick some fuel into it, and decide to sail off in it. Perhaps to save their own skins, perhaps to find help, but most of all, to find a new refuge.
One old man, one of the survivors, used to be a sailor. He quickly takes the helm, and glancing at the yacht’s charts, sees an opportunity in a destination…
A few miles to the north, there’s an island. The Mainlanders all know that island. Isolated, backward, strange, but perhaps they can help. It´s near, it´s safe, it shouldn´t be flooded.
Cramped in the boat, they head for the Island.
Finally, some doodles, notes and ideas I’ve hung up on a wall: