Live Action Roleplay Part Two: I Done Analysed Larps

Emergent Gameplay. It’s the sort of thing that gets me really frothing at the mouth with excitement. Players are presented with a world with which they can interact. Pretty much the entire story is one they create themselves, not one the designer has predetermined. Instead of putting the players into a castle, give them some tools and rocks, and let them build that castle themselves. Or an icecream factory.

Emergent Gameplay (Unless his Dad built that fort)

That’s what I love about Larps. It’s not about giving players a fixed set of choices and hoping the go either left or right, and doing everything you can to stop them running off into the sunset to create a worldwide ice-cream stick manufacturing conglomerate.

Emergent games, especially Larps, and also tabletop RPGs, let you do that. You might piss off your fellow players, and the Game Master, if there is one, but you’re still free to throw your foam sword into the wind and start whittling branches into popsticks. Well, sort of.

Larps do set out limits. They’re more or less a grown-up version of the playing a 5-year old does, with some chalk lines on the ground. While the child will most likely pretend the chalk lines aren’t the arbitrary limits to the play area, and will probably pretend they’re superhighways for his toy cars.
Larp almost always sets a very strictly defined setting. You’re going to be playing in a dystopian Paraguayan nuclear wasteland, dammit, so stop trying to sell ice cream, you child. Larp also has a very strictly defined time limit. We’ve all got jobs to go to which don’t involve wearing gas masks. Mostly. Larp also has a very strictly defined space in which to play. Because good honest normal people look funny at weirdos in pointy ears. And, well, it’s nice for the players to know where the real world ends and where the gameworld starts.

But within those limits, Larps are often free to go where they choose. Often, a bare minimum of game mechanics are introduced, though the mantra seems to be “Do we need that?” to achieve the sort of situation, setting or playstyle the Larpwriter wishes to achieve. Especially in Nordic Larps. If you want to have your Larpers play out characters trapped in an office environment, such as the Larp Papers, you don’t need a dice roll to see how well they brew a cup of coffee. That’s in contrast with many Tabletop RPGS such as Dungeons and Dragons. Roll a 10+ on a D20 to determine success in Popstick Crafting Skill.

And that’s really cool. I’d love my audience to have the opportunity for emergent gameplay.


But there’s some downsides, too. Larps need characters. Without a character, it ain’t no Larp. As such, it’s expected that players either create their own character, again within the limits of basic mechanics and the setting, or have a predetermined one assigned to them. This means that although it’s easier and more fun to play, every action the player does can be justified as “Well, that’s what my character would do”, and as such I have my doubts whether the experiences of that character can effectively translate a moving, changing effect of realisation onto the player.

As exemplified by other pieces of interactive theatre, such as Early Days of a Better Nation by Coney (yes, I’ll use that example quite a bit), the possibility is there to create a character. However, most players did not, instead, they played as themselves.

That is to say, all their actions were made from the thought “What would I do?”, and then acted and played as though their character was a projection of their own personality. This means that their actions, especially if they were perceived as negative afterwards, hit the player much harder, as that is what they would have done themselves, had they been in the sketched situation within the playtime.

Then there’s the question of accessibility. Larps aren’t cut out for everyone. Neither are any other form of media, but to cut to the chase, Larps are hard to really get into. There’s a certain amount of acting skill involved, a certain amount of pregame preparation and familiarisation with the rules, setting and characters, a bit of a stigma to overcome (overweight elf lords with foam swords), and a mode of free play that people who aren’t used to that find difficult to pick up quickly.

In conclusion, Larps are great for their emergent gameplay, but that same lovely bit brings concerns in distance between player and character experience, and overall accessibility.

So perhaps I should try incorporating Larp’s well-defined setting, play limits and embracing of emergent play, with some clear and well-defined rules and mechanics?


First Playtest-Observations, Analysis, Lessons

On Thursday 12 February I did my first playtest for my interactive theatre piece. I didn’t have much of the concept super clear, so it’s a little shabby and haphazardly organised at best, but it was great to kick off on creating something and learning from successes and mistakes. Mostly mistakes!

I chose a fairly arbitrary setting: A country at war with an invading force, it’s the middle of winter and below freezing outside. There’s soldiers and tanks about the place. Four members of the audience, the Residents, are holed up inside a house, and have been since the beginning of the war several years ago. They have just enough room for the four of them, and just about enough food to last the rest of the winter.
Another three members of the audience, Northerners, have fled south to the village where that house is, and find themselves in the garage of that house for shelter.

It’s cold and dangerous outside, and the Northerners have had to steal, loot and beg their survival, and are hoping they can stay in this house.
The Residents, however, have heard several damning things about Northerners, and have little supplies to share.

I set up the test loosely in the style of a shortlarp with minimal rules.

First, I divided the groups, gave the Residents pieces of paper representing their food stocks as well as a crowbar and a loaded pistol. I explained the setting and the rules to the Residents while the Northerners waited outside the classroom. The Residents received one or two pieces of paper with “facts they know or think they know” each.
I then explained the setting, in a slightly different manner, to the Northerners outside, giving them “facts” as well.

The facts included things such as:

This house belonged to my uncle before the war.
I heard on the radio that Northerners are allowing the Enemy to use their homes.
I shot a burglar who was trying to break into our house three months ago.
Half of our harvest was plundered.

…For the Residents, and for the Northerners:

Things are much worse up north.
We’ve had to steal food to survive.
We’ve lost three of our group already, including my brother.

The Northerners were brought into the room, and everyone was explained that they had snuck into the garage during the night, and both groups were now in the garage. The goal was presented: to find a solution whether the Northerners could stay, and if they could, what the deal would be.

And some of the questions I wanted to explore by running this test:
How will both groups find a solution? Will they find one? What will the difference in power look like and how will it be expressed? Was the setting, the objective, the rules and “facts” clear enough and did they allow for good gameplay? Did these cause a social wall between the two groups? Did the amount of player emergence/freedom, and/or the amount of defined limits/rules work well? Was it well-balanced?

Here’s the full video of the duration of play, including the discussion/feedback moment afterwards. It’s in Dutch.


Quite a lot of interesting, exciting and funny things happened, as well as a few confusing moments for the players, a loss of focus and some boring bits.

Interestingly, from the very start there were enough reasons for the Residents to immediately put up some sort of barrier to the Northerners. As an interesting contrast, one of the Residents, whose uncle had owned the house and thus he saw himself as the owner, “Since when was this a democracy”, tried to solve the issue in a very utilitarian manner, trying to help the Northerners and find a fair solution. One of the other Residents stoically refused to have anything to do with the Northerners, and would rather have them thrown out to fend for themselves. He had heard over the radio that Northerners helped the enemy, which wasn’t helped by the fact that one of the Northerners played as a very erratic (and hilariously so) character! That particular Resident even stood ready with his crowbar behind his back, in case the other group tried anything.

Throughout the play, there were several moments when it seemed that a solution had been found, only to be sabotaged by the erratic Northerner, or one of the Residents who found a reason to not let them in, for example one of the Northerners being ill.

At the end of the play (which I called due to a stalemate, a boring bit and an empty camera battery), the solution was to let the Northerners stay in the garage, in quarantine, while they and one of the Residents, who had greedily scoffed up a portion of the food supplies (he chewed on some paper) had to go out and scavenge for food and medicine.


Through some very helpful feedback from the players, I got some conclusions and observations from the test.

The setting was clear, but the limits which were supposed to be implied by it (eg that it really was quite dangerous and cold outside) were not. In this way it wasn’t as terrible for both groups to throw the Northerners out.

The relationships between the characters within both groups weren’t clear at all, and were pretty much made up on the fly. More time to establish these, or to dictate them beforehand, could solve that.

The “facts” worked well as a way to have a handhold on something to talk about, and reasons for making decisions, but might have worked better if they contradicted each other so that players wouldn’t know whether they were true.

It wasn’t clear at all when the players had “reached” their objective. A solution to the issue is quite subjective. This made the play drag on a bit and made the end boring and confusing.

It wasn’t clear for the players how much freedom for emergent play they had; what they were “allowed” to do and what they weren’t. This made it so that players weren’t sure whether, for example, one of the Northerners stamping angrily out of the room was part of the game or just joking about, same goes for the Resident who ate all the food! So, the limits need to be clearer, as do the freedoms.

To the players (my classmates, really) who knew what my research is about, the subject matter and relevancy to the test was clear.

There could have been more things for the players to do, apart from talking with each other. Some intermediary objectives, some asset management, even just doing the dishes, keeping watch, and such.

Some of the Residents had every reason to refuse the other group, while some had very little reason. This had everything to do with the “facts” they had received at the start.

The Northerners were willing to accept almost every compromise, except for the erratic one, who fought against most compromises, but only because of the character he played. I should try to give that group some more reasons or leverage to keep the conflict exciting for them.

In general, I think this test fitted well with the subject matter of social and political walls. The behaviour of the audience fitted fairly well with what I want to reach, now it’s partly about trying to find a good formula to keep it exciting, fun and engaging.

Lastly, and most pleasantly, the audience generally enjoyed the playtest.

The coming week I’ll be running another playtest. Probably going to veer quite a bit away from the free, emergent style of shortlarps and introduce some more rules. Make it a bit more like a theatrical board game, and see how that works.

Convoluted Post about Goals, Politics, and Rubbing my Audience’s Nose into Things

So this is going to be a bit of a rambling post. It’s really just going to be about all sorts of personal opinions on the subject, my fascinations, what I actually want to convey to my audience, what I want them to experience, and most importantly, why. I spent way too much time the past week in a bit of a rut, trying to get to the bottom of the purpose of my research and product, especially the personal side of things and all that jazz.

Here’s some thoughts. First of all, the idea of social and political walls is too broad. It’s too abstract and such a large, all-encompassing idea that I might as well be talking about the meaning of life. On advice from my tutor I picked one specific example from this topic which I find the most interesting and relevant.

That example is immigration and refugees, specifically in the Netherlands. The arguably arbitrary barrier we call a national border transforms the country into an enclave of self-interest and perceived (perhaps justified) self-preservation. Especially now in an economic crisis (although the Netherlands are relatively very well off) there is an increased concern that by letting outsiders in, there won’t be enough to go around. Money, jobs, space, there’s not enough of it, and as such we should “take care of our own” first. Another facet is the irrational fear of cultural invasion, of sorts. To be more to the case, this involves the concern that by letting in more and more people of an assumed united culture, such as Islam, our own local culture is watered down, mixed, even assimilated. Though that might be true, it might not be bad. I’d like to go into further detail, and I will. I’ll base the subject matter predominantly around this one example. It’ll make it easier for me to understand it and have a focus to work on.

Secondly, I have to decide who my target audience will be, and at the same time what exactly I want to tell them. I’ve been juggling a false dichotomy on how the audience should experience the show and what they should get out of it for the past week, so let’s talk about that.

At the moment, the show is, for the purpose of keeping it clear, divided into three Acts: the creation of a wall, the perpetuation of that wall, and the removal of that wall. The creation of that wall should happen regardless. I could completely set up two groups of players myself, and in a direct manner outline the differences and power structure between them so that from the get-go, there’s already a conflict. I could also let the players do this completely from their own initiative and volition. Neither are very effective to what I’d like to reach. The first sets the scene too strictly and prefabricates a situation which may be too biased, so that the audience won’t accept it as fact within the fictional world. The last is too free and thus the audience might not even construct the social barriers by themselves. So it’s about finding a good workable balance between freedom of the audience, and direction on my part. I’d have to create a circumstance of situations through mechanics, media and dramaturgy, so that it’s in the interest of the audience (so that they can “win” the game: find the appropriate solution to a problem) to form two (or more) groups and exclude and shun the group(s) that they’re not in.

Act Two is about letting the audience continue playing as excluded groups. The audience would accept the structure of the microsociety as portrayed in the show as the norm, and as the right thing to do. We’ll look out for our own group and refuse to accept the other group, because that’s what we’ve always done and that’s what is expected of us from the interactive theatre piece. I will try to do this by interfering, and introducing new mechanics, new bits of damning information, new obstacles, to drive the audience to continue their behaviour. For example, if two groups are beginning to close in on reconciliation or compromise; “Perhaps they’re not so bad, we could work together.”
then I could bring in a radio report stating that one of the groups’ affiliations has gone and kicked a puppy, or something along those lines.

Act Three is about solving the conflict. All through the piece there should be some MacGuffin to work towards (see this blog post by my classmate Ernst-Jan), a mutual or separate goal that’s always in the distance, which is the ultimate game objective. It doesn’t even have to be relevant to the subject matter. It could just be having to cook a lovely meal before the end of the show.
So by Act Three, the audience can, but do not have to, reach this goal. If they want to reach this goal, they should realise at the start of Act Three that they will probably have to co-operate with the other group, the one they dislike so much, to be able to reach the MacGuffin quicker or more easily.
I could try to leave the audience to their own volition and interfere as minimally as possible, or actively steer the audience to a peaceful solution.
However, I’m most interested in seeing whether the two groups will come to terms at all.
And if they do, what the solutions were.

So to bring that long ramble back to where I wanted to go:
What do I want to tell my audience, and in extension, what are my further goals in this telling? What should the audience walk home with? Do I want to change their minds? Start a discussion? Make a lovely night out? Make some cash so I can feed my  goldfish? Wag my finger at the audience and tut at them for being such terrible people?

I really sort of had to explain the three Acts so this would be clearer. I think I did anyway.

So here it is, badly formulated perhaps, but it’s a first draft:


I want people to experience what it’s like to be in a situation where they’re part of a group which becomes ostracised and discriminated against by a more powerful group. I want the people in that more powerful group to experience what it’s like to have to exclude a group to protect your own interests and privilege, and by doing so realise the causes associated with this behaviour.

Then, both groups should realise to some degree that this conflicting situation isn’t working, or unfair. However, I believe that this shouldn’t be fully realised, and temporarily exclusive to a few in each group. Why?

Because I’d like to see if both groups can come to a compromise, a peaceful solution to the conflict, or even perhaps a perpetuation or aggravation of the conflict. This would be an open ending of sorts, which I’d like to facilitate in a manner that any solution or lack thereof can happen.



So that’s what I’d like to have my audience experience, but that raises the next question: Why? What’s my further goal to try to achieve by giving my audience this (hopefully) interesting one-or-two-hour-long interactive theatre piece?

I don’t want to pretend that I can solve the humanitarian disasters of Dutch and European immigration and asylum policies, or the zeitgeist of xenophobia, islamophobia and racism in the Netherlands and Europe, or the perpetuation of negative stereotypes of “other” cultures in the media. It’d be lovely if I could, but that’s not my goal.
I think that many Dutch people do not experience the prejudice that comes forth from these social and political walls. People from Moroccan, Turkish, Antillean, Suriname and other backgrounds, LGBT people, people from poor backgrounds, whether they identify as Dutch or not, already know what it’s like to not belong to the “normal” part of society, to be on the shadowy side of a political or social wall. Although through being a foreigner, bisexual and (relatively) poor, I got a tiny taste of this situation, I can’t and shouldn’t pretend that I’m not in a very priviliged position. Dammit, I’ve got a piece of paper saying I’m Dutch and I’m as white as it gets!
So it’s about trying to grab that white, middle-class Dutch section of society by the collar and giving them a small taste of what it’s like to sit at the other side of the wall, or casting a blinding light on the behaviour that facilitates that wall.

So there’s already a set of criteria for my target audience: white, middle-class and Dutch.

While many countries have had their (un)fair share of oppression through the difference in power between two or more communities, I’m not sure the Netherlands has had this. At least, not in recent history, certainly not today, if we’re speaking in terms of this sort of oppression being present in the national psyche and culture.
For example, while Ireland is just as predominantly white and middle-class as the Netherlands, the centuries of subjugation under British rule still echoes in every facet of Irish culture, from the originally Irish tradition of boycotting to the power of the Catholic Church, to an often ready acceptance of unjust circumstances.
The Netherlands has lost its period of a society divided by creed and religion, ending roughly in the sixties before which everyone identified as socialist or capitalist, liberal or conservative, Protestant, Jewish or Catholic, and had their own set of newspapers, radio and TV stations, political parties, social clubs, unions, schools and neighbourhoods. This is known as verzuiling or pillarisation. However, these different pillars, though forming enclaves and erecting metaphorical walls, didn’t have much of a conflict or contrast in de facto power over one another. In comparison to Northern Ireland, which still has this pillarisation in a much more extreme form, where there really are only two pillars: Unionist and Nationalist, and the conflict and contrast in power is very real.
Though verzuiling does still echo on today, and many people remember its effects, it’s becoming less and less relevant today, as the schisms are shifting to what is perceived as “allochtoon” and “autochtoon”, or non-native and native.

For those belonging to the native category, there’s not much knowledge of what it’s like to belong to the non-native category. Again, a veil of privilege obscures that realisation.

How do you remove that veil? Well, Rot Op Naar Je Eigen Land threw people into the deep end and let them experience first-hand what it’s like to be an asylum seeker en route to the Netherlands.
I don’t have the knowledge, money, time or cojones to do something like that, to be frank, so that’s why I’d like to try the next-best-thing:
Simulating that experience in a playful environment.

So why do I feel like I want to let my audience experience that?
Well, reasons:

To shed a bit of light on how I see the ways in which social and political walls are built and maintained.

To let the audience realise the political and social factors, behaviours, influences and institutions at play to cause them.

 To let the audience play with possible solutions to these social and political walls, and if no solution is found by the end of the show, have them discuss how they could have solved it.

All of the above in order to let the audience think about and discuss these topics further, perhaps becoming a little bit more aware as to what they could do to make things better, and becoming that smidgeon bit more aware of their own privilege in Dutch society, and quite a bit more aware about how people on the receiving end of the barbed wire feel, on top of that tall wall between allochtoon and autochtoon.


Did I just use the word “aware” that much? Did I really write 2,000 words?

I just read through this entire post. I did warn you I have a taste for tangents, contradictions and rambling nonsense, but it’s nice to put it all to paper.

I need a cigarette.

Coney: A Definitive Example


I spent more than 3 months working with London-based interactive theatre company Coney as an internship. I helped develop the interactive theatre show Early Days (of a better Nation).

Read this article describing the piece if you don’t know what it entails!

There are a massive collection of mechanics, techniques, processes, lessons and tricks I learned while working with Coney, and to make a long story short, their work continues to be my greatest inspiration. I think much of their pieces are fairly definitive examples of interactive theatre.  As such I thought a quick introduction post would be in order.

Now to make a post about every facet that I would love to try out, experiment with, improve on, to eventually (perhaps) incorporate in my own interactive theatre!

Look What I Found: Merlijn Twaalfhoven



A suggestion from Ramon, one of my teachers/tutors,

Merlijn Twaalfhoven is a dutch composer and musician who has done some projects which were aimed at breaking down the barriers put up between communities, physical or not, through the playing of music. He creates a dialogue between the communities who are at odds, or divided from each other, by uniting them with that one thing we all love: Music.


Cypriots from North and South


Bridging Music and People from the West and Middle East


Music in a refugee camp in Syria


Music to cross the segregation wall in Bethlehem


What I can conclude from these examples, which I could use in my project, is

the use of art, such as music, or another common interest, to break the barriers between communities and/or establish links between them.










Look What I Found: Rot Op Naar Je Eigen Land


Click here to watch it. It’s in Dutch. My girlfriend showed me this. It’s pretty brilliant.

It’s a short documentary/reality series that was aired daily a couple of weeks ago. It follows six Dutch people as they experience first-hand the route and hardships an asylum seeker from the Middle East has to go through to enter the Netherlands, but then back-to-front.

Each of the participants has a different view on immigration and immigration policy and politics. While one wants to throw open the borders and let everyone in, another would rather “dump them all on a deserted island, put a dome over it, throw the key away and never look back”. They traverse from Holland through to Germany, Hungary, Greece, over the sea to Turkey, finally to Lebanon. Some of them are deeply moved, shocked, and some change their mind completely.

What’s incredibly fascinating is not only the subject matter, which sheds a clear light on the realities of the experiences of asylum seekers (though some would argue it’s exaggerated or biased), and thus thematically relevant to how international borders, as political walls, significantly affect humans.
It’s more so the medium that grabs me. It’s reality TV, a bit like Survivor and I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here, but without the manufactured drama and game elements. It’s a serious way to throw a handful of frankly unremarkable people (who’d never make it into Big Brother if only for their lack of “great TV” potential) into a life-changing, first-hand experience.

It’s sitting on a fine line between actually experiencing what it’s like to be an asylum seeker, and a simulation thereof. The participants could leave anytime they liked, and one actually did so right before they were to cross the sea from Lesbos to Turkey. Another was forced to fly home after getting an allergic reaction in Lebanon. So, maybe it’s a safer environment than if it would be an actual first-hand experience.

But is it life-changing? What interests me with interactive experiences is that I think it offers a pseudo-real exploration of the mechanics of a system, an issue, a problem. I expect the medium to be therefore, a very effective way to change peoples’ minds or at least to make them question and discuss an issue.

But seeing the results of this project, which was several steps above the medium I hope to use, I have mixed feelings.

One of the participants, the desert island one, completely changed her opinion, hit with a drastic emotional revelation. However, others stubbornly stuck with their opinions. All of them accepted the realities of human suffering, but distanced their emotions from their politics. Why? I have no idea, but it’s clear that my previous assumption that first-hand experiences are not always “life-changing”.

Back to the drawing board? No.

But I’m starting to be pretty sure that trying to make others see things as I see them is a bit futile and egotistical.

I’d rather have my audience experience something, and reach their own conclusions. With lots of discussion. Yes, that’s another thing this series did well. Not only did the participants discuss a lot, but viewers could join in on Twitter. Discussion’s important.

Live Action Roleplay Part One: I Done Played Some Larps

This one’s about Larping. Live Action Roleplay. It’s about overweight Elf Lords, foam swords and running around in forests. It’s also about how, with a few people, two or three game rules, rudimentary acting skills and an imagination run wild, you can create an exciting story and experience about whatever the hell you bloody well want.

So a couple of months ago I decided to play my first Larp. I totally embraced my preconceptions about it, and expected a collection of typical nerds as exemplified by this worldwide idea of what Larp is:

But I was pleasantly surprised. It was more like a group of model train enthusiasts, amateur actors, and the type of people who can’t decide whether to stay in to play video games or to go out for a pint, and settling on doing both at the same time.

It was called “War Stories”, written by Taisia Kann. We each played German and Austrian world war two veterans, forty to sixty years after the war, who came together under different circumstances every “Act” (with 5 years in between each one) to talk about their past. The postmortem with feedback can be found here, in Dutch. Oh, and this one in English.

In a rented room at a local church, with coffee and biscuits, we got a short introduction to the setting, the game rules, and the chance to create our characters. I was Albert, simple car mechanic, and personnel truck driver during the war. During the course of two or three hours, we played the game. It was something like improvisational theatre, but with a hefty amount of experimental play: What happens if I try to get on that guy’s nerves? It could be fun to see how this character reacts to me revealing his secret, why not do it?

I enjoyed it very much. I didn’t dare to stick my neck out. I’m not super confident about my acting skills and preferred to react passively or enjoy the story, but I loved the game.

A couple of weeks ago I played another Larp. A war-related one as well, it was called “Service”, and was based around a situation where military draft becomes a reality once more. The 15 players were draftees, soon to become soldiers, or perhaps the cooks for the soldiers. However, one of them can go home and not have to serve. How will the players decide who is worthy enough to stay at home and not have to (most likely) die at the front? It was a really energetic larp, with some very interesting yet minimalistic game rules.

What I think is absolutely, incredibly genious, and unbelievably, utterly terrible about Live Action Roleplay

Coming soon in another blog post. This one’s getting a bit lengthy and I’ve got some other thoughts I want to fling onto my screen first.

Defining Interactive Theatre

This would be a good moment to state my research question, as I’ve formulated it at this stage, so here it is:

How can I let an audience experience and play with the creation, perpetuation and destruction of social and political walls using game mechanics and dramaturgy, by their own agency?


I already explained here what I mean by social and political walls, but what about the other part, specifically how an audience can, by their own agency, experience and play with this theme through game mechanics and dramaturgy? I’d like to think I can sum up this mishmash of words with one medium: interactive theatre.

I’ll be using some examples to show where I get my inspiration from, be it the use of certain game mechanics, the use of theatrical design and dramaturgy, the conveying of information (and lack thereof) to the audience, visual design, story structures, psychological tricks and audience agency.

I think I’ll post separate blog posts for similar examples, while having a good look at what things I find relevant for each, what worked, what didn’t work, what I could use in my own work and all that.

Before I do that, let’s define what I mean by “interactive theatre”. To make the definition more useful, perhaps I can try to include what I’d like to achieve with my own project using this medium.

The Role of the Audience

The Audience, often equally referred to as the players, collectively play the lead role in interactive theatre. Individually, every audience member is the lead character in their own experience, even if they don’t realise or believe it. The audience should be welcomed to make decisions, take initiative, solve problems, and generally behave like they’re playing a game. The degree in which this is allowed and facilitated is what “agency” amounts to. I’ll get to that.
However, it’s very important to note that passive observation (hanging about at the back) should equally be welcomed, and designed for.

The Story

Just like any good story, the piece should have a story arc. An introductory bit to establish the setting, and a buildup to the issue, the problem, or if there is no obvious one, an establishment of a status quo.
Conflict, contrast and several obstacles for the audience to overcome should be introduced next, with an eventual crescendo or climactic event as the last obstacle.
Then, a resolution, or the lack of one, depending on the choices and “success” of the audience could end the piece. An ending wholly depends on the audience in this case. As a designer I could either improvise on the situation, have several endings prepared, or leave the ending open, thus leaving room for discussion, realisation and imagination.

Interaction and Agency

It wouldn’t be interactive theatre without interaction, so what does that look like? Well, I’m looking at a wide scala of possible degrees of interaction and agency here. I could take a pointer from Nordic Live Action Roleplay (LARP) and allow a very large amount of freedom to the audience. In this specific medium (which a later post will be about), the audience (or players, really), take a character, and play with it in the physical space, only limited by the reactions of other players and very limited, minimalistic game rules.
Or, it could be more like the experiencial theatre of, for example, Punch Drunk, where you can choose from which angle and in what order you experience a theatrical story built all around you, sometimes interacting directly with actors and the world, but not having much influence over how the course of the story goes.

So, let’s look at lots of examples, pick them apart and put them together again into some sort of Frankenstein’s Monster. Or throw them to the crows and try something new. I don’t know yet, let’s explore further.

An Anecdote and an Analogy

A quick post about two little thoughts that have a lot to do with each other, with the project and above all, with me personally.

I was born in the Netherlands, to a dutch dad and a german mum, grew up in rural Ireland, and at eighteen, flew the coop to study in the Netherlands. What’s relevant here is that I have a bit of an awkward position that while I’m a bit Dutch and a bit Irish, I feel much more Irish, while at the same time being able to view both Ireland and the Netherlands as a foreigner, and a native. Best and worst of both worlds, maybe?

Basically, I notice a lot of cultural differences between the two. Get ready for lots of generalisation, stereotyping and hyperbole. While it’s abhorrent to be fifteen minutes late to a rendezvous in Holland, it’s normal in Ireland to arrive at least a half hour late. While the Dutch buy the latest gadgets to make their coffee better than what the best barista in Rome could even attempt, the Irish would sooner waste away than have to do without a cup of Barry’s or Lyon’s tea. It’s a goldmine of material should I ever decide to become a stand-up comedian (not likely). It’s enough to have a good laugh with my dad about it anyway!

But the one difference which keeps nagging me is how the Dutch and the Irish treat strangers. It’s the main reason why I tend to turn slightly mad if I don’t get to travel back to Ireland at least twice a year (the second reason being I begin to get geographic elevation withdrawal symptoms).

See, I can stroll into any pub in Ireland, sit at the bar, and within minutes some auld lad will be chatting with me about the weather and asking where I come from, what I do, and if there’s any family or friends we might have in common. Maybe it’s the rural thing, though I’ve had the same in Dublin happen.

In the Netherlands it’s a bit more difficult. There’s a bar for everyone, but no bar for everyone. In Utrecht, for example,

there’s a bar for the really, really Dutch folk,136_S

the thespians,


the uni students,

the squatters,


the businessmen,


the metalheads…


But very few where everyone and anyone can go, and be welcomed.

When I first moved to Utrecht, I tried, on my own, to visit these bars and more, but I found it difficult to strike up a conversation, even small-talk. It was quite a culture shock, and though it’s probably far from strange to most Dutch people, I couldn’t grasp the idea of having to belong to a clique, an interest group, a profession, a scene, even a nationality, or knowing someone who belongs to one, to be worthy of having a drink and a chat with.

So, relevancy? Well, I feel as though it’s a tiny, personal reflection on one of the ways how the Dutch, in a very generalised way, maintain enclaves of similarity. I mean, I get it, of course you want to get along with people who have the same interests as you. It goes without saying that you seek those who are alike. But in rural Ireland you don’t tend to have a large choice of people to form such cliques, and as such, every stranger’s worth to have a pint with.

I don’t think either way is good or bad, let’s get that clear, but I do have my preferences. Then would it be fair to say that the Dutch way (again, generalisation, bear with me) is an example of building social walls to form an enclave of common interest, in the form of a place to get drunk with the like-minded, excluding those who may not fit in?

Well, yeah. I think so. Otherwise I wouldn’t be writing this, really.


This was supposed to be the part where I wrote an analogy about Dutch culture concerning tolerance, which I thought was pretty smart, but decided I’d make a separate post considering this one’s already pretty long.

But I’ll leave the title as it is because the alliteration is so pretty.






What It’s All About

So, here we go! The first post! Finally, after a couple of weeks of intensive scrambling for clarity and quite a bit of illness!

I want to put a lot of thoughts, ideas, things I’ve stumbled upon and everything I’ve researched and tried out. They’re probably going to be rambling, sometimes contradictory, sometimes a sentence, sometimes a tome. But the goal is to have a depository of my process in the last leg of graduating for the four-year-long adventure that has been Interactive Performance Design. Mostly for myself, partly for anyone who seems to be interested.


I think I’ll start off with a quick synopsis of what my project is all about.

I’m going to make an interactive theatre piece, where the audience collectively plays the lead role and through their own agency, explore and play with the mechanics and dynamics of political and social walls.

What do I mean by political and social walls, first of all? It’s a subject that has fascinated me for quite a long time now. An issue that I’m worried about and something that drives me to debate and discussion. I’m a very political person, having dabbled in a fair bit of anarchist and left-wing ideas, as well as their counterparts. I have a lot of strong, often stubbornly self-assured opinions, and revel at the opportunity to have a lovely talk about them with anyone who’s willing to be as stubborn as myself.

There’s going to be a lot of bias involved. I’m very opiniated and there’ll be posturing and assuming galore. As I find out more, there’ll be less of that, and at the end of it all my project is about letting people ask questions and conclude answers for themselves, not about pushing my own views down their throats.


But political and social walls? Well, let’s define it this way, though I’m most likely going to change the definition as I go:

A barrier, physical, figurative or metaphorical, which effectively separates two or more groups of people on ethnic, national, religious, cultural, racial, sexual, political, classist and a large “et cetera”, grounds.

So yeah, very broad. Let’s grab some examples.

We’ve got the Berlin Wall, the “peace walls” in Northern Ireland, the US-Mexico Border, the segregation wall in Bethlehem, Hadrian’s Wall and a large list to complement them.


All these, are of course, very physical walls. They keep people out, they protect each side from each other, sometimes just one side avails from this protection. They are often a reactionary solution to an already existing rift between two communities. The contrasts and conflicts of socialism and capitalism, unionism and nationalism, Palestine and Israel, barbarians and Romans, differing nationalities; they already existed before these walls were built.

Maybe I can argue that these physical walls of bricks, mortar and barbed wire are merely cementing the barriers that were already present in the status quo.

Are they symbolic for the figurative walls?

Do they solve or ameliorate the conflicts they symbolise?

Or do they make contrast them even more and simply stand for a constant reminder of these conflicts?


That makes me much more interested in what I think is the underlying theme:

Political and social walls which do not consist (solely) of bricks, mortar and barbed wire.

I hope you can see where I’m going with this, but rather than try to be all wordy and shit, here’s more examples.

GxyiCAllah and Allochtoon: Arabians as our newest international scapegoat. Where Jews and communists filled the role of convenient target practice in the last century, now it’s anyone with slightly darker skin from the Middle East and North Africa. Are we as natives of the western world erecting fortresses to stem what some claim to be a neverending tide of Muslim immigrants and refugees? Why? Why is it that, for example, Dutch newspapers are glad to mention a crime being committed by a “lightly tinted man”, but don’t bother describing the same crime as such when committed by a white Dutch man? How did the frankly unsettling rise of the new fascism in Europe get so out of hand? Maybe not the questions I should be asking as a white, left-wing European, but islamophobia is, I think, the biggest issue out there regarding social and political walls. They’re being built today, shored up with fear, and as such I think I can glean the mechanics of why and how people achieve this suspicion, hatred, and separation.


You-are-now-entering-free-Derry-Mural-1024x740 loyalistProddy bastard or papist arse?
It’s a rare sight to see a protestant and a catholic hand-in-hand in many parts of Northern Ireland these days. Whether it’s green or orange, Paddy’s Day or the Marching Season, the Jack or the Tricolour, Irish or British, the recurring motif has always been “identity”. Nationalists and unionists have been at each others’ throats since god knows when; when they’re not fighting each other, it’s excluding the other from anything and everything. Northern Ireland is a place of two sides deriving their identity from elsewhere. You identify as British, or as Irish, thus there has never really been a “Northern Irish” identity, culture, and as such, it’s hard to say whether it has ever been a “nation”. What’s interesting to me in this case is not necessarily how the walls were built, but how so many people are now trying to break them. Interdemoninational education, the power of the internet and cultural globalisation, a new generation weary of their ancestors’ conflict, and countless initiatives to at least get the warring tribes talking to each other. Perhaps a new Northern Irish identity, one not borrowed from the Republic in the south or the Kingdom to the east, could be a solution? I’ll definitely be doing some more research into how these walls are eroding away, and try to identify the mechanics of, well, identity.

problems-with-illegal-immigration Contraband humans: the idea that by losing the nationality raffle, a person becomes less equal once they cross an arbitrary line. Yeah, yeah, I’m already setting a biased tone, but I’m talking about illegal immigration. History and culture is probably more defined by the movement of groups of people than wars and empires. Cultures evolve because of migration, emigration and you know, people moving from one place to the other (repetition to make a point). We wouldn’t have McDonald’s if it weren’t for some Germans making meat into shapes catching on in the United States. We wouldn’t have the United States if it weren’t for millions of Europeans going there to piss natives off.
But the fact is that we have countries, and countries have borders. Those borders are made less than arbitrary with walls, defined by fences, guns and/or pieces of paper.
Some countries are pretty fine, where you can live until you’re over 80 and you can probably earn enough to afford a barbeque grill. Some countries aren’t so nice, where you can probably die in childbirth and earn just enough to eat a grilled sausage once a year.
What happens when the people in the latter country really would like to live in the former country, and why the guys with the grills don’t want to share their burgers, is the interesting part.
Is it about putting our own people first, and protecting our jobs/welfare/pork chops?
Is it about treating one nationality more superior than another by labelling someone “illegal”?

There’s many more examples and ideas, but that’s it for now. I’ve got lots more posts lined up, I’ve got some interesting things I’ve found to show you, and I really want to talk about why and how I want to make something called “Interactive Theatre”. So bookmark this blog.