I’m finding myself wanting more intellectual clarity on what I’m doing. I’m going to try to get some more clarity through the writing of this blog post. Apologies if this is a bit rambling and unclear; I’m thinking out loud.
Right now I’m trying to develop a slate of projects that are as diverse as possible, so I can start to actually define this new interactive work for myself, and know where the boundaries (of my interest) lie. Once I’ve worked that out, I’ll be a lot less likely to end up realising, halfway through a project, that it’s not my kind of thing after all.
This is particularly challenging and necessary because I feel like I’m creating a whole genre of entertainment out of thin air. Sure, other people are doing similar things around the world, but we’re all inventing this wheel right now. (No, not re-inventing.) It’s not like writing a film script, where there’s an enormous library/ set of skills you can access, and well-worn (and effective) rules on how to do it. We’re trying something very new.
So. Here’s what I’ve noticed about the projects, and ideas for projects, I’ve gotten excited about so far:
– They’re designed to give a small number of people a magical and transformative experience that takes them into an experience they weren’t expecting and couldn’t have imagined.
– They’re designed to reward a particular type of audience member and audience behaviour: Adventurous, imaginative, adaptable.
– They’re difficult to explain (because the very form of the experience is unprecedented).
– They’re about capturing the intense interest of a few as opposed to vague interest of the many.
– They utilise new technologies in unexpected ways to create magical experiences.
– They have a very strong ‘treasure trail’ structure to them: A story unfolds, piece by piece, but the audience has to travel to find each next bit. They have to earn each next bit through adventurousness and solving simple puzzles.
Here’s something I’ve realised I’m not interested in, as a writer (though I’d happily play them):
– Pure games. i.e., playfulness that’s not tied into a world or a story.
– Games that do have a world, but don’t tell a story as you play them.
– Games where most of the story is created by the players (eg larping – Live Action Role Playing). I think I’m just too much of a control freak to be happy leaving the bulk of creativity to the players.
I did really enjoy the aspects of my show Frequency where the audience had a lot of agency: When they were in a van talking to a wounded agent, finding out things from him and healing him, and when they tied up an actor they’d realised was a bad guy, and interrogated him.
I’m going to flag this as something I’m unclear about right now: How much agency is the right amount to give to players?
What I do know about this, is these successful moments were short scenes where the players had been given:
– Specific knowledge,
– Specific backstory, and
– Strong motives to want to find out more or to feel strongly about a situation.
I really enjoyed the elements of choice that went on here. That each night was different, depending on how audiences reacted. I really enjoyed the audiences having different levels of indignation about the performer, discussing whether or not to free the secret agent from the quantum vortex – moments where they had a lot of agency, and were engaged emotionally, and had a short, contained period where they could be adventurous in unpredictable ways, and interact with performers.
What exactly is my new work about?
Themes that run through all (or most) of my ideas:
– Treasure trail structure, with simple puzzles or challenges you must solve in order to get to the next story beat.
– People interacting with each other in unscripted ways.
– Blurring of the boundaries between the experience and the ‘real world’.
Hmm. I don’t feel like I’m actually figuring anything new out through writing this post. Darn.
So what’s my conclusion? I guess, that the best (or only) way forward is to just keep moving forward making things, and to let my intuition tell me what’s right. And that the clarity I’d like to have will just have to come over time.
This reminds me of that great quote by Keats about the quality he calls "negative capability" that forms a Man (ahem) of Achievement: “When a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason”.
Wikipedia also describes it as “the ability to tolerate the pain and confusion of not knowing, rather than imposing ready-made or omnipotent certainties upon an ambiguous situation ”.
So. That’s my spin, anyway. Clarity? Nah. Running with "negative capability". I’ll let you know how that goes.