A Community Bargains: Building Connection Via Low Stakes
Another night, another Come Bargain blog.
This time, about a vision of community in interactive theatre, drawing on a comparison made by Sarah Griffin between their work in Chloe Mashiter’s Shield & Torch and my own Come Bargain With Uncanny Things.
They’re entirely right that both are fundamentally shows about community, why we need it, and how we might form it in small spaces of time between strangers. While taking quite different approaches to that (Shield & Torch’s LARP-influenced world of travellers meeting in a tavern around a folk ritual; Come Bargain’s world of cosmic folk horror and deals for the aid of the community).
I think it’s a magic interactive theatre offers that nothing else does - the art of coming together and, above all, working together. It’s why so many of the mechanics in Come Bargain rely on good coordination between groups (such as what potion the Offerers might give the Uncanny Thing to help the Invokers), but also within them (such as the Wyrd Gazers deciding what rituals they might prioritise).
I’ve seen utter strangers bond while tying together bits of string and paper for nonsensical gifts to the Uncanny Thing, and that’s utterly wonderful to see.
Why? It opens a door to the other stuff we’d rarely be vulnerable enough to be in front of other people - concerned about a child, or a stranger, or a beloved place.
We’ve had nights where, when asked to curse someone, people decide to be kind and find a way to resolve the initial damage.
We’ve seen people weave together complex, interlocking sequences of rituals, all in order to help an imagined stranger.
And above all, we’ve seen them gather in the bar afterwards to discuss what they’ve achieved together.
Which I’m really quite fond of.
Above all, what I think really works in the show is that the stakes are rarely ending the world, or saving the country - they’re small, human bonds and relationships. Save someone’s child, or a parent, or a teacher.
While the magic requires a wider and deeper lore to feel real, what makes the show feel desirable is the kindness of relating.
Tying all the rites and rituals in the show together is a set of drives that say: try this alone, and you will fail. Try it together, and you will succeed.
By making a community in an imagined world, we are starting to make a community in the actual one.