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  • Writer's pictureleodoulton

Coming To Paradise: Hell, otherwise known as playtesting

I had not expected to get so far with Paradise Craved that its sharings would essentially feel like first previews, stress-testing a finished-ish show.

The morning sharing was brilliant. Audiences described it as “weird, heartbreaking”, which is about the highest praise I hope to receive for any of my work.

I really want this piece to be beautiful and moving.

The afternoon ended up being almost the opposite of Come Bargain With Uncanny Things’ first sharing, where the tone was mostly right, but the mechanics clunky.

Here, the mechanics worked well (mostly), and the audience was still engaged, but the tone was often off, lost in errors in playtesting.

Thus one of the things I walk away from Paradise Craved is a set of notes about better playtesting.

First, thou shalt know what you are testing. Is this a finished experience? A stress test? Just a doodle of a few ideas?

Second, thou shalt set the scene clearly for the audience. What do the stand-ins stand-in for? Where would the set ideally do stuff that it currently does not? What would they know in advance?

Third, thou shalt permit thyself to stop the show if needed. When you triumph in the first two minutes of scene-setting, but then realise after five minutes that things have gone off the rails because of a misunderstanding (based on violations of the first and second notes), it is important to stop the show.

Nobody will mind. It’s a test. It means they’ll have more fun and get a better reflection of the show.

I had indeed wanted to do a couple of pretty solid runs, and did so. The morning one, where I did know what I wanted to test, and set the scene clearly for the guests, went very well. The afternoon one, less so. People were given the game mechanics far too soon, and thus treated the show like a game to beat, with some secret means of victory (or content-unlocking).

It is not able to offer either of those things, and thus I have now revised the first fifteen minutes to reinvent that and make it easier for people to fall into the tone the morning found immediately.

A fourth rule: ask good questions at the end. ‘How do you feel?’, and ‘who would you bring if you’d had a spare ticket?’ are both good questions that got good responses.

As did having very open space for people to give their comments. Though I perhaps flatter myself by reporting it, I was pleased by someone who praised my willingness to have people drifting in and out during my residency, shaping my work as it was underway.

I have not always been (and am not always) so willing to share and hold space with people.

Likewise, I am pleased that not one person said “oh, it kinda reminds me of ____,” which hopefully means my sense this is a novel and worthwhile strand of enquiry is correct.

Questions I wish I’d asked: “would you come again, once I’ve revised it?” and “Was it shit?”

The first because I think it’s useful to sense engagement. I got the very strong impression that even the afternoon audience had been really engaged and intrigued by the experiment (in that they said so), and this specific question is a good way to sense how far that went.

The second because it’s alright to fail. It’s alright to stop projects halfway. Sometimes, the attempt at rebellion is worth it.

But I am very happy, all in all, with how playtesting went. I think it’s a much better show now. Thanks to the playtesters, Theatre Deli, and admittedly, quite a bit of work at my end.

A figure in a purple shirt-jacket over a brown dress, wearing wings made of scraps of metal, string, and paper, smiles at a person out of shot. They are in a theatrical space.


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