Finding The Margins: Looking At Interactive Theatre Through LARP & labour
Updated: Aug 7
TL;DR: Interactive Theatre is LARP with the burden on the organisers.
Most definitions of LARP vs. interactive theatre I know of come from within interactive theatre, since why would the sun bother defining ‘ant’. LARP is vast, and game-based interactive theatre is new and small.
But if we look at interactive theatre in terms of the labour involved, who is doing it, and the effect sought, I think the above definition is at least humorous in interesting ways.
Because the effect is similar - enter another world as a person in that world. While much interactive theatre is situation room based (solve this problem) it usually involves an element of moral or emotional engagement (however crudely done).
In a LARP people are usually prepared beforehand; they develop a character, or read briefing materials, or attend a workshop just before the LARP begins.
Interactive Theatre tries to build all of that into the duration of the show. The audience turn up, are briefed, and supported in developing a character after they walk through the door.
It does this by placing much more burden on the performers, by having tools-for-engagement that are possible to pick up quickly, and by drastically reducing the number of guests-to-facilitators. Interactive Theatre often feels intimate, partly because it’s got an excellent actor-audience ratio of about 5-7 guests for every performer or facilitator.
This also means that it’s bloody expensive.
The opening thought came from an ongoing consideration of how to make interactive theatre cheaper to put on. Come Bargain, being about community and relating to one another, happened to put much of the effort to fill guests’ time with pleasing content onto other guests.
It is an advantage of what I am currently calling horizontal mechanics.
The thoughts I am currently having are:
1. The best way to make Interactive Theatre more financially viable (or cheaper for audiences, or both) is to have more guests for each performer (wages are the main cost; building a fully immersive set is not actually a requirement).
2. This can be done by reducing interactivity (the Punchdrunk model) or finding forms of interesting interactivity that do not require facilitator intervention.
3. Options currently in my head are:
3a. Horizontality. The interest of the show is in the community brought together relating to one another somehow. Facilitators just get the ball rolling.
3b. Small Mechanics. The guests are given small tools that actually cause them to run the show. In most common forms of LARP, these small tools can often (with varying degrees of complexity) be called ‘characters’. That is to say, a LARP character is a tool for providing a player with a means to create their own content, of a kind that engages them.
3c. Small pebbles form an avalanche. This possibility-space is what this blog is being written to discover.
Let us say the goal of this thought-experiment is to develop something that is interactive theatre, and also for an actor-audience ratio of a more conventional show.
In interactive theatre, the core aesthetic element is audience agency and control. But if we (as we often do on this blog) have thoughts outside the lonely hero’s journey, then perhaps we dream of a story about groups.
On the whole level, what if audience control is collective? Where 500 people distribute themselves in a warehouse determines what forces put pressure on the universe of the show, for example.
Perhaps it is less obvious how the audience are controlling the show. We would have to find ways to articulate how 500 people have formed the whole.
But we understand the concept of an election.
There might even be a joy in being a small pebble, not so exposed to the cut-and-thrust of the core highly-engaged behaviour of most interactive theatre.
My mind is drawn to Braudel’s layers of history, the short- medium- and long-term all weaving around each other, from the formation of mountains to politicians’ brief arguments.
A show of horizontal, small mechanics at one level, and vast small-pebble mechanics on another might be a glorious experience.
And more able to break even.