I have just finished the playtest for the show given the placeholder name Pining Princes & Pouting Princesses.
Excellent. More or less exactly what I wanted.
Sheer utter funniness and froth.
Quite pleased to find I’ve still got my funnybone from comedy, and years of thinking about how to build farce into interactive immersive theatre have led to this moment.
But to summarise: how did we get here?
Pining Princes & Pouting Princesses was written in about ten minutes in commitment to a bit.
The bit being that it would be entirely possible to make an interactive immersive show about character relationships, but you’d need to make them the focus of the mechanics. On being told that this was very difficult, as mechanics have to centre the external, manipulable world, I decided to prove my conversation partner wrong with the example of a diplomacy show, based loosely on the Congresses of Vienna and Berlin, in which a need to seal deals through diplomatic marriages meant that the actual show was based on trying to make sure that royals agreed to those marriages, and more particularly, helping them seek a love match.
As ‘serious’ players tried to secure a serious deal, they’d be faced with a wall of players squealing “but they’re in LOVE!”, pointing to a wildly unsuitable and diplomatically useless match.
Theme: maybe love versus duty, like many works set in a similar-ish period. But mainly “hey, have fun!”
Interactive Comedy: Previous Ideas
The other idea was “how do you make a narrative structure that inevitable leads to a mix of chaos and structured, dogged pursuit of conflicting goals?”
This is something I’ve been thinking about for a while, and found some answers in Fiasco. The game is designed to make chaos, and especially designed to have fun [i.e. chaos does not mean lack of structure, which leads to not-fun]. Yes, you are subverting the explicit ‘rules’, and therefore doing comedy, but you are still playing the genuine game.
Also, the comedy is rooted in character and situation, not jokes. Yes, there are jokes, but mainly the characters must be absurd.
The audience, therefore, struggle less with the problem I’ve described as haha-narrative dissonance; the idea that many things that are funny when outside the situation (a man’s trousers fall down just before a meeting essential to his country’s survival) and not funny when inside the situation.
The tone, across the board, fits the central theme of levity. It is terribly important to the characters, but equally, it is obvious to the guests (not their courtiers) that this is a space they can have fun in. Yes, their actions matter (and the actors hopefully entertain while doing it by being comedically absurd), but the stakes are simultaneously everything and thus nothing.
Constant existential threat may allow the pretence of dramatic moral choices, but admitting that it’s generally farcical as an idea allows a great deal of fun.
Reflections On Theme
An idea I have been developing over the past few months has been the centrality of ‘theme’ to my process: that a writer should have a clear sense of theme, and everything in the work must speak to that theme.
Here, the theme is levity, achieved via froth. It might “make sense” to discuss past military treaties, economics, and otherwise, but does it add levity?
No. Therefore it gets cut.
We must know the bare minimum about these countries and their royals; enough to let them be very big, and very funny, and very able to act like farce characters, with about one, maybe two personality traits. These basics are defined in simple ways; a country is “big, strong army”, not “1,000,000 square kilometres, 23 battalions of standing troops and X, Y, and Z ships in its fleet.”
They each have a secret and a scandal, because they can be funny reveals. Within the farce, each can be a hilarious Twist!
Crucially, anything these courtiers do counts as a win. Get a diplomatic marriage? Hooray! Get a romantic pairing? Hooray! Assassinate that one character everybody hates? Hooray!
The stage is littered with ways to head wholeheartedly at a goal, despite unfortunate and absurd consequences, and therein lies the theme.
Therein lies the essence of farce.
Areas To Improve
It definitely needs tightening up. We need to see the briefing of courtiers be tightened up (it’s never great the first time you try), and to be clear about each royal’s core romantic goal (e.g. “I want someone I can brood with”).
Similarly, making the structure really clear for people would help. It was already pretty clear (get a briefing over afternoon tea, during a ball set up meetings between different royals who get increasingly clear-headed as to their core interests (each meeting lasting one dance), and then after the ball a period of time for ‘secret liaisons’ to seal deals romantic and diplomatic. It worked well, but the temporal structure is a fixed and definite thing, whereas many other things are flexible. Therefore it needs to be clear (for example, the music needs to be on louder speakers).
Many of these things simply mean it needs to be rehearsed, however. So to quickly mention two unusual successes:
A great success was audience members getting items they wanted by writing anything (within reason) on a piece of paper. I’d like to keep a way for courtiers to requisition anything they want, which probably means a set design that is semi-abstract. Rather than the hyper-realism popular with interactive immersive at the moment, the kind of space where putting a different sticker on a glass bottle of water turns it into delicious wine native to the fine country of Sunland.
At the start of the ball, all the royals (i.e. the performers) got up to dance. They danced alone, together, while their courtiers hashed out the start of a schedule. It was a weird moment, and very exciting to see each one express their character independently. Whether moody, traditional, or Ralph Wiggum useless in a way that the room almost immediately read as ‘inbred’.
In general, however, the great success of this show is the thing that always defines comedy: the audience walked in and started laughing very quickly. Whether the ridiculous characters, the absurd elements of the world, or the audience-to-audience interactions being very serious about very silly things, the show came together.
So thanks to everyone who made it so.