After a week of jetlag and flu-like symptoms, I’m finally processing the last two months. I spent about five weeks in Stockholm, and a further three in London, working on a few projects. It wasn’t an easy time, and despite the joys of being away from the Australian news cycle, globally speaking it wasn’t a nice time, but I can look back on it and think of it as a productive time, which feels kind of important.
In Sweden I was with Boho working on Democratic Nature, an interactive game about the Flaten nature reserve to be used by NGO Miljöverkstan as a community engagement, education and governance tool. Earlier this year we spent a month doing R&D, and this time we had five weeks (and a rotating roster of personnel) to make a prototype.
One of the nice things about that process was that it really felt like we were good at it. Even with interruptions and not having the whole team the whole time, we worked really efficiently. The last four years have been building a process and a language for this kind of work, and it’s really pleasurable to put it into action. Decisions that might have taken us days when we started dealing with these concepts felt intuitive and communal.
We were ambitious with our game-making, also. A key feature of the prototype was the governance game - a whole audience game that included several steps of decision making and six skill testers, that structurally mimicked the governance steps of Swedish municipalities, and spoke to real considered possibilities for the Flaten area. After the instructions, the game was almost entirely self-directed and self-policed, something that we hadn’t been able to try with Best Festival Ever. I honestly wasn’t convinced the game was going to work (at least not without a lot of handholding), but when I finished rambling the instructions to the group of schoolkids, they immediately got up and played. That was a real highlight of the trip. A significant question we brought to the showings as playtesters was whether this game would function at all; in all three showings the audience picked it up quickly and enthusiastically.
And having Nick McCorriston composing sound and Gillian Schwab designing a whole room made the whole project feel so much more realised, not to mention saved us the horror of sinking all our time into coming up with sound and design elements nowhere near as good.
At some point, hopefully sooner rather than later, we’ll go back to Sweden and finish Democratic Nature. I’m sure we’ll overhaul a lot of stuff, and things I think are good now will be thrown out and replaced with things that are actually good. But the thing that feels weirdest to me is going back to hand it over – finding Swedish facilitators to run a translated version of the show we make, and leaving it with them. As a performer I’ve pretty much only ever made work for myself. Giving work to someone else is going to be a new experience.
While we were in Sweden Muttley, David, Nick and I also recorded an EP. I’m not sure why exactly we did this, but in another sense I’m sure that we had to – this morning I read a chapter about evolutionary and design possibility, and I believe this EP was what Daniel Dennett refers to as a forced move. Anyway, I made some beats (continuing my this 2016 attempt at using Ableton), and Muttley spoke some spoken word over the top. It’s called Walking With David Shaw, because that’s what we decided we would call it, and the hit single has a music video on Daily Motion, the least stringent of online video services when it comes to copyright infringement. It’s a silly thing, but it feels really nice to have turned around a thing like that in a short period of time, as a kind of irrelevant satellite to the project we were working on.
Then London, for a few things, including spending time with Coney and learning about all the wondrous things they’re working on. Coney’s projects have a habit of subverting my assumptions about the relationships and structures you need to create art, which is nice because like Douglas Adams said, assumptions are the things you don’t know you’re making.
Spent an evening as well with Forum For The Future, running a few systems-themed games for an event in the kind of weird, inner-city private club that London can have by virtue of being London. It was a rewarding experience to play a broken game (Volleyball Farm) with people who were really interested in digging around it to find useful ideas.
Also at the British Museum I saw the remains of people who killed each other 11,000 years ago fighting for scarce resources in a changing climate.
My main reason for going to London, however, was How I Saved The Western Black Rhino, a show I’d been thinking about for well over a year. I’m grateful to have been given residency space at Hackney Showroom, Camden People’s Theatre and Theatre Delicatessen to develop the show. How I Saved The Western Black Rhino is a piece about extinction, animal conservation, and the western black rhino. Over a couple of weeks I put together a short performance lecture telling the story of the rhino, alongside the earth’s five mass extinction events, and causes of current extinction rates. I also made a game about the terrible tradeoffs that conservation bodies have to work with.
I was lucky enough to get to test the piece twice – scratch nights for Camden People’s Theatre’s Big Bang event and Theatre Delicatessen and Coney’s Night of Play. Two lovely, generous audiences who were patient with this white Aussie kid rambling a bunch of science at them. Some excellent and encouraging feedback, and a girl who went to South America to study the frogs I talked about.
The next step for this project is meeting some conservationists – I want to get in their head, get a feel for what they do and how they keep doing it in the face of, well, extinction. I’d love to go somewhere and see things, and do things. So I guess if anyone knows any conservationists that might be open to any of that, let me know. After that I am going to try and finish this show – there’s a lot to be done but I want to spend time next year in Australia and the UK finishing it off.
Today is Remembrance Day for Lost Species, which felt as appropriate a day as any to try to wrap up the last two months. I feel like I’ve had a good couple of months of pushing out and creating, and now with some plans for the future, it’s time to take things in for a while.