Notes on Punchdrunk’s The Drowned Man from an interaction design pow

punchdrunk_pp_poster

Visiting London I took the oppurtunity to go to Punchdrunk’s epic show The Drowned Man which encompass some 20.000 sqm on 4 floors, 30 actors, a bar, et c. I will not summarise the whole experience here, there is plenty of reviews to read online. What I want to do is to share some thoughts on the interaction design.

Following the definitions of Participatory Arts (Deltagarkultur 2008, yet to be published in english), I would consider The Drowned Man an all-encompassing spectatory arts show. It’s neither interactive, in the sense of that one can alter the story line, nor participatory, in that it doesn’t encourage interaction between audience members. Let me quote:

The all-encompassing Gesamtkunstwerk, on the other hand, aims to create a total experience where everything that can be sensed is dictated by the artwork. All undesirable stimuli are firmly expelled. The all-encompassing work is no doubt by necessity multi-disciplinary, or at least multi-medial, but also requires a spatial dimension to manifest. The stimuli encapsulate the receiver in order to generate a “total environment of the senses” – the world of the Gesamtkunstwerk.

That pretty much nails the aesthetics of The Drowned Man and it’s all fine to do such a show. But if one was interested in making some interactive or participatory design based on the it, how could one do it?

First of all: Most of the rules that are presented as we enter the magic circle have the purpose to disable interaction between audience members as well as between audience and performers. First of all the masks, which covers the whole face and secondly the rule not to speak. Thirdly, they asked you to leave your company and explore the space alone. I can see why you want to do that, following the definition of a Gesamtkunstwerk above. If the audience were present and social they could ruin the mystical mood at the set. So, how to stay within the aesthetics, but still enable interaction.

What I would propse is a simple hand-sign system containing 3 different meanings, that would be presented to the audience from start. This would definetly need some playtesting, but here goes:

  1. Pointing. The meaning being to index something interesting that you want to show somebody else. After all, the scenography and prop design was amazing, and the story came through by finding props and reading letters than by watching the performers.
  2. Showing your palm. The meaning would be – take my hand, let’s go together. Let’s go for an adventure together. This could make up for the fact that you are alone and anonymous through most of the show.
  3. Stop. I don’t want to be part of whatever you are trying to do right now. Whether it’s a performer or audience member approaching you it’s safe to now how to say no. This would also make people more courageous.

I could think of plenty of other approaches that one could mix up with these basic interaction patterns. Another thing I thought of was that the performed scenes basicly can be divided in three different categories: sexy-dance, fighting-dance and ritual dance. Especially in the more ritualistic parts it would be easy to give the audience a more active part. There are also club-dance dance-scenes where it makes no sense to leave the audience out.

Furthermore one could add more game design to the story, but that’s a bit to complicated to cover in a short blog post.

The Avatar Condition

An UngaTur performance piece in collaboration with Interacting Arts

There is no audience.
There are no actors.
The Avatar Condition is something else.
Discover who you become when someone else makes your decisions.

The Avatar Condition is an invitation to being controlled. To act without having to make decisions. Through headphones, you are instructed to move, speak and act – collectively and individually. You don’t need any prior knowledge to participate. A voice will guide you through the piece, which takes place as much in your own head as it does in the space.

The Avatar Condition has been developed in Stockholm, Malmö, Västerås and Copenhagen during the last year. December 8-11 of 2011, The Avatar Condition takes over the Stockholm Theatre Turteatern.

Where will it go next? Maybe to a black box, dance studio, abandoned industrial building or inhabited villa close to you…

Take a decision to give up your freedom of choice! Bring us over and try out The Avatar Condition.

By: Albin Werle, Ebba Petrén, Elize Arvefjord, Gabriel Widing, Kerstin Weimers, Klara Backman, Moa Backman and Tova Gerge.

  • Duration: 90 min
  • Capacity: 18 guests/show
  • Contact and tech rider: ebba.petren@gmail.com

Circle of Scent

This is a simple score for an aesthetic experience tied to our smelling senses. It’s not site, but audience specific in the sense that the experience will differ depending on whom the participants are. The Circle of Scent is realized through a few simple steps:

  1. Organize a group of people in a circle, facing the middle and explain how it’s going to work.
  2. Everyone will go a full lap behind the people in the circle, stopping by to smell each persons neck and shoulders. This means everyone will have smelled everyone else when the circle is over.
  3. Just before you start, ask everyone to switch place and close their eyes in order to make it harder to connect identity with smell on beforehand.
  4. If you go clock-wise the participants will know when to start their tour when they have no one to their right.

Avatarvaro – game test video documentation

The avatar figure derives from hindu gods taking human or animal shape to run errands on earth. In the digital communities of the 90:s the concept was reversed – the participants were represented by digital characters on screen, putting people in the former positions of the gods. This project is about the avatar condition, being possesed by an outer force, voice or possibly a system. The avatar is already inherent in the hierarchical mind-body distinction. The mind is already an alien presence in the body, telling it what to do. The Avatar Condition aims to externalise that process of loosing and taking control of the body-turning-machine.

The Avatar Condition is so far an artistic research project and it has not found a proper, presentable and public form yet. What we do at this point is to try out different modes, atmospheres, instructions and stories. There is no passive-spectating audience in this process. Everyone becomes involved in an unfolding story on control, desire and choice.

The Avatar Condition is a proposal developed by Ebba Petrén based in Malmö, who recently organized a festival on participation and theatre and Gabriel Widing, game desiger, based in Stockholm. Together we have produced black-box role-playing scenarios in different contexts and our interest remains in the potentials of combining games, play, theatre and performance practices. Avatar workshops and game tests has previously been organized in Stockholm, Västerås, Malmö and Copenhagen.

Tips and traps when making participatory culture

Eirik Fatland kindly translated this post from swedish.

Tips

  • Communicate the agreement clearly and explicitly. Only when the participant knows the rules of play, that is: how communication and participation are meant to be done, is she confident enough to act.
  • Consider banning passive spectators and documentation. The external, critical, view is not always productive. It may in some cases prevent participatory action. People do not behave the same way in front of a camera as they do in front of confidantes. Documentation usually fails at capturing the qualities of a participatory work, but easily pushes participants from dialogic action to simple performance.
  • Use an aesthetic or story as basis. In this way, a framework is easily made for the action. With total creative freedom, it is easy for the participants to drift off into darkness without knowing what to do. Stories help us find meaningful actions.
  • Use the body and its senses. Whether participation is verbal or physical, the various senses can be employed. Sharing smells, sound, rhythm, music and food together can intensify the meeting.

Traps

  • Over-confidence in the Will to participate. We are schooled in the spectator paradigm, and many fear participation.
  • Interactivity instead of participation. Rather than creating a space for action, one creates only a limited set of options to choose between. This is common amongst producers with a need for control.
  • Too high threshold. The skill of participation must be learned. It works differently in different contexts and cultures. Consider how to avoid making the rules governing interaction too difficult and complicated.
  • Narrow space of action / little possibility for impact. The participant’s must have the possibility to act in a way that has a genuine influence on the experience and actions of other participants. Putting a piece of paper in a box, or hanging it on the wall at the end of an exhibition – these are not participatory.
  • Work / alienation. Mandatory participation with a results focus is pervasive in our society, e.g. in schools. Grading individual contributions to a group work is an excellent way to destroy the participatory process.
  • Provocation. Trying to cross the barrier between producer and consumer using provocation rather than formulating new agreements.