Staged Larceny – stealing attempt at Baltic Circle Festival

Last week I had the oppurtunity to go to Helsinki to make a performance together with Pekko Koskinen from Reality Research Center. It was performed at the Baltic Circle Festival under the title Staged Larceny:

This operation attempts to steal the fabric of one performance to create another. The theft is conjured by you, our assistants in this crime of fiction.

In order to perform this theft, we reframe our target, a piece called more than enough by Doris Uhlich, kidnapping it to a different context. With the frame we build, the piece will have connotations beyond itself, reasons that stem from our fabrications and falsehoods. In other words: we will lie and you will interpret.

The work consisted of three parts. A briefing, the “theft” and a debrief. Here are a couple of photos by Tani Simberg from the briefing.

The briefing consisted of a few diffrent parts. Here is an excerpt:

We will be entering the territory of this performance disguised as typical “spectators”. Now, what is a spectator? Spectator is a observatory being that operates near performances, staying mostly still and silent, thus making itself less noticeable — a spectral ghost, of a sort. From this, nearly invisible position, they observe and consume things such as performances. They also serve as cultural shields against the eruptions of performances — a buffer between the rawness of performance, and the regularity of everyday life.

To extract valuables from the performance, we will blend into a group of spectators hovering nearby in this territory. We will now show you the basics of spectating, to help you to blend in. You’ve already tried to sit on a chair in a spectatorial manner. But of course, there is a great variety of postures for such sitting.

We have chosen 5 basic postures to have a closer look at, if you can switch between them during the operation you will be fine. Please copy our movement.

Neutral – Hands on your knees. Not to much space between your knees.
Streched – If you are losing interest but want to keep it. Stretch your back and neck.
Forward leaning – When you have interest. Get support from your elbows. Put your hands together.
Backward leaning – When you get too comfortable or bored. (Go Sceptical by drossing your arms over the chest)
Uncomfortable – always shifting position, crossing legs, looking here and there.

The briefing was reinforced during the performance by a deck of cards consisting of text with questions and instructions. The card deck worked as a tool for exploration, to enable a “search for valuable fragments: moments in time, details of senses, peculiar thoughts”.

Here are a few examples of cards:

  • Discreetly mirror some of the movements happening on stage.
  • Concentrate on listening rather than looking.
  • Relax to the point that you might fall asleep.
  • How would it be to see this performance in your living room, kitchen or toilet?
  • Why are you here? What brought you into this situation?

The cards worked to produce alienation as well as engagement in the performance at stage. In the first iteration we had statement cards as well but they didn’t really make sense when we put them in use.

We tried two different ways to end our staged “theft” after the stolen performance was over, but non of them really worked out in a good way.

All in all it was interesting to attend the festival and try to play around a bit with the audience position.

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.

Interactive script writing exercise in 4 steps

Here is a 4 steps analogue exercise that i run sometimes with game design students and writing people. The idea is to write a non-linear story in a group of four people. I got the basic structure from Simon Løvind and Michael Valeur when i took a small course for them at Dramatiska Institutet in 2003.

What you need is basically 16 sheets of paper. A recommendation is to set the scenario together in advance. I usually ask for some ideas on genres, places, characters and some adjectives. If some element is to cliché one can combine it with an adjective. So before you start you should know:

  • Where your story take place, for example a castle or garden or moon base
  • Which genre or mood you aim for
  • A perspecitve to write for example first person, present tense or third person past tense or whatever
  • 3 characters. If you write in first person you must now who your protagonist is

If you are more than one group it is nice to brainstorm these properties together before you split in groups of four. Then the process goes as follows. Give the participants 4 sheets each. Ask them to start writing a scene from the story.

I usually give them 10 minutes, no more, and no talking during the writing session. When it finnished you ask them to write on another sheet. The tricky parts is that the second segment must be possible to read before or after the first one.

The third session the participants must get the first segment from their neighbor to the left. In this session they must write a segment that bridge the gap between their second and the neighbours first segment. Like this:

The fourth session is the most tricky one. You can give them 15 minutes and allow conversations within the group. The segment on the fourth sheet should be connected to their third as well as their neighbours second and two others fourth segments (written simultaneously). The result should look like this:

If everything has turned out well the non-linear story should be possible to read in any direction. If there are more than one group you can let them read their own one first and then go on to see what the others has produced. Here is just an example of how the story could be read:

You can chose wether to explain how the workshop will work on beforehand or reveal the stages step-by-step. I prefer the later because it’s more fun, put the “results” are better if you explain it all from start. Anyways, do not expect the outcome of this workshop to be perfect or usefull in any sense. It is designed to communicate the problems and dilemmas of writing interactive fiction, not to solve them.

Tips and traps when making participatory culture

Eirik Fatland kindly translated this post from swedish.


  • 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.


  • 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.