The City Limits, supported by Camden People’s Theatre, 2016 Designed by Jamie Harper and Duncan Hay Photograph by Duncan Hay

Acts Re-Acts returns to Wimbledon Space this month with a two-day performance laboratory and an accompanying series of residencies taking place in the gallery until 17 March.

Taking over the space from 6 – 11 March, artist Jamie Harper will use his residency to develop Common or Garden, a live action role-play about the conflicting human desires to create reified private gardens of experience alongside spaces of collective social gathering.

As part of this project, he is inviting students, staff and members of the public to join his participatory piece as played in the Live Action Role-Play? (LARP). LARP consists of people playing out fictional roles within an organised dramatic framework, but without a fixed performance narrative and without the presence of an audience. Part game, part drama, LARPs are designed to give participants an opportunity to live their way through a story: to experience it, rather than simply observing the work unfolding as a spectator.

We spoke to Jamie about his work, and what participants might expect from working on Common or Garden.

The Lowland Clearances, Camden People’s Theatre, 2016. Designed by Jamie Harper and Duncan Hay. Photographs by Diarmaid Browne. Image above: The City Limits, supported by Camden People’s Theatre, 2016. Designed by Jamie Harper and Duncan Hay. Photograph by Duncan Hay.

The Lowland Clearances, Camden People’s Theatre, 2016. Designed by Jamie Harper and Duncan Hay. Photographs by Diarmaid Browne. Image above: The City Limits, supported by Camden People’s Theatre, 2016. Designed by Jamie Harper and Duncan Hay. Photograph by Duncan Hay.

Can you please tell us a bit about your background and practice?
I trained as a theatre director at LAMDA. About five years ago, I started making types of interactive plays but I wasn’t really satisfied with what I was doing and when I looked around at the immersive theatre that other people were doing it seemed that there was something interesting going on, but I didn’t think people were working with as much method as they could have done. The audience was promised agency in the event but that promise wasn’t really delivered on. So I thought that if I was interested in participation within theatre, I should learn about how to offer more participatory agency. That brought me to games, because games are built upon the participation of players. In 2013, I received a Winston Churchill Trust Travelling Fellowship to research game design at the University of Miami and that led to two game/drama projects: Archipelago at Camden People’s Theatre and People Vs Democracy at the Free Word Centre. Then, in the summer of 2015, I attended the Larpwriter Summer School in Lithuania, a symposium for the design of live action role-play or LARP for short. Larp is the focus on my current practice, because it offers a great opportunity for participants to build worlds and create their own story by playing within these worlds.
The Lowland Clearances, Camden People’s Theatre, 2016 Designed by Jamie Harper and Duncan Hay. Photographs by Diarmaid Browne.

The Lowland Clearances, Camden People’s Theatre, 2016. Designed by Jamie Harper and Duncan Hay. Photographs by Diarmaid Browne.

What are your plans for your residency at Wimbledon Space for Acts Re-Acts?
I’ll be working on an experimental project called ‘Common or Garden’. This piece will be about a group of players imagining themselves to be early humans on a journey to create a new place, with various options about what kind of place it becomes. The piece will start with a ‘crossing’ in which players travel to a new place. They can then create homes or ‘islands’ and decorate them so that the islands become ‘gardens’. There will also be an open space or ‘common’ where different sub-groups meet each other. The work is relatively abstract. It won’t use language. Instead, physical action and collaborative construction of space is what the larp will be composed of.

Is this the first time you have invited members of the public to take part in your work in this way? Can you please tell us about how you worked in this way before? What can students expect if they get involved?
The LARPs that I make are built upon co-creation and the collaborative methods that we will use are quite familiar to me. It’s important to stress that although I will create a framework for players to play and interact with each other, it is up to them to decide what kind of play they want to have. In other words, people who get involved won’t be performers, executing a pre-prepared plan, they’ll be players, imagining and building a world, living within it and thinking about how they might want to change it.

The first half of Common or Garden will involve a facilitated workshop process that will enable people to get to know each other a little and find enjoyment in playing together. Using methods like drawing, automatic writing, collaborative story-telling, object arrangement and exploration of space, this workshop will open a playful space of possibility, allowing players to shape their own experience. 

Following the workshop, the piece itself will consist of open-ended improvised scenes combined with a series of simple physical tasks that take players through the stages of the life of a community. At the end of this play phase, a structured debrief will offer participants an opportunity to pause and reflect on their experience alongside other players.Also, it’s worth stating that participation is optional at all points in the experience. People choose to opt-in and can opt out at any time. No-one will watch this play and ‘judge’ it as an art object, the aesthetic value of the work lies in the experience of players.
The Lowland Clearances, Camden People’s Theatre, 2016. Designed by Jamie Harper and Duncan Hay. Photographs by Diarmaid Browne.

The Lowland Clearances, Camden People’s Theatre, 2016. Designed by Jamie Harper and Duncan Hay. Photographs by Diarmaid Browne.

Acts Re-Acts explores the ways in which theatre and fine art performance collide and co-exist – you have any thoughts on this that you will be exploring as part of your residency?
For me, performance is a problematic word, because it brings up associations with the theatre world in which actors ‘perform’ for the benefit of an external observer in the audience. In this work, there is no audience, only participation. The participants ‘play’, they don’t perform, and the action that they undertake is done purely for their own benefit. If they don’t want to play anymore, they are free to leave – but if they do choose to play, the activity is about a relational negotiation of desires; an inter-subjective exchange in which players collaboratively work out what kind of world they want to build.

 

Jamie is looking for people to take part in this project on Thursday 9 and Friday 10 March, 3-6pm each day and on Saturday 11 March, 12-3pm. If you are interested in participating, please contact Jamie directly via email at jamie@hobotheatre.co.uk

Acts Re-Acts 4 takes place at Wimbledon Space from 20 February – 17 March, with a two day ‘performance laboratory’ taking place on 3 and 4 March. Find out more on the events page.