A Small Town Anywhere

Multiplayer social media games, including ARGs like Top Secret Dance Off and Must Love Robots, Facebook games like School of Magic, and collaborative production games such as SF0 are inherently about performance. These games allow players to exercise their public voices, step into the limelight, and actively engage with others through performative acts such as videotaping themselves dancing, submitting fictional robot-dating videos, engaging with friends in role playing mini-games, and creating and documenting ad hoc street art interventions. Likewise, performance artists are discovering the generative and poetic potentials of the magic circle and are finding ways to make theatre-going experiences more and more game-like. One example of this productively category-defying overlap is Coney‘s A Small Town Anywhere, which is kind of like an elaborate game of Werewolf, and kind of like an evening at the theatre, and in many ways not at all like either of those things.

A Small Town Anywhere is a theatrical event. It happened at the BAC or Battersea Arts Centre between October 15th and November 7th 2009. A Small Town Anywhere casts a Playing Audience as the citizens of, well, A Small Town Anywhere. There are no actors in the Town except the Playing Audience, who are free to interact and explore as they please. Henri Georges, the Historian convening A Small Town Anywhere, wishes to stress that visitors will not be expected to ‘perform’ in any uncomfortable manner, merely conversing with other vistors and perhaps writing a letter or two. You can speak to Henri in advance of your visit and perhaps discover a history for yourself in the Town, or simply turn up to play your part. (smalltownanywhere.net)

Lyn Gardner’s piece in The Guardian summarizes the experience and impact of the event nicely:

The letter is not addressed to me, but I open it anyway. Having control over the mail is one of the perks of being the postmistress in a small French town. The anonymous writer is, I discover, making a serious allegation – and it’s about me. There are hints about a murdered baby, its corpse buried under a juniper tree. I am, of course, as guilty as hell.

I look around the town square where the baker and butcher are gossiping, watch the children going into the schoolroom, see the mayor walk by. I wonder who wrote the letter. Then I do what I have done with all the previous letters I’ve intercepted. I destroy it. Then I write several ­ letters of my own, slyly suggesting that the schoolmistress was, last year, rumoured to be pregnant. Soon, the whole town will know.

I’m taking part in A Small Town Anywhere, a theatre piece in which the audience are the performers. It’s currently playing at London’s BAC (Battersea Arts Centre), part of a season of interactive shows that redefine the boundaries of theatre. Here, the show is both drama and game. Audience members – there are about 30 per performance – play characters in an imaginary French town. There is no script; every audience member plays a part in developing the story, and thus becomes responsible for its outcome.

And that outcome is not always pretty. The show ends with the community deciding who must be banished from the town to save the rest. (The Guardian)

More: Brendan Adkins’ description of his experience at the event, Matt Trueman’s review [and don’t miss Coney’s own notes on the production, in the comments below!].

2 Replies to “A Small Town Anywhere”

  1. Hello from Coney

    Just wanted to describe the development process of Small Town to place these accounts in context.

    We started with a challenge from BAC and the National Theatre Studio to take an existing story and make it with a playing audience by themselves in a theatre with no actors. We chose Le Corbeau, a film by Clouzot, because it had a community as a protagonist, which resonated with our basic theatrical set-up. In Phase 1 we developed a game, The Gossip Game, which modelled the story quite closely, through playtesting at BAC, Shunt and Hide & Seek. In Phase 2 at the NT Studio we embedded the game and opened the world out for playing audiences, trying (and failing) to model the story of the film satisfactorily as we kinda knew we would. In Phase 3 at BAC we threw the film out, built a town that would play well as a gameboard and then tried different stories with playing audiences to see what played well. In Phase 4 at the NT Studio we took all the best bits of those stories with elements from the film and other thinking and wrote and plotted a draft of the story-play. In Phase 5 at BAC we scratched that draft with a playing audience and also used a digital advance to get players self-authored secrets into the gossip of the town. After some final development and making, we ran the finished theatrical release with full design in space, light and sound and a full advance both digital and workshops with diverse groups from the local community.

    The whole process took a little over 2 years, because we wanted the resource the 6 (becoming 7) co-authors of the piece to be in a room together.

    Brendan played Phase 2, Lyn played Phase 5, Matt played the finished Phase 6.

    We had a grand review in Time Out too and were #1 Critics Choice for Theatre:

    There’s a short video documenting the final production here:

    We hope that Small Town will be touring the UK and possibly internationally in late 2010 / early 2011.

    best wishes

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