Tag Archives: game theatre

World Factory – Young Vic Theatre

So… what are you wearing?

Who made it? How much were they paid for their work? With stories like the collapse of Rana Plaza in Bangladesh killing hundreds of workers only occasionally making the headlines in the Western world, we are largely insulated from the harsh truths of the ruthless industry that supplies almost everything we wear. World Factory unapologetically throws its audiences into a piece of game theatre where your challenge is to run a garment factory, competing against other teams of audience members for business and for employees.

Stepping into the theatre space, not much has been done to hide the brutalist breeze block walls, except for 4 large screens projecting footage of factories and shipping ports. The lighting is unforgiving and the sound effects of of juddering and clattering sewing machines are relentless. We sit in teams of up to 6 at small tables, easily able to see the other audience, our competition. It does feel like we’re in a factory. This show has been 3 years in the making: it was painstakingly researched in China and the industrial towns of northern England, so it’s wonderful to see verbatim theatre used to convey their findings. Our 4 actors/gamesmasters strut and pose on the various gantries, presenting facts and giving us a bit of historical context, from the birth of the free market to the people who lost their jobs as business and production moved abroad, to the factory owners constantly under pressure to have the edge over their rivals. It’s informative, engaging and perhaps most importantly, provokes debate during the course of the game.

The game itself is very straightforward to play. Many people will remember those little ‘choose your own adventure’ game books which ask you to make decisions: “To go down the dark tunnel, p34. To climb the creaky staircase, p6.” It’s like that, only hugely scaled up (to 5 million possible permutations) and with tougher choices affecting your business model, finances and staff. Unsurprisingly, there’s a lot of technology at work in order to allow a game as complex as this to function as smoothly as it does.  Everything has a consequence – but there’s no telling what that will be.

And very few of the choices are… nice.  You need to cut your wage bill, so do you fire half of your workforce or give them all a paycut? It’s Monopoly meets “Would You Rather…?”, set in a sweatshop.  Although given the options, it’s perhaps better described as “Would You Least Object To…?”  You are given cards with assignments and choices that must be made: the decisions that will be meted out on your staff are selected simply by scanning a bar code.  It all feels horribly clinical – and it’s supposed to.

The dynamic on our table was certainly interesting – only 2 of the 6 of us were expecting this to be participatory, so decision-making was initially a little difficult. While it’s important to have a discussion about the least-worst option, in being slow to make decisions, you are losing money faster than you can make it. In trying to be ethical, our slowness brought us close to bankruptcy, threatening the livelihoods of the workers we were trying to look after. We are constantly reminded that “time is money, and money is power”, whether by our gamesmaster – or by sinister phonecall.

It’s hard to say what the object of the game is: to make money? To provide jobs, even with low wages? To take good care of people? To keep up with the insatiable hunger for disposable fashion?  There is no clear way to ‘win’, but all strategies and ideals have their pitfalls.  In our desire to take care of our workers, we ended up not earning enough money to give them the payrise we were hoping to and we lost business to other factories who were prepared to be a little more cut-throat.  Is it possible to aspire to ethical practices AND make money in this game?  Other teams certainly managed it far better than we did.

However it was the stats at the end that proved very telling: showing across all the teams how we did compared to each other on raising profits, wages, productivity, standards etc. But there were also some very hard-hitting numbers: how many staff were children working illegally, the % of factories paying below a living wage, and the one that caught me in the throat, “Number of workers killed = 1”.  Until that, I don’t think I’d realised how emotionally involved I had become.  While this is “only a game”, it’s a scenario that is playing out for millions of workers thousands of miles away.  As I stare at my print-out receipt of every choice we made, I have a sinking feeling in my stomach.

I challenge anyone to walk out at the end and not think about where their clothes come from the next time they go shopping.  I would go back and see this again in a heartbeat.

World Factory is on until Saturday 6th June 2015 at th Young Vic Theatre, 66 The Cut, Waterloo, London SE1 8LZ.  Running time is 1 hour and 45 minutes. For tickets and more information go to http://www.youngvic.org/whats-on/world-factory

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The Money – Battersea Arts Centre

How often do you go to the theatre and come home £80 richer than when you went in?

No, I haven’t been doing anything illegal or immoral.  It wasn’t even my idea for me to get the money in the first place.  Also, that money comes with conditions: I have signed a contract, promising to spend it in the way that the group has unanimously agreed.

Let’s go back to the beginning…

The Money is a piece of game-theatre constructed by a group called Kaleider. The premise is simple: you buy a ticket and the money from that goes in a pot.  The audience is split into Benefactors and Silent Witnesses, and the Benefactors have 2 hours to decide how to spend the money within the rules of the game.  They can spend it on anything they like – but their decision must be unanimous.  If an agreement cannot be reached in 2 hours, the group loses the money and it rolls over to the next show.  Silent Witnesses have the option to buy in at any point and become a Benefactor.

So what happens when 12 people – most of whom have never met each other – are given a pile of real money to spend, while 4 people quietly observe their decision-making process?

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Once we’re all seated in rows on either side of a table, there is a pounding at the chamber door and a security man walks in with a large sealed box and a hush descends.  A woman slowly lays items out on a tray, the silence only broken by the rifling of notes and the clanking of coins.  There is something about hearing the sound of money that adds pressure to the atmosphere – the responsibility of deciding how best to spend it.  We’re presented with £129.80 in cash, a pro forma and a set of rules.  A large digital clock on the wall stands at 2 hours and it begins its countdown.  Loads of time – or so we think.  The performers retreat to the back of the room and leave us to get on with it.  No guidance, no influence – it’s down to us.

Everyone is a little tentative at first, trying to establish how the show works, but slowly a conversation begins.  It doesn’t take long for one Benefactor to stump up another 20 pence to round it up to £130.  We relax and begin to talk more easily.  We’re fairly sure we want to do “something good” with the money – something charitable.  We’re sitting in a building which lost its Grand Hall in a fire just over 4 weeks ago.  But the words which keep cropping up are “a drop in the ocean” – how the value of money is relative to what it’s being spent on: a week’s worth of food shopping for a family, a pair of West End theatre tickets, a suit for a job interview.

Over the course of 90 minutes we meander through a very unstructured discussion – whether to try to do something with it as a lump sum, to split it between ourselves and each go and do something with it, how quickly it should be spent, who or what on, leave it for someone to find, spend it on ourselves, go and put it behind the bar downstairs (benefiting both ourselves and the BAC Scratch Bar), roll it over to the next group, do something silly and fun with it, donate it to charity, donate it to someone in the group (one person had recently had their bike stolen).  Many ideas and justifications were provided, but little in the way of consensus.

Ultimately you can draw parallels with many aspects of life and politics – how easily money can be wasted, how government departments have to fight over the same pot of money, how hard it is to get people to all agree, the desire to be the ones to decide how it is spent, because the next lot are an unknown quantity and the fear that they may be greedy with it, which is not how we as a group would like it to be used.  This is a very subtle piece of political theatre, which encourages you to explore what you really think, all the while being watched by your fellow Benefactors and the Silent Witnesses.  No one wants to be seen to be selfish or inconsiderate.

Before you know it, 90 minutes have gone and it’s heading towards crunch time – with an eye on the clock, we wanted to make a considered decision rather than a rushed one.  We go around the group with suggestions as diverse as giving to a charity which helps unemployed people to buy a suit for a job interview, paying for a balloon modeller to go to Great Ormond Street Hospital, throwing the money out the window and seeing who picks it up, and paying for the person with the oldest living relative in the group to go and see them and spend some time with them.

It was that last suggestion that struck a real chord with everyone.

After all that discussion, a suggestion mooted by BAC Artistic Director David Jubb in the last 10 minutes was THE ONE.  We had our consensus.  The pro forma was filled in, precise instructions written down and signed by all the Benefactors.  The performers struck a gong as the clock hit 00:00:00 and the decision was made.

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So, in an unexpected turn of events, the lovely people in the picture have paid for me (red skirt) and Katie (over my right shoulder) to go and visit our oldest relatives.  Her grandparents in Croydon and my grandmother in Devon, all in their nineties.  I have been planning to go down to see her, I’ve just needed to get it organised.

So Granny – I’m coming to see you.  I’m taking you out for lunch.  We’re going to go and eat ice cream on the seafront at Sidmouth.  We’re going to wander through the gardens at Jacob’s Ladder.  And if you dare to take out your purse at any point during my visit, you will have broken my contract with these 11 people.  I love you, and I don’t see you as often as I should.  Time with you is this money well spent.

I think you have to agree, I look pretty amazing for 90.

The Money is on until Friday 1st May 2015 at Battersea Arts Centre, Lavender Hill, Battersea, London, SW11 5TN. When you purchase your ticket, you will have the option to be either a Benefactor or a Silent Witness. Silent Witnesses can buy in and become a benefactor at any point during the 2 hours.  For tickets and more information, please go to https://www.bac.org.uk/content/35467/see_whats_on/whats_on/shows/the_money

Heist Live – Marylebone Gardens (2nd helpings)

As you could probably tell from my last visit, I loved Heist Live – I was desperate to go back for more.  But with tickets sold out on the February/March run, I’d accepted that it’d just be a one off.  The mailing list had gone quiet and I’d already run through my head the question of: “would it even work as well a 2nd time around given how much I already know?”.  I just happened to be checking their twitter feed when I spotted a message stating that tickets would be on sale the following day.  How could I possibly turn it down?  The link came through from the mailing list and I immediately messaged a few friends who’d expressed an interest – I waited patiently for them to pick a date and time… but I could see the alarming pace at which nights were selling out (in the vain hope that some had been blocked off to be sold in a later batch – they weren’t).  With only a handful of nights with ‘1 ticket available’, I couldn’t risk letting it slip past.  Sorry friends!  As it turned out, they had sold the whole lot – in an hour.  I haven’t had this level of panic since trying to get a weekend ticket for Reading Festival in years gone by.

So as usual, I presented myself to the reception: “Ahh, Miss Bishop, a repeat offender…” and waited for my team to show up, a pair and a group of 5.  Having settled back into One-Step’s bar, myself, Fresh Prince and Molotov started chatting while the others trickled in.  Something told me that they’d been drinking.  As it turned out, they’d been drinking for 3 hours.  Any fears I had for this turning out exactly the same as last time (with 6 guys who were very strategic, organised and sober) were soon allayed – just not quite in the way I’d imagined.  This was going to be like herding cats.  Drunk cats.  Early Doors, Tourettes, Tiddlywink, The Molehill and Finelines did very little to prove me wrong.  Ahh well, at least it was going to be different.

Having broken into the neighbouring building, I knew there were a few keys things for us to find – but with past experience ringing in my ears, there was one crucial item missing.  Had we just not found it or was it elsewhere in the building?  Were we going to have to do the whole thing without it?  The rug had been pulled from under my feet and I was glad.  The makers have evidently taken returners into account and changed enough things to stop you from relying on past experience and knowing where things are.  All but for a bit of building layout knowledge, I was firmly back at square one – with the added bonus of tipsy accomplices.  Stealth was not one of our strong points – we blundered out into the corridor, straight into one of the roaming security guards.  Thankfully with just one pair of hands, he only managed to detain one or two people.

But with a team in such disarray (I think we got down to 3 of us at one point, while the others were all in various stages of arrest, lost and unsanctioned exploring), I did at least get to do a bit more hiding and running around.  One mini-team managed to bring a security guard right into our hiding place, causing him to bundle out every single person except for me – I’d managed to hide under a table out of sight and just stayed still and quiet.  I was probably left by myself for a minute.  I wasn’t sure if any of them would be back and whether to try to do it alone.  But a few reappeared and they seemed to finally have grasped the ‘not getting caught’ aspect (and sobered up a bit).  The organisation started to kick in.

When I was hoping for more action than last time, I hadn’t quite bargained on it being me who’d both break into the locked room AND steal the item in question – that was a huge adrenaline rush.  Pretty impressive given that last time I’d just stared at CCTV screens and not even set foot on the floor where that item was, so this floor was as new to me as it was to everyone else.  We’d largely pulled together by this point, but something went wrong towards the end, so we ultimately ended up with the same outcome as I had last time.

All in all, still a huge amount of fun.  I was also lucky enough to sit and chat to the directors in the bar after – a fascinating insight into what they’re trying to achieve in a niche of theatre which is still finding its own rules.  Would I go back for a 3rd time?  Definitely.  So if it comes around again, be ready to pick a date at a moment’s notice.  And please be sober…

Heist Live is on until Saturday 31st May 2014 at Marylebone Gardens, 35 Marylebone High Street, London, W1U 4QA.  This event is now sold out but a small number of returns may be available on certain dates.  All participants must be 18 or over.  For tickets and more information go to http://heistlive.com/ 

Heist Live – Marylebone Gardens

I have just been involved in a robbery. Heist Live gives you the chance to live a life of crime for one night. Your accomplices can get you in and they can get you out, but for the planning and execution – you’re on your own.  You and a team of up to 7 other people.  I’ve spent the evening creeping around darkened corridors and staircases, crawling around the floor, evading CCTV cameras and hiding from roaming security guards. With hearts pounding and adrenaline coursing through veins, we pulled off our Heist.

We begin in an innocuous office lobby in Marylebone – we’re given lanyards (we are now ’employees’ of Mr Spotless Cleaning Company) and taken up to the bar where there are lockers for bags and coats and we meet One-Step, a dodgy dealer type who sorts us out with drinks (the bar is cash only but absurdly cheap for London) and gives each of us a codename: Detention (myself), Seaweed, Log Flume, Placemat, Peanut, Towers, Mars Bar and The Colonel.

We’re then taken in to meet Doyle who guides us through our task over a hand of poker: what we’re there to steal and where to find it. We’re then taken to break into the neighbouring building and meet AJ who has been working as a cleaner, so has gained a bit of inside knowledge to start us off – “if you get caught by security, remember that you’re a cleaner.  Innocent people don’t run.”  But it’s up to us to find the resources to aid ourselves (and there’s nothing to stop you bringing in a few things yourself, within reason – a torch and a pen come in very handy – but beyond that, most of the stuff that you’ll actually need is in the building for you to find). This is where the boundaries begin to blur between performance and live gaming. There are various tasks we have to complete in a set order so that we can obtain floor plans, get codes, disable CCTV hard drives and unlock rooms. Without being caught. This is possibly the most epic game of hide and seek I’ve ever played.

There is a huge amount of teamwork required – decisions to be made as to whether you stay as a group, split into pairs, where you establish a base (and when to move on) who goes out on what task, how they get there and how they get back. The creators have designed 17 possible permutations of events so the outcome is based on the choices you make as you go along – and there’s no guarantee that you’ll succeed.  There was a real heart-in-mouth moment after one little foray – voices crackled through one walkie-talkie (designated for listening to the security guards): “hey, did you leave this door open?” / “No…..” – we soon learnt our lesson!

Communication between the group is paramount and success rides on how well you divvy up the tasks.  With logistics so critical, not everyone can steal the object, but they can help play a part in locating it, accessing it, creating diversions, being on lookout etc. But even if you do find it, that’s not the end of the story – we chose our route out but it seems there may have been another option with a different outcome. But we got out without being caught. I was further from the main action, but settled into the role I was given (which aside from scouring rooms was pretty important) and having completed a few other minor tasks, it seems the work was fairly evenly spread between us.  But I found myself wishing I’d done a little more than sit staring at CCTV screens and perhaps a bit more scrabbling around the floor and diving under tables like a nutcase.  On the way home I started to think up all sorts of things we could’ve done.

Would I go back?  In a heartbeat.  Now, how to steal a ticket…..

Heist Live is on until Saturday 29th March 2014 at Marylebone Gardens, 35 Marylebone High Street, London, W1U 4QA.  This event is now sold out but a small number of returns may be available on certain dates.  All participants must be 18 or over.  For tickets and more information go to http://heistlive.com/