What do you get when you add an American sculptor to a Danish larpwright to a bunch of Dutch larpers, and mix it all with an art festival audience? The answer, it seems, is SonsbeekLive, a series of six three-day larps held sequentially in the summer of 2008, mixing the fantasy-larp esthetic with modern sculpture and a tad of Nordic-style larp ritualizing. The larp was produced as a collaboration between Danish larpwright Bjarke Pedersen and the US sculptor Brody Condon, with the central scenography (a white tower, home to the characters) designed by Condon. The other artworks of the Sonsbeek exhibition were also assigned significance in the larp and treated as scenography by the larpers.
Plenty of interesting things to learn from the documentation: Condon’s tower, of course, is truly inspirational and shows a potential third path for fantasy-larp scenography, an alternative to both crappy-looking symbolism (rope = city wall) and work-intensive authenticity (100 volunteers and 5000 stones = city wall).
Even though the Sonsbeek festivals plastic bubbles and Christoesque towers do not in any way look medieval, they look magical. This kind of expressive scenography is the norm in theatre, but very rare in larps. The only comparable larps I can think of are Hamlet Innifrån (Riksteatern 2000), which was played inside a white inflatable bubbly “castle”, and Luminesence (Pettersson & Pohjola 2004) played in a room full of flour.
Also notice how SonsbeekLive solved the problem of integrating a non-playing audience: to player characters, the audience were invading spirits that ought to be chased away with mirrors and chanting. While players and audience did not co-exist in the same reality, this notion allowed the larpers to be interpreted as performers by the audience and the audience to have a diegetic significance to the larpers. Judging by the documentation video, it seemed to work well for the audience. I’m curious how this worked for the players.
Rumour has it that Condon & Pedersen are taking their collaboration to the US for 2010. I hope that next time, Bjarke will do us the favour of spreading the rumor in advance, as opposed to casually dropping the url to his facebook account – only on request – a year later… there is such a thing as too much humility. The people Demand to Know about cool larps being held!