Random Performance Game (RPG) - Workshops and Creative Consultancy
In 2015 Livingstones Kabinet created a unique creative card and dice game called Random Performance Game (RPG).
The purpose of this game was to offer a tool which could stimulate creativity in unpredictable ways in the process of devising performing arts projects.
Since then we have used this game as an integral part of our process in several Livingstones Kabinet performances.
We also run workshops for theatre practitioners, both professional and amateur, in the use of RPG and have acted as consultants, employing RPG on productions by other companies.
So far, we have done this with the following groups: The Danish National School of Performing Arts (both undergraduate and postgraduate education), Teater Refleksion, Teater My, The Færøese Actors Union, TeaterButikken, The Lab Station, Freinet School,
Interview with Pete Livingstone and Nina Kareis about Random Performance Game from The Lab Station, Copenhagen (approx 7 mins)
Below is a translation of an article written by Ulla Kallenbach, Associate Professor in Theatre Studies at the Department of Linguistic, Literary and Aesthetic Studies, University of Bergen.
The article was originally published in the Danish theatre periodical "Teater_1" in 2017.
We think it is an excellent introduction to the theory and practice of Random Performance Game
Random Performance Game - the game of chance
– article in Theater 1 March 2017
How do you develop a tool that can promote the creative working process in the performing arts? Can you create a performance solely through using a game of chance? These were among the questions that the theatre group Livingstones Kabinet set out to investigate, starting in the winter of 2015. The results of this experiment were seen in March-April 2017 in the performance Random, at Teater Momentum in Odense.
……..The experiment, entitled R.P.G (Random Performance Game), aimed to investigate the possibilities of working with the development of a game that could be used as a creative tool in an artistic creation process. A game that could create a structure, or frame, that could challenge and promote the creative chaos through which performing arts are born.
In the context of the performing arts, the idea of a “game” is usually understood to mean an improvisational game. However in this experiment, it was decided that the game in question would be a 'proper' game. It would be a board- or card-game that could both act as a creative tool and ultimately be the means to create content and the elements from which the performance had to be fashioned, both in form and content.
Theatre of Chance
Livingstones Kabinet …are known as a group who challenge conventional theatre forms and who like to work with fragmented, even chaotic formats. As in the performance Klip, with its subtitle 'a cacophonous blackly humorous stage collage', which in 2012 was awarded the annual prize for excellence by the Danish Foundation for the Arts-Theatre panel.
A study in the logic of fragmentation, (or lack thereof), Klip was the jumping-off point for the 2017 performance Random, which attempts to examine the game of chance as a fundamental condition.
The theatre group's way of working can be characterized as a devising process, in which performances are developed through exercises and improvisations in collaboration with actors as well as designers, musicians and choreographers. This process creates the background for the characteristic style of their performances, in which text, audio and visual aspects, choreography and design are given equal status and play together as one organism. Text is only rarely a starting point, but emerges instead from a creative process. The work focuses on composition rather than narrative, the sensual rather than the rational. Above all rhythm, and shifts of rhythm: dynamics, tempo, contrast, timbre, pulse.
The artistic role models for this are avant-garde movements such as Dada and Fluxus, which precisely cultivated the playful, the random, the chaotic. Here, artists such as Tristan Tzara, Kurt Schwitters, John Cage explored and developed new forms of artistic expression, where the central focal points were various forms of collage and montage, the importance of rhythm, and challenges to traditional art forms and genres.
With this, the very perception of what art is was challenged. Is art still art when the artist does not create, but selects and stages – such as Marcel Duchamp's readymades of a bicycle wheel or a urinal? Or when the work cannot rationally be decoded as having meaning, but must be experienced – as in Kurt Schwitters' Ursonate, which consists entirely of rhythms and 'primordial sounds' such as 'Fümms bö wö tää zää Uu, pögiff, kwii Ee'?
In similar ways, Random Performance Game examines and challenges whether art can still be called art when it is gameplay, and not the artist's creativity, that makes decisions.
To open up by shutting down
Creativity is “a designation for the human ability to create something new, surprising, unprecedented” and “having ability and courage to break with familiar notions and assumptions' (Den store danske). More precisely, one could say that creativity is an intentional, wilful, action whose aim is to create something new. Creativity is often linked with the free play of the imagination and a primal creative instinct, and it may therefore seem backwards, or contradictory, to shut the imagination down via random rules.
If limitations are introduced to a working process, by setting up rules of play, or even by imposing specific restrictions, these can act paradoxically not as limitations, but as means of liberation, tools which free-up and promote creativity. Simply put, a closed structure such as this makes it possible to both open out fully within a framework and to push that framework to its limit. Crazy feats of invention are forced into being by necessity or random circumstances. This gives rise to new possibilities and forms of expression.
When Lars von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg drew up the so-called Dogma Rulesin 1995, their intention was precisely that these so-called "vows of chastity" would 'cleanse' film of superfluous technique and superficiality. Precisely by removing those elements which normal help the process along, such as designed lighting and all props apart from those available on the spot, the filmmakers were forced to exploit the available opportunities and find solutions and openings where doors were closed.
Rules of the Game
In a similar fashion, R.P.G. also grew out of the way Livingstones Kabinet already operated. In their process, you start 'from scratch'; the script for the performance is written, adjusted and refined up until the last moment. Typically, the group also works with many small scenes, which are put together as a collage, rather than with one continuous, coherent narrative. Small scenes, tableaux, modules, numbers, songs are developed via improvisation and put together gradually with particular focus on scenic and musical rhythm and structure.
Although the aim of the game was to set up a series of randomising principles or processes for the creative work, its preparation was nevertheless the outcome of a thorough analysis and consideration of the group's working process. It was therefore also natural that actors, scenographers and dramaturgs participated in the development work and continuously tested the game.
How could an otherwise fluid, creative process be translated into a set of rules? Herein lay a great challenge; that of simplifying the game so that it did not become too inhibiting for the improvisation process. How dogmatic would it have to be?
Eventually, two main categories of playing cards were established: one set of cards to generate content, and one set of cards to determine form. The first set, the idea cards, could be questions like 'what scares you?', 'tell a story that makes you laugh', or 'find a piece of visual art that affects you'. After this, everyone in the team could solve the task, after which one of the ideas was chosen either by the group itself, or by chance by throwing dice or drawing lots.
The second set of cards determined the overall form of the scene or sub-element: 'tableau', 'speaking directly to the audience', or 'we use recorded sound'.
After this, the group could freely or randomly choose to continue working with four basic scenic elements – text, movement, sound/music, visuality/space.
Here, four sets of 'modification cards' cards determined how the basic elements should be staged.
First, what kinds of 'building blocks' should be used ('identical', 'irregular', 'miniature'). While the 'building blocks' determined what had to be worked with, the 'mood cards' indicate how the tone of the scene should be; i.e. the way the 'bricks' should be used ('chaotic', 'neutral', 'light'). Next, a set of 'montage cards' determined the context of the individual parts in time and space ('simultaneous', 'collision', 'cyclic'). Last but not least, the deck was completed by a set of graphic wildcards; visual inspiration cards.
Through the game, a tight – and yet open – framework was thus built up, with combinations of cards that at times could seem both impossible and grotesque – not least in combination with the physical and material limitations in the rehearsal room – but which at the same time turned out to be extremely creatively stimulating.
”We could never have got here by thinking it though”
It has been absolutely clear, say Nina Kareis and Pete Livingstone, that the actors' focus increased as their creative activity was challenged. What makes this approach so fruitful is especially the way it breaks with the normal, encouraging strangeness and oddness, which pushes creativity and the artists' imagination into new, unforeseen and unknown directions that they would not otherwise have chosen or thought of. Or in the words of Pete Livingstone: 'The game forces you to go against your personal taste.' Not least, it is fun to play with, which is always conducive to productive, creative work.
One important experience that has become clear during the working process is how the vocabulary of the playing cards makes visible the different ways of thinking and working processes which characterise the different theatre professions. The cards are interpreted and used differently, depending on whether it is a dancer, writer, composer or actor who works with them.
The game gives permission and freedom for the players to let go of control and plunge headlong into the creative chaos, to let themselves be surprised and to cultivate the warped logic that arises. A logic that is not necessarily rational, but is sensuous, or must be sensed. As Nina Kareis explains it, 'we could never have got here by thinking it through'