[LARP] Ritual scene framing

edited September 2006 in Story Games
I want to know more about scene framing and rituals, specificially about mixing them together so that player could switch from one scene to another with as little break for the "mood" as possible. In other words, I'd like to keep the immersive elements intact, or make a smooth transition from playing one character to another. I think some kind of ritualistic approach could work, here.

Here's why. I've been thinking about writing a LARP divived into three parts: a group of friends seeing each other at a summer cottage after ten years of not really seeing each other, a flashback to their last summer together (maybe just after school has finished and everybody is heading to vacation, and then spreading around to continue studies and whatever) where things that really drive them apart happen, then back to modern time where characters can reflect about the flashback. The theme would be memories and how people like to forget about bad things. What I'd like to have, thematically, is a scene of happy come-together and reflection with friends, a scene about happy go-drunk going very, very sour with all the adolescent themes, and scene where all the mistakes, bad and scary things come back in full and force the characters to see themselves and others in different light, and try to live with that.

I'd like to come up with a way to do the first scene change with a change of theme and mood. Players should be able to switch from their around-30's-persona and scene of nostalgy and what-do-you-do-for-living-nowadays to the around-18-persona filled with hormones and soon to be filled with beer, as smooth as possible, without breaking the the feeling of being someone else than their player-self. The transition will take some time as players probably have to change clothes and perhaps assume some new previously unknown information about their characters.

The second scene change would be from the around-18-persona filled with hormones and beer (simulated), probably having just undergone very intense things and life-altering stuff, back to their around-30-personas with the mood and memories intact. In essence, I'd like to switch the persona's on the fly, and keep the game going from second to third scene - the characters would just suddenly remember how things really went ten years ago and how they have kept not-remembering it as a safety net, which is now taken away. The transition would probably again take some time for changing the clothes, etc.

About the only thing I can come up with is music; the tunes of mid-90's (or something else, I don't have to set the game in modern day) leading them to past, and something with strong emotional resonance leading them back to "now". The players know about the general structure of the game beforehand (there's the clothing issue among other things) and I'd like to keep the GM intervention of scene change on bare minimum. I don't want to explain what happens next to them during the scene change; I can explain (or probably write down) the structure beforehand.

I'd like the scene framing to be a mystical thing (in the sense of mood, not how the thing is actually done, though it could mystical as well), not let the players to think that "here I am, in a game, changing clothes, and soon we'll go on again". I want the whole 8+ hours to be intensely in-character, especially through the emotionally hard parts, and cut out "I'm glad that's not really me"-feeling that could come up in the transition.

This is, at the moment, just a vision and idea, and I've left out some stuff I've though about and a lot of stuff I have not.

Comments

  • That's interesting stuff.

    I think you're on the right track with the music. If we were doing a time change in a film, we'd change the music (giving people an instant cue) and the clothes. We'd probably throw in some pop culture references too.

    Back To The Future is fascinating with this: when you go back to the Fifties, you hear "Mr Sandman" and see a fifties diner. When we cut back to the modern day, there's a shot of a helicopter flying over the town hall, a blast of modern day music and, oh, something else, I forget.

    So, yes, I like the idea of the music, and you could throw in some items which instantly place the period (say, an iPod for modern day, a Walkman for the eighties). Perhaps some old newspapers with distinctive headlines or soundtracks of radio news headlines? Oh, and recordings of TV shows, perhaps?

    If we were in the theatre, we'd use one lighting style for modern day and one for flashbacks. You could use that too: have the teenage parties mostly in the dark and the modern day stuff in subtle, indirect interior lighting.

    Graham
  • Posted By: Graham WalmsleySo, yes, I like the idea of the music, and you could throw in some items which instantly place the period (say, an iPod for modern day, a Walkman for the eighties). Perhaps some old newspapers with distinctive headlines or soundtracks of radio news headlines? Oh, and recordings of TV shows, perhaps?
    I'm leaning on the music as well, especially for the first transition and the periodical/well known pop culture stuff. After I wrote that one, the idea of portable music devices hit me - as nowadays most people have one, would it be a good idea to make a personal soundtrack for characters, something that would both set the general theme and set the player to the right mood for the character? If the adolescent scene would be, say, set in early 90's, a player playing an passive-aggressive character would get Nirvana and a cheerleader-type might get something very pop. The second transition would be harder to predict, but something dark and melancholic would probably do the job. Making the players to listen headphones while in transition (let's not mind the practicalies like changing clothes with the headphones on) would also isolate them from other players.

    Oh, and you're right on with the props! Changing several (the more the better) well-placed items would certainly help getting into the right timeframe. Especially if the players are not in the main playing area during the transition - so while they are away, the set sort of changes. Very good.
    If we were in the theatre, we'd use one lighting style for modern day and one for flashbacks. You could use that too: have the teenage parties mostly in the dark and the modern day stuff in subtle, indirect interior lighting.
    This is golden. It could probably be arranged quite easily, perhaps just by providing more lightning to the modern time. Also, the daylight could help: modern time in relaxed atmosphere - daylight, teenage riot - evening, modern time in tense atmosphere - night. That and proper lightning, and changing the set during transition, would probably do it.
  • Making the players to listen headphones while in transition (let's not mind the practicalies like changing clothes with the headphones on) would also isolate them from other players.
    Rock on.

    How would you feel about getting them to change in character, as if they were getting ready for the party? Or doesn't that work?

    Graham
  • Posted By: Graham WalmsleyHow would you feel about getting them to changein character, as if they were getting ready for the party? Or doesn't that work?
    I don't think it would; in the adolescent timeframe they probably would not spend time changing their clothes and in the second transition the characters are already in the party. It would be awesome if would work, though.

    Then again - if there's enough space, the players could probably change clothes in some kind of order and go out after they've done that. So, one character would change clothes, grap a pack of (non-alcoholic) beer, get out and do a roundabout walk of about 20 minutes. Then the second one. Characters who are pairs would change one after another and meet at the roundabout walk. Then they would come back to the playing area apart from each other, in pairs, or in small groups, depending on if they'd meet on the roundabout walk. This would simulate the standard "Jack's throwing a party at six"-procedure. Players could use start using headphones when they're out of the door and come back when the soundtrack is over (or when they've met somebody on the way).

    This could work out very well (getting out, walking a roundabout and arriving back to the playing area in-character happens often), though if the game is played in wintertime, the length of the walk has to be considered.
  • Hm. Make up mix audio CD's, with appropriate era music. Hand them the music, tell them to take a leisurely stroll around the site while listening. Say, three songs.

    During the ten minutes that they're listening, you redecorate quickly. Having assistants to move stuff for you while they're out would be helpful but not necessary.

    A wall calendar and movie posters would be evocative.
  • I'm thinking some of the quick-change tricks that are used in theatre could help. Stuff on the walls that's double-sided so you can turn it over in a moment and have a different thing. Jackets (perhaps other clothing too, e.g. skirts) that turn inside-out. Turn a table a different way and throw a cloth on it.

    A calendar on the wall? Too obvious?
  • Thanks for the suggestions, all. I think I have the first transition nailed down; music and change of set (the set being stuff I can arrange for the game, for modern and earlier time). This should be enough, as the players are changing from one character (character now) to another (character back them) and there's no need for transferring emotions from one scene to another.

    The second transition is trickier, though; what I'd want to do is to transfer the emotions as well. So players change from the characters back then to characters now - both music and scene change can be applied to this as well - but I'd want to transfer the emotions as well. The change of scene should happen like the way that flashbacks tend to end; suddenly, so that you're back in "now" instantly, with all the emotional baggage.

    Changing the set and clothes takes time and the players should be brought over the transition period so that the emotions hit them almost instantly. Some notes:

    - Not changing the set or clothes, just saying "cut!", quickly setting the scene, and "action!". The problem is that the physical surroudings would not follow and that might cause difficulties. One possible solution would be to ditch the physical surroundings (and perhaps use lightning, like Graham suggested) and just be abstract, but I'm not sure if that would be satisfying.

    - Tell the players to mark down (mentally) the places where their characters were when the flashback started and in the end of transition, tell them go back to those places.

    - Use something to mark the end of transition period (and maybe the start of it). Like camera flash or something. I'm not sure, but using such markers could have an impact.
  • Lighting might work - maybe have two different parts of the set, one illuminated, one not at any given moment?
  • Posted By: MikeRMLighting might work - maybe have two different parts of the set, one illuminated, one not at any given moment?
    Playing with two sets would be a very good thing. This might require two separate playing areas, though, both prepared in advance. Hard to find, but if that you could be arranged, it would solve most problems.
  • This is some cool stuff.

    I think it is critical for the transition from second to third scene to happen quickly if you want the emotional impact to be unmitigated by the transition. Have you given much thought to what the "sour" event was? I was thinking this something like River's Edge, Killing Mister Griffin, I Know What You Did Last Summer (without the revenge) (or really any Lois Duncan book) or even Stand by Me ish... a traumatic or life changing event that came out of teen actions or reactions. Maybe there is something in the actual event that could be represented in game via lighting and sound that could startle from one scene to the other like a veil lifting.

    Example: In killing Mr Griffin (it's been about 20 years since I read it, so forgive me some foggy details) a group of kids are pissed off at their English teacher and hatch a plan to scare him by kidnapping him and pretending to intend to kill him. Through peer pressure and adolecent social dynamics gone wrong, they actually do end up killing him, and the group is then confronted with the terrible reality of what they've done. Say this was one the plot you were aiming for. The murder could occur in a thunderstorm, at night, outside in the darkness, so minimal ambient lightning, with flashes and a driving soundeffect of falling rain.

    Cut to scene three and lift all of those elements suddenly, making sure to have one that places the players back into the first scene rather than than to reality. Could you trigger one person ahead of time to ground the transition by a response?

    Perhaps clothing from the "past" is symbolic in the third scene of the baggage being carried over. Maybe each player can not shed the item of clothing from the past until there has been a significant emotional transition to do so?

    Interesting.

    I keep seeing in my head this sharp, dramatic transition that breaks from the past scene to the future, where it is the emotionality that forces the transition, and shatters the flashback... someone (preplanned? some piece in the mechanic of your game? the host?) cues the transition (music, lights) and makes a dramatic action and switches to the present scene...

    "It was all you fault John! I haven't fucking slept in 10 years because of what you did that night!"

    Or.. something.

    I shouldn't be allowed to type when I'm half asleep.
  • Posted By: MoI think it is critical for the transition from second to third scene to happen quickly if you want the emotional impact to be unmitigated by the transition.
    Very much agreed; the emotions drift away as the scene ends and if you have to do something while the scene is in transition, it's hard to get That Emotional Moment back. The player can act like he still has that emotion, but the real impact is probably gone. I'm kind of hoping that some kind of ritual transition would keep the emotion there, but for transition of, say, 10 minutes, it seems unlikely. Snap change would work, but then I'd have to leave out periodical clothing, which could or could not be a big thing.
    Have you given much thought to what the "sour" event was?
    I have some thoughts (well, plenty, but quite sketchy in all). The very first ideas I had, back some years ago, were quite similar with Killing Mr Griffin (I don't think I have read the book, but there are some similar movies, in addition to I Know What You Did Last Summer). I've been slowly drifting towards the idea of building the whole game upon character-relationships, mainly because I think it will bring more emotional impact (versus mostly ohfuckohfuckohfuckwhathavewedone-impact) to the third scene. Also, the killing would probably be an accident, which would give the characters and excuse of not doing personal reflection. There could be, however, some very cool moments of actually finding proof that they did kill someone and did not imagine the flashback - like finding the bones, or something.

    What I've lately been thinking is something like this (with kind regards for potential Finnish players to go away, as I do believe in secrets) :

    The players arrive to the cottage, and about half of them are friends from adolescent times. The other half is made of spouses, girl- or boyfriends. The first scene is about arriving, meeting after a long time, introducing the spouses, chatting, cooking (must have good food), eating and sipping the wine. A very slow, social scene, which tries to establish the warm if ankward mood of meeting old friends, lifestyles clashing, talking about that cool summer we had back then.

    This scene would need: character backgrounds (a framework for characters, plently of personal social stuff for characters, like maybe looming divorce), collaborative character history creation (players discussing about what their characters did back then, pairs discussing about their stuff). I need enough stuff for that to last all the way through cooking and eating, maybe three to four hours in all. I want tension which doesen't come out.

    For the purposes of flashback, the character history just before, during flashback and from there to the point where characters went to different directions (maybe a year in all) is not discussed and is only briefly outlined.

    The second scene is the flashback, where characters enter the same cottage ten to fifteen years before, as the adoslescent versions of themselves - at least those, who had characters that participated. Other players have second characters, the adolescent-era girl- and boyfriends, and other friends of the characters who are present in all scenes . All players would get a short briefing of things that have happened just before the party at the cottage, filled with adolescent relationship stuff, couples breaking off, hitting others girl/boyfiriends, cheating - the whole buffet. Some of this information would blatantly change the information they had previously (which were altered memories). The aim would be a growing amount of tension and party going sour with all the relationship stuff as the characters get drunk, open up, pull stupid stunts and mess things up.

    The idea here would be to provide characters enough relationship stuff and then set them off, doing whatever they'll do. I've been tempted to do this in fateplay-way, so the players would know that they have to break up with their girlfriend, have to tell their best friend that his boyfriend is cheating him with the cheerleader, and so on - but that might be just downplaying the player abilities. They can probably make a mess without external guidance, and it'll be a new, intresting mess. The transition would need some scripting, though - I'm playing with the idea of suicide. The character dying would actually be the one hosting the re-union party in the first scene.

    (continued in the next message)
  • (cont'd)

    Enter the third scene, with the fast-as-possible-transition, so that the emotional impact of the adolescent time - and especially the culmination, suicide - transfers through. The player who's adolescent-time character died would be out of the game, replaced, perhaps, with a memorial altar somewhere; that old graduation picture with a warm smile and burning candles. The characters who were not present in adolescent time - spouses and similar - would still remember the flashback - they were there, just in a body of a different person (I could come up with some mystical mumbojumbo for this effect, but probably won't - it's not something that affects the scene, the players should just know that this happens). This, then, would allow them to see their husbands and wifes from entirely different angle. That loving husband drove his best friend to suicide just because he was jealous, and stuff like that. The husband would have to cope with what he did (and, us being humans, would probably come up with all kind of defences).

    The last scene would then play out as some kind of catharsis, characters scoping with what happened, how it affects them and especially how it affects their relationships with other people present. For additional dynamics, I'd consider throwing in very melodramatic stuff that could produce a situtation like "He really loved me back then and I didn't know - now I'm married to this guy who turned out to be a bastard, and he's married to my ex-best friend".

    It's all very sketchy and I haven't really wrote down any of it (until now), or thought about the character dynamics, relationships and stuff. I don't even know if this would work out, and will have to think about transparency issues (how much the players would have to know in order for everything to run smoothly, and how much they should not know), how to handle the briefings and shared character creation, etc. The LARP would definately be invitation-only, tailored for players who I know to like this kind of stuff and who can handle it.

    For some reason, no that I wrote it down, it sounds awfully lot like a giant Dr Phil pre-session.
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