Before We Wake
This evaluation is a bit prototypical and will be developed further as I have the time to read it through properly. For now it is just a collection of desciptions and thoughts connected to the larp.
Before We Wake was a 6 hour larp about dreams and dreaming. It was set in a dreamworld, that was co-created with the players as the game evolved.
The idea behind ‘Before We Wake’ is to give the participants the experience of being submerged in a dream – but a dream which is shared, rather than individual. The larp creates an alibi to talk about and examine your dreams. (Before we Wake website)
In the larp you would play your own “Dream Envoy” that would try to get through to you through the medium of dream during the larp. You would thus play a subconscious part of yourself trying to get the (or a) conscious you to understand something new.
The preparation for the game was very simple. Apart from bringing a set of white clothes the only preparations for the larp entailed writing down our dreams in a dream journal for a month before the larp, as preparation for the game. We weren’t told exactly why we were supposed to do this, rather we got some vague pointers around how “our dreams would be used as inspiration” for the game. For me the dream journaling led to a lot of interesting experiences with my own dreams witch was nice. A new larp focus is for me to design for new awareness and the dream journaling really helped me into a new relationship with my dreams.
Apart from the dream journaling everything you needed to play the larp was communicated or developed at the pre-larp workshop. The workshop was very tight and well designed and introduced us to all the important elements of the larp while also helping us to create characters (the “dream envoys”) and dream elements to bring into the larp through dream journeys and the dream diarys we had brought with us.
We were introduced to the three modes of play. The Night Cafe; The place where the “Dream Envoys”, some part of our subconscious trying to send us a message, would hang out and discuss what to do in the dreams to get through to us. The Dreaming, where the dream envoys would play out dreams. The Weave; the messy part of the dreaming, where groups of dreamers would connect into a noisy moving dream organism of sorts.
The workshop was rather brief compared to others i have been at and the organizers even choose to cut it short (at around 7 hours) as they felt that we were done. I remember noticing that organizers almost didn’t leave any time for talking between the players during the workshop. It was mostly direct communication from them to us and then individual work on how we would be dreaming in the game – the reason for that probably that it would be very hard to try to control or manage the many different conceptualizations of how the dreams would work collectively. Another interesting choice from the organizers was to workshop playergroups for two different runs at the same time.
All in all i felt well prepared to play the larp after the workshop, but as opposed to most larps, where people will spend the beer drinking time after the workshop to plan relationships, potential stories and so on, we didn’t really talk about the larp after the workshop was done – at least not about the content. In some ways I could be tempted to connect the problematic elements of the larp with the fact that the workshop wasn’t really about co-creating the larp experience, but mostly information and individual exercises (although performed in a common room). Or to say it in another way, the content (or canvas) of the game was only briefly touched upon, during the workshop.
The larp took place in a blackbox in the Copenhagen Music Theater and it was obvious that the scenography had been a big part of the larp process and design. The room was built up, so in one end you would have the Night Café, made to look more or less like a regular (although dark) café but placed so that it overviewed the rest of the scenography. Then in the middle of the room you had the most central scenography for the dreams. A pile of black podiums, set so you could crawl under them, over them, through holes in them and thus apply them in many different ways. Connected to the podiums were a few constructions of metal poles, bolted down so you could crawl around in them. The last element in the middle of the room was a small forest consisting of 6? trees. Opposite the night cafe was a big open space and on the end wall a big projection.
There were also an abundance of dynamic elements in the scenography. A soundscape was mixed together life, sometimes playing back the sounds made in the dream spaces. There were a lot of light effects, making the room change moods all the time. Also one of the organizers would play “the dancer”, who would bind white bands between the different elements creating new athmospheres as the larp progressed.
All players had been told to bring white (og light) clothes. Apart from that everyone got a weird little shirt with very long sleeves and a xxxx, both of which could be worn in many different ways. Everything in the scenography was hard, which I appreciated. You somehow feel safer when you know that everything might hurt you.
I really enjoyed playing in and playing around with the scenography. It was fun to spend time imagining it being many different places, although harder to use while playing collectively.
Structure and storyline
There was no planned story in the larp, as all players had their own dreamspaces to discover and explore. However, there was a planned progression of the larp, designed in three acts. In act one we could not speak to or touch the other players (except form in the weave) which meant that the act was spent in our individual dreamworlds, using our fantasy to imagine the space around us and using the scenography and the other players as a backdrop.
In act two we could talk, touch and intereact with the other players but not co-create dreams. Thus if you were dreaming about being on a pirate ship, you could tell the person next to you to hold on to the mast, but the person would just stare at you in wonder while continuing to gather mushrooms in the big forest. Confusion and chaos seemed central to the design of this act and it was interesting to have scenes with double (or many more) interpretations. However it was hard to keep up the personal dreamspace as all times. My experience was rather that I would be in a clear dream and the walk “between dreams” for a while and in that space I would meet people, that sucked me into their dream spaces, without me having an interpretation of my own.
In act three we were told that we should try to find the dream that we (the dream envoys) wanted to communicate to our dreaming selves. This was introduced as a process of going to the dream café, talking to other dream envoys about our needs and the “planning” the dream we wanted to play out. At the workshop I challenged this concept a bit as I didn’t like the idea of playing out preplanned scenes and we were told that the amount of planning could wary from dream to dream.
Between the acts we would go to the empty space on the floor and lie down while a distorted speaker voice led us through a “dream journey”. Or at least that was the intention. What i remember from the speak is a pacing voice that kept asking if I “was there yet” which just gave me a feeling of being railroaded and stressed me out a bit.
My Larp Experience
My dream envoy for the larp was a nighttime forest duality. On one side some sort of feral beast and on the other a gentle and shy deer. I was very happy about this character as it was based on elements of myself I had recently found through meditation and wanted to explore further.
As it is with most dreams I dont remember most of what happened during the larp. I remember having a lot of dispersed and very nice scenes and a lot of weird, confused or frustrating scenes. I also had some nice “alone time” in the dream space where it actually worked to imagine the dream around me, without interacting with others – something I generally found very hard to do, especially as there was alot of commotion all the time as other dreams were happening.
For me the first act was a nice way of playing around with the weave and to explore the space, although at times it felt a bit long. The second and third act got blurred together quite a lot as it was hard not to get sucked in to other peoples dreams as I described above. I never got to use the night café as much as I wanted to and found it surprisingly hard to play my dream envoy in the way I had hoped to do. I would have loved to go into a more therapeutic mode, where I could have used the dream envoy to talk about what Peter needed, but it never really seemed to fit in.
From the beginning of the second act I dropped the idea of the dreams being separate and rather experienced myself in one long and not very coherent dream, where I could use my earlier experiences as reference. This enabled me to have more consistent play than when I was trying to separate the dreams from eachother. My best scenes during the larp was the ones i was sucked into at random in the dreamspace (people grabbing me and treating my as if I was a wounded soldier) and the ones where I referred back to earlier dreams in an attempt to make sense of what was going on (I kept going back to the wolves that would come to eat the world at midnight).
After the third act we were led out of the scenography and told to write down the dream we wanted to transmit to our dreaming selves. I wrote down a slightly edited version of my end of the larp. This is what I wrote down:
“I helped cutting down an evil tree (or maybe I was the evil one) but someone stopped us. Right afterwards I found a group of people and joined their gang (the dry well gang). Sadly soon after the water came into the well and we had to swim out. And then I was attacked and drowned by a giant octopus. After being ressurected I then became the last tree on earth, but when the wolves came a maiden took my hand and told me that I had nothing to fear.”
I had a fun time at Before we Wake and enjoyed both the workshop and the game. It did however feel a bit “flat” to me. I never really got emotionally impacted during the larp and my feeling was that many of my scenes, although nice enough to play, was more performance than immersion.
For me the biggest issue of the larp was connected to the idea of the players imagining the space around them. It did not feel right for me to describe things that werent there to enable play with others and I got very tired of “oh no, look out for that wrecking ball” or “I am rowing away in my boat” style scenes, where people had to explain what was going on for the scene to make sense – not least because the room was very chaotic and there would often be 5-6 of these scenes happening at once.
I had the feeling that to much was going on most of the time and that the larp would have benefitted from a loose instruction that no more than 3-4 dreams should be played out at a time (where we had 10-15 going on at times). Fewer scenes could also have had the potential of making the weave a more active part of the experience, where it dissapeared a bit after the first act in our run.
The Dream Café was a beautiful space for diegetic steering of the game (or at least the dreams), but I would also have loved to see the Night Café used more as a space to reflect upon the dreams that had happened or where happening in the dream space, rather than a space for planning dreams. This was mostly a question of how it was introduced to us, but I think it would have been a very different larp if the dream envoys would have spent more time discussing and interpreting the dreams.
I also wonder if the larp could have benefitted by having more relationships in play. As it was, the only relationships were the temporary ones made in the dream space, which made it hard to get personal and emotional elements into the larp and at times made it feel quite lonely.
Before we wake showcased a lot of interesting uses of the blackbox space and it was obvious that a lot of time had gone into the design of the space and the technical elements. That said, my feeling was that the game could easily have been run with much less focus on the scenography – and I think it should. It would be sad for this game not to be restaged, and I doubt that it will if it isn’t possible to go easier on the scenography. Some more restrictions in the scenography might have proved beneficial to streamline play and reduce the confusion about what was going on.
I would love to see Before we Wake remade in new ways, because the base ideas of the three different aspects of the dreaming was brilliant and should not be forgotten. I would however love to see new ways of creating play in the space, that are less based on planning scenes or saying what is happening out loud. Generally my feeling is that there is so much potential to play around with the design, that it should be done – and it is pretty easily accessible if one eases down on the scenography a bit. Some ideas could be:
– A larp about one dreamer, where the players are different aspects of the subcontious trying to get different messages through, thus “competing” to create different dreams.
– More thematized dreams. For example a larp with the theme of “family”. Generally dreams that are closer to the “real” world would also be easier to perform in the space without having to explain what is going on too much to the other players.
– Playing one dream, that starts somewhere and ends somewhere completely different. This would give a more co-created vibe to the whole thing.
– Playing out the dreams of a family, the dream envoys trying to solve the crisis.
Before We Wake 2015. Photo: Karin Pedersen / Mathias Kromann Rode / Kristoffer Thurøe (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)
Ole Pieder Giæver writes about his experience here.
Karin Tibeck writes briefly about the game here.
Thais Munch mentions me in his evaluation, which can be found here.
Alex Fraderas evaluation can be found here.