The Living Machine

At Dec. 1st 2014 I had the opportunity to go to a larp/immersive theatre called The Living Machine. I got the invitation from Stuart Candy who is a teacher at OCAD University for the course Future of Storytelling. His students created this show as project for the course. The idea for the project was: people are invited to go to a movie theatre to watch an old classic black and white movie, and then the movie becomes real.

I got the invitation at the same day, and it was the last spot. I was told to dress well for the game, so I did. It was planned to start at 9 pm, and 5 minutes after the black box theatre opened. Once inside in a chamber before the theatre there was a reception, where they checked my name, took my jacket, gave me the bill (character sheet), and explained about the rules. There were three people at the reception, and all of them well dressed as butlers.

The character sheet contained a very vague information about the character. In my case it says: “THE HANDYMAN: You are the normal, work-a-day person of the group. ‘Just here to watch an old movie, eat a little popcorn’ is the kind of thing you’d say. If there is a job to do, you are the one to do it and you volunteer enthusiastically. Duct tape is your best friend and you even have a joke for it – you quack like a duck when it’s in your hands. This goes over most people’s heads.” The character sheet also contained information about the rules, which were: to be in character the entire time, respect people’s personal space, create and improvise at the character description, no physical or emotional abuse, and break and cut rules. At the back of the bill, the charter sheet, there was a section called “About The Living Machine” that explained about the background, and it was a little confusing for me because I thought it was about the game, but later I realized it was talking about the movie that we were going to watch during the larp. So, it said that a scientist created a living machine, Unit-2654, however this kind of invention was forbidden, and a detective was after him. Also, the machine looked like the late detective’s wife. With the bill I also got a prop: a fanny pack, which was similar to one that is possible to put tools on it. I guess the intention for the prop was to represent that I was someone from the pleb.

Once inside the theatre the environment was great, there was a bar with a waiter serving soft drinks, but pretend they were not, also there was a guy playing cello; popcorn was available too. After a couple minutes of mingle, we were asked to find a sit to watch the movie. The movie was a black-and-white silent movie, but all the sound effects were produced live by the cello guy, such a very good job! The movie really liked the old movies, very well produced! But suddenly while we watched the movie the screen, which were made of paper, were ripped off by the movie characters, so the Living Machine, The Scientist, and The Detective became real. Since I was a man from the plebe, I interpreted it as a new kind of movie, or theatre, and not a movie becoming real. Very short after the movie became live, a man asked for help to fix the screen, and here came the handyman volunteering to the job. I got some tape, and I spent long minutes fixing the screen. If I’m not wrong, the character who asked for help was the movie director.

I didn’t had much interaction with the movie “actors” because as a character I was thinking it was part of the show. At some point the scientist ask for my help; he wanted his creation to understand human emotions and asked me to use my tape to tie people together with the machine, so she could absorb and understand human feelings better. I  taped maybe 5 people with her. A couple minutes later we were asked to sit down and watch the end of the movie. In the end all the actors went back into the movie, and also one of the players went too, not sure why.

The experience was very, very great, and I would like to give my opinion about the experiment. I think the experience was very short. When, as a character, I started to realize the actors became alive and it was not part of the show the game was over. The atmosphere was outstanding, I really like the cello player specially when he did the sound effects for the movie. The movie also was terrific, and it boost the experience a lot. In general the environment remembers me a little the show called Sleep No More. Although I thinking my prop was totally irrelevant for the experience, another character was a report and s/he received a camera to document the experience, which was awesome. Also, my clothes doesn’t fit my charter at all because I was very well dressed for a man from the plebe. The pre-presentation for the experiment was very vague, which I think contributed to people became spectators rather than participants. Furthermore, I think the character sheet should include two or three questions for each participant to answer as characters. By answer question as characters it helps people starting the processes to become characters and participants in the story. The organization can also use it as a tool to direct the experience to the direction they want to.

At the begging of this post I said the experiment was a larp/immersive theatre because at the end I realized there were 6 different pre-determined finales, so in this case I don’t consider it as a “pure” larp. Depends how the experiment develops the actors choose which finale they will role-play. Another reason to not call it a “pure” larp is because the three movie characters, who became alive, are part of the students who create the experience. They could be understood as NPC(non player characters) helping the experience flow smoothly.

Definitely It was a very outstanding experience, and very well produced! I really want to say congratulation to all people involved in the project.

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