Before and After Silence

I played Before and After Silence a larp by Matthijs Holter and Fredrik Hossman. The game is for 5-12 player and last for about 4 hours. The game was facilitated by Mo Jave and Brand Robins at Feb 4 2015 on the Wednesday LARPs nights in the Black Box Theatre of OCAD University. We had some new people who never larped before, but also people who are used to do boffer larp but not nordic larp.

The larp is divided in progressive stages of silence: 1 minute, 3 minutes, 3 minutes with actions, 3 minutes with setting cards, 10 minutes, and 1 hour. The first step is the game workshop: the Opening Circle. Players make a circle and share some informations: briefly introduction, their experience with silence, and expectations for the larp. The last part of the workshop is “listening to” a silent object; yes, you read right people will be in silence watching someone “listening to” an object that has no sound. Once the person is done, s/he pass the object to the next person until everyone had the chance to “listen” to the object. We used an infinite scarf, and most people spent from 30-60 seconds with the object. After everyone has finished, we shared the experience, and what thoughts went through our minds during the exercise.

At first the game seemed to be little boring. During the listening to the object workshop it was a little boring since we have many people, so it was a long period of silence only watching. Every time a silence round was going to start all players made the sign of silence by point towards the selling and then bring the hand in front of their mouths while saying: “shh”; every round was timed using a cellphone. The first two rounds of silence there weren’t much to do. In the third round we were instructed to use a clap only one time during the silence. The next round was with a setting card. Every player drew three cards, chose one and gave back the other two. Some of the setting cards available were:

  • You and the others are children unable to speak because of the cruelty you have experienced. One of the other children you trust. Another you distrust. Try to act the same towards both of them.
  • You and the others in the clinic are waiting for the result of your tests – you have had high risk unprotected sex
  • You and the others are hiding from the enemy. You fear the enemy might be anyone, even yourself without even knowing it.
  • You and the other have lost everything. You have no money, no telephone. Your clothes are borrowed. You don’t know where your family or friends are.

In the last turn of silence before the game I chose to have my eyes closed and interacted with the environment based on sounds. Very soon people started to interact with me by making noises to guid me. Another interesting situation that happened during this round was that some players circle me trapping me inside.

The actual game is a 60 minutes round with a setting card and an action that could be performed only once. Just like before every player got three cards for setting and three cards of action chose one and hand back the other two. My setting card was:

  • You and the others are the survivors of a nuclear power plant. You fear the future, but you know that panic is dangerous. You seek to be trusted, and you seek others that you can trust.

And my action was:

  • Do something once during the silence that you would not normally do.

I twisted my setting a lit bit. I imagined I was a teenager locked in a bunker due quarantine with a bunch of other people for long time, perhaps I was born inside the bunker. My father was a scientist and tried to cure the disease that kept us locked away, but he got shot when he went outside. During the game one of the players was doing something that looked like s/he was using a board like a teacher. My character got upset because he thought the character will get everybody shoot, so I walked in front of him/her and screamed as loud as I could; that was my action. Another character was doing something related to guns, so my character got really scared of him/her, and spent the entire larp running aways from him/her. I had a good connection with another character who tried to protect me from the character I was running away.

When the long round of silence ended, the players split up in pair and did a debrief. Soon two pairs got together and debrief, and then all the group debriefed together.

This larp brought me to a reflection about what is larp, and when it becomes other thing, perhaps a theatre exercise. During the warm-ups for silence I thought the game was much more an exercise than a larp. I define a larp when I clear can identify three main characteristics: Characters, Ficcional World, and Social Interaction. During the first three rounds of silence I din’t see any characters or ficcional world; it was only a bunch of people in silence. In the fourth round of silence the character and ficcional world aspect showed up.

In psychoanalysis, we (I’m a psychoanalyst) believe that reality is psychological; in other words, it means that what we understand as reality is a sum of perceptions we have influenced by our conscious and unconscious beliefs. So, reality is complete different for each person. We live in bubbles that sometimes get in touch and share a perception. The larp created this idea very tangible; all characters were interacting with each other, but everyone has a different interpretation of what is happening. In real life how many times we have problems because someone doesn’t understand what we say, or perhaps we are not clear enough? Even though we clarify what we think and want, it doesn’t guarantee that people will comprehend what we are saying.

As the facilitator said Before and After Silence is an easy game, so it is very suitable as an introduction larp to the nordic larp style. It hasn’t much character development, but definitely is an interesting larp.

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