Lines And Ladders Performance Diary 16: Being Human

Last week I played Lines And Ladders as part of the Being Human Festival. This is a UK wide festival, which encourages universities to engage members of the public with their humanities research.

I feel a little bit of a fraud in this context, as I have mentioned before in this blog, my research is not primarily historical, it’s artistic. I’m not recording histories; I’m looking for ways to tell stories. In the Faculty of Arts and Humanities, Lines And Ladders sits more happily with the arts than the humanities. However, those stories that we share during the game are definitely about being human and this year’s theme ‘Origins & Endings’ is perfectly suited to conversations about family history.

It’s been interesting being part of a bigger event. When I have played the game before, I have been responsible for all the organising from sorting out the venue to publicising the event and following up with feedback. The Being Human venues were chosen for me. I was supported with the publicity by the production of additional flyers and supportive re-tweets. This help should have made me feel less pressured, yet conversely I feel it made me more anxious. I worried about the suitability of the venues. I worried about letting down the people who had asked me to participate. I worried about getting enough players.

Now that it’s over, I’m so glad that I took part and although I have only played 3 games with 3 individuals over two days, it has helped me to draw a clearer line between the outreach and research elements of my project.

On Saturday 17th November, I spent the day in Manchester Central Library as part of Double Helix History’s Showcase. Manchester Central Library is an innovative library space. An open hub on the ground floor that not only has shelves of books but also incorporates a café, a performance space, collective workspaces, a research room and is home to the Manchester and Lancashire Family History Society. There were three games scheduled; in the end one took place. A absorbing game in which we discussed difficult histories and those relatives who meant a lot to us.

Instead of the other games, throughout the day I had rich conversations with visitors to the library. We talked about the game, about my research, and about our family histories. The game takes about an hour to play and often people haven’t got that long to pause in their day unplanned, but so many people did make time to talk, to listen and ask questions that it became a valuable experience in outreach.

There were two games scheduled at the Tree House Board Game Café for the 24th November. This is less of a thoroughfare than the library, but this time both games happened. Each game was played by just me and one other person; each lasted about an hour and a half. These were games that were filled with fascinating stories, as well as discussion of family history research methods and some of the impact that this can have on our everyday lives. This is an intense micro-audience experience and I hope fully meets the aims of the Being Human Festival to reveal ‘the ways in which the humanities can inspire and enrich our everyday lives, help us to understand ourselves, our relationships with others, and the challenges we face in a changing world.

A massive thank you to the organisers of Being Human at the University of Manchester and the University of Sheffield, to Ann Hynes for playing with me in Manchester, to Tanya Saunders and one other participant for playing in Sheffield.

And thanks also to everyone who asked me what I was doing…

Left – an invitation to play in Manchester Central Library, Centre – a game played with Tanya Saunders, Right – ready to play in the Tree House Board Game Café.




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