Lines And Ladders Performance Diary 18: A Cast of Storytellers

I’ve been thinking again about the naming of players in this research project. As I mentioned in an earlier diary entry, this research is about people’s personal stories so I feel very strongly that they should choose whether or not they wish their experience to be anonymised. The statistics continue to suggest that people wish to be named, of the 41 people who have played, 11 have requested to be anonymous. This is about 27% and is an increase of a little less than 7% since I last reported, but it still minority.

It’s not just the fact that these are personal stories that mean that it is important to use people’s names if they choose. This is performance research; the players of the game are performers. They are a cast of storytellers who make a new performance every time Lines And Ladders is played. The game is facilitated by me and I do tell the same stories sometimes, but each player brings their own experiences.

Graham Dalton told me how much a letter written from one ancestor to another meant to him, how much it revealed about the woman writer, and later, by email, he shared this very moving letter with me. Helen and James McKay played the game on their 47th wedding anniversary and had lots to share about their research, including how Helen had pieced together stories from fragments of information and James’ experiences of genealogical DNA testing. Margaret Milner told how her research had started with the discovery of an Irish Civil War medal. Graham, Helen, James and Margaret are just a few of the storytellers who became performers in Lines And Ladders.

This idea of being a performer in the work may frighten some people. The idea of taking part in a micro-audience performance – of being audience-participants, rather than audience – may be off putting for some people. I hope it isn’t, because people do generally enjoy it. The first question on the reflections sheet is ‘Did you enjoy playing the game?’ The most frequent responses are – ‘yes’, ‘very much’ and ‘I did!’ The only player who did not use one of these phrases in their response, explained that she found herself disinterested in family history the day that we played. Of the cast members mentioned above, Graham wrote that he enjoyed the chance to speak about family history and its role in his identity. Margaret commented that the game gave her a rare opportunity to share her research, whilst James commented that playing ‘stirred memories and brought back the art of communication between people’. Helen also liked the way that the game brought back memories and that it prompted thoughts about family connections.

Myself, I don’t like taking part in performances that set out to make me feel uncomfortable and where I feel put on the spot.  So, I try to create work that allows the audience-participants feel supported and the expectations are clear. The format of the game allows for twists and turns, but only within a carefully managed framework. This allows for improvisation, but, I hope, provides the security of structure.

Most of the people who have played the game do not describe themselves as performers or storytellers. Some have said that if they think about it as performance it is off putting, but having played recognise the performance skills practised in the game.

So far, Lines And Ladders has a cast of 42 players. I am hoping to get to 50 before I move on to the next part of the project, so if you’re interested in being in the cast come along to the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester on 19 January or Cakes and Ale in Carlisle in the first week of February. More details on the links below!


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