Every time that I feel that I must stop play Lines And Ladders and get on with writing the thesis another irresistible opportunity comes up. This time it was Family Tree Live in the Alexandra Palace, London.
Family Tree Live was a massive gathering of family historians and genealogists. I was invited to bring my project to the village green. In the vast space of Ally Pally, a miniature village green was created with picnic tables, picket fences and the sculpted family tree rooted at its centre.
Across the two days this space provided a place to rest weary feet, to gather thoughts, make quick notes and catch up with friends. #AncestryHour planned tweet-ups at the village green, so that people who had only met via twitter before could chat face to face.
This village green was a space that was performing intimacy and community within the grand splendour of the Alexandra Palace. Set apart from the rest of the show and yet capturing its essence: a space to share stories, experiences, knowledge and understanding with other family historians. A perfect staging for Lines And Ladders.
Most of the people who have played Lines And Ladders are interested in family history, but only a few had done any detailed research. Often when playing, I am cast in the role of expert explaining how discoveries can be made. Family Tree Live was a chance to chat to people about my performance-research, who have an extremely high level of expertise and enthusiasm for family history. I needed to accept my limitations as a family historian and learn from those who played with me. This is something that I love about playing Lines And Ladders. Every time I play, I play with different people and so each game needs to pitched differently. The play must be differentiated. I am sure that I don’t always get it quite right. Sometimes I assume too much is known. Other times, I go overboard explain something familiar. This is part of the challenge for me as the performance maker.
I’ll confess now that I didn’t expect to play many games at Family Tree Live. I thought that lots of people would be interested, that they would be happy to chat about the game, they might even want to take a game with them, but wouldn’t want to spend the time playing it.
I was wrong.
People were happy to take part in this tiny performance. They liked sharing their stories in this playful and informal way. And I think that they liked taking the time to do so. I barely had time to pause, make notes or eat my sandwiches!
Thanks to everyone who took the time to chat on the village green and especially to those who made time to play, including Mike Esbester, Natalie Pithers, Elizabeth Lloyd and James Halstead. Thanks to Shane Surgey, who has supported me throughout, including supplying me with coffee, taking photographs and sharing the driving – not to mention being responsible for all the design work!
And a big thank you to Helen Tovey and the organisers of Family Tree Live for inviting me and to Debbie Kennett for helping me to get Lines And Ladders to this event.