Lines And Ladders Performance Diary 17: Transtextuality

An important part of my research theory is Gérard Genette’s network of transtextuality, which, for me, is vital for articulating how texts work in relation to one another. Genette was writing about literature and I first came across his theories in my undergraduate degree in English Literature. I have been smitten with this theory since I was first introduced to it in a course about film adaptation and wrote one of my better undergraduate essays on the transtextual use of the Mentoes theme music in Clueless. Completely besotted, it became the focus of my undergraduate dissertation on transtextuality in English fairytales. Because the theory is primarily literary, it does need a little adaptation to use when writing about live performance.

The theory of transtexuality is simply that all these texts exist in relation to others and Genette provided a fabulously useful set of terms that we can use to talk about these relationships. Sadly, in May this year Genette passed away  and, I thought, before the year is out, that I would introduce the way in which my re-casting of his theory underpins the whole Sharing Stories PhD project.

Influenced by Roland Barthes, I am using text in the broadest possible sense here. Texts can always be interpreted, but their form can be almost anything: the written word, the oral story, a photograph, the performance piece, the set of the show, the historical context. These texts feed into one another; some texts are adaptations of others; some incorporate others directly; some comment on others; some are influenced by others; some are recognisable because they share common forms. The key is that every text is in some way connected to others and what Genette’s theory does is help reveal how they are connected.

At the core of Genette’s network is the hypertext. In my example, this is Lines And Ladders as played. Each game is a new performance hypertext. This is the site where all the different texts meet and intersect. This is the text that is at the apex. Any other texts that I write about are in relation to this one.

What you are reading now, that is part of the paratext. The paratext exists alongside the hypertext. Specifically, this is the epitext, because it is in a different space to the hypertext. The game takes place in a cafe; this performance diary exists in the virtual space of the internet. It might be experienced before, after or without playing the game. And it’s still changing; each new post extends this epitext. The epitext aims to document the project, by exploring its different components whilst I am still trying to work out what it all means. This epitext is a rawer form of what the thesis will be, although the way it’s looking, that epitext might well be just as raw!

If you play the game, you’ll experience the other part of the paratext, which is the peritext. The peritexts of Lines And Ladders include the paperwork prologue and epilogue. The paperwork that you are given to read and complete, as a part of the performance, whilst you’re in the same space, is a part of the peritext.

And the peritext also includes the setting. The decision to play in a public place affects the experience of the hypertext. Playing in one café is different to another, and is different to playing in a museum or a library. We can read these spaces based on our prior experience, judging them before we enter, whilst we play and after we have left. Even the comfiness of the chair is a part of this peritextual experience.

There are also intertexts, metatexts, an extratext and architext, but, as I am well over the 500 word limit that I set myself for these Performance Diaries, I’ll have to save them for another day and conclude by wishing anyone who reads this a very happy new year!


Barthes, Roland, ‘From Work to Text’, in Image Music Text, selected and trans. by Stephen Heath (London: Flamingo, 1984), pp. 155-64

Genette, Gérard, Palimpsests: Literature in the Second Degree, trans by Channa Newman and Claude Doubinsky (Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press, 1997), pp. 1-7


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.




Lines And Ladders Performance Diary 15: The Soft Sell

It can be quite difficult promoting Lines And Ladders. Quite a task to ensure that willing participants know that this is a game, it should be relaxed, enjoyable, rewarding, but it is also research.

This is play-as-research. I am inviting you to play a game, to share your stories, to have fun, but it is always research.

This part of the process is evident in the paperwork prologue. At the start of every game, there is the Paperwork Prologue. Stamped into cards declaring ‘Important Things to Say’, this prologue to the performance explains how the information will be gathered from the game and how it will be used. There is an Official Signing of the Consent Form Ceremony that accompanies the Paperwork Prologue. And although I joke here, this section of the performance is vitally important to me. It matters to me that people understand the research element of the project. That they get it – the play and the research are integral to one another.

There have been a few people who, having sat through the Paperwork Prologue, chose not to participate. Only a few, but I think it is good, as they clearly felt comfortable enough at this point to withdraw. 

The information shared in the Paperwork Prologue is all on the main webpage for Lines And Ladders, which participants are directed to read when they book, although I don’t know how many do. I do know of one person who having read this information, decided not to play. It is so much better that people make an informed decision about whether or not to take part.


But this means that it can be awkward to sell the game to people. I want to encourage you to play. I want you to enjoy it. I want you to have fun. The feedback that I have had from players has been overwhelmingly positive, so it’s likely that if you want to play you will enjoy it. As of yet, no one has withdrawn from the research project after playing the game. I want you to see this as an opportunity to tell your stories. To find a new method for sharing your stories with family and friends. I want to say all of this, but I need to keep coming back to the fact that this is research. That I will be writing about the game in this blog, in my thesis, in presentations, papers, articles, books.

It’s a fine line to walk between making audiences aware and scaring them off.

Especially when you can’t talk face to face. I find it so much easier to reassure, to answer questions and to explain in person. This is perhaps why most games have happened with people who started chatting whilst I was sat in a café or shop and accepted the invitation to play there and then.

Not sure if this particular blog post is going to help – but I hope that if you want to play you do at least come and listen to the Paperwork Prologue, before making your decision!

Games can be booked now at Manchester Central Library for this Saturday, 17th November

And in Sheffield at the Treehouse Board Game Café next Saturday, 24th November

Both games are part of the Being Human Festival – a celebration of research on the theme of ‘Origins & Endings’ in the humanities.


Lines And Ladders Performance Diary 14: How long does it take to play?

Games last approximately 1 hour.

I state this when people book to play.

Mostly it’s true. Games last about an hour. Yet, play must be flexible, the frame needs room to expand and contract.

There are decisions made at the start that affect the length of the game. Two dice will speed the play. Do we get an extra turn when a 6 is thrown? Or with a double? Do we have to get an exact number to reach the end? To be honest, this last question I normally ask when we’re nearing the end, to give the players the choice of prolonging the play or ending the game quickly. The choice is normally made depending on who is closest to the end… if it’s me, exact number, if it’s an audience-player any number 😉

The shortest game that I have played lasted 35 minutes. This was with Nicola Dexter and Leon Winnert, a pair of friends, in Edinburgh, who played an impromptu game in between other shows. I knew what time their next show was and I feel that I hurried them. Using two dice, any number to the end. I regret this. The game was too short and the storytelling opportunities for Nicola in particular were too limited. She commented on this in her reflections, saying that whilst she enjoyed the game: ‘the roll of the dice meant I didn’t get the opportunity to share much as I got to the end quickly. However it was interesting to hear my friend’s stories in a different context.’

The responsibility to get them to the next show was not mine. My responsibility was to ensure that my game was a success for them.

The longest game was 1 hour 40 minutes and after this we sat and we talked for a good while about the game, about the stories that we’d shared, about the experience of playing. This game was pre-booked. I knew two of the players, H. S. Alessi and J. Smith, prior to playing. The third player, who chose to be anonymous, knew none of us beforehand, but commented afterwards: ‘I was surprised at how relaxed I felt about talking about fairly personal things with people I had only just me.’ There was time in this game for expansive stories. There was time for revelations, for deeply felt emotions and for laughter. We went round in circles, every time someone got close they were sent hurtling down the longest ladder again. The relief of the winning throw was joyful – although I can’t remember who actually won!

There have been times when players have manipulated the rules in order to change the length of the game, but for example, refusing to go down the same ladder for the third time. But this is what play is all about, as long as we can all agree. So the new rule is that you can’t go down the same ladder more than two times. And the play continues.

Games last as long as we’re still playing.


A clock that my Granny Nichol gave to me. It’s decorated to imitate the roof of Carlisle Cathedral.

Lines And Ladders Performance Diary 13: Playing with Family

Entry 13 to the diary does feel as though maybe it should be avoided. Kept short. It has to be written or there can be no 14.

I have a superstitious streak. I’ll avoid certain things, like mixing red and white (blood and bandages), just in case. Yesterday, I passed someone on the stairs, we joked about it and then I tripped up the steps. I’m not saying that luck had anything to do with it, but, you know, it might not have happened if I had waited…

This is something that I share with my mother. When I was little, she once sewed green stalks on to a t-shirt decorated with strawberries that I had been given. Solving the problem of the red and white curse. Perhaps it’s in the genes, Mum believes she inherited her superstitions from her mother.  

One of the first pieces of advice often given to budding genealogists is to talk to your relatives. The ability or impossibility of doing this features in Lines And Ladders. It is often the emotional crux of the performance.

I have played the game with my Mum and Dad. They came to Edinburgh and played in Miller’s Sandwich Bar. It was a slightly rushed game played as soon as they arrived. One thing that I took away from it was that if I am meeting someone I know and I haven’t seen for a while, it’s a good idea to get the catching up out of the way first.

When my brother, Eddie, and his girlfriend, Cheryl, played a couple of weeks later, I made sure we had time to chat first, so that when we started playing we were able to focus.

The stories that I tell when playing with family resonate differently. For this project and for my own interest, I have done quite a bit of research into our family history. Playing with family becomes a chance to tell about my discoveries, including a revelation about the birthplace of my great-great grandmother, Katherine McNeill. This is one of the stories that I often tell in the performance, but it mattered more when I told my mum.

I learn too. Cheryl told me that her family ended up in the town they now live in, as a result of wartime evacuation. Eddie and I talk about some of our shared history that makes us feel uncomfortable. We found space in the game to dig a little deeper.

The roll of the dice guides the conversation. Playing with my husband, I ask questions that I haven’t thought to ask for a while; we talk about family members who we miss, but don’t talk about enough.

Lines And Ladders is a way of making time to tell stories. It’s a way of pushing conversation in different directions. And I feel lucky to have been able to play the game with my family.  Pineapple_Oct18

A pineapple jug that my Granny Kelly gave me for good luck with a dress I bought myself whilst I was in Edinburgh, thinking I might need the extra luck it would bring, but I’m not really that superstitious. Honest.