Two Truths is an interactive theatre game, created by Sarah Hoover, and will be running in the 2018 Galway Theatre Festival at the start of May. Ciara Murphy caught up with the production’s creator to get a sense of what the show is about.
What is Two Truths?
It’s theatre you can win. It’s theatre disguised as a game. There are no actors and no audience, just a bunch of people playing this game with Ireland’s future. It’s playful, and flexible, and conceptual.
What is the show about?
The show is about politics. It’s about the way we feel and think about the Irish political process. It’s my hope that people who come will be a little surprised at what becomes important to them, in that playful space. I’ve had people tell me that they were really surprised at what they were willing to say about, for example, the housing crisis so that their friends didn’t guess what they actually think. Or again, people will get so focused on winning points that they will start repeating arguments they don’t actually agree with. And I’ve had some people tell me that what they thought was important to them walking in, they changed that priority because talking to other people about it in a kind of playful way made them realise they felt differently. That’s the hope – that we think about how we fit into the political landscape and what’s really important to each of us.
This is partly a game and partly theatre. What makes it a game? What makes it theatre?
It’s a game because we really do play a game where we collectively decide the future of Ireland by picking five Truths. No pressure. Within that game people can win points for convincing other people of something, for doing nothing but asking questions, for reporting on what’s going on, for amplifying the quiet voices… It just depends on which character you want to play. And it’s theatre because we use stagecraft techniques like lighting, sound, projection, immersion to make it a separate space from the everyday. It’s a space to play with politics and ideas in a way that you can leave behind when you walk out. If you want to. You might not want to. It might change your mind. It’s also theatre because you can (if you want to) play a character, one that isn’t really different from you except in their motivation at the moment. No one knows whether you’re playing a character or yourself. You get permission to experiment.
Are people scared of participating?
Well, I think people imagine that they’ll have to stand around with a lot of other people while they get performed at, or they’ll get pulled on stage in front of everyone and asked to juggle. And those are fine, but Two Truths is not like that at all. We’ve worked really hard to make it a playful space open to folks who want to talk a lot or not talk a lot, listen to other people or make art. There are a lot of ways to contribute. The only thing we ask is that nobody is sitting on the sidelines judging other people’s performance. You do have to contribute in some way, you have to be present with the rest of the room – that’s why it’s not as scary as people might imagine because we’re all doing this thing together.
What’s the history of the performance?
As part of my PhD at NUI Galway’s Centre for Drama, Theatre & Performance, I create and produce these game / theatre events, like Unlock Your Potential (Dublin 2017), New Voices in Art(Galway 2017), and #Feminism Nano-Games, which has been run five times in Ireland with different audiences. They are all in the lineage of Nordic-style live action role play (LARP). All that means is that audiences have all the power to explore their own actions, thoughts and feelings, to tell stories within the constructed theatre world in the way they want to tell them, deciding what is important about each of them. I’m developing what I call ‘reflective affective structures’ of performance that are designed to really engage audiences into the piece and then give them a chance to reflect on their thoughts, feelings, or actions, changing the way the fictional world works based on that reflection.
With the support of the Irish Research Council, I’ve spent a year developing Two Truths, first with devising workshops based on parlour games and then with scratch (minimalist) versions testing the rules, the character list, the political statements. I’ve iterated Two Truths in Chicago, Dublin and Limerick, thanks to the support of gaming and theatre communities and sponsors there. Through those iterations I developed the right mix of production and agency – how much does the production need to give the audience, and how much can the audience do for themselves. Then we were accepted into the Galway Theatre Festival, which allowed me to bring the piece to a whole new level of production values. For example, we’re using a responsive lighting technique to reflect the feeling or tone of the moment based on what’s happening in the play area. We can only do that because the O’Donoghue Theatre has LED lighting that will change colour as well as intensity quickly and smoothly.
Why do you develop pieces like Two Truths?
Because I am exploring a niche between immersive theatre and game in which theatre audiences are given permission to play, and their play is made meaningful in larger ways. As we draw audiences closer and closer to the performance we have to think about how their presence changes the performance, and the reflective affective structure is one that encourages audience agency while reflecting back to them that their contribution is important – not just in the performance, but in the everyday world. I’m a theatre geek and a gamer from way back, so it has been wonderful to deeply explore the potential techniques and philosophies gaming offers theatre.
What can audiences expect when they attend Two Truths?
Play! What will they encounter? Well, I can tell you something about the structure of the piece. They will be given some instructions on how to play the game and told about the materials of the game: Body Maps, that are works of art created in response to statements by Irish politicians, and characters. They will look at the body maps, pick up a character (if they want to), and then for ten minutes they will debate and vote on which policy should become Truth – should guide Irish policy making for the next ten years. It’s quite simple and hopefully elegant. We repeat roughly the same process several times, encouraging people to change characters and experiment with doing different things in the debate. At the end, we have our Five Truths, which are published on the Play / Test website, www.playtestgalway.wordpress.com. So in a way, you’re held accountable for the direction you take the country.
What’s a Body Map?
Body Maps are full-size maps of the human body on which our focus group materialised their affective response to statements made by Irish politicians. What that means, mostly, is abstract works of art that show how a statement like “the housing crisis will be fixed by loosening restrictions on developers” or “There must be an island-wide referendum on unity” made them feel, in a very embodied way. That gives audiences to Two Truths a kind of sample of their community. It ties the game back to the outside world.
What kind of characters would people play?
The characters are at the core of the experiment, so I can’t tell you too much about them. They’re not complex; they’re a role within the political system – you’re not doing Hamlet, you’re doing ‘someone who must decide whether to murder people or run away’. I’ll give you an example. One character sheet looks like this: “The Reporter: document what is happening in this space, and tell the rest of the world. If you go on social media use the hashtag #TwoTruths.” Another is: “The Monarchist: pick another person to be your Monarch. If the Truth for which they are arguing wins this round, you win a point.” Characters are designed to either give you reasons to interact or to step back and reflect on the process. Though I’ve certainly had people play The Artist and lead a major change in the debating, for example. I enjoy people who explore the design and make it their own – as long as everyone is involved. There are lots of options!
Two Truths is running from May 5th-7th at the O’ Donoghue Theatre Galway. You can find out more at www.galwaytheatrefestival.com