asses.masses: a collective audience-player blog (FOLDA 2023)
asses.masses exists as one of the three encounters I’ve had with game theatre. It is accompanied by New Societies by Re:current Theatre and Roll Models by The Art Folk Collective. For me, each of these experiences are thread together by a unique influence had on the piece by the relationship between the performers and audience members that is separate from theatre experiences that exist outside of my game-theatre repertoire. asses.masses interestingly warps my relational expectations of game-theatre structures established from my two prior encounters. This is done through the position of the guide– or lack thereof– present to bring the audience along on the journey. In both New Societies and Roll Models, a supportive and assistive presence was engrained to the performer’s role throughout the performance creating a reciprocal relationship between the performers and audience members. However, in asses.masses apart from the game narrative , the audience members were largely left to their own discretion when determining their role, expectations, and relationships in the performance and in turn undoubtedly impacting the ways in which audience members collaborate and exist together for the entire 7.5 hours of the performance.
When purchasing a ticket online, audience members were offered a few comments on “how to experience the show” and “audience notes”. Here, the extent of the shared expectations and instructions on how to experience the show included “audiences elect one player at a time to use the controller and play out their story differently. asses.masses has no set duration and it runs until the game is finished. The average play time is around 7.5 hours” and “there will be multiple intermissions throughout asses.masses; one every two episodes. The audience will collectively decide how long each intermission lasts” (www.folda.ca). In the audience notes section, prospective purchasers were told “participation and active spectatorship is a central part of asses.masses. We invite you to be a part of our Herd in any way you can. Recommended for ages 14+” (www.folda.ca). Similarly, prior to the start of the performance, Milton strategically (to my assumption) gave audience members very minimal insight on what to expect of the performance that was to come.
Come time for the performance, audience members were presented with a variety of decisions required to move the performance along. First, the aforementioned lone controller sat on a podium lit by a single spotlight. The screen read along the lines of “awaiting avatar input, press x to play”. The game did not begin until an audience member chooses to approach the podium press x on the controller to start the performance. At the performance I attended, the collective waiting for an audience member to emerge from the seating was met with someone calling out “so who’s going to do it?” to which laughter arose throughout the audience in response. Surely enough, an audience member elected themselves to start the game. Though there was clear instruction on the screen that someone had to approach the control and press a button for the game to play, there was a brief moment of hesitation. It wasn’t until this call out from a fellow audience member kickstarted the performance’s beginning. The gentle-ish nudge to encourage someone to take the first turn at the controller along with the laughter that resulted due to the comment helped to break the ice with the collaborative community that would share the next 7.5 hours together. Determining the duration of individual audience gameplay was the next decision for audience members to figure out. With this performance, the first audience member to play set the precedent for the subsequent participants. The first participant played for the first episode which consistently carried throughout all 10 episodes. Lastly, intermissions were also decided upon by the audience collective. As mentioned, opportunities for intermissions were to occur every two episodes with the audience determining the length of time. For our audience, was not a conversation had typically, but rather watched each other re-enter the theatre and wait for majority of audience to be restored. Notably, there was one instance where half audience voted against having an intermission and wanted to continue though, other half wanted intermission. In this instance despite continuing straight through the intermission we found a moment soon after the start of the episode to take a 5-minute pause. I can’t remember what allowed this whether it was a bug in the game that required fixing or a natural break in the narrative – regardless it was very soon after the decision to skip the intermission occurred.
What overall stood out to me was how the audience navigated self-government throughout the duration of the performance. Without the presence of a performance rep for the production outside of the game itself, audience members were required to look to one another to learn the norms and expectations of our temporal collective. This proved to be fairly successful as demonstrated by the repetition of events, how the game would start after intermission, how much time an audience member would spend at the controller, how mini games were approached became predictable. We established our own ‘etiquette’ that was abided by throughout the entire 7.5 hours. I think this is largely attributable to the value of the positive affects within the audience collective. Working towards a common goal, achieving a mini game and moving forward felt good and was cause for celebration. Through the various chants that arose out of audience inside jokes created as the game progressed, I became tied to the positive affects experienced through my body as a result. I didn’t want to act out of turn or against our communally decided government as not to disturb the positive contagion within the audience, holding onto an affective glue which supported our government. I would assume that this was felt by other audience members as well – a responsibility to abide by what we had taught each other.