The play’s the thing: let the adult games begin

July 23, 2012


Melbourne is set to host its first games carnival.

AN EMERGING art form comes into the spotlight next weekend when the public is invited to take part in Melbourne’s first games carnival, This is a Door, at St Kilda’s Theatre Works.

”It is difficult to describe because people immediately think of video games or perhaps board games if they can imagine adults playing games at all,” says comedian and actor Ben McKenzie, one of three people who created Pop Up Playground which is organising the three-day event (the others are Sayraphim Lothian and her fiancee, playwright Robert Reid). ”There really isn’t a proper term for it yet.”

The theatre’s large space will be turned into a festive arena with bunting, lighting and sound for people to join in playing a series of games that include trying to stop someone jumping off a building, putting out the great fire of London and inventing ways to disrupt a wedding ceremony.

McKenzie says in contrast to the anonymity of conventional theatre audiences, the aim is to get people to participate.

”Everyone knows social games such as charades,” says Lothian. ”There are other after-dinner games that are not played much any more, partly because of the influence of video games. But everyone already knows how to play because it is inherent in all of us.”

Lothian is doing a master’s degree at RMIT on art in public spaces and is a craft artist whose work is in New York’s Museum of Modern Art and the National Gallery of Victoria.

She has little interest in competitive games, preferring instead to use them as a way to get people to interact. ”They are open to all sorts of personalities because they are about inclusiveness,” she says.

The trio have invented and tested several new games, with McKenzie using his expertise to determine why some do not work. ”Play is often fun but it is not an element in all of these games. London Burning can become quite tense as the fire comes closer to your designated area.”

Helium-filled balloons are used in Race To the Sky, which is based on an 18th-century hot-air balloon race. Contestants decorate a clothes peg, then place it in a small basket connected to the balloons. The aim is to get the airborne object as high as possible without the peg falling out. Lothian describes it as ”a beautiful and gentle game”.

She says that space needed to play the games is ”infinitely adjustable” because they can all be explained by a set of rules and taken anywhere.

As well as the games developed by Pop Up Playground, This is a Door includes some international games whose owners have given them permission to play them, reflecting the supportive nature of the developing games movement. The group formed after a visit to Melbourne two years ago by one of the pioneers of the new movement, England’s Tassos Stevens.

Stevens is a co-director of Coney, whose founding principles include ”adventure, loveliness, reciprocity and total potential engagement”. The company has been commissioned by London’s National Theatre, the Dublin Fringe Festival and publishers Hodder & Stoughton. Lothian says Coney is representative of the growing games activity in Britain and Europe, and that elements of the movement are already being used in Australian theatres and galleries.

It is not entirely new. She says the New Games Movement came to Victoria from the US in the ’70s, which led to a regional tour and the development of the ”Life Be In It” campaign.

”That was designed to get people to go out and play,” she says. ”It went from Victoria to become a federal campaign until funding was cut to establish the Australian Institute of Sport. So the money went from encouraging the general public to developing elites.”

Lothian and Reid are travelling to England in September to attend a games festival in Bristol and hope to make a documentary about it.

”Everyone is very supportive in the games movement and generous with their time and their games,” she says.

This is a Door is at St Kilda’s Theatre Works from 6.30pm next Friday until Sunday.

Book online or ring 9534 3388.