December 24, 2010

Character Development:

Brody Condon's Level5 and the Avant-LARP of Becoming Self written by Jennifer Krasinski

East of Borneo

We tell ourselves stories in order to live. We live entirely, especially if we are writers, by the imposition of narrative line upon disparate images, by the “ideas” with which we have learned to freeze the shifting phantasmagoria which is our actual experience.
—Joan Didion, The White Album 1


Condon has come to think of LARPs as weekend-long social experiments—opportunities to explore alternative cultural situations and/or political structures—and understands the games as abridged versions of the communes his parents and their generation tried to establish and failed. “They believed too much,” he says of the baby boomers’ inability to understand the true potential of the communal experience. “I’m not sure which one is more radical—real or temporary communes—but I know this one has more potential at least. You can immerse yourself within a temporary commune, but you don’t have to believe in it. The other ones are limited by reality in a way.”

When Condon decided last year that he wanted to investigate Erhard Seminars Training and other large group awareness trainings as the subject of a performance, he chose to build the piece using the tools and game mechanics developed by the LARP community. In his own words:

With a [game] structure in place to reenact a self-actualization seminar, I realized that it might be more interesting—or possibly more critical—to have the separation between this immersion and the seminar structure so that you could look at the thing critically. And it just seemed more twisted in a way—completely ridiculous—to go through a seminar that’s all about losing your games—getting to the core of your being, shedding the layers of self—via an artificial layer of self, via character.
Therefore, rather than reenactment or traditional theatrical production, Condon’s piece would be a participatory performance in which players would be invited to create a character, and then take that character through the process of self-actualization. Within this hall of mirrors—one which would invariably reflect and refract the selves of both character and player—Condon hoped that he and the participants would not only arrive at a more thorough understanding (i.e., an experiential knowledge) of what a self-actualization weekend was—how it worked and what it did to the people of his parents’ generation—but also gain some kind of insight into the value and function of self-created fictions.

Condon titled the piece Level5, and its performance took place the first weekend of September at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles.