Shakespeare for all of us

I attended the Original Practice Shakespeare Festival‘s “Much Adoe About Nothing” in Kenton City Park. I loved it. The cast were a fun and energetic bunch, and the intimacy of our close proximity on the grassy lawn, with the players’ antics spilling freely among the audience, made the whole spectacle a delight.

The most eye-opening part of the production was the “Original Practice” itself. The troupe is dedicated to reviving the actual acting techniques of Shakespeare’s day, when new plays were being written and performed at breakneck pace, and an acting company didn’t have the luxury of extensive rehearsal and meticulous preparation. Instead they carried their lines on scrolls, and charged in with “limited rehearsal; an onstage prompter; fast-paced, energetic acting; and lots of audience interaction.”

OPS Fest recreates that practice, and the result was enthralling. I love live Shakespeare, and I’ve seen some fine performances, but what I experienced at Kenton park on Sunday was like nothing I’d seen before. You might think reading their lines from cue scrolls might render the performances lifeless, but not so! Instead the play crackled with life, brimmed with humanity, and embraced messiness.

Continue reading Shakespeare for all of us

The Dreaming Crucible: Roles

Hello, everyone. I’m continuing to post the text of my storytelling game The Dreaming Crucible online as part of its Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike license. The main body of the gamewill be posted to the blog, then compiled in a wiki.

The Crucible is a game in which a young person beset with fear, confusion and pain goes into a magical land, where Light Faerie denizens offer aid, comfort and friendship and Dark Faerie forces make every attempt to crush her spirit. it’s time to talk about those player roles:

Heroine

The Heroine player portrays a young girl (or boy) having difficulty coping with some pain or trauma, who journeys to a Land of Faerie where she must obtain something, unravel a mystery, or merely escape—facing expressions of her worst fears or heartache in the process. Heroine must decide how to face the Perils that beset her. The Heroine also describes her exploration of the Land of Faerie, and her reaction to its many beautiful and terrible aspects.

Light Faerie

The Light Faerie player portrays characters who are kind, helpful or pleasant to the Heroine, most specially a Faerie companion who journeys with her and aids her. The Light Faerie intervenes at times to face a Peril in the Heroine’s stead. The Light Faerie also collaborates with the Dark Faerie to describe the Land of Faerie itself, focusing on its delightful and enthralling elements.

Dark Faerie

The Dark Faerie player portrays characters who are hostile, menacing or cruel to the Heroine, most specially a Faerie nemesis who traps or entices the Heroine into Faerie, and the Powers he arrays against her to destroy, consume or seduce her. The Dark Faerie introduces specific Perils that the Heroine must face to continue her journey. The Dark Faerie also collaborates with the Light Faerie to describe the Land of Faerie itself, focusing on its sinister and unnerving elements.

Continue reading The Dreaming Crucible: Roles

The Dreaming Crucible: I Will Not Abandon You.

Its time for another installment of The Dreaming Crucible online edition! The Crucible is my storytelling game about young people working through their pain in a deadly Faerie quest. It’s available on Etsy.com or the Indie RPGS Un-store as a handmade book (see the above link), but the text itself is available under a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike license. And so I’m releasing it in sections, first here on my blog, and soon to be compiled into a Wiki.

Last time I talked about the game’s narrative Principles of Play, but today I’m going to delve into an even more basic principle that embodies the Crucible’s underlying philosophy.

The Dreaming Crucible is a game about teenagers and children coping with trauma and heartache. This can take a relatively mild form, or it can delve into the darkest corners of alienation and abuse. Furthermore, a happy ending is possible but not assured. Are you willing to risk that? How far are you willing to go in depicting a child suffering? How young a protagonist are you comfortable with portraying in such excruciating circumstances? These are important questions to answer as a group.

The Dreaming Crucible is not safe. My hope is that you will enter into a relationship with the game and with your fellow players, such that you will go to the dangerous places together in mutual bravery and trust. Game designer Meguey Baker has coined this distinction as Nobody Gets Hurt vs. I Will Not Abandon You.

She says, “I as a player expect to get my buttons pushed, and I will not abandon you, my fellow players, when that happens. I will remain present and engaged and play through the issue. I as a player expect to push buttons, and I will not abandon you, my fellow players, when you react. I will remain present and engaged as you play through the issue.”

I Will Not Abandon You is the default mode of Dreaming Crucible play.

Continue reading The Dreaming Crucible: I Will Not Abandon You.

On Shoulders

On Story-Games.com, Tazio Bettin (Suna) has been asking how one copes with “standing on the shoulders of giants” in game design; that is, feeling like everything you might design has been done before, and possibly done better than you could hope to do yourself. This is an issue that’s always been close to my heart as an aspiring creator of art in any form. it’s easy to become intimidated by all the brilliant and inspiring works that have proliferated throughout history. And the more you love art, the more you’re likely to be overawed by that brilliance.

One of the things I cherish about roleplaying and storyjamming is the affirmation of the concept that everyone is an artist. Everyone has a unique voice that can gain expression in any number of artistic forms–storytelling, painting, poetry, you name it! Every person has precious gifts to share

I truly believe this. And yet Tazio’s question lingers: in the presence of greatness, how does one muster the drive to create at all? How do you shake the feeling that all the ground has been covered, or that you can never measure up?

Continue reading On Shoulders

The Dreaming Crucible: Principles of Play

My storytelling game The Dreaming Crucible is published under a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike license, which means that while I do sell it as a handmade book, you’re free to make any use you like of the game’s text, commercial or otherwise, so long as you credit me and allow others to use your work under the same conditions.

That being the case, it’s high time I started releasing the Crucible’s text on the internet. Before too long the whole game will be available in wiki form; in the meantime I’m going to showcase the more significant portions in a series of blog posts. I’ll start with the Principles of Play, which are a set of guiding precepts that function as a baseline approach to playing the game, on which particular rules and specific narrative and collaborative techniques can be built.

Have a look: Continue reading The Dreaming Crucible: Principles of Play

PAX Dreaming

I just wanted to let my readers know that I’ll be at the Penny Arcade Expo in Seattle this weekend, playing and selling my brand-new, revised edition of The Dreaming Crucible, my game of grueling and transformative Faerie journeys, with gorgeous art by Erin Kelso. At right is a taste of the artwork that’ll be gracing the cover, with more works in the interior.

If you’ll be at the show, come see me! You can stop by The Dreaming Comics (no relation!) dealer booth and demo space to check out the book and play the game with me. I’d be delighted to tell stories with you.

And that’s all the time I have right now; so much to do! I’ll be back in the blogosphere when this whirlwind has subsided.

Peace,

—Joel

Lifting Up

I played a session of my game The Dreaming Crucible with my friends Jake and Nick and Neil who was visiting from the UK. It was a happy and robust play session, with creative cylinders fully firing from all the participants. Not only did I enjoy playing with them, but I learned a lot about how the game works, namely:

We excel when we lift one another up.

The game was fun because we all built on each other’s contributions at each moment in play. We could easily have been four individual creators, each plotting our own brilliant artistic statement with our own story material. Each individual statement could maybe have been artful and satisfying, even brilliant. We might have even been courteous and generous in allowing each other space to build our little artistic towers, not crowding each other and jostling each other for the spotlight. We might have all created something we could look back on and say, yes, it was good.

But none of that compares to the glory that bursts forth when we lift one another other up. Continue reading Lifting Up

Reading the Signs, Part 2: The Sheathed Sword

Two weeks ago I talked about recognizing oracular messages in the world around me, for instance through storygaming. In that case I didn’t recognize the significance of the sign until after an unpleasant incident, though it was helpful in making sense of my travails. Diagnostic, but not preventative, if you will.

But it gets better—shortly thereafter came a time when I did read the signs in time to avoid causing pain in myself and others. A little background: with our lease up, debts soaring, and paychecks through the summer, Annie and I concocted a mad plan to gain breathing room both financial and spiritual: help renovate her parents’ RV and ditch the city for the summer, camping rent-free on our friends’ farm.

But as we struggled to realize that dream, obstacles kept arising. Creditors, the IRS, the DMV and more descended on us. Both our computers broke down. And we moved in with Annie’s folks while her dad put the finishing touches on the RV. Continue reading Reading the Signs, Part 2: The Sheathed Sword

Weave richly the dream…

A couple of experiences from Go Play NW last weekend: first, I played my game The Dreaming Crucible with Joe McDaldno and Jackson Tegu. Jackson has a little Crucible experience, so for once I was able to turn the role of Dark Faerie over to another and just play the Hero. This meant that the other players were in charge of bringing the world of Faerie to life. And we had the most descriptively rich game of The Dreaming Crucible that I’ve every played.

A Well-Dressed Man who commanded the inanimate whisked young Aaron on a flying carpet to a vast clockwork plain and commanded him to repair it. A Stickboy borne on a raven persuaded the boy to flee the place, and secured a dog for him to ride through a forest pulsing with life. Aaron met an apple tree who was delighted for company but sad to think he might rob her of her apples. Then he lost his companions and the forest path turned to tile and walls rose up to hem him in and he almost spent forever in a bare room with a vanity and a chair. He came to a cottage where an old witch became an alluring girl and traded him the lives of his companions for passage to the Well Dressed Man’s black spire. The girl skinned the dog and Aaron wore him, still living, as a cloak as he and the Stickboy climbed the spire to confront his suave enslaver. Continue reading Weave richly the dream…

Unflattering Imitation

I participated in a fundraiser for my special education job the other night. It was a talent competition called “[Education District] Idol”, and consisted of volunteers singing popular songs with a live band or karaoke track, and attendees buying votes to raise money for our programs. I sang “In the Ghetto” and had a good time.

There was something odd that kept coming up, though. First, at rehearsal, the organizers (and fellow performers) who were listening asked me if I was going to “dress up as Elvis.” They suggested that I go to a thriftstore for a “costume” or maybe “slick my hair back.” Then after I sang on performance night, one of the judges declared, “folks, Elvis is alive and well!” Later that evening the district superintendent complemented me and told me I was “channeling the spirit of Elvis.” Continue reading Unflattering Imitation