Solmukohta 2020: Kaisa Kangas – Seaside Prison – Designing Larp for Wider Cultural Audiences

Solmukohta 2020: Kaisa Kangas – Seaside Prison – Designing Larp for Wider Cultural Audiences

Seaside Prison is a blackbox larp financially supported by Finnish Cultural Foundation, about life in Gaza. Lately, art and entertainment in general have been going towards interactive and immersive dimensions, and there has been interest towards the larp toolbox among, for example, performance artists. However, wider cultural audiences often find traditional larps hard to approach since they take a lot of time and require preparation. One of the ideas behind Seaside Prison is to create a package that is easier to approach. The larp is run in a theatre environment and employs sound, light, and video projection. Could this be a joint future for larp and theatre? In this talk we discuss how the larp was created, its aims, and the possible futures for larp in the culture establishment.

Q&A from the Original Viewing at Solmukohta 2020 Online Event

Anon 1: Theater as a familiar environment: So true! But does it involves expectations of stage-acting?

Kaisa Kangas No, we do not advertise it in that way, and we have workshop where we go into what larp is ๐Ÿ™‚


Anon 2: Though the building itself carries its own expectations – some people will go to a theatre simply expecting to sit and watch, and even if they know it’s a larp, they have to be onboarded in a way that takes into account the theatre environment’s expectations.

Kaisa Kangas Sure!

Kaisa Kangas But we don’t really have a stage or seats for audience, we start the workshop with people walking around. And advertise it as larp. ๐Ÿ™‚


Anon 1: I’m just wondering if you know any kind of (public?) space which is more neutral in expectations than theater but still a familiar (playful?) environment?

Kaisa Kangas I’m sure there are spaces that are more neutral. We use the theatre environment also because it is practical for us: theatres have the light and sound technique that we need, so we don’t have to install everything separately.


Anon 3: We’ve got our own black box room in Zagreb, if it helps.

Anon 2: I found the careful mapping of “alternate Finland” with “similar to real-world Gaza experience” really successful in Halat hisar; especially while people are very wary about appropriation or misusing suffering for “games”, I find this work to be really deeply rooted in an understanding of its source and of its limitations

Anon 4: The parallels to The Quota are really interesting – re setting it “at home” rather than appropriating.

Anon 5: The advantages of the setting being in your country also make is a lot easier for larp newbies for whom it can be daunting to prepare a lot in advance and on the other hand hard to get into character with too little context. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Anon 6: If anyone wants to do these kind of things in Gothenburg I most often have free of charge venue, but if you are selling tickets I need money for the venue (the money will go back to gaming culture) We have sound systems, but only old school lighting,

Anon 6: We also have several projectors and movable screens


Kaisa Kangas We sell tickets for two reasons:

– They cover part of the costs (tech and the spaces can be expensive);

– People feel more committed to come when they have paid (even a nominal) fee.


Anon 6: Kaisa Agree on the committed thing.

Anon 7: You don’t see it in the video, but we were literally blinded by bright light.

Anon 7: As in, couldn’t keep eyes open bright.

Anon 7: No need to cry out of emotion when your eyes well up from the photons. ๐Ÿ™‚

Anon 6: Crying now.

Anon 4: Welling up too. Wow.

Anon 1: There is a similar participatory theater in Hungary which is called the Escape and you play blindly as a refugee childen from a fictional country trying to get into Europe. Very chilling!

Anon 6: I’ve played something like that when I was a teen.


Anon 1: Can you elaborate? I’m interested!

Anon 3: Damn! I want to play this!


Anon 10: The lamps also produce a heatwave, which I think was a powerful and unusual addition to the visual effects.


Anon 8: I was in that test run and hearing the music and sounds again made me unexpectedly emotional <3

Anon 3: Anon 8: Haven’t been there but it got me too.


Anon 4: Inviting politicians would be a great idea too


Anon 7: Yes, the heat was real!


Anon 9: I have one tangential question – I’ve heard about a larp on similar theme (fleeing a war zone) which gave people this fake sense that now they know exactly how it is to be a refugee and they equate the larp experience with real, lived experiences. How to communicate with players to avoid this kind of… emotional appropriation, for the lack of better phrase?


Anon 6: I wouldn’t. They feel what they feel. They might be factually wrong, but experience over time will inform them. ๐Ÿ™‚


Anon 6: I mean, larp is something that does happen to your physical body and larping it will increase you emotional understanding of something much more than many other cultural forms.

Saying its the same experience will be a overstatement, but that is the way some people speak. I don’t think they will belittle people who have had the real experience after going to such a larp, instead they will have more empathy, which is a good thing.


Anon 9: I’m worried that it may lead to belittling though – and for some it might. While as a designer I’m not responsible for how people interpret my larps, I want to make sure I don’t encourage responses that are harmful or dismissive towards other people’s lived experiences.

Kaisa Kangas I think that when you have someone present who actually has that experience and whom they can discuss with at the debrief/ contextualisation, it usually puts things into perspective. At least I felt that was the effect in Halat hisar, when players could ask Palestinians questions about their lives. You kind of realise that you had your own experience but this other person is living it in real life and there’s a difference.


Anon 6: Anon 9: I’m thinking if I tell they “feel wrong” then I am guilty of belitteling the right there and then.

I don’t know Everything about my players, and why their inner World works that way or why they use language that way.


Anon 10: I think you get quite far as an organizer by just avoiding equating the larp with a real life experience when you introduce the larp. I would say the risk is quite insignificant when doing a larp in a black box theater with an adult player group.

But I do think the risk is real if doing a 360 degree simulation with say, teenagers, and organizers who want to exaggerate the impact of what they do.


Anon 9: Anon 6: that is a very good point and I need to let it sink in for me. Thank you!


Anon 6: Anon 9: I Always tro to make like a risk assesment and Think that the person in front of me also Counts. I know I’m super sensitive if someone tells me my feeling is wrong or my language (English isnt my mother tongue) is wrong.

And my level of what is “harm” is quite high. I see a difference between offence and harm.


Anon 11: Thank you <3 This is a great and important project, I’m looking forward to maybe getting to play it. I would loveto continue the discussion about larps for a wider audience, also in connection to yesterday’s talk about the commodification of larp and how we navigate all this.

Kaisa Kangas It’s a super-interesting topic!

I have to yet watch the commodification talk (yesterday, I was still busy editing video…)


Anon 8: My big question with this project is, how does it change the larp as an experience if/when a large part of the participants come with no or little background information on larping, and when the setting guides their perceptions and expectations towards theatre?

Kaisa Kangas That’s a good question! Our aim is to have some people with larp experience in all the runs so there would be some herd competence. And we spend a lot of time workshopping things. Originally, I planned to talk a bit more about stuff like this, but that was before the Tuesday run got cancelled, and it’s hard to talk about it when you don’t have the experience on how it worked.


Anon 8: I’m looking forward to your future talk about the things you learned from Seaside Prison <3


Anon 2: This was something [X] and I started with in 2009 – we came from theatre and knew we were advertising to a theatre audience, and we also designed very much with theatricality in mind. But there were so, so many things to be learned about a) getting your audience to actually buy a ticket in the first place, b) getting them all on the same page before the piece, c) getting them all on the same page once they’re in the room, d) hand-holding and making sure that they feel confident enough to keep playing until the end. A turn-key larp is an interesting product but does require massive amounts of excellent PR.


Anon 1: I’m quite interested in your best practices and tips in a) and b)!!!


Anon 8: Is “turn-key larp” the term for a larp where you just buy the ticket and show up, no preparations needed?

Kaisa Kangas We use a really long time for the workshop in our time slot. And we hope to have a right mix of people with larp experience and people with no larp experience in the run, so there is some herd competence. Also, having a clear structure helps.

Kaisa Kangas Also, was originally hoping to talk more about these aspects at SK, but can’t really talk about them without the experience of running the larp.


Anon 12: Anon 1: Maybe we should write a summary of out experiences some time, but maybe the most important thing (I think) was that the process of getting ready to take part in the piece was the piece itself – that it’s built in that in the beginning the engagement level is different and then it’s deepened through the process.


Anon 5:Low threshold larping is something I think is currently an underused medium of larp. Here, the Seaside Prison team has taken into account and removed or shrunk many obstacles that prevent new people from larping even in super interesting projects like this. I especially appreciate the fact that no preparation is needed yet you get a proper, sufficient background for the larp (due to a familiar setting and the extensive workshop.) It is also a significant advantage that the game can be played in the course of one evening, even after work. The fact that it is cheap is really important, too.

Kaisa Kangas Here’s a link to our webpage in case you want more information on future runs, etc! (Will be updated when we know that it will be possible to run the larp.)

Kaisa Kangas We also have a FB page.

This was part of the Solmukohta 2020 online program.

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