Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent.
A stage show can bring glamour and ambience to a larp but can also be a way to make your fellow players squirm in their chairs as the stories told on stage hit them in the heart. In this practical tool I want to give hands-on advice on how to enhance larp stage shows and what we all can do both as performers and as audience members.
There are a wide variety of ways to use artistic performances to enhance a larp. In this tool I will be focusing on what can be called the cabaret style. By that I mean shows that contain a series of different acts performed by the characters during ingame time.
There are a lot of other ways to include stage shows in a larp but for the sake of space the focus will be on this kind. But you can also apply this practical tool to other kinds of performances.
What can I do?
A stage show is a very complicated process with a lot of factors. A very important thing to remember is that everyone is involved. No matter if you are a performer, an audience member, technician, host or something else, a stage show is made in cooperation. Everyone is giving and everyone is receiving.
How can I contribute as a performer?
Three questions worth asking that will tell you much about your acts contribution are these:
- What can this act bring to my character’s storyline?
- What can this act bring to other players’ storylines?
- What can this act bring to the larp’s storyline?
What feelings do you want to evoke with your performance? What is the theme of the larp or act? This doesn’t necessarily mean you should always lean towards it. One needs a little darkness to appreciate the light. If the theme is despair, you can go for hope. If it is joy, perhaps go for sorrow. By doing the opposite, the theme can be enhanced by the contrast.
A good rule of thumb here can be borrowed from The Eurovision Song Contest. The rules there stipulate that a performance cannot be longer than three minutes. At this length, it is easier to hold the audience’s attention. It also helps to keep the length of the whole show down. This is not a hard rule, but if the piece is any longer, you should seriously consider pruning. Let the music fade out sooner or cut out the second verse.
Ebb and flow
Most acts will have a flow. Three minutes on one note would be exhausting rather than entertaining. Analyze your number. See where it goes and try to adjust your energy. Most songs build up for the first chorus and then go down for the second verse, but still at a higher level than the first verse. Work with your pattern rather than against it, and remember that if you start at 100% there is nowhere to go but down. For good lessons on how to do this, binge performances from the Eurovision Song Contest. They are usually constructed with this in mind.
Nothing exists in a vacuum and that goes for performance arts too. It can be important to ask oneself what associations the act one has chosen might stir up amongst other players. If one hears My Heart Will Go On, it calls up Titanic and the late 90s. These tags can be about time periods, storylines, movies, historical events or almost anything else. Take a moment and think about what baggage your act comes with and if it will enhance or detract from what you are after. This is especially true when it comes to subject. You might think that a song directly about the subject of the larp is perfect for its show, but most songs about a specific time period were written long after, and are looking back at the time in question. This can be really immersion-breaking for people and not something I recommend.
How can I contribute in the audience?
Be a good sport and co-player
Playing up the performance is always a good idea. Unless otherwise advised, the default ingame assumption should be that the show is great, regardless of the player’s skill level. We are not all great performers, but our characters can be.
The show is a part of the larp, not a break. As mentioned before, a stage show is a field of interaction. It’s easy to let go of your character and just enjoy the show, or just sit there and wait for it to end. But the show can, and should, be an opportunity to explore your character. How would what’s happening on stage make them react and interact? A snickering comment for their benchmate? A hand around the shoulder of a loved one? Go for it! Art can tell us so much about ourselves in real life. And so it can do within the boundaries of the larp.
Dare to leave and dare to return
This goes hand in hand with the one above. Does a number make you squirm and want to run? Does it give you an urge to seek out someone else for a showdown or a snuggle in the back? Do it. Often we don’t want to be rude to the performers putting in the effort to do the stage numbers. But there is usually plenty of audience to go around. Just try to be polite. Perhaps use the applause for your exit. Similarly, return when it feels right. Be sensitive to those who leave by giving them room to do it discreetly, and move in on the empty seats so people arriving later can (re)join the audience without a fuss.
Disrupting an act can be very bad form but there are plenty of other things you can do. Where have you seated yourself? If you want to engage or interact try to take a seat at the front. If you are uncomfortable with touching or getting things from the stage on your clothes, place yourself further away. Dare to trust the performer and the cues they give.
Build up your appreciation
As mentioned above, a stage number usually has a flow. As an audience member, you should try to keep tabs on that and work with it. If everyone cheers at the top of their lungs and stands up at the first chorus then the feel of the number can fizzle out rather than having a crescendo. Withholding appreciation isn’t necessarily a bad thing but a way to have something left to give later.
Use the performance for your play
Just because the stage show is over doesn’t mean it’s effect has to be. Was there a love song that hit you or your character hard? Then perhaps go out and make amends with your ingame lover. Did something fill you with despair? Reach out for your friends to help you through it. Did something make you happy? Why not buy the performer a drink and praise them. Whatever the stage show gave you, pay it forward. That way the show becomes more than a window in the larp and instead becomes a source of momentum that can last and keep on giving.
A show can be a great giver to a larp, and all participants can contribute to make the most of it. Let’s work together to make these moments unforgettable and something that will enhance our experiences!