Larping Anthropology in the 1970s and 1980s: A Look Into the Birth of Performance Studies and Experiential Ethnography

Larping Anthropology in the 1970s and 1980s: A Look Into the Birth of Performance Studies and Experiential Ethnography

The historical precedents similar to Nordic larp range from ancient Egyptian ritual dramas (Pohjola 2015) to psychological techniques in the Austro-Hungarian Empire (Fatland 2016), from the war gaming associations of American campuses (Peterson 2012) in the 1970s to Hungarian children’s camps (Túri & Hartyándi 2022). Sometimes a trail of influence can be drawn, at others it is a question of parallel evolution. Yet, no matter how distant the relation, lessons can be learned across millennia by studying similar practices earlier on.

One such example is the fruit of the auspicious friendship between anthropologist Victor Turner and theatre director Richard Schechner. Their mutual fascination towards aspects of their respective fields which we might now consider larp-like led to the development of performance studies and experiential ethnography.

The work of both pioneers has been cited in works exploring the lineage of Nordic larp, such as Play To Love: Reading Victor Turner’s “Liminal to Liminoid, in Play, Flow, and Ritual; an Essay in Comparative Symbology” (Ericsson 2004), Chorus Novus: Or Looking for Participation in Classical Greece (Pohjola 2015), and The Classical Roots of Larp (Pohjola 2017). However, the interaction between Schechner and Turner and their experiments actually aligning with larp has not been discussed before.

Victor and Richard

Victor Turner (1920–1983) was a British cultural anthropologist best known for his work on symbols, rituals, and rites of passage. 

The focal point of his extensive field studies were the Ndembu, a Bantu ethnic group in Zambia, with whom he and his family lived for fifteen months in grass huts. Victor and his wife Edith, also an anthropologist, would study the Ndembu and home school their children. At nights Victor would read the freshly published The Lord of the Rings to the kids (Baer 2016). The Turners’ son, poet Frederick Turner describes his parents

They went there as traditional, structuralist, functionalist anthropologists with a Marxist background. They were both Atheists … Their primary interest was studying the structure of roles, statuses, and relationships – kinship – in the culture, and seeing them as a system for survival. They had expected to find that economic factors would be the primary forces in the culture, but they discovered, instead, that it was really ideology, ideas, religion, ritual, and ritual symbolism that were running the society… So my parents were struck with the power of religion and ritual in the Ndembu culture, and they became world renowned experts on those subjects (Baer 2016).

Meanwhile, Richard Schechner (1934–) is a theater director known for his radical interpretations of classical plays, the editor of The Drama Review, and a performance theorist with a major interest in rituals.

Schechner’s seminal work had been the participatory play Dionysus in 69 staged in New York. It was based on Euripides’s play The Bacchae but deconstructed the text, and invited the spectators to become active participants. Schechner says they wanted to transform an aesthetic event into a social event and managed to create an atmosphere in which participation ranged from clapping and singing to spectators stripping and joining in the ritual celebrations and dances” (Schechner, 1973).

If Dionysus in 69 sounds suspiciously like the rituals that take place at Nordic larps and larpers’ gatherings, it is no coincidence. Both Schechner and Turner have been a major influence on many larp designers and scholars. The three rules for participation Schechner (1973) detailed were:

  1. The audience is in a living space and a living situation. Things may happen to and with them as well as “in front” of them.
  2. When a performer invites participation, he must be prepared to accept and deal with the spectator’s reactions.
  3. Participation should not be gratuitous. 

These rules are not met by all contemporary immersive theatre productions, but they are met by most, if not all larps. 

When Turner was studying the Ndembu and when Schechner was transgressing Euripides, they had not yet met, but they were certainly aware of each other’s work. Schechner described their first meeting like this:

Turner and I first met face-to-face after he phoned me in the spring of 1977. “I am in New York to introduce a lecture by Clifford Geertz at Columbia,” Turner said. “Why not you and I go out for a beer after?” Knowing Turner’s writing, I was eager to meet him. When we did, what should have been a 45-minute getting-to-know-you chat turned into a 3+ hour seminar-of-two. Really, we were made for each other: inquisitive, good sense of humor, wide-ranging interests, not afraid to go out on a limb, rampant with appetites. And, of course, performance. What Vic called “process” I called performance. It was social drama, liminal-liminoid, communitas, ritual, and more. Vic’s mother was an actress; theatre was in his upbringing. He had an urgent belief in the efficacy of human enactment, and a delight in it also (Schechner 2020).

This first meeting quickly grew into a collaboration that lasted until Turner’s untimely death in 1983. They worked together on three conferences sponsored by The Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, and crucially, on a two-week workshop sponsored by School of the Arts, New York University (Schechner 2020).

The symposium in which they first collaborated, Cultural Frames and Reflections: Ritual, Drama and Spectacle, was held at a castle in Austria. The symposium was “a performance in itself” (Stoeltje 1978, 51), bringing together “anthropologists, literary critics, folklorists, a historian, a semiotician and impresario, a dramatist and stage director, novelist, poets, and an ethnopoetician – participant observers and observer-participants preoccupied with many kinds of cultural performance” (MacAloon 1984b, 2). Interwoven with the conference papers were poetry readings, dramatic techniques, storytelling, and viewings of Fellini’s La Strada and the film version of Dionysus in ’69, the avant-garde play that had established Schechner’s reputation in theater. … the symposium altered the models of reality that the participants brought to the table in the first place (Stoeltje, 451), and each of them returned to their work at least slightly transformed (Brownell & Frese, 2020).

The Groundbreaking Workshop

The symposium resulted in a workshop which was held at Schechner’s Performance Garage in Soho, where Schechner’s company, The Performance Group, had given groundbreaking performances such as Makbeth, Tooth of Crime, and Dionysus in 69. This summer workshop was a key point in the development of their art.

Schechner invited Victor and Edith Turner, anthropologist Alexander Alland, and sociologist Erving Goffman to join himself and 27 participants to take part in a two-week workshop (Schechner, 2020). The participants were graduate students, professors, performers, and devisers of performance, and numbered 16 women and 11 men. 

The participants had applied based on an announcement where the workshop was described like this: 

This is an intensive workshop – two sessions daily, 5 days per week with all faculty participating in most of the sessions so that there will be maximum interaction among faculty and among faculty and students. The workshop will explore the interface between ritual and theatre. […] The aim of the workshop is to shatter boundaries between performance and social sciences and between art and cognitive studies. […] participants will be selected to ensure a balance between artists, scholars and scientists (Schechner, 2020). 

The workshop turned out to be groundbreaking for the participants and for the fields they presented. It also seems to have many parallels to early forms of American larp and quasi-larp that were already in existence in the late 1970s such as Society for Creative Anachronism, the Model United Nations, and Society for Interactive Literature.

According to Schechner (2020), they “talked, performed, partied (some), took a weekend trip to Baltimore for a theatre festival, and dove deep into each other’s ideas and felt experiences.” Victor Turner himself describes the workshop in great detail in his article “Dramatic Ritual/Ritual Drama: Performative and Reflexive Anthropology” (Turner, 1979):

Even the best of ethnographic films fail to communicate much of what it means to be a member of the society filmed. … How, then, may this be done? One possibility may be to turn the more interesting portions of ethnographies into playscripts, then to act them out in class, and finally to turn back to ethnographies armed with the understanding that comes from “getting inside the skin” of members of other cultures, rather than merely “taking the role of the other” in one’s own culture (Turner, 1979).

Turner emphasizes the difference between playing a character of one’s own culture and playing a different culture altogether. Later on, he would also find joy and enlightenment in the former. 

This is similar language that is used of playing characters in larps: “Most players report having the phenomenological experience of immersion in role-playing games, using phrases such as ‘losing myself in the game’ or ‘the character took over’” (Bowman, 2018).

Turner continues: 

…at Schechner’s summer institute, I tried to involve anthropology and drama students in the joint task of writing scripts for and performing ethnographies. It seemed best to choose parts of classical ethnographies that lent themselves to dramatic treatment […] But time being short (we had only two weeks), I had to fall back upon my own ethnography both because I knew it best, and because I had already, to some extent, written a script for a substantial amount of field data in the form I have called social drama (Turner, 1979).

The “script” in question was two social dramas Turner described in his book Schism and Continuity in An African Society (1968), describing life in the Ndembu village. 

Schechner sees the actor, in taking the role of another — provided by the playscript — as moving, under the intuitive and experienced eye of the director/producer, from the “not-me” (the blueprinted role) to the “not-not-me” (the realized role), and he sees the movement itself as constituting a kind of liminal phase in which all kinds of experiential experiments are possible, indeed mandatory (Turner, 1979).

The “not-me” or “the blueprinted role” would traditionally mean a role described in the play text, and here, a person from the ethnographical description of village life and ritual. In a larp context, it would refer to a character description provided by the larp designers. The “not-not-me” or “the realized role” in a larp would be the larper’s interpretation of the character, the character as it is actually played.

Turner uses the word “liminal” a lot. It comes from the Latin word limes, meaning “border”. Liminal events happen when crossing a border, entering the world of the ritual or enacted social drama or larp. Participants leave behind their everyday identities and “absorb a new ‘liminal’ identity for the duration of the ritual, and relate to each other through that identity. … [O]ther participants have a similar role, and only see each other through that role” (Pohjola, 2015).

To get things started, the group had read the social dramas by themselves, and then Turner read them out loud, offering necessary commentary along the way. The dramas dealt with “Ndembu village politics, competition for headmanship, ambition, jealousy, sorcery, the recruiting of factions, and the stigmatizing of rivals” (Turner, 1979). These are key components in many a larp plot, as well.

But how does one turn a larp script or a social drama script into something that lives and breathes?

When I had finished reading the drama accounts, the actors in the workshop told me at once that they needed to be “put in the right mood”; to “sense the atmospherics” of Ndembu village life. One of them had brought some records of Yoruba music, and, though this is a different musical idiom from Central African music, I led them into a dancing circle, showing them to the best of my limited, arthritic ability, some of the moves of Ndembu dancing (Turner, 1979).

The second social drama contained a name inheritance ritual (Kuswanika ijina), and the group decided to try to recreate it with the limited props available at the Performance Garage. This impulse turned the workshop into what seems very much like a larp festival. The ritual 

…marked the temporary end of a power struggle between the stigmatized candidate for headmanship, Sandombu, and Mukanza, the successful candidate. Sandombu had been exiled from the village because he was accused of killing his cousin Nyamuwaha through sorcery. Sandombu had been gone for a year and sympathies had turned for him. In a b plot there was illness in the village and at the same time many dreamed of Nyamuwaha. The Ndembu interpreted this to mean that Nyamuwaha’s shade was disturbed by the troubles in the village, and used this as a pretext to invite Sandombu back to ritually plant a tree that would appease Nyamuwaha. Officially the ritual would involve Nyamuwaha’s eldest daughter Manyosa inheriting her name, but this was the context for it (Turner, 1979).

As any amateur game master would, Turner cast himself in the key role, playing Sandombu. He then had to find someone to play Manyosa. “Someone whom we shall call Becky, a professional director of drama, volunteered” (Turner, 1979).

I asked Becky to give me the name of a recently deceased close female relative of an older generation who had meant much in her life. Considerably moved, she mentioned her mother’s sister Ruth. I then prayed in Chilunda to “village ancestors.” Becky sat beside me before the “shrine,” her legs extended in front of her, her head bowed in the Ndembu position of ritual modesty. I then anointed the shrine-tree with the improvised mpemba, white clay, symbol of unity with the ancestors and the living community, and drew three lines with it on the ground, from the shrine to myself. I then anointed Becky by the orbits of her eyes, on the brow, and above the navel. I declared her to be “Nswana-Ruth,” “successor of Ruth”, in a way identified with Ruth, in another replacing her, though not totally, as a structural persona. I repeated the anointing process with other members of the group, not naming them after deceased kin but joining them into the symbolic unity of our recently formed community of teachers and students (Turner, 1979).

The workshop participants had discussed the ritual enactment for hours and agreed it was the turning point after which they understood both the factions and scapegoating within the village and also the sense of the village belonging together, as well as the affectual structure of the social drama (Turner, 1979). The physical and mental motions enhanced their collective and individual understanding of the conflict situation.

This was their first foray into “larp”, and it led to many more. They wanted to stage the ritual dramas in their entirety, not just individual  rituals. One question was whether this would be a realistic larp or a fantasy larp: “some events … would be treated realistically, naturalistically; but the world of cultural beliefs, particularly those connected with sorcery and the ancestor cult, would be treated symbolically” (Turner, 1979). They talked about making a film to be shown in the background. Whether the end goal of the enactment would be to perform to a regular theatre audience or for the participants to understand the culture by exploring the rituals, was also up in the air.

It is clear from his writing that after these exercises Turner himself started to strongly identify with and root for the character he played: “In capitalistic America, or socialistic Russia or China, a political animal like Sandombu might have thrived. In Ndembu village politics, however, a person with ambition, but procreatively sterile and without many matrilinear kin, was almost from the start a doomed man” (Turner, 1979).

The workshop was over before they could portray all the social dramas they had planned, but a spark was ignited, something that would continue in further conferences, and in the works of Schechner, the Turners, and many of the students who were present. “There is nothing like acting the part of a member of another culture in a crisis situation characteristic of that culture to detect inauthenticity in the reporting usually made by Westerners and to raise problems undiscussed or unresolved in the ethnographic narrative,” Turner writes (1979). 

The workshop was a turning point for Schechner, as well:

I made more than 50 pages of notes. These tell me of vigorous discussions among Turner, Goffman, Alland, and I — especially during the [three] days Goffman was there. … Turner was a transgressive superstar for sure. The takeaway, 41 years later, from that workshop is a flash of memories. Sitting in a circle on the second floor of The Performing Garage in SoHo. Participating in, evoking, and responding to Vic’s ebullience, brilliance, jouissance, and appetite to go where few if any anthropologists have ventured. This in contrast to Goffman’s profound skepticism and irony and Alland’s academic probity. And to recall that Edie [anthropologist Edith Turner] was there with Vic, coaching and coaxing, sometimes critiquing, never passive, a player (Schechner, 2020).

Subsequent larps, I mean, enacted social dramas

After the two-week workshop in Soho, Victor and Edith Turner kept exploring what is essentially larping. With New York University drama students, they performed Central African and Afro-Brazilian rituals, “aided by drummers drawn from the appropriate cultures or related cultures” (Turner & Turner, 1982).

The Turners continued these experiments at the University of Virginia where they taught anthropology. The social dramas were enacted in the large basement of the Turners’ home in Charlottesville.

Our aim was not to develop a professional group of trained actors for the purposes of public entertainment. It was, frankly, an attempt to put students more fully inside the cultures they were reading about in anthropological monographs. … What we were trying to do was to put experiential flesh on these cognitive bones (Turner & Turner, 1982).

They had already moved away from the constraints of stage play with an audience and clearly were only interested in the experience itself. In a way, ritual drama turned into larp, showcasing the similarities between the two forms.

The Turners’ own analysis of what went on has been contradicted by the experiences of some of their students who have since become anthropology professors in their own right:

I was not a member of the inner circle of faculty and graduate students who prepared and organized the reenactments. … I had the impression that Vic was less interested in how the reenactments complemented ethnographic texts and more interested in whether the ritual itself had an impact on the participants even if they were not immersed in the culture from which it came (Brownell, 2020). 

This sounds very much like a newbie coming to their first larp and feeling left out of key plots and social cliques. But also like someone recognizing a nascent art form and wanting to make it even better by inventing their own way of doing it better. This, to me, echoes the sentiments of the early Nordic larp scene in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

The social dramas enacted included the Cannibal Dance of the Kwakiutl, a First Nations group in Canada, a ritual of the Barok people from Papua New Guinea, the midwinter ceremony of the Mohawk of Canada, and a completely made-up fake ritual created by students. Douglas Dalton, then a student who participated in the Cannibal Dance and now a Professor of Anthropology at Longwood University, commented after the experience: 

As the ceremony progressed I felt not so much the antagonistic rivalry that was overtly expressed in the ceremony between the bear clan and the killer whale clan, but the fact that we were collectively doing something really important—something essentially correct. There was so much power flowing all over the place in the longhouse (the Charlottesville basement) that night! The spirits were really at work that evening and we had to keep everything in line so all that power wouldn’t destroy everything! (Turner & Turner, 1982).

These narratives bear a striking relationship to people coming back from their first larp and wanting to explain everything that happened and flailing at articulating just how meaningful it all was.

A Virginian Wedding

It was not all about exploring “the other”, however. Richard Schechner famously sees almost every mundane task as something that can be viewed as performance, echoing Erving Goffman’s previous observations (Goffman, 1956). In that spirit, one of the Turners’ graduate students, Pamela Frese, designed and ran a performance about a contemporary Virginian wedding in 1981. This was a topic of her own anthropological studies.

The entire anthropology department were cast as participants. The Turners played the bride’s parents. According to the Turners, “the bride and groom were identified primarily because they were not in the least a ‘romantic item’”(Turner & Turner, 1982). According to Frese herself, the opposite is true: “[the students playing the bride and groom] did joke about this afterward since they really were a ‘thing’ as my students would say today. The Turners apparently didn’t realize this at the time, but their relationship was why I asked them to play the role in the first place” (Frese, 2020). And indeed, the bride’s player had reservations about her own marriage. Talk about playing close to home.

The other participants played wedding guests with roles such as “bride’s sister”, “groom’s ex-girlfriend”, “groom’s grandfather”, “bride’s drunken uncle”, and so on. The minister was a graduate student of Religious Studies. A relationship map was pinned up in the department office several weeks before the event and people started filling out their loosely sketched characters and relations. 

One of the faculty members declared, as father of the groom, that his “side” of the wedding represented $23 million of “old New England money”. … Victor Turner was an old proletarian Scots immigrant who made vulgar money by manufacturing a cheap, but usable, plastic garbage can, and who quoted Robbie Burns, often irrelevantly (Turner & Turner, 1982).

Note that the Turners do not write that Victor played the part of a proletarian immigrant but that he was a proletarian immigrant. The character had taken over.

The wedding ceremony took place in the Turner’s basement which this time had been turned into a church and was followed by a reception upstairs with real champagne and festive foods (Frese, 2020). All the guests had brought gifts to the happy couple, presented by hand-made item cards. As the evening progressed, some stayed in their characters continuously while others reverted to being out-of-character and only “larping” when something exciting happened. 

Others were taken over, “possessed” by what Grathoff and Handelman have called “symbolic types” — priest, bride, bridegroom, and so on, in the domain of ritual liminality; Drunken Uncle, Pitiful Lean and Slippered Pantaloon in the play domain (the “bride’s grandfather” — a student played this senile type; in the middle of the service he shouted, “Battlestations! Battlestations!” reliving old wars) (Turner & Turner, 1982).

The Turners worried that such improvisations disrupted the social drama, as they were not a part of the ritual script. Frese disagrees: 

And why did another graduate student and friend, acting as a senile old man waving his cane, suddenly erupt with angry outbursts exchanged with invisible people during the ceremony? … They were endangering the success of the event!! But were they? Now in hindsight, these unplanned, improvisational acts actually created a more successful ritual performance than I originally planned and illustrate well what liminality can engender (Frese, 2020).

Indeed, much more takes place at a wedding than what is officially described in the program. Without such human elements any event would feel thin and theoretical instead of lived-in and real. Since everyone is the main character of their main story at larps, we rarely have an issue with this. And clearly the same is true of enacted social dramas, too, even if the Turners at first did not recognize it.

One can imagine how intimidating it can be for a student to run a larp at superstar faculty  members’ home and cast them in it. But once play starts, such social distinctions disappear: 

One of the most obvious dimensions of this liminal experience was the reversal of social roles that emerged through the performance of the ritual and the embodiment of reversals as faculty and students came together as “fictive kin,” temporarily erasing hierarchical power relations within the department (Frese, 2020).


The Turners’ method of performative anthropology has drawn its share of valid criticism since the 1980s. Issues such as cultural appropriation, emotional safety, ethical research, research on human subjects, elites using the power of ritual to further their own interests, and the transformational power of ritual, are all valid concerns (see e.g., Brownell & Frese, 2020). Such criticism is familiar to many larp organizers, as well. And like many larpers, the field of experiential ethnography has taken this criticism to heart and learned from it: 

[Professor Mark Pedelty’s] answer to the potentially troubling dynamic is to incorporate the problems of cultural appropriation and ethnocentrism into the course, making them central both to inquiry and to the analysis of the performance itself (p. 250). We also advocate for the explicit discussion of these issues in preparation for a classroom performance as well as in the post-performance debriefing and written analysis by the students (Brownell & Frese, 2020).

One now common strategy of mitigating cultural appropriation is planning re-enacted social dramas with members of the groups being studied. Or having international students play the parts of elders when performing a ritual they themselves had been a part of (Brownell & Frese, 2020).

An interesting possibility for larp designers wary of cultural appropriation but interested in exploring real-life cultures other than their own is to, instead of avoiding those topics altogether, to deal with the question in the workshops surrounding the larp or within the larp itself. And possibly collaborate with members of those cultures when designing and running the larp, as was done at least in the Palestinian-Finnish collaboration Halat hisar (Finland, 2013). Kaisa Kangas (2014) wrote, after having played the ritual-heavy hunter-gatherer larp KoiKoi (Norway 2014): 

For me, KoiKoi was successful as a playful attempt at experimental anthropology, and I got many new thoughts and ideas about culture. However, we should be cautious. It would be tempting to make conclusions about real-world hunter-gatherers based on the game. … That is nothing but an illusion. You don’t learn about real cultures by playing larps inspired by them. Definitely not if there are no members of these cultures in the organization teams. There is only one way to really come to understand a different culture: you learn the language, you go there, you live the life. … The ankoi culture doesn’t allow us to draw conclusions about real hunter-gatherers. However, it can become a mirror to reflect our own, industrialized 21th century Nordic culture, and that is valuable by itself. There lies the merit of experimental anthropology as a larp genre.

It seems real-life anthropologists still walking in the Turners’ footsteps are less skeptical of the possibilities of larping ethnographies than Kangas was. On the other hand, the ankoi in KoiKoi were a fictional culture based on several stone age societies, not a serious attempt at a specific ethnography.


The seismic waves caused by Victor Turner’s and Richard Schechner’s collaboration are still felt today. According to Susan Brownell and Pam Frese, their “pioneering blend of theater and anthropology gave birth to performance studies and reinvigorated other disciplines, such as folklore, communications, linguistics, and education” (Brownell & Frese, 2020).

Many of the Turners’ former students now use these methods in teaching anthropology at universities across the United States, sometimes even using the term “role-playing” (Brownell & Frese, 2020). They may not call it edularp, but they might just as well. Similarly, a week at Østerskov Efterskole where students larp ancient Romans and read all about Rome to better get into character, sounds very much like Turnerian experiential ethnography.

Richard Schechner’s (2002) introductory book Performance Studies – An Introduction is mandatory reading in theatre academies across the world. His theories have directly influenced many high-profile Nordic larps, such as Hamlet (Sweden 2002) and Mellan himmel och hav (Sweden 2003, Eng. Between Heaven and Sea). Their work is also central in our understanding of the precursors of larp in history and current larp-like practices in different cultures all over the globe. Martin Ericsson muses, “[h]ad Nordic-style live-action role-playing been around in New York in the sixties, it would have been the natural focus for their studies and would have been hailed as the key, the missing link, in their quest to understand humanity’s constant creation of performances” (Ericsson, 2004).

In the end, the friendship between Victor Turner and Richard Schechner lasted for only six years. Turner died of a heart attack in 1983. There were two funerals, attended by Turner’s family, friends, students, colleagues, and of course, Schechner. The first was a requiem at a Catholic church, the other a basement ritual based on a Ndembu chief’s funeral ceremony. 

[Edith Turner] went into the [Ndembu seclusion] hut and we collectively performed the rite for the passing of a headman. I could hear Edie weeping, wailing, suffering her enormous loss. Outside, people were telling jokes, singing, dancing, describing Vic, enticing Edie to step from her isolation and rejoin her community. To transform mourning into celebration; to combine the two; to enact the ritual process. Wife of 40 years, mother of five, anthropologist, and now widow, Edie brought herself and the Victor she both lost and incorporated from the hut back into the world (Schechner, 2020).

Edith Turner and Richard Schechner continued their collaboration for decades, delving further into the strange liminal realm between theatre and anthropology. I end this essay with a comment from Victor Turner after his first larp-like experience: 

The group or community does not merely “flow” in unison at these performances, but, more actively, tries to understand itself in order to change itself (Turner, 1979).


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Abdulkarim, Fatima,  Faris Arouri,  Kaisa Kangas,  Riad Mustafa, Juhana Pettersson, Maria  Pettersson & Mohamad Rabah. 2013. Halat hisar. Finland.

Ericsson, Martin, Anna Ericson,  Christopher Sandberg & Martin Brodén. 2002. Hamlet. Sweden: Interaktiva Uppsättningar.

Raaum, Margrete, Tor Kjetil Edland & Eirik Fatland. 2014. KoiKoi. Norway.

Schechner, Richard. 1968. Dionysus in 69. Based on the play Bacchae by Euripides, translated by William Arrowsmith. United States, New York City: The Performance Group.

Wieslander, E. & Katarina Björk. 2003. Mellan himmel och hav. Sweden.

Unnamed re-enactment of a Virginian wedding. 1981. USA, Charlottesville: Pamela Frese. 

This article has been reprinted with permission from the Solmukohta 2024 book. Please cite as:

Pohjola, Mike. 2024. “Larping Anthropology in the 1970s and 1980s –  A Look Into the Birth of Performance Studies and Experiential Ethnography.” In Liminal Encounters: Evolving Discourse in Nordic and Nordic Inspired Larpedited by Kaisa Kangas, Jonne Arjoranta, and Ruska Kevätkoski, 266-280. Helsinki, Finland: Ropecon ry.

Cover photo: Photo of  a tabla drum by Swaroop B Deshpande on Unsplash. Image has been cropped.

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Mike Pohjola is a Finnish novelist, trans-media developer, game designer and entrepreneur. He has written and run dozens of larps, and several historical novels, YA books, theatre plays, and tabletop roleplaying games. His Master's Thesis Chorus Novus tried to understand the chorus of Greek tragedy through the lens of participatory art. He is also known for the Manifesto of the Turku School, published in 2000. He has founded two award-winning companies, that together have won an International Emmy Award, two Interactive Rockies, and a Prix Europa. Pohjola himself has been presented with the Finnish roleplaying scene lifetime award the Golden Dragon in 2010. Pohjola is a frequent speaker at media, fantasy, anime, role-playing conferences around the world including Poland, France, United States, Norway, Germany, and Italy. His topics include participation, trans-media, the roots of postmodern storytelling in prehistoric rituals, using games to change world, and almost driving his wife insane with a birthday game that turned into a human experiment. He has also designed the Age of the Tempest role-playing game, aimed for kids and beginners. The game is sold in book stores and toy stores around Finland, and will soon be published in English. Currently Pohjola is working on the environmental Baltic Warriors project. It will have seven larps and seven debates in seven Baltic Sea coastal cities. It is a trans-media story about the eutrophication of the sea... and zombie vikings.