“Ask Again Later” & Improv

This past Saturday at the Gray Center for Arts and Inquiry, I participated in the “Ask Again Later” LARP with approximately 35 other players, made up of students from both UChicago and DePaul. When entering the gamespace, I did not immediately experience any need to improvise outside of typical interaction, including general facts like name, school affiliation, etc. However, once the storytellers of the game suggested that the players begin to introduce ourselves in character to one another, I recognized a sense of needing to take on a more explicit “yes, and” orientation to interacting with others, particularly given that each player had created their character individually and prior to entering the game space.

In Vicker’s analysis of the yes, and approach, he notes that,  “Resistance (or negativity) is an attitude that says, “I don’t want to be here,” while acceptance (or receptivity) says, “I welcome this experience” (4). In the case of the LARP, I recognized within the first few interactions that by taking on a “yes, and” way of interacting with the other players, I began to form in-play relationships that would be essential to being able to participate in the game experience itself. For example, when one player noted that they worked at the herbal shop, I utilized Vicker’s approach to expand upon that comment by noting that I had appreciated working with their business for the last several years, resulting in a codified and official in-game relationship. I found this particularly interesting as incorporating the “yes, and” stance resulted in both the development of the narrative as well as the cultivation of in-game communities.

I further found this specific instance to harken to Sawyer’s notion of problem-finding, in which the players constantly searched for a multitude of “problems” in the game. In this case, the player who indicated that they worked at the herbal shop did not mention that they needed external suppliers for the shop, nor was it previously determined that the herbal shop would need external partners. However, this opportunity allowed me to contribute to the narrative in a problem-finding sense, resulting in an entirely new dimension of the herbal shop unfolding. Resultantly, I encountered an immersive moment of problem-finding as both a collaborative and emergent experience.

It is interesting here too to consider Sawyer’s work on the importance of the audience, particularly considering that quotes, “Both Dewey and Collingwood emphasize the collaborations between the artist and their audiences, rather than the collaborations between artists that are the essence of improvisational theater” (156). LARPs appear to be especially interesting in this regard in that, while all players are technically playing the game throughout the game sequence, there is also an aspect of taking on a dual audience-player identity. For example, while embodying my character in her fullness, I simultaneously experienced audience-like moments in which I and other players within my group would observe the happenings of other scenes occurring around us. We (the satanic group) would then often utilize the information or sensations from these scenes (such as the growing fervor of the anti-satanic group) to inform our own decision-making (a more vigorous determination to undercut the anti-satanic group). The storytellers, however, did mention that in other LARPs scenes often take place in different rooms in which this sort of observation does not occur, yet it allowed for an interesting agent-observer duality in this scenario.

Beyond these few examples, the LARP appeared to embody an immersive and necessitated improvisational approach — one which allowed for a great deal of “yes, and” interactions and also benefited from the flexible structure of the storytellers. As a first-time participant, I felt a heightened sense of “yes, and”, problem-finding, and other improvisational moments, especially due to a sense of lacking a larger repertoire of ready-mades for this sort of experience (in contrast to the experience of everyday life). I am interested in how this was experienced by other first-time players as well, particularly in assessing how often and how comfortably these tools were executed.