Playing With Collaborative Structures | YINZERSPIELEN & TURBO PASCAL
Starting in January 2013, Yinzerspielen (NYC: Patrick Berger, Christina Kruise, Cory Tamler) embarked on a journey with Berlin-based theater collective Turbo Pascal (Veit Merkle, Frank Oberhäußer, Eva Plischke) to try to answer the question: How can the tender relationships required for ensemble-based theatrical explorations be fostered over the Internet?
Before beginning their collaboration, Yinzerspielen and Turbo Pascal had several points of intersection:
- Both are collectives of three theater artists who work fluidly within and beyond the collective.
- Both regularly invite a wider range of artists to collaborate on individual projects.
- Both are interested in work that explores issues of space/place, from the very public (Da Drüben; Unlisted) to the deeply intimate and private (X Wohnungen; #aptplays).
Because of these commonalities, they saw a high likelihood of compatibility between our ensembles; but they had never worked together before. This, and the geographic distance between them, made the two collectives an appropriate choice for examining the development of a long-distance relationship between ensembles.
From January through May, the two collectives met regularly online, using Google+ Hangouts and email as their primary tools. They played games, gave one another prompts, and did everything they could to get to know one another.
In May 2013, Yinzerspielen and Turbo Pascal met in Berlin—in person, for the first time.
The fruit of our labor
The games in this book are the result of their four months of explorations. Some are intended to be played “in person.” Some can be played long-distance. All work in some way to develop trust between people or groups of people; to examine and make visible the ways in which collectives and collaborations are structured; and to turn the challenge of distance into an asset.
These games are intended for:
- Groups that work collaboratively
- Groups that are interested in working collaboratively
- Collaborators who work over distance
- Two collectives/groups in the early stages of collaboration
- Collectives that have identified the need for structural shifts
…and others for whom collaboration, with all its particular challenges and rewards, is necessary or desirable. Though the games are grounded in a tradition of theatrical play, they were developed as responses to the challenges of collective/collaborative work as identified through conversations with individuals in fields as diverse as publishing and dance, education and missions work. We hope they’ll be useful to an even more diverse array of collaboratively-minded people, and welcome comments, criticisms, and additions.
- Hat Trade
- Walk and Talk
- Amateur Oracle
- Guess My Role
- Aunt Nan’s Sunday Super
Do you have games or exercises to contribute to this list?
Email Cory at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll add it.
We’ll maintain an updated list at: www.yinzerspielen.org/gamebook
This project is made possible, in part, through a grant from the Network of Ensemble Theater’s Touring & Exchange Network (NET/TEN), supported by lead funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation.
An identity switch to help players gain fresh perspective on themselves and their work.
Can be used by: Individuals; multiple collectives of individuals
Addresses: Projected identity; online presence; roles within a group; imagining possibilities for an individual; breaking the ice
Long distance or local?: Both
Prep: Players research their assigned double using any means available to them (online presence, talking to mutual acquaintances, etc.) other than directly talking to the person whose identity they’re taking.
Play: The doubles meet and interview one another. Interview questions are not predetermined. When a player is being interviewed, s/he takes on the personality of her/his double. When a player is interviewing, s/he is a “neutral” character—a conduit for questions, as far as that’s possible. If a player being interviewed doesn’t know the answer to a question, s/he should answer as s/he thinks her/his double would answer. A player may not say “I don’t know.” Otherwise, anything goes.
Variation: Two collectives or groups switch identities. When the interview happens, it’s conducted as a group interview (and the interviewers also ask questions as a group).
Walk and Talk
Using a location to give structure to a discussion.
Can be used by: Groups of strangers, groups of collaborators and collectives
Addresses: Structured discussion, breaking the ice, physicalizing discussion
Long distance or local: Local (long-distance variation described above)
Prep: Pens and slips of paper needed. To start, everyone writes down a question or prompt on a slip of paper (optional: settle on a set number of questions/prompts and on themes/main ideas to help focus the discussions). Divide the number of players by two: that’s the number of distinct walking paths you’ll need to identify before play begins. Paths should take an approximately equal amount of time to complete and should start and end in the same location.
Play: Divide the group into pairs. Each pair draws one slip of paper with a question on it from a hat. The pairs then set out on the designated walking paths, each pair taking a different path. During the walk, the pairs use the question/prompt to open up a discussion. That prompt should help start the discussion; each pair should feel empowered to interpret the prompt as appropriate, as well as deviate from the prompt if a rich topic comes up. Once the first group returns, new pairs are formed and the new groups pick new prompts/questions to take on a new walking path (if possible).
Turbo Pascal chooses a route
- Layer on prompts that require the participants to use the space more readily: interpret the people walking by, find a color you enjoy, etc.
- Long-distance variation: Use specific time constraints to construct breakout Skype/Google+ Hangout pairs, and a Google document to assign pairs the questions/prompts.
Found objects and structures become oracles with something important to say about players’ futures.
Can be used by: Groups/collectives of individuals
Addresses: Goals and trajectory; group vocabulary building; group dynamic; ways each person sees the whole
Long distance or local?: Local (long-distance variation described above)
Prep: Pick a site that’s likely to provide you with plenty of material and space to wander (a public park, community garden, construction site…). A mixture of natural and man-made objects is ideal. (Optional: Identify, broadly, topics/issues you want to address when it comes to the future of players’ collective, collaboration, or individual careers.)
Play: As a group, players wander the game site. Any player may at any time stop the group, point out an object/collection of objects/structure etc., and ask the group, “What does this say about my future?” or “What does this say about our future?” or “What does this say about Patrick’s future?” As a group, the players analyze the oracle to discover its message. The message can change/evolve.
Yinzerspielen and Turbo Pascal play “Amateur Oracle” at Tempelhof Park in Berlin.
PLAYER A: (indicating a wide field of long grass marked off by yellow CAUTION tape) What does this say about our future?
PLAYER B: From this level, from eye level, it just looks like a bunch of tall grass…
PLAYER C: Because it’s hard for us as a collective to see what we’re doing right now, we’re too close.
PLAYER B: When you fly above the field, though, or you’re a bird looking down, it makes a pattern, from above, it’s got a message.
PLAYER A: What is it?
PLAYER B: I don’t know, you would have to fly over it. It means that when we’re able to look at ourselves from farther away—
PLAYER C: —in the future—
PLAYER B: —things will start making more sense, they’ll be clear…
- Is this Art or is this the Future?: Widen the possibilities of play by allowing players to ask about an object/structure, “Is this art?” Then the group analyzes the object in question to decide whether it’s art or trash (or, possibly, still an oracle instead). This can make the game feel even more playful and allows players to get to know one another’s aesthetic sensibilities in a low-key way.
- This game can be played at the same time as another game or exercise that requires walking, open space, etc. In fact, it often works best this way, since there’s less pressure on players to “force” themselves to find an oracle. It can also be an ongoing exercise, one that becomes part of your collective’s vocabulary.
- Long-distance variation: Participants, meeting on a video chat interface, find objects close to them—anything they can pick up without exiting the room or leaving the video screen for longer than 15 seconds—and “show” them to other chat participants. Together, the chat participants analyze each object as an oracle.
A collaboration conversation starter and brainstorming exercise.
Can be used by: Groups/collectives of individuals
Addresses: Imagining possibilities for future collaborations; perceptions and possibilities of organizational structure; the multiple points at which collaborators can “connect” when building a collaboration
Long distance or local?: Both (could be adapted for Skype or Google+ Hangout)
Prep: Players convert a deck of playing cards into a deck of Collaboration cards. On the suit-side of each card, players tape pieces of paper with various roles, professions, and/or organizations written on them. When doing so, be sure that the suit and number of the card remain uncovered.
Play: Play is similar to the card game War. The cards are shuffled and divided equally amongst players. Players then take turns flipping their cards over. Like in war, the player who turns over the highest card gets to keep all other flipped cards. If two or more players should turn over the same card, they are then in a COLLABORATE situation. In a collaborate situation, the players must discuss and brainstorm ways in which the roles/professions/organizations written on their cards might work together. Once players have finished discussion, they spell out the word “collaborate,” flipping one card as they say each letter. Whoever has the highest numbered card once “collaborate” has been spelled wins that hand.
- Players are given the freedom to shout out “Collaborate!” whenever they come across a relationship between cards they would like to hear/discuss more about.
- Two or more collaborators can mark cards with strengths, ideas, roles, etc. that are specific to them. Card playing then allows both parties to explore the different ways they may “fit” together as collaborators.
Guess My Role
A way to discuss roles that exist or are needed within a collective.
Can be used by: Collectives, cross-sections of collectives
Addresses: Identification of assumptions, group vocabulary building, role definition, structural discussions
Long distance or local: Local
Prep: Each player is given a post-it note and a pen. Everyone sits comfortably in a circle. To start, everyone in the circle is asked to write down “A role that is frequently required in a collective.” Roles should not be limited to classical roles for a given industry (i.e. director, stage manager; editor-in-chief, assistant editor; principal, teacher…). Instead, the roles should be invented by the players; roles with room for interpretation (i.e. key holder, task master, reason, devil’s advocate) are encouraged.
Christina Kruise as the Words-to-Actionizer.
Play: Each player places his/her Post-it with a role on the forehead of another player seated in the circle. The goal is to make sure that the role remains a secret to the person to whose forehead it’s been stuck. Everyone in the circle should be able to read every Post-it except for her/his own. Once the Post-its are placed, each person in the circle takes turns asking questions that require a simple “yes or no” answer of the rest of the group in order to discover the role on his/her forehead. If the group responds YES to a question, the player can continue to ask questions; if the group responds NO to a question, then the next player in the circle is given a chance to ask questions. Take time and allow the group to discuss the questions, sometimes, because those discussions are the meat of this game. To facilitate post-mortem discussion, each player should write down each of their questions as they go, and answers. Play continues until each player has guessed what role s/he has been given. (Make it tough: insist on exact wording!)
- Rather than moving around the circle, focus on each role one at a time to allow a focused/simplified discussion on each role. Continue until that player is able to discover their role, then move on to the next player.
- Each player is allowed to pause the game in order to pull out a discussion. Ask the guesser to step out, so the group can more fully discuss a more dynamic question.
Aunt Nan’s Sunday Super
A recipe for team building and the division of labor.
Can be used by: Groups/collectives of individuals
Addresses: Team building; personal relationship building; division of labor
Long distance or local?: Local
Prep: Find a kitchen. Purchase (in quantities large enough to feed your team) zucchini, bell peppers, cherry tomatoes, fennel, potatoes, red onion, mushrooms, fresh herbs, goat cheese, and any other vegetables from a local market. Additionally, purchase (again, in quantities large enough for your team) beer, wine, juice, and/or any other liquids you might desire.
Play: All team members meet in found kitchen. The task of cutting up vegetables is then divided between players. At least one player should be in charge of filling all other players’ cups (Note: This player may not desert this task for any other throughout the evening.) Whoever owns found kitchen should function as supervisor of all kitchen activity. Any player without a task should: First, ask the kitchen owner if there is anything they can do (even if it is loading the dishwasher). Second, feel inclined to make a salad, mix dressing, or cut bread. Once all vegetables are cut, they should be placed on a baking tray with the goat cheese, herbs, and olive oil. The baking tray should then be placed in the oven and allowed to cook at 325 degrees for 30 minutes. NOTE: These numbers are variable depending on oven and location of baking. Play concludes with a communal meal.
Variation: Substitute or include any other recipe of choice.