It wasn’t what I was expecting to be doing on a Monday afternoon. The time was 1.30pm, I was in the middle of a University of Kent dining hall, and I was embodying a celestial being with 4 strangers.
People United and the University of Kent set up the Arts and Prosocial Research Group (APRG) to explore ways that the arts supports prosocial attitudes and behaviour – kindness. They meet monthly but the meeting earlier this year took on a slightly different format to previous meetings. Adam James (an artist and PhD researcher at the University of Kent), hosted a non-verbal LARP (live action role-play) for the group.
As a facilitator, the two words that I know strike fear into participants are: role play. Conversely, I’ve always enjoyed the freedom of playing another character – experimenting outside the pressures of the real world. And this is what this experience, excellently led by Adam James, felt like. The workshop led us into imagining and physically recreating different beings and scenarios (including interactions between groups). The experience was surreal, fun, creative and involving. But interestingly, for me at least, the key to the workshop was what happened next.
Following the physical activity, we sat, spoke and reflected as a group. Our feelings that we shared provided the real learning. It felt like the improvisation had provided us with a visceral experience of group behaviour: courage, exclusion, community and uncertainty. What felt different for me, was that we didn’t just talk about it, but we felt it. It was the encounter between us (without words) that was the most striking; one group felt rebuffed, another felt exhausted, we realised that each group had misread the others’ intentions. And even in the safe confines of the workshop, it felt real and risky.
We only had a taster, and I’m aware of the danger of generalisations, but it felt like LARP could be a fascinating medium, as a starting point for important conversations and as an exploration of empathy.
If you’d like to know more about Adam’s work, have a look at his website. Text and the online resource called ‘Here is the Place’ that he produced in collaboration with Serpentine gallery. Project information available here.