A Midwinter Night’s Dream

I really wasn’t going to run a larp in 2020. I was going to play a lot of larp, learn a lot, then come back in 2021. Then came COVID, and lockdown, and no face-to-face larps at all after Avalon LARP Studios’ “Midwinter”. That was not quite sufficient for a year. I did a couple of online Zoomthings: one of the early Secret Cinema: Secret Sofa events, a one-off stab Chorus Productions’ Eschaton, and Meet at the Tavern on Discord.

Then, heaven help me, I had An Idea. An evolution of previous ideas, for sure, but An Idea.

“You could run a larp where an actual online meeting of players represented an online meeting of characters.”

Harrold, 2020. Well, yes. Of course. I mean, obviously.

It’d probably nod to tabletop, because you probably be at a table, but it’d definitely be a larp – because you’d be representing what your character was doing by actually doing it. You’re not saying ‘Then I…”, you’re actually doing it. So then the only question was: well, who should meet up? Fae was my first thought. People like fae. Then I needed some help to run the event.

I’ve not been part of a regular crew that run larps with for some years. If I want to run an event, I have to go out and pitch. Running All For One with Crooked House in 2019 was a blast, of course, but they’d just moved country. Running an event in a modern day alt-Britain fae genre? In recent history Clare Evans and David Kibblewhite had knocked Fairyland right out the park, set in 1996 or so. A bit longer ago, Helly and Rob ran the pub-theatre fae court events “Twilight Theatre” as Forgotten Dreams and I still owed them big time for casting me as my bucket-list role: “Oberon”. They’re now part of Carcosa Dreams with Ian and Tony Andrews and Aquarion of Odyssey etc. fame.

Well, then… Pitch on.

The pitch concept was that because so many folk were staying at home, there wasn’t as much steel moving about. Lockdown had loosened the grasp of iron on the world, so faeries could get a bit more active. The same court who Shakespeare wrote about in a Midsummer Night’s Dream would be able to log on and join a midwinter’s party. Along with any humans who’d managed to join in too, they’d hang out, and choose something of significance. The story grew in the telling, of course, but that was basically it. The original pitch was for a four week cycle of events, one per season, one per week in December.

This is it verbatim.

Pitch: A midwinter night’s dream

“…as the iron is locked down again, paths of copper and crystal open up to us…”

When the world slows, the sleeping courts awake to stalk an online club. Mortals, changelings, faeries, and all those in between show as much of their true selves as they wish.

Some folk will just immerse themselves in the music, and watch, and maybe dress up. It’s only a tenner or so for a couple of hours, after all.

If they want to go further into interaction with the faerie realm, they can simply say “Yes” when they find another room and chase a story through pre-recorded video of a royal dream, or someone else’s performance.

If they want to dive into character, they can bring a performance to change the fae world to Puck, or one of the other faeries with the keys to hosting, and give it when called.

A one-off of immersion, interaction and maybe in-character performance, a season of pre-prepared dreaming from the King and Queen, lead who knows where? 

If all goes well, it depends who performs what to whom.

“…Come now, what masques, what dances shall we have…”

A midweek night’s dream takes a tiny step beyond online events by Chorus Productions (Eschaton) and Secret Cinema in the direction of live-action roleplaying, nodding at David Kibblewhite’s Fairyland and leaning very heavily on Twilight Theatre, the pub-theatre fae court events of Helly and Rob, on the way to something which might or might not come off. At worst, it’s an online club, with plotted scraps of film to watch, on the 21st of December. Almost whatever happens, it’ll be a story of semi-participation, for each and everyone who goes. At best; it might end with a narrative worth replaying…” 

Development

That was week 1 October. Carcosa Dreams gave themselves until the end of the month to decide. The notion of a four-week cycle went first, replaced with a one off event to see how it went. Very sound. Next question was what the budget might look like. Carcosa Dreams pay their cast, so whatever came out had to do that. We wanted more than one DJ room, we asked the ones we first thought of it, we added up the number who said “Yes” and that was one of our rooms done. Take a bow, August. I wanted Caz Coronel too. Knowing little of the Art, I did know she’d got me dancing at any number of Secret Cinema after parties and if she’d managed that, she could get *anyone* moving. She was kind enough to say yes too.

That’s a 2 DJ backstop, so whatever happened you could hang out and hand-jive. Minimum viable online event achieved and a “Yes” to the go/no-go decision.

“Was there ever any doubt?”

As – I think – Ian Andrews said at the time.

Six weeks to run

Helly produced a plot framing document in double-quick time, the legendary Aquarion built a website that sold actual tickets out of nothing in a weekend, Ian Andrews was on NPC briefs, and Tony and Rob built the puzzles that gave folk a lot of what they talked about.

A promised chance for (optional) performance gave us a requirement for an IC MC. Wrangling them gave us out first NPC, Puck. (Puck got extra stuff to do along the way, and was a roleplay constant wherever they were needed.) Puck we cast from ‘MCs we had known”. He’d not larped before, but golly he was good.

There’s four more names in our Primary Source Material; Cobweb, Moth, Mustardseed and Peaseblossom. Casting there was a matter of shaking address books to see who fell out. Between us we know a lot of larpers, and we got some great “Yes”s. Jade Parsonage, Peter Green, Russel Smith, and Vicky Eyles. Gotta be happy with that. Bulletproof performances all round. You cannot ask for more.

Hands-down the best idea, though, I am *nearly* certain, was from Tony Andrews. Physical return packs to be proud of. Things of loveliness. Some just printed, some artfully folded, some with a kit to build, some that got olfactory, some you could plant later. I mean – amazing stuff. Also available in digital format for later bookings. Some of the bits allowed us to split a budgeted number of attendees into quarters in the hope that none of our cast would be entirely overwhelmed. We didn’t mandate players stick with the quarter they started with, we just tried to spread them out in the first instance and given them a certain route to roleplay with. Some of the bits gave our setters raw material for clues and passwords when they were creating the puzzle elements. We even sent out an actual code wheel for those whose idea of fun doesn’t include decrypting the Caesar Cypher in their heads.

Yes, all of this. Yes, it all meant something. Amazing, right?

And on the night it ran like clockwork. I can totally recommend Ian Andrews as ASM. Him, a spreadsheet, and a series of alarms kept the regular beats metronomic: the performance schedule, the votes, the announcements, the ready-to-go checks. Like a drumbeat in a chat backchannel run on Teams.

And the players: golly there was some actual roleplaying! For me – very, very personally – it was not about any one thing we’d provided, but the fact we’d delivered a space to inspire roleplay.

I specifically pitched Midwinter as an event where we used players using Zoom to phys-rep fae and their “friends” using Zoom, rather than “some magical system” partly for that fidelity of specific roleplayed experience. If Zoom didn’t do something it wasn’t a failure of it as a physrep for some magical device or other, it wa – well – because Zoom was a faithful physrep for Zoom.

And, as it happens, a damned good night in after a year when good nights out have been in very short supply.

With this set on the main dancefloor.

To that end – thanks for reading this *slightly* self-indulgent piece; there’ll be more later.

One last Admin task to fill in.

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