Best Festival Ever: How To Manage A Disaster is an interactive theatre performance based on Systems Science that takes place around a table.

As human beings, we are surrounded by and embedded within systems, both natural, such as climate and the ecosystem, and human-made, such as the economy or even society as a whole.

Many of the significant issues facing us today emerge from the interplay between these two kinds of system. Our decision-making and management systems are frequently based on mechanistic and simplistic representations of the world.

Over the last two decades, scientists in the field of Systems Science have gained a new understanding of these issues, creating a toolkit of vital concepts for understanding and grappling with real-world complexity.

This project brings these ideas from Systems Science to life in a unique theatrical presentation.

Part theatre show, part performance lecture and part board game, Best Festival Ever introduces participants to concepts from systems science, using the example of a music festival. 10-25 audience members are seated around a table and placed in charge of a new festival.

Through a variety of interactive games, the audience works together to program and deliver their own unique music festival. Over 60 minutes, they move from planning to execution, doing their best to keep the festival and its audience from collapsing into chaos.

Responding to the rapidly escalating challenges of the situation requires cooperation, creativity and communication. Designed for conferences, meeting rooms, corporate training and theatres, Best Festival Ever offers a fun, engaging and creative way to introduce audiences to the insights and ideas from Systems science.


Systems science is an interdisciplinary field that studies the complex systems that exist in nature and society. It is a way of analyzing the dynamics of our world by looking at it as a whole rather than separating it into parts. Systems science concentrates as much on the links and interactions between things as it does on the things themselves. Best Festival Ever uses the example of a music festival to introduce audiences to a variety of concepts from systems sciences, including:

  • Complex Adaptive Systems – How complex systems from the economy to natural ecosystems-or music festivals-have their own behaviours and properties including the ability to spontaneously self-organize and adapt;
  • Interconnectivity – How the different parts of a system are interconnected, and how those links can often operate in surprising and unexpected ways;
  • Feedback Loops – The idea that links can form feedback loops –some parts of the system feed into other parts which feed back again, and so on, and how those loops can sometimes get out of hand;
  • Tipping Points – How a system can reach a threshold and then suddenly and unexpectedly undergo a rapid transformation into something that looks and behaves very differently;
  • Resilience – How some systems can absorb shocks and retain their functioning, while others can suddenly collapse or transform – what is it that makes a system fragile or robust, and what does it mean to be resilient?
  • Stakeholders – That a complex system involves different stakeholders who want and value different things and those different priorities need to be kept in balance to keep the system flourishing.
  • Trade-offs – Managing a system is all about trade-offs and compromises –squeezing the most out of one part of the system will inevitably involve making sacrifices somewhere else;
  • Scales – How complex adaptive systems work on a range of space and time scales – and how dealing with a problem or understanding an issue is often a matter of viewing it at the right scale.

The work draws heavily on our work with climate scientists at the UCL Environment Institute where this work was developed, so underpinning all these elements is a strong focus on the interaction between human systems and natural ecosystems, and in land use management and environmental impacts.


Boho Interactive is a science-theatre ensemble from Canberra, Australia. Boho produces interactive performances based on sciences including Game Theory, Complex Systems science and Network Theory, working in collaboration with research scientists from Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisaton and University College London.

Since 2006, Boho has presented work for the Asia- Pacific Complex Systems Science Conference, Battersea Arts Centre, the Brisbane Festival ‘Under The Radar’, the Powerhouse Museum, the ACT Street Theatre and the Manning Clark House Cultural Centre. Boho is represented here by David Finnigan and David Shaw.

For this project, Boho is joined by members of Sydney collective, Applespiel. Active since 2009, Applespiel have developed work for Performance Space, Next Wave Festival, PACT Centre For Emerging Artists and Crack Theatre Festival. Applespiel is represented here by Nathan Harrison, Nikki Kennedy and Rachel Roberts.


Best Festival Ever was developed in 2011-13 through residencies at the University College London Environment Institute, the Battersea Arts Centre and Arts House.

This work has been supported by UK theatre company Coney, University College London, Environment Institute, Tipping Point, Battersea Arts Centre, NEDNet Foundation, Arts House and Australia Council for the Arts.


We are seeking support to undertake the final development of Best Festival Ever. Working with UK artists Tassos Stevens and Gary Campbell, we need funds to create the final touring set for the show. We are seeking partners to work with us to make this show possible, and who would value the opportunity to see this work presented at their organisation.

We are happy to discuss with you any form of support that you may be able to provide. Our basic offers are as follows:


  • One performance of the work for your organisation at a time and place to be negotiated;
  • Acknowledgment of support on website and in all press and marketing materials.


  • In-game signage as part of the show, a tent for your organisation as part of the tabletop music festival;
  • Two performances of the work for your organisation at times and places to be negotiated;
  • Acknowledgment of support on website and in all press and marketing materials.


  • The artists will create a systems description of your organisation and create a unique, one-off tabletop game based on your company;
  • A mention of your organisation in the script of the show;
  • A banner for your organisation above the stage in the tabletop music festival
  • Four performances of the work at times and places to be negotiated;
  • Acknowledgment of support on website and in all press and marketing materials.

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Image by Adam Thomas

So you’re coming along to Boho’s Word Play this month, or you’re interested in checking it out. Great! Now, how do you go about taking part in an interactive live cinema video-game performance? The answer is, it is as basic as can be. In three steps:


Tickets are $20. You can EITHER buy them in advance or buy them at the door. We’d love it if you booked in advance, but there’s nothing stopping you from rocking up with a fistful of dollars on the night. To book online, visit Trybooking.


The CSIRO Discovery Centre is part of the CSIRO Black Mountain laboratories. There’s parking around the centre, and once you arrive, you’ll come to a walkway that leads you into the space.

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The show starts at 7.30pm and runs for approximately 70 minutes. Performances are Wednesday – Saturday from 15 May – 1 June.


If you don’t have a smartphone, you’ll be given a number which you can SMS to interact with the show. If you DO have a smartphone, you’ll be able to download the purpose-built app to control Word Play, compatible with iOS and Android (we’re a multi-platform theatre company). If you’d like to download the app beforehand, you’re welcome to – just search the App Store or Google Play for “Word Play 2013″. The app is 1.5mb and free. The app will run on iPhones, iPads and Android devices.

If you don’t get to it beforehand, you’ll be able to download the app when you get to the show. When you arrive to buy / collect your ticket, the people at the desk will advise you how to get on to the Centre’s wifi network and how to download the app.

And then? Then it is ON.

Image by Adam Thomas

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So we’re now one week out from opening, and I dropped into the laboratory / performance space to have a look at the bump-in. Jack, Mick and designer Gillian Schwab were working away, and everything is coming together in a sort of terrifying order. Looking around at the extraordinary array of equipment, I thought it’d be a good idea to have a chat about how all this stuff works in practice – what are all the different parts of the Word Play machine and how do they fit together?

1. Performers are filmed

First of all, the audience are in one space (the CSIRO Discovery lecture theatre) and the performers are next door to NASA in the Yarralumla Forestry Labs, performing live on camera. The show uses about eight cameras – action-cams mounted on performers, security cameras that operate over a network, more traditional handicams. As well as that there’s an array of prerecorded video and information slides.

2. Video is mixed and streamed to the internet

All of these video sources are brought into a controller computer in the Yarralumla labs and director Marisa Martin (with the assistance of an operator) decides which camera is sent through to the live feed and when. There are a selection of visual overlays (maps, diagrams and so forth) which are added to the vision at certain points. Throughout the show, Marisa is live video-mixing (literally calling the shots) based on what’s been rehearsed, with some room for improvisation.

3. Video footage is received and audio overlaid

In the biobox of the Discovery lecture theatre where the audience, Jack and Mick receiving the feed from the Yarralumla space over the internet. (This is a nice touch as it means that the show can technically be linked in to from anywhere in the world.) At this point, Mick is mixing the sound effects and his original score into the feed. Jack is in charge of synching up the instructions for the audience, which appear on a second projector screen in the theatre, as well as appearing on the audience’s phone app. These intructions inform the audience how and when to interact with the performance.

4. Audience interact via phones

The audience send SMSes using their phones OR they use the purpose-built app (which you can download upon arrival at the show) to enter different kinds of input: text questions, votes and sometimes a joystick controller.

5. Audience input transmitted to Director

Marisa receives the audience input on a separate controller computer which collates the votes automatically. She can choose from the different submitted questions and select which to pass on to the actors and when.

6. Director communicates with performers

Marisa calls through the instructions to the actors, who are each fitted with a radio receiver and earpiece.

7. Performers respond

The actors have rehearsed a wide variety of scenarios responding to different audience decisions. Sometimes, though, the audience will give them something totally unexpected and they’ll be improvising something new.

For anyone who skipped to the end of all that, the short summary is: There’s a lot going on in this show. Now come along and check it out.

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Something is wrong.

In the last few months, a new disease has emerged that is transmitted not by water, by air, by contact – but by speech. Language. Via text messaging and email, telephone or video.

This disease attacks thought itself, undermining our ability to think critically and resist other people’s influence. This is an epidemic of harmful ideas and broken logic. And it’s spreading. Whole communities of people, highly contagious, wandering about, unable to talk, unable to take care of themselves, looking for things to believe in.

Don’t believe everything you hear.


Boho’s new show Word Play is performed on-screen from across the city. The audience are situated in the CSIRO Discovery Centre lecture theatre, while the performers are live-streamed from a laboratory across the city using a high-speed video broadband connection.

Using text messages and a purpose-built phone app, the audience are able to interact directly with the performance, communicating with the performers and controlling them through a series of live computer game sequences.

Word Play is a performance lecture exploring concepts from epidemiology, a live cinema experience and a hands-on video game in the survival horror genre.

Bring your phone.

Where: CSIRO Discovery Centre, Clunies Ross street, Acton

When: 7:30pm Wednesday – Saturday 15-18 May, 22-25 May, 29 May-1 June

Tickets: $20 – buy tickets here.

Images by Rohan Thomson.

This is a Centenary of Canberra project, proudly supported by the ACT Government & CSIRO.

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Over four full-length shows and a series of shorter works, Boho have experimented with a wide range of interactive mechanisms. Starting back in 2005 with a torchbeam which the audience used as a mouse cursor (Playable Demo) and moving through hacked console controllers (A Prisoner’s Dilemma), hands-on models (the sandpile model in Food for the Great Hungers), onstage treasure hunts (True Logic of the Future) through to adapted boardgames (Modelling Play). With Word Play, Boho are trialling a whole new interactive device – the smartphone – while at the same time returning to the company’s roots in adapting video game control systems for the stage.

I spoke with the duo behind Word Play, Jack Lloyd and Mick Bailey, about the phone-based interactivity within the show.

David: Why did you decide to go with smartphone interactivity for this show?

Jack: Everyone has a phone. It’s an interactive device that’s hugely powerful, that everyone knows how to use, and that fit really nicely within the world of the play.

Mick: The whole show is operable by SMS, with the intention that the play is accessible to as many people as possible, regardless of the handset they own.

Jack: But we have a good relationship with a local iOS developer, Bonobo Labs, who have thrown their support behind developing an app for iPhone and iPad that audience members can use to interact with the show.

David: What does the control mechanism look like?

Mick: We break the show down into three kinds of interaction – a vote, a message and a control, like arrow keys. This means we can call on the whole audience or just individuals to give their input and guide the show along.

David: What impact does this have on the characters and the show?

Jack: We use interactivity to give an audience the opportunity to explore the work from the direction that they’re interested in. They can ask us things directly about the world we’re presenting, or vote to hear about one thing or another, or even pilot actors around the space. This is hopefully all part of a richer experience for the audience – it adds a liveness and an immediacy to the performance when you know that what the character does next is wholly dependent on your input.

David: How do you think this will feel for the audience?

Mick: Hopefully it’s an intuitive experience for them. It’s an unusual format to view a show in, to be sitting in one place and to see it all unfold on the screen, performed in a totally different building, but the interactivity with the audience is crucial – it’s really the difference between a live performance and what may as well be prerecorded film. The interactivity makes it theatre again.

Jack: I think that when the audience are all huddled together in the darkened theatre, sitting amongst a sea of bottom-lit faces and doing what they can to keep our characters alive, I reckon it’s going to feel pretty damn special.

Where: CSIRO Discovery Centre, Clunies Ross street, Acton

When: 7:30pm Wednesday – Saturday 15-18 May, 22-25 May, 29 May-1 June

Tickets: $20 – buy tickets here.

This is a Centenary of Canberra project, proudly supported by the ACT Government & CSIRO.

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© 2014 Boho Interactive Suffusion theme by Sayontan Sinha