David here. There’s a flurry of excitement in the Boho camp this week, because we’re about to get on the plane and head over to the UK for the next three months.

As some of you may know, Boho was in residence at the University College London Environment Institute in 2012, developing our systems science tabletop board-game / theatre show Best Festival Ever: How To Manage A Disaster. The show was created in partnership with a lot of great UK artists and organisations, so it’s a huge pleasure to announce that we’re launching the first full production of Best Festival Ever this November at the London Science Museum.

There’s some background on the Best Festival Ever project here if you’d like to know more about the show.

Image by Andrew Galan

David Finnigan and David Shaw from Boho will once again be joined by Nathan Harrison, Nikki Kennedy and Rachel Roberts from Applespiel, and we’ll be working with UK theatre artists including Tassos Stevens (Coney) and designer Gary Campbell.

We’ll be in residence at the Science Museum from mid-September until the end of November, refining and rehearsing the finished show. Public performances will kick off with a short scratch season at the Battersea Arts Centre at the end of October, followed by a two week season at the Science Museum’s Dana Centre from 10-24 November. We’ll be presenting a series of evening performances at the Centre alongside short talks by climate scientists in response to the work.

Finally, we’ll be taking off to Sweden at the end of November for a week-long tour to the Stockholm Resilience Centre. We’ll be sharing our take on Systems and Resilience Thinking back to some of the scientists who first formulated these ideas, and whose work we’ve been drawing on over the last three years – as you can imagine, we’re excited and also fairly intimidated!

We’ll be keeping track of our progress on this blog, so please keep an eye out if you’re interested.

If you’d like to chat with us about Best Festival Ever, please get in touch! If you’re interested in our presenting the show at your venue or workplace, if you’d like us to create a new game around a system of your choosing, or even if you’re just curious, we’d love to hear from you.

DATES

30 Oct – 1 Nov – Battersea Arts Centre scratch season

10 – 24 Nov – London Science Museum season

25 – 29 Nov – Stockholm Resilience Centre season

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image by Peter Newman

David speaking.

This week I was lucky enough to attend a CSIRO workshop on Modelling Planetary Boundaries. For three days I got to sit in the room with a swathe of 12 very smart people, listening and learning as they moved toward crafting a new science paper.

As well as being fascinating in and of itself, this kind of workshop provides a really valuable perspective on the work Boho is currently doing, and for that reason I thought it might be worth trying to unpack a couple of the broader ideas that lay behind it. I’m afraid I won’t do any justice to the depth of concepts the group explored, but hopefully I can illustrate some of the general principles, if for no other reason than to indicate why I found it so valuable.

Unpacking the title of the workshop ‘Modelling Planetary Boundaries’ is illustrative in itself. To put it in rough terms, it’s about conceptualising the earth as one linked system – a holistic view of the whole planet and all the processes within it. That includes everything, from the atmosphere to the oceans to the cities to the economy to culture to education to the behaviour of families.

A model, in a scientific sense, is some kind of representation of a system that helps you understand it. There are many different kinds of models: some of them are physical, some are software, some are pen and paper and some exist entirely in our head.

The kind of model you use depends on what you’re interested in. At the more complex end, detailed software models such as global climate models (GCMs) calculate huge volumes of data in order to generate predictions of weather patterns under different future trajectories. At the simpler end, conceptual pen and paper flowchart models help us visualise the links and connections between different parts of the system, and help to bring incredibly complex phenomena into the realm of what we can understand.

This workshop was about creating a conceptual model at the simpler end of the scale, but something that could in future be added to and enriched with quantified data. What these scientists were seeking to create was a model of the human-earth system that they could use to better understand the dynamics of the earth, and where we’re heading as a species and a planet.

One of the things distinguishing this particular workshop, and the model these scientists were seeking to make, was the focus on social dynamics. There are lots of conceptual models that describe the behaviour of the earth from a biophysical perspective – ie. as a functioning system without human involvement. The idea is, you put together a model of how the earth works without humans, and then you add humans to the model as external drivers, or you borrow the models of human behaviour created by economics.

This approach is useful up to a point, but for many (most) people, one of the important questions is not, ‘How does the earth behave without human involvement?’ but, ‘How does the whole earth work?’

One idea which has been gaining significant traction in recent years is the idea that we have recently moved into a new geological epoch: the Anthropocene. This is a period in the earth’s history in which humankind has become one of the most significant drivers of the planetary systems. For decades, if not centuries, humans have been altering the composition of the earth’s atmosphere, changing the biosphere by driving species extinct and transporting new species around the planet, altering the activity of river systems and changing land use, all at a global scale.

In hundreds of million of years’ time, when humanity’s existence has been reduced to a thin smear of rock in the geological record, future species or alien visitors will still be able to detect our presence through the spike of radioactive minerals resulting from humanity’s nuclear weapons tests.

(This has been a preoccupation of Boho’s for a while now, to the extent that we called our 2010 show True Logic of the Future a ‘Parable for the Anthropocene’.)

Given that the choices and actions of human beings now has such significant consequences for the behaviour of the planet, it is more and more important that a model of the earth system include human social processes, not as an add-on but as a fundamental part of the system. This workshop sought to capture some of these social processes: What humans want, need and aspire to, and how they go about satisfying those desires.

The challenge was to put all these elements – the biophysical and the social – in one model. One of the jumping-off points for the workshop was this conceptual model, put together by my dad.

There needs to be a reason to create a model such as this; a question you want answered or an issue you’re grappling with. That helps to focus your attention, prioritise what’s important and clarify what’s relevant and what’s not. In this instance, the goal was articulated by Doug Cocks, CSIRO Research Fellow in Human Ecology (and collaborator on Boho’s Food for the Great Hungers) as ‘Quality Survival’ for humankind.

Given that the world population is predicted to peak at around 9 or 10 billion in the next few decades, Quality Survival means, roughly, ‘the removal of hunger and poverty and their attendant ills as expressed for instance in the Millenium Development Goals. These aspirations imply a significant increase in food production and wealth creation, all of which we hope to accommodate without crippling the ability of the planet to support future generations.’

Achieving Quality Survival means, in the language of the model, staying within the ‘safe operating space for humanity’.

The idea of a safe operating space, expressed in this way, draws a lot from the idea of Planetary Boundaries, first introduced in 2009.

The Planetary Boundaries paper identifies nine different boundaries which, if crossed, run the risk of tipping the planet into a different state – one that we cannot be sure will be amenable to human existence. It might be possible to transgress one or two of these boundaries temporarily, but crossing any of them means incurring serious risks.

The original Planetary Boundaries research focused on biophysical dimensions – ozone depletion, ocean acidification, biodiversity loss and so on. The workshop this week looked at identifying potential boundaries in the social dimensions as well – wealth inequality as one possible example.

Finally, the workshop reached the question of trade-offs: In order to stay within these boundaries (both social and biophysical), what trade-offs will we have to make? How can we measure and assess those trade-offs against one another, and who decides between them?

As an off-the-cuff example: What if, in order to save billions of people from starving to death, most of the Amazon rainforest and African savannahs were turned into farmland? Would saving the elephants (along with all the other biodiversity loss) and preventing those huge sinks of carbon from being released into the atmosphere be worth the death of billions?

Whether we like it or not, these kinds of trade-offs are already occurring, as the cumulative outcomes of many small-scale decisions made unconsciously (or more or less unconsciously) by people unaware of the larger picture. By bringing some of these trade-offs into focus, the workshop aims to help us better choose between difficult options, or to help us seek for alternatives when the only available options are bad ones.

I’d never seen the inside of a science workshop like this, and watching how a group of scientists collaborate (at least in this one instance) to produce something new was incredibly informative. There are a lot of similarities to the creative process, though it was unlike any devising workshop I’ve ever been part of. Still, it hit home watching these scientists work how much of that job requires inspiration, creativity and innovation, alongside all the knowledge, technique and technical discipline I took for granted.

This sort of conceptual modelling process took me very much out of my depth, but it’s this kind of work that Boho is drawing on with the Best Festival Ever project.

Rather than create a global model which includes everything in the human-earth system, Best Festival Ever presents a conceptual model of a much smaller system – a music festival. And instead of a model which is used to predict or to guide policy, the Best Festival Ever model is intended largely as a demonstration of some of the key principles and techniques used in modelling.

Best Festival Ever presents a participatory hands-on model in which players get to construct and manage their own complex adaptive system, using tools from boardgaming as the levers and inputs. The behaviour of the music festival explores the concepts of feedback loops, tipping points, phase transitions, interconnectivity and resilience.

Best Festival Ever is the first of a series of new interactive performances based around systems models. We’re now looking for new partners with whom we can collaborate to build participatory models of specific systems – from cities to ecosystems to companies to institutions. If you’re interested in working with Boho to develop a new playable model, please drop us a line.

The first iteration of Best Festival Ever will be presented at the London Science Museum from 10 – 21 November 2014.

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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.

WHAT IS 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.

ABOUT THE ARTISTS

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.

PERFORMANCE HISTORY

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.

SPONSOR BENEFITS

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:

$5,000

  • 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.

$10,000

  • 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.

$25,000

  • 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:

1. BUY TICKETS

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.

2. COME TO THE CSIRO DISCOVERY CENTRE

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.

3. BRING YOUR PHONE

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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© 2014 Boho Interactive Suffusion theme by Sayontan Sinha