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Ep. 7 - asses.masses: Theatre as a political practice

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Контент предоставлен PuSh Festival. Весь контент подкастов, включая эпизоды, графику и описания подкастов, загружается и предоставляется непосредственно компанией PuSh Festival или ее партнером по платформе подкастов. Если вы считаете, что кто-то использует вашу работу, защищенную авторским правом, без вашего разрешения, вы можете выполнить процедуру, описанную здесь https://ru.player.fm/legal.

Milton Lim and Patrick Blankarn discuss the role of democracy in theatre. asses.masses runs Jan 20th-Feb 3rd at Push Festival.

Show Notes

Gabrielle Martin discusses asses.masses with co-creators Patrick Blenkarn and Milton Lim. Their show, a performance that takes the form of a participatory video game. They talk about their collaboration, the democratization of theatre through participation, and how to make a theatre comfortable for 4+ hours.

Gabrielle, Patrick and Milton tackle the following questions and more:

  • How did asses.masses begin? Was it from a desire to collaborate on a game, or to create a performance?
  • How can theatre use other technologies in performance (emails, phones, etc.)?
  • What does it mean to ask someone to do something for you in a theatrical context?
  • How to make a theatre comfortable for 4+ hours?
  • What kind of stories can be told when not limited by traditional time limits?
  • What does duration of a show, how does it function, with regards to storytelling?
  • How do you determine when the dramaturgy of a game will deliver a concept better than other forms?
  • How do artists engage with AI ethically?
  • How can artists make video games dramatic when a usual core mechanic of games is inconsequential death?
  • Democratization of theatre through participation
  • Is there an underlying call to action in writing and theatre making?
  • Do you experience democracy with asses.masses or is it just a representation?

About Patrick Blenkarn and Milton Lim

Patrick Blenkarn and Milton Lim are conceptual artists based in Vancouver, BC. Their collaborations include video games, participatory installations, and card games, exploring urgent questions around social value of art, digital labour, and the political and artistic potential of games. They’re also the co-founders of the national video archive of Canadian performance documentation, videocan.

Land Acknowledgement

Patrick joins the podcast from rural eastern Ontario (Wolf Lake), traditional Algonquin territory.

Milton joins from Singapore, land of the indigenous Malay and Orang Laut communities.

Gabrielle hosts from the unceded, stolen and ancestral territories of the Coast Salish Peoples: the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish) and Səl̓ílwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh), colonially known as Vancouver.

It is our duty to establish right relations with the people on whose territories we live and work, and with the land itself.

Show Transcript

Gabrielle [00:00:01] Hello and welcome to PuSh Play, a PuSh Festival podcast featuring conversations with artists who are pushing boundaries and playing with form. I'm Gabrielle Martin. PuSh's director of programming and today's episode highlights Gameful Performance. I'm speaking with Patrick Blankarn and Milton Lim, co-creators of asses.masses, which will be presented at PuSh Festival January 20th, 27th and February 3rd, 2024. asses.masses is a custom made video game designed to be played on stage by a live audience. Brave spectators take turns each night stepping forward from the herd to seize the means of production and become the player. Patrick and Milton are conceptual artists whose collaborations include video games, participatory installations and card games, exploring urgent questions around social value of art, digital labour and the political and artistic potential of games. I'm thrilled to share our chat on what 'democratic' means for theatre and more. Here is my conversation with Patrick and Milton.

Gabrielle [00:01:01] Just before we dive right into it, I want to acknowledge that I am joining this call from the ancestral Unceded territories of the Coast Salish peoples, the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), and səlilwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh), where it's my privilege to be living and working and having this conversation here today. And I will just invite you to share where you are joining me from.

Patrick [00:01:24] Oh, well, I will begin. I am in rural eastern Ontario, actually at my parents place, which is on Wolf Lake, which is historically, I believe, Algonquin territory.

Milton [00:01:36] And this is Milton speaking. I am currently joining from Singapore, which is the land of the indigenous Malay community. And if I was to be more specific, the Orang Laut community.

Gabrielle [00:01:46] So you're both working across performance and game design or in gameful performance and with themes of labour, economy and social capital. I'm wondering if you can talk about how asses.masses began. What came first, the desire to collaborate on a video game designed to be played on stage by a live audience over eight hours, or to create a performance about the perils of labour redundancy in a post industrial society?

Patrick [00:02:10] Yeah, that's interesting. You know, we've we've kind of explored this question in different ways over the last couple weeks as we've been on tour with asses.masses and you know, I was thinking about it as like sometimes I think we've said it's like a chicken egg thing of we were making games, but there is a bigger and longer history that maybe both of our practices sort of make it a kind of a logical conclusion to have ended up something like asses.masses. So I had been making, you know, performances that incorporated other forms of technology and media for, you know, probably almost eight years or six years before starting asses.masses. Like I was working with email, with phones, with like audio guides, with parades and things like that. So like, there was a long history of trying to create shows that didn't have actors but could be activated by the public. And there was a sort of lecture performance that I had sort of started called Donkey Skin in Vancouver at a event called Interplay, shout out to Diana Peters, that was sort of like looking at can video games be a part of performance in some way? And around that time I think actually we had already started another project by the time I was trying that out, which was called Culture Capital. And and that is a card game that is played on stage. And so they, they are there, I guess part of this, you know, not tradition, but like a lineage as we were potentially like exploring the potentials of creating something that audiences fill in, like the bulk of the labour. And I guess in that exploration there is a lot of conversation around, well, what does it mean to ask someone to do something for you in a theatrical context? Before we like go further is there like an alternative history that you sort of put in the background that leads, you know, the roads that all lead together to donkeys?

Milton [00:04:17] No, I wouldn't call it an alternative history as much as I would say it's our parallel histories of working on non-performer-structured performance. And on my side, I was working with Theatre Conspiracy on Foreign Radical a lot as I was coming out of school. And then of course, that show is cyber... Cyber security and surveillance with like 20 or 30 audience members going throughout a kind of space, that one does have performers in it. But we spent a lot of time thinking about game design and spatial design and voting with your feet. After that, I'd worked on more media pieces and so lots more kind of spectator driven spaces where there was no performer. Whether or not that was White Pages, which was about phonebooks, or if it was about okay.odd, which was much more structural films inside of a theatrical space. So in all those circumstances, I think you and I kind of found each other at kind of the right time to work on Culture Capital. And then the trading card game was for a while the thing that we kept working on. And then asses.masses quickly joined into those conversations, especially as we tried to more heavily consider videogames as the specific genre and not just games in general.

Patrick [00:05:39] Yeah, and I guess that comes out of I was an MFA student at SFU and at the tail end of my degree I was playing with imagery related to donkeys and labour. And I think the main thing I was thinking about was that we live in an era where someone might work a job all day and then they would go home and they would consume media that was, you know, in their pastime or leisure time. But certain video games that make, you know, are comprised of a lot of labour that you would put in and potentially you might even work the job that you work during the day in a virtual context when you got home as a way of playing. And so there was this tension and or relationship between why in some cases is this labour and why in some cases is this or what like, you know, sort of capitalised or exploited labour, exploited labour as opposed to play and sort of a release. That was a sort of an inception point and when we started to work on the show at the Shadbolt in Burnaby, the conversation just sort of, you know, built and built towards looking at our donkeys working, what kinds of jobs are they doing? And at some point we settled on the idea that, well, I think we could make a game that an audience would play. But it wasn't until many years, even years, I would say later that we realised were like, I bet we could make a game that was over seven hours. And you know, has this like epic narrative that draws on the histories of the games that really inspired us when we were younger. Roleplaying games like Final Fantasy and Zelda, Chrono Trigger and and other forms where like that we would start to really imagine, oh, this is this can be a lot bigger than what we initially had set out to explore.

Milton [00:07:26] As for many years, we actually toured around just like a 20 minute version of asses.masses and then eventually a 40 minute version. But it was only in the what is now episode one of the full game for, for quite a few years. And we toured around quite a bit. It was quite astounding to actually tour around an unfinished piece. And so now that it's done and again, we didn't actually know that it was going to be like 7.5 hours until an opportunity like a month out from the premiere like it was it was a kind of a late addition to that to actually test like, 'Oh, I think it's actually this long' because we thought it was going to be like 4 or 5 hours for the longest time.

Patrick [00:08:02] You know, to look back on why did we feel like we had to keep telling people that it was going to be a safe seven episodes or, you know, 4 to 5 hours? Because even at the time, as you know, as you're discovering how big you can make something. Testing the waters, testing the kind of walls of, you know, what can this be? You know, I think it still took us a period of time to, like, commit and say, well, actually, you know, this is a this kind of experience can work. It needs kind of certain kinds of support, you know, for anyone who's listening and going to come to see us as masses, there's food, there's like a bar. We have everything that we can give you so that you can be comfortable in a theatre for, you know, seven plus hours. But that's a learning, you know, we were learning about, Oh, right, How far can we actually go, “How, how big can we make it?” And as we started to tell a story that we started to get more and more excited about or engrossed by and characters that we came to love more and more, you know, there's sort of a logical unfolding that was required to to make it to the end of that story. And it just ended up being ten episodes plus an epilogue and all this sort of scaffolding that's that's needed.

Milton [00:09:10] So there are maybe two other things to mention about time. The first one is that at no point did we ever say like, it has to be this long. Like we want to have people sit there for 8.5 hours, like what ostensibly is a full workday. That was by happenstance. We're very happy for that fact. But it was as long as it needed to be to tell the story that we wanted to tell. And more than anything else, which is the second point, it was more fuelled by our inquiry into what kind of stories can we tell when we aren't limiting ourselves to like an hour or two hours maximum that you would traditionally have in like a Western or like maybe more Canadian theatre show? Because as we were travelling around doing Culture capital, we kept hearing from people like, Oh, X show is too long. Or it could have shaved five minutes off and there was this real attention to like, you can tell your story more economically. But we were also very conscious that like, Oh well, there are only certain kinds of stories that you can tell in that time span. And if you think about serialised media or if you think about other video games that take 60 hours, those stories couldn't possibly be told any shorter or they'd be fundamentally different stories or like just the notes. So that was one of our guiding questions. And in case you're worried, like, Oh, they're just doing it for 7.5 hours just to have the seven a half hour show. The case was actually that we put story first and we're quite proud of it.

Gabrielle [00:10:33] Yeah, no, this is perfect because it gets to a question that I was just thinking, which is what does that do? What does that duration do? How does it function? How does that form function with regards to the storytelling? And so yeah, Patrick, you create in the form of games, stage plays, books and visual art and Milton, your practice spans digital media, interactive and game design, acting, directing and dancing. And so how do you determine when the dramaturgy of a game will benefit the experience of delivery of the concept better than a text based play for the stage or a book, for example, and vice versa? And and then to add on to that question. And what does the that duration do? So what does the game form do? Yeah.

Patrick [00:11:18] There's a couple of ways of sort of breaking this down. Mm hmm. One way to say it, I think, is that every technology, every art form has its own kind of history and tradition and temporality by bringing a video game into a theatre, you invite certain behaviours, certain associations, certain flexibilities. Right? Like you could just stop playing and walk outside and get more food and come back in. The game's not going to sort of run on without you. Well, that fundamentally changes, you know, the the idea of how we're moving forward as a group because someone has to sort of give input in order to progress the story along. And I think in and I don't think that that's not unique to a video game right like that in our card game experiences as well and in the sort of tabletop role playing game that we've made with Laurel Greene, you know, all of these sort of forms, game forms. And it's not exclusive to game forms either, but like these particular game forms have this kind of flexibility. They have a permission to vocalise in the theatrical space. They have a permission to sort of negotiate power. They make a kind of flexibility possible. That is and time is just one element of that. It's actually also just how you see each other and the way you respect or listen to your fellow audience members. Milton, what else do you feel like it's made possible?

Milton [00:12:45] Yeah, and in order to zoom out, I'd say that both Patrick and I tend to create conceptually. And so when we think about our mode of interaction with any medium, whether or not they'll be books or dances or stage plays or anything else, we do try to ask the question like, could it have existed as anything else without depriving the very nature of the conversation? And so in our case, when we bring up video games, we invoke them not just in its form, but also in what what the thematic concepts are doing within the video game form itself. And so we could have made a play in other formats, but it would have been asking very different questions through its interaction with it and similar with like I think the most analogous version of some of the conversations we have is like a choose your own adventure book where you get to like the work is reading, but also the work is choosing what, what paths and what things you want. But it would have to be something read by a collective group of people, but that wouldn't put it into dialogue with 'Let's play' videos and the kind of contemporary spectatorship we have around video games and the interaction with people like actually behind you doing it at the same time. I feel like we have those social interactions kind of built in with a lot of video games, whereas we don't necessarily have it in the same way with books or other media as well. So the closest things that we're trying to put into parallel are theatre and video games at the same time. And both of those have that kind of spectatorship, both like kind of rubbing up against each other, but also in dialogue with one another.

Patrick [00:14:17] Then I think maybe one way to add is that, you know, theatre is a composite or like compound art form as in our video games. And you know, they're made up a bunch of other they're made up of a bunch of other art forms and, and the particular kind of, you know, when you put a videogame on stage, what that allows you to do is sort of highlight certain elements that it, you know, brings to the foreground based on its like the traditions of what have been made in sort of videogames, but also just the nature of questions on control, present questions around winning and losing, whether you can or cannot win all of those sort of themes become sort of material in the room. And I think that for, For us, that's you know, I think that's just like the that has to be the first step to any project at all actually is like, that the form is going to sort of tell you things about the themes that you're going to explore. Like rather than setting out and being like, I want to make something about Labour. You know, where can I get some something about labour? It's like, Hey, look, in this game, the idea of video games, what video games are doing right now, what they're inviting us to do and think about, happens to be about Labour. Like we should make a story about labour set inside of it. So that kind of folding back on itself is, you know, that that principle I think is at work in everything that we've made together. But it's also about like it's at work, at everything that we've ever made individually and in other groups, because I think that that's just what makes us the kinds of artists that we are.

Gabrielle [00:15:59] I want to talk a bit more about the themes now in asses.masses, the donkey or ass references humans now, as we are confronted with increasing numbers of unemployed manual labourers, capitalism, technology, techno phobia and workers rights. And Milton, you're a founding member of Synectic Assembly. Am I saying that correctly?

Milton [00:16:19] Mm hmm. That's right.

Gabrielle [00:16:21] Okay, an artificial intelligence focussed art collective. And I'm wondering how you're engaging with AI artistically with the ethical considerations illuminated by these current issues and these themes in asses.masses.

Milton [00:16:34] Mm hmm. I won't go too deep into some of the things outside of asses.masses for this, because I'll just tease perhaps the idea that I'm working on a theme park, a speculative theme park project with my friend Shawn Chua from Singapore. And one of the components is this AI based Fortune-teller who would guide us around the speculative theme park as well as help us create it using natural language processing. But in terms of asses.masses, clearly we're in the time of the the writers strike, which has just reached conclusion supposedly, and then the actors as well, and film and TV and as well as going into the video game industry. So it's very apropos to the conversations that we're having around technology, as you're saying, Gabrielle. And so for us, we didn't know all these things would be happening when we started working on asses.masses, but we could kind of see certain things coming down the way that they did based on the fact that Patrick and I have talked a lot about this, but there's a video by Jesse Show, video game developer in 2013 where he talks about things that he imagines for the future of video games and around the future of storytelling in particular. And one of the things that he proposes is that video games won't be taken seriously as an art form until they learn how to listen or respond with the idea that a lot of theatre can do drama really well because characters can die. But video games traditionally can't because characters are dying and retrying. And that's one of the main mechanics of a lot of games which we can talk about for asses.masses, we thought about that a lot and we worked in the dramaturgy that death actually means something in the game. And so in our cases, when we think about like computer systems that can learn and can listen from its participants, that is where the game industry is going. But that's also generally with technology writ large, that's kind of the direction that it is necessarily heading towards. And in built with that, our conversations where losing a job is very, very clear and that parallels the donkeys that we have in asses.masses that parallels traditionally people who felt like they were going to be put out of work when the printing press was going around. And any technology that has preceded digital technology as well. And so that fear of losing jobs and especially quickly, fear of technology, we've tried to build into specific characters that are in asses.masses that have to represent their their fears, where they're coming from, but also contend with people who are more optimistic, optimistic about where technology is going and how they should be used. So in terms of like how we're ethically dealing with some of these considerations, the AI that we're using in asses.masses Is not the same AI that people are very scared of, which probably also still doesn't exist yet. It is coming, but that AI that people think will be able to write scripts flawlessly, we'll be able to do all these things, is half the conversation. The other half is of course the very real considerations of like what are humans using AI for? Which are the real conversations happening around contractual and lawful kind of uses of AI? So yeah, we're not necessarily engaging with the specifics of the policies that are being put into place. That feels like it's an entirely different project. But yet for technology, more generally, we are engaged in that conversation. I don't know, Patrick, if you want to add to that.

Patrick [00:20:16] We learned how to program to make asses.masses, so it's entirely built by us and that includes, you know, a certain number of components that would categorise be categorised as AI. Enemy AI like what states do they move through? What's the sort of logical sequence of what to do based on a certain kind of stimulus or input? And what I was going to say was that what I think is interesting about something like asses.masses, which is it uses old aesthetics of video games and for the most part, you know, 70% of it or so. And that's very intentional to be able to have a conversation about what's going on now because the fear that we hear and sort of see disseminated or, you know, you might just hear of a certain generation around technology comes from an inability to see and or grasp what's going on. And I think that part of, one of the things that asses.masses is able to do is because in the same way that I think anyone who sort of champions telling a fable or telling a story about any kind as a way to sort of build a bridge, you know, mechanical things are far easier to understand than electro digital sort of compound things. Like if you see a refrigerator of a certain generation, you're like, okay, this is where it heats, this is where it cools. I can like, connect to these things. We don't live in a world where we can actually see how things are being produced. You know, our iPhones become these sort of like shut in black boxes without a certain very high degree of understanding or sort of technical know how. So what I'm just trying to say is that, you know, when we're trying to create a context to think about these things, it's important, I think, to have found a middle ground and to even use a character who's anachronistically positioned as the protagonist, as a conduit to try to understand what's going on. Because if we do, I mean, if we think about sci fi of a more traditional flavour, I'm sitting next to like a version of a copy of Neuromancer here, and you imagine these worlds like just how just how opaque those are and, and where a lot of our sort of fear comes from, I think comes from exactly that of not knowing what actually how it works. Because as soon as you understand how it works, it's actually a lot less scary. It's just like, okay, well, like that's how this experience is created. This is the decisions that are being made and I can intervene. I can fix a refrigerator, but I can't if I if I have no idea what the fuck is going on at any given moment.

Gabrielle [00:23:00] And clearly your work and your collaborations are, you know, are very original. And in terms of Canadian theatre or performance, very innovative in terms of, you know, the interdisciplinarity and experimentation with form. And Patrick, you also write on the politics of theatre, including the democratisation of theatre through participation. I'm wondering, would you say that there is an underlying call to action for the theatre community in your writing and theatre making?

Patrick [00:23:33] Yeah, I would hope that anyone actually who makes anything would believe that their work is some kind of call to action. But that's maybe a bit of like a maybe not everyone aspires to shit disturbery. But yeah, I think, you know, and I was thinking about this in a sort of broader context of what milton and my collaborations have become because we are also the co-founders of a national video archive for performance called VideoCan, Videocan.ca. You know, that comes out of the conversations that we were having with our as we were building Culture Capital, which were interviews with artists from across the country about, you know, what kind of values were ship shaping and shifting within their regional contexts, what kind of art was being deemed better or worse than others. And more broadly, I would say, my, ever since I was a theatre student or like a theatre history student back in my undergrad, I was displeased with the, what you could say, I guess was like a complacency towards what we could do in a theatre. And I went to school in Halifax. I went to school at the University of King's College. And, you know, that was a great space where a lot of young people had full 100% autonomy over a theatrical black box. We could do anything we wanted. And I saw my peers pitching to do, you know, well-made plays. And that's a very specific context to have sort of had your artistic, I guess, like teeth forged metal teeth, I guess. And but that that is I think, you know, I owe the that that time of my life in that place the the sort of you know my debts are to that time where I really started to try to figure out what this thing was that people kept calling theatre. They seemed to really like it. I didn't understand why I bet we could do other things in here. I bet I could, like, go longer or shorter or be louder, be more chaotic. That definitely translated into a whole era of writing, which I think I'm actually at the end of in some ways. You know, my undergraduate thesis was called To Have Done With The Image of Theatre, was very sort of like, 'let's try to have a conversation about what we think it is.' And even it was like in those years that I had started thinking about what VideoCan was to become, because it was the only way that I was able to participate in a greater conversation about what performance was right now was by watching video. And so when again, when Milton and I had met and a couple of years into our collaboration and we started talking about, you know, video documentation, how we shot it for our our own purposes, but also wouldn't it be great to be able to see stuff? We just decided, yeah, okay, well, we're going to do that because there's people out there who were like me who didn't grow up in a city like Vancouver that didn't have a PuSh Festival. And, well, I guess I grew up in Ottawa, but, you know, that was a different era. But that, you know, people in like other places that didn't have access to boundary pushing and innovative stuff all the time. So I think that, you know, all of it is really tied together. And I would hope that anyone who sees something like asses.masses, or anything else that's on VideoCan like is able to think of like, 'oh, right, so this is okay and this is okay and everything in between, and everything that's not represented here is possible within these, these, you know, these cubes that we build for the purposes of creating context for people to come together, to think things, think new things, remind themselves of things.' And a lot of, I guess the way that we've handled, I think, sort of sharing our ideas on that subject is that not and I often will write these dialogues for publication. It's one of the ways that we feel like, you know, yes, there's a call to action, but also our hope is always to model the possibilities of thinking about something differently. And I would say that something with the form like asses.masses or something like Culture Capital or Farce or anything else that we've made independently or together still participates in that idea of look at how this thing can also be involved. We can also include this form. We can include the people who love this form and all of the traditions that come with it, because that's the actual function of these places.

Milton [00:28:13] I would also add that in terms of process as well, like through any of the asses.masses master classes that we have, which we're very happy about the name, but also any particular moments in which we're allowed to share, like even in this conversation, our views or the process by which we've made asses.masses. Both Patrick and I feel very strongly coming from the vein of something like VideoCan, in sharing out the kind of research that we've done in the learning. So if you're listening and you want to know more about like, how do I create this within unity, how many YouTube videos did you have to watch in order to understand how to move characters around and to transition from scene to scene and to do shaders? So, so many. But we hopefully are trying to model a kind of process that can work. Not everyone will want to create a game of this size right away. You know, the doors are open for any of us to do this, and so it's not specialised knowledge that can't be attained by anyone. It truly has been made on the backs of YouTube creators who have afforded as generously as we are trying to do now, 'here's what I know and you can learn it.'

Patrick [00:29:21] Shout out to that 16 year old who made the platformer controller that we adapted. I mean, like, to be quite frank, the community that we were able to engage with by making a video game was far more supportive, responsive. And like in there in the ship with you than any community I've ever interacted with in the context of making live theatre. Right. You could go on to a forum and say, How do I do this? And someone would be there right away to tell you. That's just the nature of how that community operates. There's some other people in there, you know, who are less helpful. But for the most part, they're including that 16 year old kid. Very helpful.

Milton [00:30:02] Yeah. And maybe now's a good time to also say that. Patrick, you've also written recently about democracy and theatre in an upcoming issue of.

Patrick [00:30:12] Canadian Theatre Review. That's right. It's true. And I guess maybe we can well take a sort of short step over there because because I do think it is interesting. When Milton and I were in residence in Brazil in April, March-April 2023, after asses.masses had premiered, we'd had two residencies in one in Buenos Aires, one in sort of split between Recife and Sao Paulo. And we were asked or we were told by someone who was seeking to understand the kind of works that we were doing. They said, Oh, your work is very democratic and in in form. And I thought that was interesting, and I took the opportunity in for the CTR journal, that we were both invited to contribute writings to, to reflect on why, what it means to be called democratic in our art making like that. The experiences to this person, this this individual who is responding to an artist talk that we're given that that those works were democratic like to their core. And it made me wonder about all the other works that people make. And if you're not going to call them democratic, then what are we going to call them? Because it's true. We have to. I'm not. Yeah, that's a longer essay. And trying to figure out like, well, what do we mean by democratic and like does it come into being? Does democracy come into being when you come to asses.masses? Or is it sort of a, you know, suspended representation of democracy? I will let anybody who comes to asses.masses decide whether or not they experience democracy that night. Sometimes I think we see something that doesn't look a lot like democracy, but it definitely does look like a lot like the way that 20 year olds maybe think that politics should be run. And then, you know, it changes and it evolves over the course of the evening because there's a lot of energy maybe that comes in at one point or the food fuels you at after the second intermission and all kinds of things change. So all that's to say is that I think the way that we recognise or encourage us to think about how our art forms create real political spaces and interactions, you know, this broader has broader implications for that, for other art forms if we're going to give us Democratic as a title. Well, let's talk about all the other ways. Are they oligarchic? Are they fascistic, are they, you know, autocratic? And maybe that's maybe some of those forms, you know, maybe that's not a problem. Maybe we have to represent those types of experiences to be able to understand them so that when we engage them within a different political theatre, we we understand them and we know how to respond. And we are we are versed in in something. But yeah, I don't think asses.masses prescribes one particular form of political organisation and that's actually something that is very beautiful about the first scene for us every night when we get to watch the first scene of asses.masses, we learn a lot about how this particular random ragtag group of 100 people has decided to conduct themselves in space, at least a start.

Milton [00:33:18] And they continuously surprise us. We are always taking notes and just trying to better understand, like how are people responding to any part of the game? But based on that first like ten or so minutes and when we learn what kind of audience and what kind of community they will become, we can never prescribe exactly how it's going to shake down because it just keeps changing over and over and over again. So yeah, we remain curious about how things will unfold. Maybe I'll take this opportunity to also say as part of the same issue of CTR related back to the technology conversation, I've written a cowritten piece of writing with Bart Simon from Concordia University about quantification and participatory performance. And so talking about how we might engage with the world of quantification and by extension the world of technology that we hope we can run headfirst into it. And I feel like asses.masses is part of that conversation, yeah.

Patrick [00:34:18] The journal edition will be published by foldA of... foldA 2024 in June of next year.

Milton [00:34:25] Yeah. And in case anyone is listening about the conversation about like a democratic process inside of asses.masses, the show is really fun. We want people to know that we know that we can get very heady sometimes about it and just like talk about like a theory and practice. But it's also a really fun video game that we've made and we hope that lots of people will get to play it. And it's also a show that needs you. There are some performances that I've gone to where I realise I could have not been there and the show would have been exactly the same. asses.masses is not the same without you.

Gabrielle [00:34:57] And we're thrilled to have it at PuSh 2024, January 20th, 27th and February 3rd. So yeah, to those listeners, come see for yourself. Is it Democratic? Was four hours truly not long enough?

Patrick [00:35:13] It wasn't. It wasn't. If you leave in four hours, you'll have to trace down all of the people who stayed and figure out the ending. And you probably will not believe them when they tell you that that was the ending.

Gabrielle [00:35:26] An experience unlike any other in the festival. So I am super thrilled that this is going to be part of it. Obviously it's going to be a stand out experience. Thank you so much for chatting with me today, Milton and Patrick.

Patrick [00:35:40] Thank you. Thank you so much.

Tricia [00:35:45] Thanks for listening to PuSh Play. My name is Tricia Knowles and I'm one of the producers of this podcast, along with Ben Charland. That was Gabrielle Martin's conversation with Patrick Blenkarn and Milton Lim, co-creators of asses.masses, which will be presented at the upcoming PuSh Festival. PuSh Play is supported by our Community Outreach Coordinator, Julian Legere, with original music from Joseph Hirabayashi. New episodes are released every Monday and Thursday. For more information on PuSh International Performing Arts Festival visit pushfestival.ca and follow us on social media @PushFestival. On the next episode of PuSh Play:

Basel Zaraa [00:36:26] I'm now trying to share the Palestinian history of war occupation and exile it in a way that my young daughter could understand. So I tried to build or to recreate a miniature of my destroyed family home in Yarmouk camp.

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Milton Lim and Patrick Blankarn discuss the role of democracy in theatre. asses.masses runs Jan 20th-Feb 3rd at Push Festival.

Show Notes

Gabrielle Martin discusses asses.masses with co-creators Patrick Blenkarn and Milton Lim. Their show, a performance that takes the form of a participatory video game. They talk about their collaboration, the democratization of theatre through participation, and how to make a theatre comfortable for 4+ hours.

Gabrielle, Patrick and Milton tackle the following questions and more:

  • How did asses.masses begin? Was it from a desire to collaborate on a game, or to create a performance?
  • How can theatre use other technologies in performance (emails, phones, etc.)?
  • What does it mean to ask someone to do something for you in a theatrical context?
  • How to make a theatre comfortable for 4+ hours?
  • What kind of stories can be told when not limited by traditional time limits?
  • What does duration of a show, how does it function, with regards to storytelling?
  • How do you determine when the dramaturgy of a game will deliver a concept better than other forms?
  • How do artists engage with AI ethically?
  • How can artists make video games dramatic when a usual core mechanic of games is inconsequential death?
  • Democratization of theatre through participation
  • Is there an underlying call to action in writing and theatre making?
  • Do you experience democracy with asses.masses or is it just a representation?

About Patrick Blenkarn and Milton Lim

Patrick Blenkarn and Milton Lim are conceptual artists based in Vancouver, BC. Their collaborations include video games, participatory installations, and card games, exploring urgent questions around social value of art, digital labour, and the political and artistic potential of games. They’re also the co-founders of the national video archive of Canadian performance documentation, videocan.

Land Acknowledgement

Patrick joins the podcast from rural eastern Ontario (Wolf Lake), traditional Algonquin territory.

Milton joins from Singapore, land of the indigenous Malay and Orang Laut communities.

Gabrielle hosts from the unceded, stolen and ancestral territories of the Coast Salish Peoples: the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish) and Səl̓ílwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh), colonially known as Vancouver.

It is our duty to establish right relations with the people on whose territories we live and work, and with the land itself.

Show Transcript

Gabrielle [00:00:01] Hello and welcome to PuSh Play, a PuSh Festival podcast featuring conversations with artists who are pushing boundaries and playing with form. I'm Gabrielle Martin. PuSh's director of programming and today's episode highlights Gameful Performance. I'm speaking with Patrick Blankarn and Milton Lim, co-creators of asses.masses, which will be presented at PuSh Festival January 20th, 27th and February 3rd, 2024. asses.masses is a custom made video game designed to be played on stage by a live audience. Brave spectators take turns each night stepping forward from the herd to seize the means of production and become the player. Patrick and Milton are conceptual artists whose collaborations include video games, participatory installations and card games, exploring urgent questions around social value of art, digital labour and the political and artistic potential of games. I'm thrilled to share our chat on what 'democratic' means for theatre and more. Here is my conversation with Patrick and Milton.

Gabrielle [00:01:01] Just before we dive right into it, I want to acknowledge that I am joining this call from the ancestral Unceded territories of the Coast Salish peoples, the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), and səlilwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh), where it's my privilege to be living and working and having this conversation here today. And I will just invite you to share where you are joining me from.

Patrick [00:01:24] Oh, well, I will begin. I am in rural eastern Ontario, actually at my parents place, which is on Wolf Lake, which is historically, I believe, Algonquin territory.

Milton [00:01:36] And this is Milton speaking. I am currently joining from Singapore, which is the land of the indigenous Malay community. And if I was to be more specific, the Orang Laut community.

Gabrielle [00:01:46] So you're both working across performance and game design or in gameful performance and with themes of labour, economy and social capital. I'm wondering if you can talk about how asses.masses began. What came first, the desire to collaborate on a video game designed to be played on stage by a live audience over eight hours, or to create a performance about the perils of labour redundancy in a post industrial society?

Patrick [00:02:10] Yeah, that's interesting. You know, we've we've kind of explored this question in different ways over the last couple weeks as we've been on tour with asses.masses and you know, I was thinking about it as like sometimes I think we've said it's like a chicken egg thing of we were making games, but there is a bigger and longer history that maybe both of our practices sort of make it a kind of a logical conclusion to have ended up something like asses.masses. So I had been making, you know, performances that incorporated other forms of technology and media for, you know, probably almost eight years or six years before starting asses.masses. Like I was working with email, with phones, with like audio guides, with parades and things like that. So like, there was a long history of trying to create shows that didn't have actors but could be activated by the public. And there was a sort of lecture performance that I had sort of started called Donkey Skin in Vancouver at a event called Interplay, shout out to Diana Peters, that was sort of like looking at can video games be a part of performance in some way? And around that time I think actually we had already started another project by the time I was trying that out, which was called Culture Capital. And and that is a card game that is played on stage. And so they, they are there, I guess part of this, you know, not tradition, but like a lineage as we were potentially like exploring the potentials of creating something that audiences fill in, like the bulk of the labour. And I guess in that exploration there is a lot of conversation around, well, what does it mean to ask someone to do something for you in a theatrical context? Before we like go further is there like an alternative history that you sort of put in the background that leads, you know, the roads that all lead together to donkeys?

Milton [00:04:17] No, I wouldn't call it an alternative history as much as I would say it's our parallel histories of working on non-performer-structured performance. And on my side, I was working with Theatre Conspiracy on Foreign Radical a lot as I was coming out of school. And then of course, that show is cyber... Cyber security and surveillance with like 20 or 30 audience members going throughout a kind of space, that one does have performers in it. But we spent a lot of time thinking about game design and spatial design and voting with your feet. After that, I'd worked on more media pieces and so lots more kind of spectator driven spaces where there was no performer. Whether or not that was White Pages, which was about phonebooks, or if it was about okay.odd, which was much more structural films inside of a theatrical space. So in all those circumstances, I think you and I kind of found each other at kind of the right time to work on Culture Capital. And then the trading card game was for a while the thing that we kept working on. And then asses.masses quickly joined into those conversations, especially as we tried to more heavily consider videogames as the specific genre and not just games in general.

Patrick [00:05:39] Yeah, and I guess that comes out of I was an MFA student at SFU and at the tail end of my degree I was playing with imagery related to donkeys and labour. And I think the main thing I was thinking about was that we live in an era where someone might work a job all day and then they would go home and they would consume media that was, you know, in their pastime or leisure time. But certain video games that make, you know, are comprised of a lot of labour that you would put in and potentially you might even work the job that you work during the day in a virtual context when you got home as a way of playing. And so there was this tension and or relationship between why in some cases is this labour and why in some cases is this or what like, you know, sort of capitalised or exploited labour, exploited labour as opposed to play and sort of a release. That was a sort of an inception point and when we started to work on the show at the Shadbolt in Burnaby, the conversation just sort of, you know, built and built towards looking at our donkeys working, what kinds of jobs are they doing? And at some point we settled on the idea that, well, I think we could make a game that an audience would play. But it wasn't until many years, even years, I would say later that we realised were like, I bet we could make a game that was over seven hours. And you know, has this like epic narrative that draws on the histories of the games that really inspired us when we were younger. Roleplaying games like Final Fantasy and Zelda, Chrono Trigger and and other forms where like that we would start to really imagine, oh, this is this can be a lot bigger than what we initially had set out to explore.

Milton [00:07:26] As for many years, we actually toured around just like a 20 minute version of asses.masses and then eventually a 40 minute version. But it was only in the what is now episode one of the full game for, for quite a few years. And we toured around quite a bit. It was quite astounding to actually tour around an unfinished piece. And so now that it's done and again, we didn't actually know that it was going to be like 7.5 hours until an opportunity like a month out from the premiere like it was it was a kind of a late addition to that to actually test like, 'Oh, I think it's actually this long' because we thought it was going to be like 4 or 5 hours for the longest time.

Patrick [00:08:02] You know, to look back on why did we feel like we had to keep telling people that it was going to be a safe seven episodes or, you know, 4 to 5 hours? Because even at the time, as you know, as you're discovering how big you can make something. Testing the waters, testing the kind of walls of, you know, what can this be? You know, I think it still took us a period of time to, like, commit and say, well, actually, you know, this is a this kind of experience can work. It needs kind of certain kinds of support, you know, for anyone who's listening and going to come to see us as masses, there's food, there's like a bar. We have everything that we can give you so that you can be comfortable in a theatre for, you know, seven plus hours. But that's a learning, you know, we were learning about, Oh, right, How far can we actually go, “How, how big can we make it?” And as we started to tell a story that we started to get more and more excited about or engrossed by and characters that we came to love more and more, you know, there's sort of a logical unfolding that was required to to make it to the end of that story. And it just ended up being ten episodes plus an epilogue and all this sort of scaffolding that's that's needed.

Milton [00:09:10] So there are maybe two other things to mention about time. The first one is that at no point did we ever say like, it has to be this long. Like we want to have people sit there for 8.5 hours, like what ostensibly is a full workday. That was by happenstance. We're very happy for that fact. But it was as long as it needed to be to tell the story that we wanted to tell. And more than anything else, which is the second point, it was more fuelled by our inquiry into what kind of stories can we tell when we aren't limiting ourselves to like an hour or two hours maximum that you would traditionally have in like a Western or like maybe more Canadian theatre show? Because as we were travelling around doing Culture capital, we kept hearing from people like, Oh, X show is too long. Or it could have shaved five minutes off and there was this real attention to like, you can tell your story more economically. But we were also very conscious that like, Oh well, there are only certain kinds of stories that you can tell in that time span. And if you think about serialised media or if you think about other video games that take 60 hours, those stories couldn't possibly be told any shorter or they'd be fundamentally different stories or like just the notes. So that was one of our guiding questions. And in case you're worried, like, Oh, they're just doing it for 7.5 hours just to have the seven a half hour show. The case was actually that we put story first and we're quite proud of it.

Gabrielle [00:10:33] Yeah, no, this is perfect because it gets to a question that I was just thinking, which is what does that do? What does that duration do? How does it function? How does that form function with regards to the storytelling? And so yeah, Patrick, you create in the form of games, stage plays, books and visual art and Milton, your practice spans digital media, interactive and game design, acting, directing and dancing. And so how do you determine when the dramaturgy of a game will benefit the experience of delivery of the concept better than a text based play for the stage or a book, for example, and vice versa? And and then to add on to that question. And what does the that duration do? So what does the game form do? Yeah.

Patrick [00:11:18] There's a couple of ways of sort of breaking this down. Mm hmm. One way to say it, I think, is that every technology, every art form has its own kind of history and tradition and temporality by bringing a video game into a theatre, you invite certain behaviours, certain associations, certain flexibilities. Right? Like you could just stop playing and walk outside and get more food and come back in. The game's not going to sort of run on without you. Well, that fundamentally changes, you know, the the idea of how we're moving forward as a group because someone has to sort of give input in order to progress the story along. And I think in and I don't think that that's not unique to a video game right like that in our card game experiences as well and in the sort of tabletop role playing game that we've made with Laurel Greene, you know, all of these sort of forms, game forms. And it's not exclusive to game forms either, but like these particular game forms have this kind of flexibility. They have a permission to vocalise in the theatrical space. They have a permission to sort of negotiate power. They make a kind of flexibility possible. That is and time is just one element of that. It's actually also just how you see each other and the way you respect or listen to your fellow audience members. Milton, what else do you feel like it's made possible?

Milton [00:12:45] Yeah, and in order to zoom out, I'd say that both Patrick and I tend to create conceptually. And so when we think about our mode of interaction with any medium, whether or not they'll be books or dances or stage plays or anything else, we do try to ask the question like, could it have existed as anything else without depriving the very nature of the conversation? And so in our case, when we bring up video games, we invoke them not just in its form, but also in what what the thematic concepts are doing within the video game form itself. And so we could have made a play in other formats, but it would have been asking very different questions through its interaction with it and similar with like I think the most analogous version of some of the conversations we have is like a choose your own adventure book where you get to like the work is reading, but also the work is choosing what, what paths and what things you want. But it would have to be something read by a collective group of people, but that wouldn't put it into dialogue with 'Let's play' videos and the kind of contemporary spectatorship we have around video games and the interaction with people like actually behind you doing it at the same time. I feel like we have those social interactions kind of built in with a lot of video games, whereas we don't necessarily have it in the same way with books or other media as well. So the closest things that we're trying to put into parallel are theatre and video games at the same time. And both of those have that kind of spectatorship, both like kind of rubbing up against each other, but also in dialogue with one another.

Patrick [00:14:17] Then I think maybe one way to add is that, you know, theatre is a composite or like compound art form as in our video games. And you know, they're made up a bunch of other they're made up of a bunch of other art forms and, and the particular kind of, you know, when you put a videogame on stage, what that allows you to do is sort of highlight certain elements that it, you know, brings to the foreground based on its like the traditions of what have been made in sort of videogames, but also just the nature of questions on control, present questions around winning and losing, whether you can or cannot win all of those sort of themes become sort of material in the room. And I think that for, For us, that's you know, I think that's just like the that has to be the first step to any project at all actually is like, that the form is going to sort of tell you things about the themes that you're going to explore. Like rather than setting out and being like, I want to make something about Labour. You know, where can I get some something about labour? It's like, Hey, look, in this game, the idea of video games, what video games are doing right now, what they're inviting us to do and think about, happens to be about Labour. Like we should make a story about labour set inside of it. So that kind of folding back on itself is, you know, that that principle I think is at work in everything that we've made together. But it's also about like it's at work, at everything that we've ever made individually and in other groups, because I think that that's just what makes us the kinds of artists that we are.

Gabrielle [00:15:59] I want to talk a bit more about the themes now in asses.masses, the donkey or ass references humans now, as we are confronted with increasing numbers of unemployed manual labourers, capitalism, technology, techno phobia and workers rights. And Milton, you're a founding member of Synectic Assembly. Am I saying that correctly?

Milton [00:16:19] Mm hmm. That's right.

Gabrielle [00:16:21] Okay, an artificial intelligence focussed art collective. And I'm wondering how you're engaging with AI artistically with the ethical considerations illuminated by these current issues and these themes in asses.masses.

Milton [00:16:34] Mm hmm. I won't go too deep into some of the things outside of asses.masses for this, because I'll just tease perhaps the idea that I'm working on a theme park, a speculative theme park project with my friend Shawn Chua from Singapore. And one of the components is this AI based Fortune-teller who would guide us around the speculative theme park as well as help us create it using natural language processing. But in terms of asses.masses, clearly we're in the time of the the writers strike, which has just reached conclusion supposedly, and then the actors as well, and film and TV and as well as going into the video game industry. So it's very apropos to the conversations that we're having around technology, as you're saying, Gabrielle. And so for us, we didn't know all these things would be happening when we started working on asses.masses, but we could kind of see certain things coming down the way that they did based on the fact that Patrick and I have talked a lot about this, but there's a video by Jesse Show, video game developer in 2013 where he talks about things that he imagines for the future of video games and around the future of storytelling in particular. And one of the things that he proposes is that video games won't be taken seriously as an art form until they learn how to listen or respond with the idea that a lot of theatre can do drama really well because characters can die. But video games traditionally can't because characters are dying and retrying. And that's one of the main mechanics of a lot of games which we can talk about for asses.masses, we thought about that a lot and we worked in the dramaturgy that death actually means something in the game. And so in our cases, when we think about like computer systems that can learn and can listen from its participants, that is where the game industry is going. But that's also generally with technology writ large, that's kind of the direction that it is necessarily heading towards. And in built with that, our conversations where losing a job is very, very clear and that parallels the donkeys that we have in asses.masses that parallels traditionally people who felt like they were going to be put out of work when the printing press was going around. And any technology that has preceded digital technology as well. And so that fear of losing jobs and especially quickly, fear of technology, we've tried to build into specific characters that are in asses.masses that have to represent their their fears, where they're coming from, but also contend with people who are more optimistic, optimistic about where technology is going and how they should be used. So in terms of like how we're ethically dealing with some of these considerations, the AI that we're using in asses.masses Is not the same AI that people are very scared of, which probably also still doesn't exist yet. It is coming, but that AI that people think will be able to write scripts flawlessly, we'll be able to do all these things, is half the conversation. The other half is of course the very real considerations of like what are humans using AI for? Which are the real conversations happening around contractual and lawful kind of uses of AI? So yeah, we're not necessarily engaging with the specifics of the policies that are being put into place. That feels like it's an entirely different project. But yet for technology, more generally, we are engaged in that conversation. I don't know, Patrick, if you want to add to that.

Patrick [00:20:16] We learned how to program to make asses.masses, so it's entirely built by us and that includes, you know, a certain number of components that would categorise be categorised as AI. Enemy AI like what states do they move through? What's the sort of logical sequence of what to do based on a certain kind of stimulus or input? And what I was going to say was that what I think is interesting about something like asses.masses, which is it uses old aesthetics of video games and for the most part, you know, 70% of it or so. And that's very intentional to be able to have a conversation about what's going on now because the fear that we hear and sort of see disseminated or, you know, you might just hear of a certain generation around technology comes from an inability to see and or grasp what's going on. And I think that part of, one of the things that asses.masses is able to do is because in the same way that I think anyone who sort of champions telling a fable or telling a story about any kind as a way to sort of build a bridge, you know, mechanical things are far easier to understand than electro digital sort of compound things. Like if you see a refrigerator of a certain generation, you're like, okay, this is where it heats, this is where it cools. I can like, connect to these things. We don't live in a world where we can actually see how things are being produced. You know, our iPhones become these sort of like shut in black boxes without a certain very high degree of understanding or sort of technical know how. So what I'm just trying to say is that, you know, when we're trying to create a context to think about these things, it's important, I think, to have found a middle ground and to even use a character who's anachronistically positioned as the protagonist, as a conduit to try to understand what's going on. Because if we do, I mean, if we think about sci fi of a more traditional flavour, I'm sitting next to like a version of a copy of Neuromancer here, and you imagine these worlds like just how just how opaque those are and, and where a lot of our sort of fear comes from, I think comes from exactly that of not knowing what actually how it works. Because as soon as you understand how it works, it's actually a lot less scary. It's just like, okay, well, like that's how this experience is created. This is the decisions that are being made and I can intervene. I can fix a refrigerator, but I can't if I if I have no idea what the fuck is going on at any given moment.

Gabrielle [00:23:00] And clearly your work and your collaborations are, you know, are very original. And in terms of Canadian theatre or performance, very innovative in terms of, you know, the interdisciplinarity and experimentation with form. And Patrick, you also write on the politics of theatre, including the democratisation of theatre through participation. I'm wondering, would you say that there is an underlying call to action for the theatre community in your writing and theatre making?

Patrick [00:23:33] Yeah, I would hope that anyone actually who makes anything would believe that their work is some kind of call to action. But that's maybe a bit of like a maybe not everyone aspires to shit disturbery. But yeah, I think, you know, and I was thinking about this in a sort of broader context of what milton and my collaborations have become because we are also the co-founders of a national video archive for performance called VideoCan, Videocan.ca. You know, that comes out of the conversations that we were having with our as we were building Culture Capital, which were interviews with artists from across the country about, you know, what kind of values were ship shaping and shifting within their regional contexts, what kind of art was being deemed better or worse than others. And more broadly, I would say, my, ever since I was a theatre student or like a theatre history student back in my undergrad, I was displeased with the, what you could say, I guess was like a complacency towards what we could do in a theatre. And I went to school in Halifax. I went to school at the University of King's College. And, you know, that was a great space where a lot of young people had full 100% autonomy over a theatrical black box. We could do anything we wanted. And I saw my peers pitching to do, you know, well-made plays. And that's a very specific context to have sort of had your artistic, I guess, like teeth forged metal teeth, I guess. And but that that is I think, you know, I owe the that that time of my life in that place the the sort of you know my debts are to that time where I really started to try to figure out what this thing was that people kept calling theatre. They seemed to really like it. I didn't understand why I bet we could do other things in here. I bet I could, like, go longer or shorter or be louder, be more chaotic. That definitely translated into a whole era of writing, which I think I'm actually at the end of in some ways. You know, my undergraduate thesis was called To Have Done With The Image of Theatre, was very sort of like, 'let's try to have a conversation about what we think it is.' And even it was like in those years that I had started thinking about what VideoCan was to become, because it was the only way that I was able to participate in a greater conversation about what performance was right now was by watching video. And so when again, when Milton and I had met and a couple of years into our collaboration and we started talking about, you know, video documentation, how we shot it for our our own purposes, but also wouldn't it be great to be able to see stuff? We just decided, yeah, okay, well, we're going to do that because there's people out there who were like me who didn't grow up in a city like Vancouver that didn't have a PuSh Festival. And, well, I guess I grew up in Ottawa, but, you know, that was a different era. But that, you know, people in like other places that didn't have access to boundary pushing and innovative stuff all the time. So I think that, you know, all of it is really tied together. And I would hope that anyone who sees something like asses.masses, or anything else that's on VideoCan like is able to think of like, 'oh, right, so this is okay and this is okay and everything in between, and everything that's not represented here is possible within these, these, you know, these cubes that we build for the purposes of creating context for people to come together, to think things, think new things, remind themselves of things.' And a lot of, I guess the way that we've handled, I think, sort of sharing our ideas on that subject is that not and I often will write these dialogues for publication. It's one of the ways that we feel like, you know, yes, there's a call to action, but also our hope is always to model the possibilities of thinking about something differently. And I would say that something with the form like asses.masses or something like Culture Capital or Farce or anything else that we've made independently or together still participates in that idea of look at how this thing can also be involved. We can also include this form. We can include the people who love this form and all of the traditions that come with it, because that's the actual function of these places.

Milton [00:28:13] I would also add that in terms of process as well, like through any of the asses.masses master classes that we have, which we're very happy about the name, but also any particular moments in which we're allowed to share, like even in this conversation, our views or the process by which we've made asses.masses. Both Patrick and I feel very strongly coming from the vein of something like VideoCan, in sharing out the kind of research that we've done in the learning. So if you're listening and you want to know more about like, how do I create this within unity, how many YouTube videos did you have to watch in order to understand how to move characters around and to transition from scene to scene and to do shaders? So, so many. But we hopefully are trying to model a kind of process that can work. Not everyone will want to create a game of this size right away. You know, the doors are open for any of us to do this, and so it's not specialised knowledge that can't be attained by anyone. It truly has been made on the backs of YouTube creators who have afforded as generously as we are trying to do now, 'here's what I know and you can learn it.'

Patrick [00:29:21] Shout out to that 16 year old who made the platformer controller that we adapted. I mean, like, to be quite frank, the community that we were able to engage with by making a video game was far more supportive, responsive. And like in there in the ship with you than any community I've ever interacted with in the context of making live theatre. Right. You could go on to a forum and say, How do I do this? And someone would be there right away to tell you. That's just the nature of how that community operates. There's some other people in there, you know, who are less helpful. But for the most part, they're including that 16 year old kid. Very helpful.

Milton [00:30:02] Yeah. And maybe now's a good time to also say that. Patrick, you've also written recently about democracy and theatre in an upcoming issue of.

Patrick [00:30:12] Canadian Theatre Review. That's right. It's true. And I guess maybe we can well take a sort of short step over there because because I do think it is interesting. When Milton and I were in residence in Brazil in April, March-April 2023, after asses.masses had premiered, we'd had two residencies in one in Buenos Aires, one in sort of split between Recife and Sao Paulo. And we were asked or we were told by someone who was seeking to understand the kind of works that we were doing. They said, Oh, your work is very democratic and in in form. And I thought that was interesting, and I took the opportunity in for the CTR journal, that we were both invited to contribute writings to, to reflect on why, what it means to be called democratic in our art making like that. The experiences to this person, this this individual who is responding to an artist talk that we're given that that those works were democratic like to their core. And it made me wonder about all the other works that people make. And if you're not going to call them democratic, then what are we going to call them? Because it's true. We have to. I'm not. Yeah, that's a longer essay. And trying to figure out like, well, what do we mean by democratic and like does it come into being? Does democracy come into being when you come to asses.masses? Or is it sort of a, you know, suspended representation of democracy? I will let anybody who comes to asses.masses decide whether or not they experience democracy that night. Sometimes I think we see something that doesn't look a lot like democracy, but it definitely does look like a lot like the way that 20 year olds maybe think that politics should be run. And then, you know, it changes and it evolves over the course of the evening because there's a lot of energy maybe that comes in at one point or the food fuels you at after the second intermission and all kinds of things change. So all that's to say is that I think the way that we recognise or encourage us to think about how our art forms create real political spaces and interactions, you know, this broader has broader implications for that, for other art forms if we're going to give us Democratic as a title. Well, let's talk about all the other ways. Are they oligarchic? Are they fascistic, are they, you know, autocratic? And maybe that's maybe some of those forms, you know, maybe that's not a problem. Maybe we have to represent those types of experiences to be able to understand them so that when we engage them within a different political theatre, we we understand them and we know how to respond. And we are we are versed in in something. But yeah, I don't think asses.masses prescribes one particular form of political organisation and that's actually something that is very beautiful about the first scene for us every night when we get to watch the first scene of asses.masses, we learn a lot about how this particular random ragtag group of 100 people has decided to conduct themselves in space, at least a start.

Milton [00:33:18] And they continuously surprise us. We are always taking notes and just trying to better understand, like how are people responding to any part of the game? But based on that first like ten or so minutes and when we learn what kind of audience and what kind of community they will become, we can never prescribe exactly how it's going to shake down because it just keeps changing over and over and over again. So yeah, we remain curious about how things will unfold. Maybe I'll take this opportunity to also say as part of the same issue of CTR related back to the technology conversation, I've written a cowritten piece of writing with Bart Simon from Concordia University about quantification and participatory performance. And so talking about how we might engage with the world of quantification and by extension the world of technology that we hope we can run headfirst into it. And I feel like asses.masses is part of that conversation, yeah.

Patrick [00:34:18] The journal edition will be published by foldA of... foldA 2024 in June of next year.

Milton [00:34:25] Yeah. And in case anyone is listening about the conversation about like a democratic process inside of asses.masses, the show is really fun. We want people to know that we know that we can get very heady sometimes about it and just like talk about like a theory and practice. But it's also a really fun video game that we've made and we hope that lots of people will get to play it. And it's also a show that needs you. There are some performances that I've gone to where I realise I could have not been there and the show would have been exactly the same. asses.masses is not the same without you.

Gabrielle [00:34:57] And we're thrilled to have it at PuSh 2024, January 20th, 27th and February 3rd. So yeah, to those listeners, come see for yourself. Is it Democratic? Was four hours truly not long enough?

Patrick [00:35:13] It wasn't. It wasn't. If you leave in four hours, you'll have to trace down all of the people who stayed and figure out the ending. And you probably will not believe them when they tell you that that was the ending.

Gabrielle [00:35:26] An experience unlike any other in the festival. So I am super thrilled that this is going to be part of it. Obviously it's going to be a stand out experience. Thank you so much for chatting with me today, Milton and Patrick.

Patrick [00:35:40] Thank you. Thank you so much.

Tricia [00:35:45] Thanks for listening to PuSh Play. My name is Tricia Knowles and I'm one of the producers of this podcast, along with Ben Charland. That was Gabrielle Martin's conversation with Patrick Blenkarn and Milton Lim, co-creators of asses.masses, which will be presented at the upcoming PuSh Festival. PuSh Play is supported by our Community Outreach Coordinator, Julian Legere, with original music from Joseph Hirabayashi. New episodes are released every Monday and Thursday. For more information on PuSh International Performing Arts Festival visit pushfestival.ca and follow us on social media @PushFestival. On the next episode of PuSh Play:

Basel Zaraa [00:36:26] I'm now trying to share the Palestinian history of war occupation and exile it in a way that my young daughter could understand. So I tried to build or to recreate a miniature of my destroyed family home in Yarmouk camp.

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