FH Why would they allow you to record the event if this is supposedly a pure, experiential thing?
BC The LARPers are beginning to understand the importance of what they’re doing, and that unless they document these pieces in some way for the outside world, they are going to continue to be marginalized. Though when you’re immersed in the event, you don’t realize that it might not necessarily be very interesting to watch from the outside. Certainly there is a contingent that’s resistant to the idea of being recorded.
FH So people can’t just stand by and watch.
BC No. There are no viewers in a true LARP event. So there’s a problem in an art context. How do you build on the type of event that requires participation only, and then bring in a viewer without disrupting the event, or so that the players don’t just feel like monkeys in a cage? At Sonsbeek it wasn’t too hard to figure out how to bring viewers into the pieces as unwitting players, in a sense, even though it was very subtle. At this point, though, I think the video that documents the event is a failure.
FH How so?
BC The Sonsbeek event was the first one I filmed. The event itself was one of the best works that I’ve ever made. I learned a tremendous amount that I could use later. But the video doesn’t immediately convey everything that was happening. It’s getting about five percent of what actually occurred. We just did not shoot enough footage. Plus I didn’t know what to shoot, or how to shoot it. Making the Sonsbeek performance was hard enough. Creating a film of it was a whole other monster. I was trying to run the event, play a character and shoot video at the same time.
FH What was your role in Case? It seemed like you were directing it, but then others at times appeared to take the initiative.
BC Realizing what my role is in these events, while they’re happening, is something I’ve grown into. What should I be doing, what do I enjoy doing? My role is to guide the event in a particular direction with the help of game designers—people from the LARPing community who are very skilled in game mechanics. There are all kinds of techniques designers use to make an event flow in certain ways. I manage the event as a whole, but the designers carefully watch the players’ interactions. I’ll say, I want this particular thing to happen, something to occur here, or here, so that the characters wind up with, say, three conflicts and three outcomes. The designers predict the outcomes correctly every time.
FH In Case, it didn’t feel like you were outside the piece.
BC That wasn’t consciously planned. I was just there, and I was guiding the readers around—not so much as a character or a player, but as a non-player character. It comes out of the performative structure that I grew up with, which was the Dungeons and Dragons stuff. There is a game master or a dungeon master who creates the world and the rules for that world, and then 10 players come to play out their roles, with the dungeon master’s consent, based on the world he’s made for them. That’s what I did, from age 15 to 25.
Role players in general are extremely adept at cannibalizing anything they can. Coming out of the academic training that I have, and this being my job, I feel a certain responsibility to account for the references I pick up. LARPers don’t need to do that. They’ll grab anything and everything, from performance, anthropology, sociology, just about any piece of history.
FH Is it something like appropriation?
BC No. Appropriation is more a modification logic. This has gone beyond appropriation. It couldn’t have happened without appropriation, but appropriation is more objective and critical.
FH It’s as if the borders kind of melt away.
BC What we’re doing now is finding our way out of a black box by simply consuming all this stuff. There’s a younger Norwegian guy, Eirik Fatland. He saw a Terence Koh piece in Tokyo—a “Powder Room” performance. Fatland had no idea who Terence Koh is, but he made a powder room. He put his friends in it, in their underwear, and they did a role-playing game inside that powder room, for four to six hours, based on cancer patients interacting with each other. He didn’t know the name of the artist when I asked him. In an attempt to become less marginalized, and make what they consider art, the LARPers will grab from the visual circus of performance art and make a role-playing game based on it. They’ll role-play being artists.
FH So, LevelFive.
BC LevelFive is a three-day, live role-playing event based on self-actualization seminars from the 1970s. Like Werner Erhard Seminars Training [EST], Lifespring, Exegesis Britain—I don’t know, there were hundreds, if not thousands of them. Sociologically, the term is large-group awareness training [LGAT]. Acccording to Adam Curtis [in the 2002 BBC series “The Century of the Self”], all the strategies in the seminars came from the Human Potential Movement of the ’60s. Erhard and others offered self-actualization tools to the masses, but in a way that was no longer socially or politically conscious. Instead of aiming for a more open, communal society, LGAT created a generation of selfish consumers.
FH Given your history, it seems this might be something rather personal for you.
BC Well, it’s part of a larger investigation into the history of the New Age movement. I’m trying to understand the cultural context in which I grew up. My dad was in Vietnam. He was a gunner in a helicopter, and I was named after his captain. After Vietnam, my dad got a master’s degree in civil engineering from Princeton. He wasn’t a privileged kid, and tried to become a socially progressive civil engineer. He was designing public transportation for the city of Newark, which was no small job. But the system was corrupt, so he left, and went to California with my mother. Eventually they landed in Missouri, where my mother’s relatives were family farmers for generations. Then they divorced. It’s a long story.
FH The essential thing is that you grew up in something of an alternative environment.
BC Yes—well, my religious education was my mother sitting down with a joint when I was eight and saying okay, now we’re going to talk about the planes of existence. I remember my stepfather telling me about lucid dreaming. The first book I recall seeing was Ram Dass’s Be Here Now . And my stepfather and my father were narcotics traffickers. I grew up with pipe bombs in the house. I remember Ray, my step-father, who was in Case, coming home at night bleeding.
FH So Case was more personal than I realized.
BC Yes. Ray’s an old activist. You have to understand that in the ’80s in Missouri there were all these people around trying to live alternative lifestyles. There were Vietnam War vets living out in the woods, and bikers and old hill- billies out there, too. One way people made money was by growing marijuana—the largest cash crop in Missouri at one point. Guys from California would show up in the middle of the night and harvest it, pay a thousand dollars and walk off. My father, who grew up in New Jersey and had Mafia connections, would sell pot in Jersey—that was my family vacation—and then go to Florida, to the Keys, to pick up cocaine and bring that back up. All this money began to flood in—and then the coke flooded in, and all of a sudden everyone was freebasing. So this thing that had started out so wonderfully—the ideology of the ’60s—well, I grew up in the drug-addicted aftermath of it. People like my stepfather were throwing down remnants of it to me, but he was very bitter that things hadn’t turned out the way he had wanted them to turn out. I just saw a lack of discipline in the people surrounding me when I was a kid. There was simply too much distance between them and the intellectual sources of the movements they were following. There was bound to be an eventual breakdown.