Beginning is a larp by Danish artist Nina Runa Essendrop. The concept is that up to 12 blindfolded players are creatures being born and evolving in an unknown environment, which they explore over the course of 90 minutes. The experience is rich and varied and accompanied by a lush soundtrack. Periodically, there is a thunderstorm and the creatures stop to make noises and sing in the rain.
Nina is particularly known in Nordic Larp circles for developing embodied, wordless larps with themes of innocence, childhood and transcendence. I’ve played two of her other larps, White Death (in Ireland) and Innocence (at Black Box Copenhagen in November), but Beginning was my personal favourite, as I’ll explain at the end.
After consulting with Nina we decided to make some changes. Firstly, when I played it some female participants felt uncomfortable with the element of touch, and we added a section to the workshop around safe touch and exploring how to communicate YES/NO/MAYBE without words.
Secondly, it seemed to me that the larp could be developed and deepened by adding the possibility of mating to the third act. If a creature mated it would receive a piece of clay, and could fashion an egg. The creatures are born alone in this world, and so the question would be how to communicate important things to one’s offspring. We also made clear that not having an egg would mean getting to explore the world further as it changes, and so there was a choice to make.
We also made some changes to the soundtrack, partly due to not having all of the music available and partly due to personal taste. Our version modelled the five acts on the 5 Rhythms of Gabrielle Roth – flow, staccato, chaos, lyrical and stillness. This is not the model for the original music, so far as I know, but I thought it would be interesting to explore this. Mating could take place during the ‘chaos’ part of the game. After that was the lighter, ‘lyrical’ section, and players commented that they did feel much more relaxed and able to play once the mating ‘season’ was at an end.
We had an amazing gift in our venue, the Cafe des Artistes in Lewes, which featured an infinity studio. This meant that the creatures were very safe in the space, and also that the visual impact for the workshop and (for we spectators) during the larp was quite stunning.
The pre-game workshop was, in my judgement, a big success. I was very glad that we’d added the touch element to the workshop, because in such a tactile larp it’s absolutely vital that all of the players get used to the idea that they can say ‘yes’ and ‘no’ and ‘maybe’. A useful lesson in life, as in larp.
The larp itself was an absolute joy to witness. At times we Guardians would spontaneously join in with the play, dancing about the space with the creatures. Taking photographs (for which we’d sought permission before) felt difficult at times, although the visual spectacle was so beautiful that it became difficult to resist. I’m glad, now, that we did document it in this way.
The mating experiment was interesting and, perhaps, worked well overall. Our fear was that everyone would mate, but in fact that didn’t happen. Like pandas, our creatures were shy by nature and only two completed the mating (which was a symbolic exchange of bracelets). With hindsight, we would have been better to put the ‘nursery’ at the opposite end, away from the music, as the parent-creatures had a very introspective fourth act.
Here’s some feedback from one player, Andrew:
This was an amazing thing to do and to undergo. I’m really glad that I chose this game. It was beautiful, gentle, enlightening, and fun. There were moments of genuine (at one point, quite intense) emotion. There was a real feeling of connection to others, but without certain aspects of identity and indentification that we usually take for granted.
I’d like to thank everyone involved for giving me this lovely adventure.
And I’d like to thank my co-organisers of Larparama, Adam James and Keane; my fellow Guardians, Annabelle and Anna; and the players who put so much into their play.
Why I wanted to run Beginning
When I played it last year in Sweden at the Knutepunkt Nordic Larp conference, I was profoundly moved by the experience of being born into a world as an innocent, naive creature, and by the realization that this creature would have some of its hopes dashed by an unfeeling world. I cried for the first 5-10 minutes of the game, which was the most cathartic cry I’ve ever had!
This song sums it up for me: