GUEST BLOG: The Inchcolm Project and Working with Others Pt. 1

This week’s guest blog comes from Mona Bozdog, a second-year ARCS PhD candidate. As part of her PhD, which investigates the connections between video games and live performance, she designed a live performance that took as its starting point a video game, its design heuristics, aesthetics and mechanics. Mona took part in the Inchcolm Project, showcasing her work-in-progress on the 16th October 2016, on Inchcolm Island, in the Firth of Forth.  Below is part 1 of Mona’s experience.

When Marianne suggested that I write about Inchcolm Project, I went through, and subsequently discarded, numerous drafts:

1. I will describe the project, its history and many iterations, how it came to be and what it came to be.

2. Talk about my research and how it underpinned and shaped the project.

3. Discuss some of the findings and the audience experiences as described in the post-show discussion.

4. The story of my life as a PhD candidate. Too many shiny avenues, and a never-ending quest to pursue them all.

I decided to write instead about an aspect of the Researcher Development Framework that seldom gets mentioned:

Working with others.

Mona Bozdog

Team Inchcolm ready for set-up in the pouring rain

Looking back at the Inchcolm Project one thing stands out, and that is that this massive undertaking would not have been possible without collaboration, without the passion, creative input, trust and support of team Inchcolm. The project involved designing a site-specific promenade performance on Inchcolm Island that was an extension of Dear Esther (The Chinese Room, 2012), the video game that marked the beginnings of the walking simulator genre. The design process involved applying theatre and game design methods to create a fictional world that spans over both the physical environment of Inchcolm and the virtual environment of the game. This journey was structured as an augmented exploration around the island, followed by a walkthrough of Dear Esther and a performance by Mantra Collective.

The story was structured as a series of location-triggered voice-over narration, visual installations and musical vignettes. The sound design was created by Kevin Murray, who in addition to recording, editing and designing the audio, tagged each file to its corresponding location. This meant tailoring a free geo-tagging software to our needs. Luckily Kev is also a game designer with Unity experience. Because we were using a free software that would only allow us to tag the audio files to the location that we were in, Kevin had to take countless site visits to tag each individual file, and re-tag whenever there was a change in the running order or location or tide, and test, and test, and test again.

The audience used the SonicMaps player that (ideally) tracked their movement around the island and (ideally) triggered the audio whenever they would hit a tagged location. This, of course, was not without its issues, the app had numerous problems that hindered the smooth progression of the experience. The 22 audio bits were scattered around the island and, like the game, they were letters from a man to his wife, reflections on refuge, isolation and guilt. Both the writing and sound design were a response to the site, to the game and to the crisis in the Mediterranean, and were centred around the themes of refuge, isolation, home and hope.

The voice acting was done by Sandy Welch, a resounding name in Scotland’s theatre and film scene. Sandy was also my employer when in-between academic and artistic ventures. I mention this because, in making the project happen, I relied so much on personal relationships, on forging new connections, meeting new people, and approaching people who I believed shared a ‘spirit of adventure’. I cannot stress enough how important it was to take the time to attend events, make use of every resource at my disposal, network, talk about my project and ask for advice.

The set and costume design was created by Ana Inés Jabares-Pita who in 3 hours in a raging storm managed to somehow design ten beautiful installation spaces. At the time, Ana, who is a multi-award winning designer, had five other previous commitments, but decided to cut down on her personal time and sleep hours, just so she could collaborate on what she believed was an interesting project. On Saturday, which was our set-up day, Ana and her partner, David, were sourcing materials, picking up sea-weed, building wire dresses, scattering bark and feathers, and inflating buoyancy aids. Might be worth mentioning that Ana was leaving for three weeks the next morning, so their very little time together was spent in the pouring rain, running around the island and making sure that everything is ready for the next day’s performance.

Jennifer Logan, a final year RCS Set and Costume Design student, joined the team for her secondment, as Set and Costume Design Assistant and collaborated with Ana on all aspects of production. The designed spaces had to resound aesthetically with the game, with the refugee crisis imagery and with the contrasting nature of the island: natural environment surrounding a beautiful 12th century Abbey on one side of the island, and war-time, concrete functional battlements on the other.

Tune in on Friday for part 2…!

Mona Bozdog is a second-year PhD candidate undertaking an Applied Research Collaborative Studentship, funded by Abertay University and The Scottish Funding Council, through the SGSAH. The research project is a partnership between Abertay University, The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and The National Theatre of Scotland. 

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