Know Your Place at the PHM

Back in June, The Larks combined the spectacle of theatre with the agency of play at the People’s History Museum to create an interactive performance piece, Know Your Place. Now, they’ve written us a blog post detailing the session.

Know Your Place, copyright People's History Museum 29.06.13 (11)

It was so exciting for The Larks to ascend on the Museum for a day!  Know Your Place is a pervasive theatrical game interrogating notions of social class and entitlement.  Players are born onto an island and receive an identity and an inheritance.  They then play out their life through three rounds which sees them go to school, embark on a career and retire.  The game is clearly rigged, as those who inherit more at the beginning have more to invest in their life, for which they receive a greater return.  An elite education tends to lead to more career opportunities which sees a fruitful retirement.  Meanwhile the facilitator reminds us that ‘we are all in this together’ and that ‘the system will not reward those who do not contribute’, rhetoric we are well accustomed to hearing, but in front of this openly rigged system doesn’t seem to match up… The person with the most at the end is declared the winner, but this is undermined having exposed the system to be at best arbitrary, at worst, downright unfair.

We had not previously delivered the game indoors but were so excited at the prospect of using the Museum as a backdrop as the themes of social justice and people power which resonate powerfully within the game.  We collected players from the light, airy foyer and lead them into the performance space within the permanent exhibition, which we used as a base.  Here players had to complete their first task – find their hat.  Hats were dotted around the space and contain identities and Know Your Place, copyright People's History Museum 29.06.13 (41)inheritance – so the distribution of identities is pot luck (or the person who moves fastest!).  We chose to identify class ranking by hats as inspired by The Two Ronnies Class Sketch, but funnily enough the Museum has a small section on hats and class, so they blended in expertly well to the surroundings making it more challenging for people to find than previous versions of the game.

We tried out a new version of the schools applications section, which had limited success – we felt that previous versions weren’t challenging enough so we adapted it.  However when we ran it in the museum we realised that the controlled nature of the environment (as opposed to the outdoors) led this part to be quite static and not the dizzying start we’d expected, so there’s further work to be done there.

The next section, the career opportunity section saw the game really come to life.  Due to its active nature we had to do this section in the Engine Room as it had Know Your Place, copyright People's History Museum 29.06.13 (21)plenty of space for shuttlecocks to fly around without damaging anything.  Players donned their hats and tried to catch as may opportunities as possible, some to great success.

We then escorted the group back to base for the retirement section.  Here players attempt to spend their well earned beans on trips for themselves in retirement.  However, Death is hot on the heels and constantly pursues them threatening to abruptly end their life. This brought a flurry of activity to the building as players searched high and low for destinations whilst hiding from Death.  Players hid in disabled toilets and tentatively ascended stairways on the hunt for sunny Dubai and romantic Paris – or the budget option – Skegness.

Players left exhilarated and we had some fantastic feedback:

“It gave me pause to think about multiple issues.”

“It makes you think about what effect education has on your path in life.”

“It’s a really great metaphor for life.”

Hopefully we’ll be back at the Museum again in the future!


Supported using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England.
Originally commissioned by Festival of the North East for PLACE, a development programme to stimulate new work in the North East, managed by ARC, Stockton Arts Centre.


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