All Things Pass. Only Vision Persists.

What is the appropriate reaction when you discover your words became a small part of history, and maybe influenced the future, for something you hold dear?


Last Friday on the Giant Beastcast, Dan Ryckert recounted his recent first trip to Sleep No More. (The discussion starts around 48:00.) I appreciated the conversation happening on a gaming podcast because the connection of the Punchdrunk show to gaming concepts has always been part of my worldview. Michael Abbott’s post drawing those parallels was part of what drove me to the show originally. I was so enamored with the execution of this theatre/game hybrid, I named Sleep No More my “Game Of The Year” for 2011 over titles like Bastion and Skyrim. (The piece also included what could be charitably called a walkthrough as well as a list of achievements.)

This morning, with the memories of SNM still dancing in my subconscious, I finally cracked open my copy of The Punchdrunk Encyclopaedia. Published this past December, the book covers the history of Punchdrunk, their projects, and their immersive theatre design concepts in an enjoyable non-linear way. The encyclopedia format, with cross-references between entries and occasional full-page related topics, allows you to wander between concepts like you would an immersive set.

My read was fairly linear, going A-Z and spending time on the concepts I wanted to know more about. And just as I was about to put the book down, at the “References and Further Reading” appendix, my eyes flicked to the corner and grew wide:

Why was I being referenced in the official history of Punchdrunk in any capacity? I quickly fired a text to Kathryn Yu, friend / managing editor of No Proscenium / my original shepherd into the world of immersive theatre.

After some random entry checks, I struck gold on the entry for gaming. With a closer read than my first pass, found this quote:

“We didn’t set out to build work to be like first-person computer games. Instead, as our productions became more intricate and detailed it was a lens through which audiences began to view and compare the work. We recognise that the work offers fully realised realities within which audiences are immersed. Immersion of this depth is addictive and those interested in gaming feel the work offers a physical alternative to gaming. Just as games are played many times over, audiences return again and again to Punchdrunk worlds; with Sleep No More, NYC, an audience member who frequented the production reviewed it as one of his top ten games [see Dickinson 2011].”

– Peter Higgin, Punchdrunk Director of Enrichment

Finding yourself referenced in a book without warning would’ve been enough to weird me out for the day. But then came a text from Kathryn: “I FOUND IT” and a link to a recent Guardian article:

This was a turn I wasn’t prepared for.

But something strange happened after Punchdrunk brought Sleep No More to New York in 2011.

“We had an amazing weird moment when the papers and blogs were doing their round ups of ‘best album of the year’, ‘best film of the year’ and so on,” [Felix] Barrett remembers. “In one of them, Sleep No More got ‘best game of the year’”. The article described the show using gaming vocabulary and vernacular. Its hidden secrets were “Easter eggs,” while discovering a new floor was “levelling up”, and the choice of where to go made it an “open world”.

“When we were described as a video game I started going back to games to find out more about them, to unpack it, and learn more about game mechanics,” says Barrett. He realised while Punchdrunk wasn’t “ever directly inspired by an open-world game”, open worlds give birth to choice, which creates a new way to tell stories – similar to what he was trying to achieve in theatre.

– Alysia Judge, “‘Playable shows are the future’: what Punchdrunk theatre learned from games

Some Googling reveals that I appear to have been the only person who ever declared the show “game of the year”. Which means Felix Barrett read that blog post and considered it an “amazing weird moment”.

Wait, there’s more:

“That crazy space between video games and theatre, I reckon is the next frontier. […] I’m taking literal game mechanics to enter theatre … That’s totally what we’re doing. Asking questions in that space. […] I actually don’t think there’s a vocabulary for it yet. For a while, ‘immersive theatre’ was bandied about, but whatever this new thing is called, playable shows are the future.”

– Felix Barrett

So…Felix Barrett read that blog post, considered it an amazing weird moment, and it may have triggered him down a path of deeper consideration of how to marry game mechanics theater, and that’s what Punchdrunk is working on now?

That’s one hell of a one-on-one.

I lay no claim to originating the idea of comparing immersive theatre to gaming. (Again, Michael Abbott’s post put the idea in my head long before I ever attended.) And I don’t dare believe that my words alone sent Punchdrunk down whatever creative rabbit hole they’re currently exploring.

But there’s something bewitching about my words echoing back seven years later in this way, in the book in my hands and the subhead copy on my screen. To know that I left even a small imprint on the Punchdrunk team, in the subconscious way that their shows did on me, makes me glow a little.

(Felix, Peter – if either of you somehow end up back on this small corner of the internet and read this, I’m not sure what to say except: thank you both.)

Remembering The Good Of 2016

The prevailing sentiment among my social circle as we end a year of celebrity death, dismay, and non-stop electoral insanity is “fuck 2016”. With each day bringing some new blunt emotional trauma, I get and fully understand it.

On personal reflection, though: it’s not been a bad year. It’s been a surprisingly decent year. And I’ve been terrible at keeping track of the year that was here, as opposed to other social mediums. I’m reasonably worried about losing track of the year and just writing it off as “that year Trump won and every celebrity died”.

So, with that in mind, some personal highlights from the year that was.

Continue reading “Remembering The Good Of 2016”

Media Lessons From The King

Today, Thierry Henry announced he would not be returning to the New York Red Bulls following the expiration of his contract. The move was not a surprise, but still has left many that surround the team a bit down.

So much ink has already been spilled about the legacy of the last four years: his talent on the field, his role with the club, his impact on MLS. He’s been an anchor since I returned to caring about the league in 2010, someone that I couldn’t believe I got to watch perform week in and week out.

But as I’m writing this on my personal site, I want to reflect on the other lasting mark Henry has left on me: he was the rare player that demanded more out of everyone involved with the team, including the media.

If you follow league beat reporters, particularly those who deal with RBNY routinely, you’re aware of his reputation when dealing with the media in the locker room. Some would label him “cranky”. Some declared him “rude”. An incident where he declined media availability after a 1-1 draw against Chivas USA in 2012 sparked a brief dust-up between media and supporters about whether or not beats had any right to speak to players at all.

Obligatory Picture Of My Stupid Face In Henry's Scrum

I won’t claim to “know” Henry from my three years of sticking a microphone towards his face, but I at least grew to have an understanding of him.

Thierry didn’t relish dealing with the media hovering around his locker, but he accepted it. (European locker rooms aren’t open to media, but MLS mandates the doors open 15 minutes after the match ends.) He was typically the last player to speak after a match, sometimes waiting a solid hour after the final whistle, which triggered its fair share of pissed off “You’re waiting HOW LONG?” text messages from soccer media widows. But Henry always seemed to have a level of professional respect for those of us who did stick around.

Thierry had his cliches – “as I said to you before”, “I don’t know if you remember”, and “not having a go at any one” being the three go-to for any Henry impersonation – but he genuinely considered every question. I can’t remember him being on auto-pilot or content with performances – he always latched on to something the team could improve on. If the team did badly, he was open about it. If the team won 4-1, he would complain about the conceded goal. If the team won 4-0, he would caution about celebrating too much, because he knew it wouldn’t be long before the team regressed.

His knowledge of the game was impossibly deep. He would run down talent on opposing rosters not that they had just faced, but that were coming up. He would commend systems and coaches elsewhere in MLS. He would frequently drop analogies involving NBA teams, the other sport he truly loved.

Following a recent home game, as he was getting ready at his locker, I watched him look up at the closed circuit TV, that was showing the annual NYPD vs. FDNY match. And he watched it just long enough, and gestured at the TV, that I could’ve swore he was analyzing the match.

Nearly as much as he loved challenging defenders on the field, he took a deep pleasure in challenging dumb or trite questions.

Thoughts on the match? “It was 90 minutes.”

Have you ever played in a game as crazy as that one? “I’ve played in a lot of games.”

Do you enjoy the new away jersey the club just released? “I don’t know, I haven’t worn it yet.”

An intricate question about his position moving wide left as he used to at Arsenal? Gets swatted down because he insists he didn’t play there at Arsenal.

My own personal dressing down (which I was surprised to find I still had the audio for) came after a softball about what he had seen from the reserves during a friendly he didn’t play in. He had often loved talking up the younger players who didn’t get a lot of field time, but apparently not as much as he loved giving me crap about trying to gain insight from a friendly:

What Thierry taught me, more than anyone else in the RBNY locker room, is the value of asking a question with a non-obvious answer. You can’t lose the germane questions entirely to get an interview rolling, but unless there’s something I can’t answer in my head, I’ve learned to just listen.

Perhaps the most noticeable thing in his final year with the club was how focused he was on the team, and not himself. As the “What are you doing next year?” questions came up nearly every week, his answer was always the same: “We’ll talk about that after the season ends.” Even in the announcement today, the thought was the same: he didn’t want to take the focus off the team’s performance. He didn’t want a farewell tour, teams bringing him gifts, endless fawning media tributes. He wanted to put his head down and be one of the eleven guys on the field.

There was an article in the club’s corporate magazine that had perhaps my favorite quote that wrapped up how he saw himself:

I keep on reiterating to everybody, I didn’t save anyone’s life, I’m not a hero, I’m none of those things. I was just out there to play the game and while I understand I gave some people joy and I ended up loving the club I played for most of my career, I didn’t go to war to protect my country. That’s worthy of elevation to the status of ‘hero’, you know? I just want people to remember me for playing some soccer and that’s all. Another player will come along and erase all those records but as long as people can recall me in some way it means that I’ve done something right.

Thanks, Thierry. It’s been a pleasure.