In a small gravel lot, just outside Budapest. Statues of Lenin, Marx, Engels and others wait like prisoners in a yard.
Almost 50 monuments crowd the space, commemorating great battles, victories and leaders. Once they decorated the capital. Now they stand like mourners at their own funeral, reduced to kitsch at a roadside attraction: an ideological graveyard charging tickets at the door.
I visited Hungary’s Memento Park back in 2013 and was immediately struck by the monumental question it raised: What happens to the history we’d rather forget?
I’ve been thinking about history a lot lately; the events that make up our lives, and the stories we make of them to make them make sense. But there’s a trick here because stories are told retrospectively – looking back – and that’s not how we live.
Before history is written in the history books, it’s played out in the present.
When people ask me what I do, I usually tell them that I’m a playwright – someone who writes plays. The word sounds positively archaic, but in its spelling lies a clue. Plays are wrought not written; made as well as inscribed. And, importantly, ‘play’ is more than a noun, it’s also a verb.
In 2011, I worked with Adele Jeffreys and Alex Vaughn from Australian Theatre for Young People (ATYP) to devise a new drama program for students at Marrickville West Primary School based around a unit they were studying on globalism.
Over 10 weeks, two senior classes set out separately to discover uninhabited lands. They established towns, then capital cities. They traded resources, developed technologies, devised laws and systems of governance – all the while aware of another classroom/country just across the hall.
With a nod to Dickens, we called it A Tale of Two Countries.
The work was untested, but with its emphasis on play and a system that neither encouraged nor forbade any action, it proved a hit with the students.
I think its success had much to do with taking players seriously, posing serious challenges and trusting them to decide for themselves the best course of action. This responsibility gave them a vested interest in the worlds they were building and significant investment in their outcomes.
It also allowed each class to experiment with systems of trade, law, and governance, learning through trial and error, the advantages and disadvantages of each.
From the same beginnings, both classes soon diverged wildly.
One was a benevolent dictatorship, with only a handful of laws, and a policy of death or exile for breaking them.
The other was a mystical theocracy with a caste-based society.
Both were highly nationalistic and suspicious of outsiders.
These ‘cultures’ evolved organically with minimal intrusion from us. We’d simply present choices and discuss possible outcomes, allowing each group to deliberate on the best course of action.
Finally, we brought these two nations together, with one specific intervention, in which a natural disaster engulfed one country forcing its inhabitants to seek asylum at the other.
This last act played out over the last weeks of the program before a final coda in which we jumped forwards in time to the new nation born of their merging.
The process culminated in a golden jubilee performance in which the new nation commemorated the events leading up to its founding. But in many ways, this production was a capstone. The story wasn’t written. It evolved out of play.
But I wondered, what if it had continued? What if this nation, with all its history, were handed over to a new generation of players? What might come next?
A little history play
My new show at Batch Festival, A Little History Play, attempts to answer exactly that question.
Each night, audiences form new governments tasked with steering a nation through uncertain times, knowing their actions will echo through history.
As they respond to random events, the story begins to take shape. At the end of play, each group has the option to commemorate its reign, leaving a monument for future generations. And on the next night, another group sits down to play, inheriting this world for themselves.
Over three nights a nation will be founded, inherited, and either founder or succeed. The problems of one generation will be solved or sent downstream, impacting the lives of those who follow. Victories will be celebrated, atrocities forgotten. And the whole kit and caboodle will be documented online.
It might be brilliant or it might awful. I honestly don’t know. But then it’s not entirely up to me.
This world is not written but wrought, its history determined by player decisions and random events.
Think of me as a humble scribe, recording the unfolding story in the annals of history (the Griffin blog) for future generations.
This event will be playing at KXT bAKEHOUSE / Popupstairs, Level 4, Kings Cross Hotel, 244 – 248 William St, Kings Cross.
The show’s Meeting Point will be in the public bar on Level 1 of the hotel, where you will be greeted by your guide for the evening.
Please ensure your arrival is prompt, and if you have any questions or concerns, please contact Griffin Box Office on (02) 9361 3817.