Game Making...

Come-byyyyy… . photo credit Paul Blakemore

Come-byyyyy… . photo credit Paul Blakemore

It always takes much longer than anticipated to make a game….

I’m forever budgeting for a just a few days development forgetting that it realistically can take years to get it right. Now, as we embark on the official launch of One Kid and their Dog (at Bath Fringe Festival) I’ve been reflecting on where the game started, the journey it’s been on and the place it’s now at.

Developing One Kid and Their Dog photo credit Paul Blakemore

Developing One Kid and Their Dog photo credit Paul Blakemore

It all started with pigeons…..

Three or four years ago, Simon had been talking about pigeons. About children constantly chasing them in city centres, with the pigeons reacting and flying off to a new position and then the game starting all over again. The game would inevitably end when the parent- let’s call them 'the referee’ calls it off. (I wonder how long the game could last if the kid ran its own time? ‘Championship Durational Pigeon Chasing!’ )

Anyway, we’d drawn up an idea about painting sports courts in civic squares, dressing the children in tabards, enlisting a commentator and creating a happenstance game- where points are scored based on where the pigeons land. Essentially this would be a byproduct of the chase game, perhaps unknown to the ‘players’ themselves. In fact the spectator becomes the player,  much like in a snail race, or a bull run - the ‘animal’ is not aware they are game players. You can play these observational games in lots of situations - First to see a yellow car; How many people get into a lift, Who is getting off the bus? It’s a lovely way to place a playful lens over the everyday.

The pigeon chasing game didn’t go anywhere - too much concern about animal welfare I guess (but hey if you’re reading this and want to commission us, the pigeon loft door is still open!)

Sheepdog on wheels photo credit Paul Blakemore

Sheepdog on wheels photo credit Paul Blakemore

‘Here Boy!’

Around a year later, we were at an agricultural show with my son, who was 4 a the time. We saw a ‘dog and ducks’ show advertised and were excited to see what might materialise. A large area was roped off and a dog obstacle course laid out- like something you’d see at crufts. Finally the show opened - 3 magnificent sheepdogs were introduced to the crowd, who in turn herded the ducks and geese through, over under and around all manner of obstacles. Finally they were brought back into the pen and the show finished. There were many calamities- rogue ducks, uninterested dogs, distracted geese. All in all, great entertainment. Once the curtain had come down so to speak, we looked around and my 4 year old son had picked up a stick and was shouting ‘come-byyyyy’ and trying to whistle. We became sheep and dogs, with other adults joining in, and One Kid and their Dog (One Kid) was born!

Since then, the game has been on quite a journey. Initially we thought it would work as a two hander, a shepherd and dog on roller-skates. Genius! We invested in skating lessons for the cast and discovered we knew far more roller-skaters than we thought! We tried out the game in Bristol and Gloucester, got an idea of a walkabout and then let that idea percolate while we sought funding.

We’d planned to continue developing the show in July, having secured funding from Arts Council England and several bookings. Unfortunately my main collaborator became very ill and was unable to work. I was faced with a dilemma; honour the July booking or step back and wait? I had suffered a very close bereavement in March and wasn’t in my best mind but decided to soldier on. I brought in a new director and got to it. I regret the decision. We tested the game in a full festival context at Bradford when the show wasn’t nearly ready. It looked shambolic and lacked cohesion.  However, we learnt a lot and it was great to bring in the new collaborator, but on reflection I should have stepped back and given it time. Ah, the benefit of hindsight!

Flock Huddle photo credit Paul Blakemore

Flock Huddle photo credit Paul Blakemore

Reclaiming our public spaces for play

By the  autumn of 2018 the new team had cemented and we had created a strong foundation for the game. We’d arrived at a place that felt exciting and discovered we had made a game that younger children really loved. The simple action of giving and following instructions sat beautifully with 4 year olds and in role as sheep and shepherds they came into their own. We knew it needed work, but it was worth salvaging. We scrapped the roller-skates (to the sadness of the actors) as the dog had become too scary on wheels.

The core of game, like much of our work has always been about building a platform that allows people to play in public. To help people give themselves the permission. That philosophy extended further with One Kid, into our permission to play in public spaces that are no longer public.

Public spaces, the shared assets of a city’s citizens, are currently being sold to private corporations and ‘nearly half the country is already owned by 0.06% of the population.’ (Academic geographer, Bradley L Garrett.) POP (privately owned public spaces) feel like common ground, but look around; no buskers, no street preachers, no homeless and a new presence of security.

“Can I play here? As an adult?”



“We don’t know your intentions”

“I’m playing a sheepdog game”

“Football? NO BALL GAMES!”

You get the idea. As a result of the UK selling-off of common spaces we now need to explain and justify how and why we want to use it. “When space is controlled, we tend to police ourselves, to monitor our behaviour and to limit our interactions.” Academic geographer, Bradley L Garrett

Action shot photo credit Paul Blakemore

Action shot photo credit Paul Blakemore

One Kid has the potential to turn towns into playgrounds, following the culture of Parkour and Skateboarding, but requiring much less skill! Street furniture becomes our obstacle course and the shepherds must guide the sheep around this course. It’s a lovely way to literally play in the street, much like street games should. In street festival contexts, we can sometimes find ourselves carving open clear spaces and segregating performers and  audiences in busy precincts to ‘animate’ the space. Sometimes we even put up marquees to play in- that’s fine in a circus, but it does rather bend the idea of ‘outdoor arts!’

When talking to programmers about One Kid we ask them to find the busy spaces, the edges of arenas- ‘a 12x12m space ideally containing a selection of street furniture; a bin, a bench and a tree.’ Street furniture that might normally be viewed as problematic becomes our friend.

Good dog! photo credit Paul Blakemore

Good dog! photo credit Paul Blakemore

Play for all

For 2019 One Kid and their Dog’s new shift has been to move the focus onto access. When we started Mufti, accessibility was a theme. This first manifested from the point of view of the audience. When taking our L_ve Hangman & MASSIVE BATTLESHIPS games onto the street we created a really accessible shows based on a well known games. MASSIVE BATTLESHIPS in particular was mainly visual so we worked with a D/deaf consultant to make it D/deaf accessible, and made some headway, however, I never really felt we went far enough.

As One Kid is about signalling, obstacles and permission and it seemed natural to consider disabled access. When testing the show in the autumn with a group for adopted families, I saw all manner of possibilities for the game, if we took away the ‘rules’ and allowed the open play to happen in the pastoral world we had created. I saw there could be a range of access points and versions that could work with different children. The brilliant Rowan James had spent time with us on Ferguson’s Gang as an ‘Access Provocateur’ and when talking about one Kid had pushed us to think far wider than D/deaf audiences and to think about the myriad of obstacles that were in place for disabled people to join our show.

When playing a physical game in public, we would always ensure that it was inclusive and we must always make it evident that the game is for everyone.

We worked with the superb Jonny Cotsen this spring and hired the wonderful Lara Steward- both D/deaf artists who brought amazing new levels to the show. Jonny gave us games ‘homework’ to try in our lives from day one. Including:

‘Don’t speak for 24 hours - be social- no staying in watching Netflix!’

‘Get someone to repeat the answer 5 times as if you cannot understand them.’

Jonny really pushed us to think about access including adapting the show for those with limited vision. We’ve now added sounds to costumes, neon edging and are going to play with creative audio description bringing back the commentator from the pigeon game! It can be tough to bring in a new team when developing a game or show, but each person has brought so much to One Kid,  it has never felt like there are too many cooks.

The lovely outcome is that we’ve, almost, accidentally created a ‘playable show’. We’ve used that term a lot over the years, but with One Kid it feels just right. We’re now devising a narrative with playable elements, pulling in members of the audience to be the sheep and shepherds and using playground games to train the ‘flock.’ We’ve drawn from clowning, street play and more recently been inspired by the beautiful ‘A Shepherds Life’ by James Rebanks and are building a story to play within. One Kid and their Dog has now becoming something quite new. Something of its own and of its creators. And I’m really proud!

Follow us on Facebook to find out where One Kid will be playing soon.