Early Days (of a Better Nation)
The war is over and the nation lies in ruins. You and your fellow survivors must build the beginnings of a new country. What are the rules you’re going to live by? And can you avoid the mistakes of the past…?
Early Days (of a Better Nation) was an interactive theatre performance that asked the audience to rebuild an imagined country following a civil war. The performances took place across the UK during the build up to the 2015 General Election.
Theatre makers Coney used their collaboration with academics from King’s College London to embed the show in political systems and rhetoric, setting up a model whereby audiences are influenced by a certain political doctrine and also framing fundamental choices – such as those of freedom or safety.
Background to the project
A piece of interactive theatre for a playing audience, Early Days (of a Better Nation) explores the possibilities of nationhood and democracy, drawing inspiration from the 2011 England riots, Arab Spring, Iceland’s crowd-sourced constitution and the rise (and fall) of Occupy.
The work was developed in iterative stages with audiences, commissioners and academics. The performance was the result of a collaboration between Coney and King’s College London. The university's Culture team facilitated interactions between academics at the Department of Political Economy and Theatre & Performance Studies to help Coney develop its new performance – Early Days of a Better Nation. DPE worked with Coney to help them understand different political views in the world we live in.
Over a period of two months, DPE academics with expertise in liberalism, republicanism, disaster resilience and crisis, and civic participation and democratic theory met with Coney representatives. Coney were interested in learning about a variety of political theories and also in understanding how a country operates in a post-conflict zone. As a result of these interactions, Coney settled on the four political ideologies that would be in operation throughout the performance: anarchy, representative democracy, fascism and direct democracy.
It all began with a simple playtest at Stoke Newington International Airport which led to one ambitious coalition taking the crown. Two scratches were supported by National Theatre Wales, Battersea Arts Centre and Chapter and saw the development of the show begin as Coney tested basic game mechanics, economy, technology and narrative. In 2012 Coney took game elements to Berlin for PlayPublik Festival, playing This Land is Your Land with an audience of 60 and experimenting with political groups and independents.
The theatre makers then led workshops with students from the MFA Theatre Directing and the MA Creative Producing at Birkbeck University to explore political models and game mechanics with them and playtest what was made with an invited audience. The next stage of development was played by an audience of 120 at In Between Time 2013.
The final period of development saw the narrative and model of the show shift to encompass debate, political engagement and political theory. It has been supported by Culture at King’s and Warwick Arts Centre, where Coney worked with academics from the Department of Political Economy at King's and academics at Warwick University to develop the narratives of the show. Scratch performances took place at Battersea Arts Centre in November 2013, Warwick Arts Centre in February 2014 and Frascati Theater Amsterdam in March 2014.
The project's Spring Tour 2015 Picture Book is available here.
The project legacy film reviews the aims and scope of the project, describes the collaboration between academics and cultural sector practitioners, and presents some findings and recommendations for future working.
Dr Rod Dacombe
Rod is a Lecturer in Politics and a Postgraduate Exam Board Chair in the Department of Political Economy. His areas of interest include the voluntary sector, public service reform and democratic theory and practice. He has studied at Oxford University, Princeton and the LSE. He is currently in receipt of a Fellowship awarded by The Leverhulme Trust to support his research examining civic participation in deprived areas. In this capacity he is carrying out a stream of research examining the relationship between neighbourhood conditions and participatory democracy, as well as undertaking an evaluation of a number of community budgeting experiments. His upcoming book will be titled Beyond Abstract Democracy.
Dr Liz Morrow
Liz currently works as a Research Fellow in the Department of Political Science and International Studies at the University of Birmingham. She completed her PhD in the Department of Political Economy at King's in 2015 whereby her thesis explored whether Benford and Snow’s collective action frame can explain the mobilization of the English Defence Leage. Whilst at King's she co-authored chapters in social science text books, presented at conferences including the Annual Political Studies Association (Manchester, UK and Cardiff, Wales) and the European Consortium for Political Research Graduate Conference (Bremen, Germany), and presented guest lectures at King's College London and University College London.
Coney is made up of a group of interactive theatre-makers based in London who create games, adventures and play where people can choose to take a meaningful part. Their work takes place anywhere that people gather: in theatres, schools, museums, on the streets and online and always follows the principles of adventure and curiosity.
Pieces such as NTT at the National Theatre in 2006 and The Gold-Bug at Battersea Arts Centre in 2008 opened up Coney to a wider audience and influences, before A Small Town Anywhere at BAC attracted critical acclaim in 2009. House of Cards in the State Apartments at Kensington Palace opened in 2012, reaching new audiences of over 500,000
Their topics usually tackles global issues and their work is inspired by the belief that "the world can be magical place where ordinary people can do extraordinary things". Collaboration and dialogue are at the heart of how Coney make work: with audiences, peers, partners, and a network of makers.
Early Days of a Better Nation is a Coney and King’s College London collaboration which sought to examine the possibilities of teaching and communicating political ideas through immersive theatre. It was supported by the university's Culture team.