Join our guest writer, Josephine Rydberg, as she LARPs about with Jane Austen.
I larp, beg your pardon, LARP, Live Action Role Playing. Like cowboys and indians but with adults. Just recently I took part in the LARP of my life; Fortune and Felicity. Being an Austen fan it was a given I would sign up for this particular LARP. I had also been involved in the very early stages of planning the LARP. While the organisers were deciding about design and production of the whole affair, I had been very outspoken about my support about the idea in general.
However, when it actually came to doing any actual work, I was otherwise engaged. When the tickets were released I didn't even sign up. I can be like that sometimes, you know... stupid.
Fortunately there was a lottery of the last available tickets for female characters and I decided to let fate decide. Fate obliged and I bought my ticket to become Mrs Esther Mossworth.
By this time the website was up and running - photos and general buzz around the LARP was enough to convince me to make the effort to find time and money to prepare for a dive into Regency romance.
When the first batch of characters was released I found myself being cast as Mrs Mossworth, a widow of some £1,000 a year. The daughter of Lady Mossworth (£10,000) the Mater Familias, mother of three children and also blessed with three nephews. All unmarried. Actually all of us were unmarried but Austen focuses usually on young romance (the possibility of older inheritable relations marrying is used more as a plot device-threat than as a real possibility) so only the young ones are expected to get engaged. Especially those with good family connections and lots of money.
Mrs Mossworth had loved and lost. As a young woman she had been in love with Mr Rosewood but her mother had intervened. Exploiting another young woman’s affection for Mr Rosewood and paying her to seduce him. He then had to do the honourable thing (by her, not Esther) and marry her. Esther married a cousin on the rebound and lived unhappily ever after. Until now.
Now she is back at Primrose surrounded by a new generation of hopeful lovers. Mr and Mrs Rosewood will be there too. And Mother. The scene is set.
Before we got there however, I had to sew. I have a closet full of costumes but they were all wrong. Regency fashions are like no other. I hate sewing, so naturally I put it off until the last minute. Old tablecloths and curtains were dug out, patterns found online and all else was put on hold. My (real) children would have to cook their own meals, the house would go without cleaning and the washing would pile up. Only the cat was amused by my efforts; as it included spreading fabrics on the floor. Fabric on floors are like Tivoli for cats. Fun! Fun! Fun!
Of course I was not completed when it was time to leave. No buttons, hems un-sewn and I still hadn’t actually tried anything on with the corset. However, I sort of managed 3 outfits; 2 for day wear and 1 ballgown. Oh and I was rescued by my cousin who lent me a bonnet. It was green. I love my cousin.
Green is the colour of the Mossworths so it was good to wear, made us easy to identify as a family. Another grouping is the romance set, this consist of of players from different families whose intrigues are entangled in different ways and stories that tend to play off one another. Every romance group has a motto. Esther Mossworth belongs to a group whose motto is “All is fair in love and business”.
Before the LARP begins both family groups and romance groups meet in workshops. This is to get to know each other and help each others’ play along. These workshops are repeated between the three acts that make up the LARP as a whole. This makes Fortune and Felicity a transparent LARP, there are other kinds. This transparency means all the players in my family and romance group knows each other's full backstories e.g. that my mother bribed a young woman to seduce my fiancé all those years ago. This means they can all support me (and others involved) in reacting to this and creating drama around it. The players know but their characters don’t of course. Until they do, shock, shock, horror, horror.
At Fortune and Felicity an international set of some 150 players danced together in the ballroom (live music of course), got engaged, got jilted, duelled, had tea, picnicked, wrote each other letters, went to church and, of course, drank the waters to improve their health. All with different character goals and intrigues to pursue. It goes without saying that the game design was pretty complicated. It all worked beautifully. And it did feel and look very Austen. The location was the lovely little village Medevi Brunn, built in the 16th & 17th hundreds around a famous well. For the LARP this was transformed into Primrose, a smaller version of Bath.
There were three acts to Fortune and Felicity each with a different season and a different theme.
Summer: Reality (all falls apart more like).
The LARP had other design features as well. A black box disguised as a Fortune Teller for instance, where characters could explore the “what ifs” with the aid of two game masters. Mr Rosewood and Esther explored scenes from their life as a happily married couple. Very happy indeed as it turned out. Oh well…
I loved being Mrs Mossworth, it was sometimes exhausting and emotionally draining but the drama worked, the design worked and that was extremely satisfying. Walking along the little gravel road between the Mossworth rooms and the church was such an immersive experience. Meeting other characters in uniform and high waisted dresses and silly bonnets, nodding and talking nonsense felt like stepping into a film.
There are many scenes I will carry with me, my nephew boring some young ladies to tears with his collection of dried flowers, meeting Mr Rosewoods eyes across a crowded dance floor, my “mother” rushing off at midnight to stop a duel, sitting in our parlour alone writing a letter in the light from the window. Fortune and Felicity reminded me why I LARP, even though it means having to sew. When location, story, design and all else works, it’s magic, with me in the middle.
Josephine Rydberg, Crossmedia Developer and dedicated LARPer.
Josephine runs projects that crossover between different art forms and media platforms. These projects are designed to reach a wider audiences and encourage participation.
For more information on these fascinating LARPs visit www.austenlarp.com.
And for more Jane Austen goodness watch Lucy Worsley’s Jane Austen: Behind Closed Doors here on BBC Iplayer.