The third phase of Animals can go on indefinitely. But unless the context is very strong and directive, the possibilities of interaction become too chaotic, and in any case the game may generate too much energy to be let run unattended. So rich a field of experience needs structuring to make it useful.
We learned one approach from Anna Halprin of the Dancers’ Workshop in 1970, when she led us through a game named Ecology. Here it stands as a second example of how one learning game can lead into another. Ecology is also this book’s first game involving groups as such, and the first multi-level game. It is a very general model for such games. And, as we learned it from Anna, it was more – a compact introduction to the art of scoring, of making integral orchestration, both within a game and of the game itself.
Ecology took us two days, though it can be played in one. It worked fine with just the ten of us, but we were fairly well-disciplined and more players would be better – it will take as many as space will allow and gamekeepers can tend. We had a marvelous environment, the main hall of the Dancers’ Workshop, a space about 50’ x 80’ with a stage, scaffolding, hanging ropes and a variety of other landscape props. Some tarps, hurdles and branches would do in a gym; the game can also be played in emptier spaces.
Phase I of Ecology recapitulated the first two phases of Animals, with some sophistications. We went first through a practiced routine of flexing and limbering, coming alive in our bodies; and then into a meditative stillness on the floor. Slowly, Anna talked us into awareness of motion rising from within, and into following it out. After we became our own animals, we spent a long time exploring their characteristic dances and giving voice to their songs. The whole process took perhaps two hours.
Phase II began with our grouping. We had chosen animals independently, and only two were alike; but broad affinities were evident, and Anna helped us to group along their lines, reassigning the grasshopper completely. We emerged as three bears, a pride of lions, and a family of monkeys. The rest of this phase consisted in our reading, alone and together, about the animals we now were, entering as best we could by our minds into their spirits. The bears also went to the zoo to observe.
In phase III, each group explored the landscape and chose a home base, ignoring the other species. Our main task was to develop and explore family relations. From their rocky prominence, the lions took turns hunting for their cubs, watched them spar, cuffed them irritably during catnaps. The three bears were all male, concerned with separate but friendly relations as they ambled from beneath the stage: the older ones taught the younger to tear apart honey-trees but made him take seconds, wrestled with him but not with each other. In their tree by the river, the monkeys picked each other’s lice in a complex pattern of privilege and solidarity. The subtleties of two hours of such play are hard to record briefly. (This phase, or rather the sequence up through here, may be played as a game in itself, Animal Families.)
In phase IV, beginning the second day, we became our human selves again, with a roll of butcher paper and marking pens, designing the score for the next phase. We took the cycle of the day and divided it into periods of morning, noon, afternoon, evening, and night. Each family decided on the main functions of its life, such as hunting, sleep, protection and play; and when, where and how they were to be served. Together, on the paper we sketched out a composite score, plotting each family’s activity in time and space in a different color. Together, the plots made a rainbow dense with potential interactions.
In phase V, we danced out this score, allowing fifteen minutes for each period of the day. For what but ‘dance’ could we call the process of acting out the large cyclic drama, with its fabric of sub-dramas, all the time keeping alive a different consciousness of our bodies? As each family encountered the others, patterns of interaction were worked out, along with territories of space and time to house them. The monkeys were edible and provocative, the lions ranged and rested in mid-day, the bears were nocturnal and invulnerable together; truce prevailed at the watering place. As drum-strokes tolled the changes of day, life assumed real rhythms for us, deeply felt. The patterns of relation each family had established grew firmer and deeper in the process of sorting out its relations with the others; or changed in response, as when the aged monkey became essential as a lookout for foraging. We danced the day’s cycle through, to get it settled; and then danced it through again. The second day, one of the monkeys was killed. The survivors drove the lion from the body with stones and grieved together; it was genuinely painful. The lions were surly that night, and even the bears were on edge from the wailing.
In this game, the raw experience of Animals is sharply restricted: to a few sorts of creatures, a few well-defined roles, a few activities in a stable order. Yet as the freedom of our interaction within this frame unfolded, it left us much to discuss: our senses of the spirits of the animals we played, the emotional-physical complex of dance, the webs of family relations, the dances of survival and culture, of territoriality and dominance, and their place in defining a dynamic interactive harmony. In this case we had also a broader object, both study and pleasure at once: to explore working in ensemble, in a disciplined way, for which Ecology was a deeply satisfying vehicle.
Other aspects of scoring, like the alternation of play and planning, I will discuss further on. But one deserves mention here: the aesthetic sense of scoring, the sense of wholeness, completion and form. It shows up in several ways in Ecology. There is a feeling of closure, necessary to any game, to phase V – the closure not of a terminal event, nor of having exhausted something, but rather of having completed a cycle that has no end (at least two times through are necessary.) Within phase V there is an order, with each group related to every other and a satisfying cosmos to the game; and within each group there is again an order, each person related to every other and the whole constituting a unity. In the game as a whole, there is the progression from private to social to public through which the players move as animals, which is complete; and the subtler progression through which they move as game-makers, which has its own wholeness as they imagine a world and then bring it into being. There is also the final closure of discussion (“phase VI”) or other ritual. Each of these species of completeness applies to the design of games in general and especially to games played by groups. Ecology is satisfying because it embodies so many completenesses. It’s worth thinking about other games in this book to see in what ways they have or lack completeness.
Anna’s role as gamekeeper was sufficiently experienced and relaxed that she could play through all the phases with us too, as a peer. Because we were used to the spirit and mechanics of games, and were a working group together already, playing this game for our own reasons, she needed only to outline rules and give advice, and not to tend us in our play or after it. For a gamekeeper to have such freedom is unusual.
One question about Ecology I am passing over, because it has no simple answer: how many monkeys does it take to drive away a lion? How much did our play reflect the natures of the beasts we played, and how much was it the projection of our own natures and imaginations? To the extent that the animal archetypes arise genuinely from within us, this distinction is erased; but it is real in general, and troubles literally every game in which one person represents any Other. So long as a game’s purpose is taken narrowly, as either to know oneself by acting another or to know another by acting him oneself, its learning is open to this question. There is nothing to do about this but to be a bit cautious in interpretation, aware of an integral interplay that cannot truly be reduced – though one can try to design games so as best to bring out the archetypes of other animals, characters, or qualities which live with people.