What to play?
The larp consists of three days - Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Each day and night will be one chapter, and between each chapter a few months will pass, during which most of the characters will leave Primrose Park to go home and then return. Together, the three chapters will form your own personal Austen novel. The chapters are guidelines for where to take your game.
Chapter I: Romance
It’s spring and you have all just arrived to Primrose and after a dark winter. The world is new. With lots of expectations, butterflies and joy you are ready to discover Primrose Park and its pleasures. You can fall in love, be infatuated and enjoy life.
Chapter II: Realism
It’s summer, and in this chapter the difficulties of the real world hit you. Families will lose or gain fortunes, reputations will be lost and secrets of the past will surface, unwelcome. All this will place obstacles in front of your love from the first chapter. Use these difficulties to achieve the maximum amount of drama from your separation.
Chapter III: Redemption
It’s autumn, and time to end your personal novel. Even though Jane Austen criticizes society for its silliness, she has a soft spot for happy endings, at least for her good and moral characters. She generally lets them end up in good marriages, while the immoral and bad characters are punished by their own selfishness and discontent and end up in marriages that might have fortune, but no felicity. Maybe the happy endings can be seen as some escapism on her part, that even if reality hits where fortune is imperative - there can be a perfect union.
Before the third act the romance group will gather and, with the help of a gamemaster, look at each character and help them plan their personal ending.
After the game you will debrief both in your family and in your romance group.
About the chapters
We want each chapter to feel as if it is its own larp, so give each chapter 100%. You will have new input for the next chapter with an off-game meeting, and new information brought into the game.
An inviolable rule of the chapter structure is that you are not allowed to play a happy romance with the same character in two subsequent chapters. That is, if you are happy in chapter one, mess it up to chapter two. If you are in love and elope and marry in chapter one, your marriage will be unhappy the first time we see you in act two. In act three you can then do what you want again.
In Austen's novels there are two genders portrayed. You will be able to chose between any these no matter how you define yourself off-game.
Austen herself made fun of everything that was an unnecessary social rule that made people act against sense and rational thinking. One of them was of course gender roles, and she begins Northanger Abbey with: “No one who had ever seen Catherine Morland in her infancy would have supposed her born to be an heroine.” and later continues with “from fifteen to seventeen she was in training for a heroine”. She isn’t born a woman, she becomes one, as Simone de Beauvoir would say years later. Later in the same novel Catherine meets Henry Tillney who says: “In every power, of which taste is the foundation, excellence is pretty fairly divided between the sexes.” Austen had six brothers, plus her father taking in male students to teach, so she basically grew up in boy’s school which must have influenced her thinking. There’s surely a vast store of scholarship on Austen and gender, but for the larp, let’s just say that gender roles are one social construct that can be made fun of.
As for sexuallity and sexual tension, we want the small stuff to matter. The touch of a hand, a glance over the dance floor should be electric. Since this is a society where little touch is allowed, the touching of a shoulder as a shawl is put in place should be just as exciting as a kiss today. Make the small stuff count, and build tension using the absence of touch, so just a look will make your stomach flip-flop with joy. We will also workshop this in the romance groups.
All official love stories in the books are heterosexual, and all marriages will be heterosexual at the larp too. It will be up to the players to explore why the marriage takes place - is it due to love or due to bending to convention?
However, that is not to say that queer romance cannot happen at the larp. Austen writes a lot of close same-sex friendships, for example Mr Darcy and Mr Bingley, Emma and Harriet or Lizzie and Charlotte Lucas. There are researchers who have interpreted them as having homosexual tension. In the larp you will be able to have close same-sex friendships, and interpret the motivations yourself. Just as in Austen’s books there can be underlying motives, as for example the explanation that Mr Darcy and Mr Bingley marry two sisters to, in fact, be close to each other. But open homosexuallity was not a possibility in Austen’s time, so characters playing on same-sex romance will have to be careful or risk social repercussions.
Austen does mention the word queer a few times in her books. It has changed it meaning from today, the cambridge companion to Jane Austen says: “In early nineteenth-century lexicon it carried the sense of an impropriety verging on the antisocial including, explicitly, a resistance to heterosexual norms.” As Henry Crawford in Mansfield Park says when he is trying to figure out why Fanny would not want Him; “What is her character? Is she solemn? Is she queer? Is she prudish?"
What do I play?
We invite you to step into this world and during three acts play the game of finding a husband or wife at Primrose Park.
You will each be part of a family of eight people of which two are older adults and six are young, unmarried and looking for a partner. This isn’t necessary the parents and six children, but can be cousins, aunts, neighbors or friends traveling together to Primrose Park. You all, however, have the same last name and will be affected by the others members of your family's behavior and changes in social standing.
You will also all be part of a romance group of eight people, with four male characters and four females. Just as in Austen’s novels, where 6-8 people do the who-takes-who-game, you will do it with these eight . You will be each other's safety net, do workshops together and take care of each other's experience. A gamemaster will guide you through this. The romance groups will work as a circle with all eight people where all have the two different people around you of the opposite sex of your characters as an option for marriage. This means you will not be left alone trying to find someone to larp on romance with, but we rather give you all two options and a group to take care of you.
The older people will be part of a group together as well. Maybe there are feelings that linger from Primrose 20 years ago, infidelities, romantic widowers or plots and economy that needs to be solved between families. They are the heads of the families and will handle the plots between the families. They can also change the fortunes of their children in their own family group in case of misbehaviour. Adults will more other plots, and less romance.
You will get a written character with a name, a personality, a part of a family and a part of a romance group. Both groups will be written to include interesting drama and plots. Just as with the marriage options, your characters will have a fortune, a family reputation, a character and a personality. You will during the larp wear a sign with your characters name and it’s current fortune. Your fortune can change as a result of your actions during the game.
Class & Money
How did it work in Austen's time?
You will all play a character who belongs to of the lower part of the English upper class. You are not dukes or duchesses, and do not know the royals, but are rather more or less part of the class that is called the landed gentry. You are just above the line of needing to work - some of you comfortably so, and some uncomfortably so. Others can see the line and wish they were on the happy side of it.
This makes money a central part of your characters lives and of the larp, because working is hard and money does give you a considerably better life with time for education and pleasures. Money gives you the opportunity of having several servants, which spares you from a lot of heavy work. However at the larp we will require no servants, since we have both electricity and warm tap water in the 21st century.
To avoid work you require a large fortune. With interest at approximately 5%, £20000 pounds allows you to live pleasantly of the interest of £1000 pounds a year. Fortunes can belong to either sex, although men usually have more.
In Austen's novels they talk about the yearly incomes, for example the rich Mr Darcy in Pride and Prejudice has £10000 a year. We will continue talking about yearly incomes to compare how rich people are. The women in Austen’s novels are described by how large their dowry is - for example Emma's dowry is £30 000. This is her entire fortune, and with an interest of 5% it will give her £1500 a year. For the purpose of the larp we will only refer to income, regardless of the source, to simplify things.
As a man you can earn money in more ways. The most prestigious is to be a landowner, to own an estate and have tenants who work for you. That is usually the privilege of the eldest son, who inherits the family title (if any) and wealth. But younger brothers need something to live by as well, and there are a few acceptable professions such as the clergy, the military, or becoming successful within law or medicine in London. You can also earn your money by trade. This is considered somehow lesser, but of course if you earn a lot of money you are still part of the club.
Being a child of the Enlightenment, Austen wrote the characters who made their own money as positive role-models, for example the naval Crofts or the Gardeners, who made their money in trade. Simultaneously, she ridicules nobles who put too much importance into birth, like Sir Walter Elliot and Lady Catherine de Bought.
As a women of a good family your options are few. You can marry, be fortunate enough to have inherited your own fortune to live on, or become a governess. The second option is rare and the third often very hard and lonely.
What do we play?
Where do we play?
The larp is set in the village of Primrose Park, at the height of the Romantic era as Jane Austen describes in her books. It could any time in between 1790 and 1820. You'll visit Primrose during spring, summer and autumn. You've come to Primrose Park for reasons of your own - to recover from some illness, to find a partner in life, or simply to amuse yourself.
Primrose Park is a popular destination for the English upper class. You've come to take the waters - the natural springs of the park being particularly healthful and rejuvenating. It has become something of a "must" on the social calendar, with a busy schedule of balls, concerts and other activities to occupy the gentry while you all take the waters. Unlike Bath, England's larger and more popular spa town, the fictional Primrose Park is smaller, nestled deep in the countryside, closer to nature, and therefore a more healthful - although not more exclusive - option. Some say the water is purer than Bath's, and of course it can't be denied that beign surrounded by verdant nature and a simpler life will improve one. Primrose Park is also slightly cheaper, which cannot be disregarded when discussing its popularity.
Of course, another factor in the evergreen popularity of Primrose park is its other reputation - that of a village of love, a place one goes to flirt, be flirted with, and find a marriageable partner - even though Primrose Park does not advertise this feature. The people of Primrose prefer to tout their excellent classes that develop mind and body. The classes are indeed first-rate. But nobody comes to Primrose Park to learn archery, if you take my meaning.
Who to wed?
This is the era of romanticism so there is a modern belief among the young that one should marry for love and felicity. Novels are very popular, especially romantic and gothic novels, in which the heroine gets the hero in the end.
However this is still a society governed by money, and no matter your sex marriage is one of the most important economic decisions you make in your lifetime. It determines your standard of living for the rest of your life. As a woman even more so, since women usually bring less money to the marriage than men.
So you can’t let your romantic sensibility run away with you to much, but should be sensible. On the other hand you shouldn't be a calculating manipulative, but be true to your feelings. So it is a fine line to balance.
This society is very gender separated. Unmarried boys and girls cannot spend time alone, but are constantly watched. Since these girls will eventually be the mothers of wealthy men’s heirs, and there are no contraceptives, they need to remain virgins so all can be sure of the legitimacy of their offspring. Men, on the other hand, can visit prostitutes, whose children will never become heirs. A popular book at the time is Harris' List of Covent Garden Ladies - a guide to prostitutes in London.
This leads to a gender separated society where you can’t really get to know your future partner that well. That means you need to look at other things.
For the game, we have simplified it to four criteria:
Wealth will decide your future standard of living, which of course will effect your ultimate felicity.
You can get to know a person by observing how their family behaves. The family serves as a reference for the person. In marrying the person you will also be closely tied to their family for the rest of your life.
As Mr Darcy puts it when criticising Elizabeth Bennet's family in Austen’s Pride and Prejudice: “that total want of propriety so frequently, so almost uniformly, betrayed by herself [your mother], by your three younger sisters, and occasionally even by your father.”
In a society that lacks a protective welfare system, the family also serves as safeguard against calamity. Therefore it is never bad to create family alliances to people that can help you if needed. A family's reputation is, of course, also tied to the source of their wealth - old money from an estate will always give you a better reputation than money from trade.
Jane Austen’s books focus a great deal on a person's character. Character in this context is a person's morality, personality and behavior. For example someone of bad character will lie, deceive, be immoral, gamble, or be a snob. A person of good character will be patient, just and treat everyone with equality.
Your character’s character is not set. The different roles at the larp will have different opinions about that. If you are going to marry someone, you will want to know that he or she is a nice person who will make good decisions in the future.
Do you enjoy a person’s company? Is being around them fun, and do you “click”? Was the first impression nice? Do you think the person beautiful? Charm includes all the things we talk about today, like chemistry and infatuation. While today this is the factor we most take into account when selecting a partner, in the larp it is only a quarter of the equation.
Austen’s writing frequently features accomplished ladies. As Caroline Bingley puts it: “A woman must have a thorough knowledge of music, singing, drawing, dancing, and the modern languages, to deserve the word.” As Elizabeth Bennet points out, that is very demanding set of requirements, but generally to to be an accomplished lady you must know one or more of them. For example, playing an instrument or singing to entertain company, painting beautiful pictures to be displayed in your home, etc. Showing off of these skills is a part of attracting a good man, since you demonstrate your ability to learn and your unique skill.
Lady Middleton, in Sense and Sensibility, said that she “celebrated her marriage by giving up music.”
In the larp, feel free to display any accomplishment you want and don’t be afraid to cheat, for example by bringing paintings your characters painted before, but that you bought somewhere off-game.