Let me preface this post by saying I haven’t forgotten that a number of people asked if I would write a post about Shogun and/or expressed interest in reading one, and I actually have been very slowly working on a post that is so far a few pages long but still far from done. But I am determined to finish it.
With that out of the way, this past weekend was the Thirteenth Annual Festival of the LARPs, a weekend of free LARPs at Brandeis University. I wasn’t able to attend on Sunday, but I did attend Friday and Saturday, and I had a blast playing four different LARPs — three theater and one boffer.
Being usually the next (mini) convention of LARPs after Intercon, Festival has something of a reputation of being the venue through which people play some of the LARPs they wanted to play at Intercon but weren’t able to for one reason or another. This was certainly true for me this year, as three of my LARPs were all ones I would have loved to have played at Intercon R.
On Friday evening, I played in Thicker Than Water, a LARP set in a happenin’ speakeasy in Chicago in 1929. It features historical characters from around that era, with a little bit of artistic license to make the relevant points of their various careers contemporary with one another and also add a supernatural twist. (True Blood is listed as a source of inspiration in the blurb for a reason.) My prep for this LARP included watching few movies (including The Great Gatsby and Chicago) and looked up some 1920s slang to throw into conversation. (I wanted to seem like I really knew my onions.)
I played Helena Rubinstein; in real life she was a cosmetics entrepreneur who became one of the world’s wealthiest women. The version of her in Thicker Than Water is early in her career, has connections with various gangsters, and is hiding a few other major secrets besides. I had a ton of fun with this character; I managed to pull off a few major heists, helped rig a boxing match, enjoyed flirtations with some of Chicago’s more notorious gangsters, and explored some darker themes (which will go unmentioned for spoiler reasons.)
This LARP stood out for its excellent atmosphere, which is par for the course for these writers/GMs. They set up plenty of set dressing to create a hell-themed jazz club/speakeasy (called the “The Afterlife”), with vintage set pieces (such as a typewriter, an old fashioned candlestick phone, and a retro microphone), along with snacks (including cannoli) and faux-boozy drinks (sparkling grape juice and apple cider… and suspiciously red Gatorade.) Old school music played continuously, including some tunes good for partner dancing. (“Hell” by the Squirrel Nut Zippers was heard a few times — technically written in 1996, but it’s inspired by 30s jazz, and it includes the lyrics: “In the afterlife/ You could be headed for the serious strife/ Now you make the scene all day/ But tomorrow there’ll be Hell to pay…” I wouldn’t be surprised if this song inspired the name of the club.)
Even better, some of the characters are performers (for example, Dean Martin was there, along with the historical inspirations for Velma Kelly and Roxie Hart, two characters from the musical Chicago.) Some of them sang or lip-synched songs and even danced during the LARP. (At times, this may have provided other characters with necessary distractions.)
But any character who wants to perform was welcome to, so even though Helena Rubinstein wasn’t known as a performer, I decided to go for it. I looked online for some songs from the 1920s and 30s, and tried to pick one with lyrics that had some meaning for my character. I ended up picking “I Want to be Bad” by Helen Kane, the inspiration behind Betty Boop. (I downloaded an audio editor to cut out the instrumental portion — it was harder than I’d hoped it would be.) I thought it might indicate to some of my characters more notorious beaus that despite being an upstanding businesswoman, she was up for getting into trouble. There were some hiccoughs with the music and I got nervous in front of the crowd and forgot some of the lyrics, but the message in my song choice was received, so I’m glad I got out of my comfort zone to do it.
Other players put on noteworthy performances, including Vlad, the owner of the Afterlife, who welcomed us into the club at the start of the LARP with a dramatic goth performance, and Houdini, who escaped a set of handcuffs.
Also adding to the atmosphere of this LARP, the players really went all out with costuming. If you search for 1920s fashion on Amazon, there’s actually a pretty good selection of sparkly dresses with fringes at reasonable prices (along with lots of options for accessories) and a number of the players, myself included, took advantage of this. (Not to imply the costuming which hadn’t just come from Amazon wasn’t also spectacular, I was just amused by how many of the dresses I recognized from my own online search.)
One of the items on my LARP Bucket List was to get my hair and/or makeup done professionally for a LARP. (For all my years of trying to pick up these skills for LARP, I’m still pretty bad at both.) It’s never really been an option for logistical reasons — there would have to be a salon accessible to me just before an event with an interesting fashion associated with the setting. With Thicker Than Water running in Waltham on a Friday, it was finally an option.
I reached out to the other players, thinking to make it a small group thing with anyone else interested, but I wasn’t able to find an option that could take multiple customers on such short notice. In fact, I only lucked into an appointment when a salon called me Friday morning to tell me another customer had cancelled. (I’m open to trying again in the future, if I can find a more affordable option.)
I had a lot of fun at the salon, though I worried my hair might start to unravel and the makeup start to fade before the LARP itself. (They lasted better than I’d expected.) I think the end result, while technically within the realm 1920s fashion, weren’t as classically flapper girl as I was going for (maybe the hairband could have been lower, maybe the eyes smokier?) but I think it was unmistakable when combined with the dress and rope of pearls. I hope I can find another opportunity to wear this look again.
Since this ended up quite a bit longer than originally intended, I’ll save the rest of Festival for the next post.