Heathcliff, it’s me

From the frontispiece of an imaginary adventure novel: A drawing of the Brontë siblings Emily, Charlotte, Branwell and Anne but Emily is holding a smoking pistol, Charlotte has a moustache, Branwell is almost completely transparent so his skull is visible through his skin, and Anne is holding a record sleeve of Wuthering Heights by Kate Bush. There is a glowing meteorite on the table in front of them.

Gondal Unchained: A most queer Gothic scientific romance Brontë family LARP (Live Action Role Playing Game) in which people play Charlotte, Branwell, Emily and Anne Brontë and their altgender/transgender Nom de Plume alter egos Acton, Beatrice, Currer and Ellis Bell in an alternate reality Penny Dreadful-style 1850s. The latter are the names the sisters adopted to hide their gender so as to get published, while Gondal was the imaginary Pacific nation created by Emily and Anne for their own proto-roleplaying games. It takes place in their real home, and they must solve the mystery of how it became a museum. Props include pistols, automata, a meteorite, and a certain Kate Bush record. LARP and performance concept for Arts & Heritage and the Brontë Parsonage Museum in Haworth, West Yorkshire.

I was inspired by the Brontë Parsonage Museum for the very simple reason that I love the Brontë sisters’ work, and I’ve been thinking fairly nonspecifically but persistently of ideas for an art project about them for years! Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights are two of my favourite nineteenth century books (Sorry, Anne…) I’ve never done the pilgrimage that thousands of people do every year, but I understand why they do it and I’d happily do it myself given the chance.

In general I love museums, particularly museums dedicated to a very focused subject or person, and I find them extremely rich in material for an artist to work with. I’m also very interested in the visitors to museums and the things they may be seeking in going there. I’m sure like most creative people the Brontës would much rather have had support, understanding, acclaim and some cash in their hand while they were alive, but there is still a pleasing sense of justice in the Brontës living forever in people’s imaginations to such a degree that their fans and readers seek whatever additional closeness they can beyond the sisters’ equally immortal books by visiting the places they once knew and loved.

With all that in mind, I present:

Gondal Unchained:

A Most Queer Gothic Scientific Romance Brontë Family LARP

Using the reconstructed rooms and surrounding areas of the Brontë Parsonage Museum in and near Haworth, up to eight participants at a time take part in a day long LARP (Live Action Role Playing Game) in which they play Charlotte, Branwell, Emily and Anne in an alternate reality 1850s where all four survived. The trans-gender player characters of Acton, Beatrice, Currer and Ellis Bell are also/alternatively available. Their shared childhood imaginary world of Gondal, their literary alter egos, and events or characters from their books all begin to impinge upon their real lives. Along with doubles or near doubles of themselves appearing, the Brontë home has apparently turned into a museum, which even more disturbingly seems to chronicle their own lives, writings and deaths.

Appropriate costume, props and meals are provided. How the story progresses and concludes depends entirely upon the players and their decisions. The player character roles can be taken by people of any age, gender identity, background, or relationship to each other, and the entire LARP environment is fully accessible to disabled people. Personal or idiosyncratic portrayals of the siblings and explorations of their familial rivalries and commonalties are very much encouraged.

Supporting non-player characters and plot points include:

  • The three minor planets discovered in our world in 1973 and named after the sisters, and the connection of both the Bronte siblings and the planetoids themselves to the recent fall of a meteorite on a nearby moor.
  • Branwell’s discovery that he can become mostly invisible.
  • Menacing life size toy soldier automata.
  • The surprising and indelicate but absolute necessity, at one point, for the sisters to adopt their male identities: famous authors and men-about-town Currer, Acton and Ellis Bell. Branwell becomes the demure, retiring and ladylike Beatrice Bell… and vice versa for any players already portraying the Bell siblings.
  • A scandalously independent woman artist.
  • An orphan from Liverpool and some mild necrophilia.
  • A red room which appears mysteriously in different locations.
  • A very special guest appearance by Kate Bush as the ghost of Catherine Earnshaw.

This game celebrates the paracosmic creativity and familial bond of the Brontë family, rescuing them from their posthumous mythology of tragedy and giving them at last the kinds of group adventures previously restricted to their shared childhood stories and individual novels.

Read more about it on the Arts & Heritage site.