It’s back – and this year, it’s back in Liverpool too. AND Festival (Abandon Normal Devices) is set to shake up our senses, and spike our cultural juices with its programme of innovative, experimental and challenging commissions across the city.

Spanning video, cinema, music, exhibitions and talks and debates, AND is a freewheeling exploration of digital culture: its boundaries and its possibilities, and this year, you’re invited to get involved, and challenge your own boundaries too.

Artist Brody Condon – best known for his work unpacking the aftermath of personal trauma, and exploration of the therapeutic value of role playing games – is heading to the Bluecoat for a workshop and performance piece based on his LevelFive project, an intensely emotional workout, loosely based on those large group awareness therapy sessions, so beloved of 70s progressive psychologists, and Woody Allen fans.

Ahead of the performance proper, a half day workshop will be held with the artist and game designers (that’s you). Volunteers are asked to conjure up a persona to be developed during the performance. The rest, well it’s like a Mike Leigh film, but without the canapes. You’ll improv yourself a course through the proceedings. And, amid the psychodrama, possibly learn something about yourself as you’re doing it.

We spoke to Brody about what to expect of the event – and how to get involved

Group therapy seminars is a subject that’s been revisited many times. What do you hope to add to the conversation with this commission?

If you specifically mean large group awareness trainings such as Lifespring, Exigesis, etc. or something more current like Landmark, they are generally revisited as farce, with little critical insight into the problematic cultural influence of the subject or understanding of the history of ideas from which they came.

Where do you see the synergies between these self actualisation therapies and role playing games?

It seemed twisted to role play a fabricated identity through a seminar that is specifically constructed to strip away layers of self and personal “games” to reveal the core of your being. That’s why I favour the Nordic role playing techniques. They’re more progressive in terms of subject matter and performative complexity. In the 90’s certain elements of the community began to shed genre, pre-determined plot lines, and ultimately control of games themselves to the point the pieces began to look more like experimental theater or performance art than live role playing.

…Just for clarity I should say these historical events were seminars that took techniques from group therapies like Gestalt Therapy, not group therapy in themselves. They have different goals.

Role playing games are, essentially, ways to escape the everyday. Is that why you adapt these to explore their potential in post-traumatic situations?

I am not interested in escape really, more so the aftermath of trauma and its ability to destabilize an individual’s comprehension of the world around them. This process can often lead to what may look like escape, or in the case of dissociation the brain may force escape as a self-defense mechanism.

Representing sites of trauma in these game spaces was an early technique of mine to hit at that, and eventually led to the Waco Resurrection collaboration with C-level in LA.

LevelFive, 2010 from Brody Condon on Vimeo.

There are obvious parallels with the teaching of Scientologists mirrored in Level5’s philosophy (of reprogramming, or Auditing, post trauma). Care to expand on that?

How much do you know about Scientology? Anyway I don’t care to expand on that outside of the fact that the UK has a strong Scientology presence, and the possibility that Werner Erhard used some Scientology “tech” (he was briefly a member) for EST.

To put it bluntly I’m not going to fuck with them, and hopefully they won’t fuck with me. Getting hassled by Landmark Education’s lawyers periodically is already enough.

Who are you hoping to participate – what’s the typical make-up of participants?

Random humans, trained performers, performance artists, and progressive larpers. It could be anyone really interested in the subject matter.

What can we expect?

Nothing.

Workshop: 30 September
Performance: 1 October
Bluecoat, School Lane

To find out more, and to register to participate, visit www.lvl5.org

AND Festival, 29 September – 2 October