“The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars…”
–Jack Kerouac, On the Road, 1957
It’s 1963 in New York City, and the bohemian underground is thriving. Artists congregate in The Village and gather to share their art and create a new way of being: a rejection of 1950’s Cold War nuclear values. There are poetry readings, jazz joints, and groups of roaming artists searching for the vibe of their generation, hopping trains, hitchhiking, and digging the underbelly of the city. You’re one of these inspired and aspiring writers, artists, poets, painters, patrons, muses, musicians, or critics. Welcome to Beat Generation, a rollicking 24-hour roleplay experience where you are the “angelheaded hipsters dragging (your)selves through the angry streets at dawn, looking for a fix.”
Tonight a group is hosting a Happening, and everyone is gathering in this penthouse to dig each other and create together. People from all over have gathered to celebrate the too-short lives of poet Elise Cowan and painter James Johnson. The only rule of a Happening is that you have to participate; there are no spectators, everyone is part of the performance art that you’ll create together.
Be a Beat
This immersive roleplay experience is about being part of the underground bohemian artist community in New York City in a time of unrest and transition. The Vietnam War is going on, though large-scale protests haven’t yet begun. The Civil Rights Movement has just reached critical mass, as the March on Washington, where Martin Luther King gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech has just occurred. President Kennedy is still generally beloved (he will be assassinated two months later) and the space race is in full-swing. You are concerned with finding authenticity in this Cold War world, and with creating a new society that breaks down laws and traditions that restrict freedom of expression and equality. The experience centers around four themes: counter-culture community, recklessness, nonconformity, and creativity.
What you will do
You’ll be part of the experience, co-creating it with other participants as you portray an artist, writer, poet, musician, painter, patron, muse, or junkie in the bohemian underground. Most characters will be historical figures; some will be fictional characters in the scene. Your character will arrive 30 days prior to the event, so that you can prepare how you will portray them during the event. It is also possible to receive a character at the door and join in!
You will roleplay relationships and interpersonal conflicts and have impassioned philosophical or political debates. You’ll also be creating: improvising poetry and music, filming each other in scenes for your new new thing, posing as a subject for a painter, daring each other to push the envelope further, to get to the heart of the true and authentic human experience, the elusive “it” that is only glimpsed or felt fleetingly, before it ebbs away. There is no active, external threat that will appear. As Ginsberg noted in his poem, “Howl,” Moloch is ever-present, pervasive and ubiquitous, inescapable.
Potential themes and content
We provide this list of potential themes and content so that our participants are aware of what may come up during the experience. Since this is an experience where you are an inter-actor within the experience, not merely watching it, the themes can feel more intense, as if they are really happening to you and not as part of your character’s experience. Participants are asked to monitor their own sensitivity to these topics and to decide when and how they will engage with them.
Topics and themes may include: poverty, homelessness, intransigence, anti-authority, jazz music, poetry, homosexuality, bisexuality, heterosexuality, flirting, power imbalance, unfaithfulness, feminism, implied or explicit misogyny, simulated heavy drinking, simulated drug use, cross-dressing and drag, partner violence, implied or explicit homophobia, classism, wealth privilege, cissexism, gender binary and conformity, open outdoor spaces, small crowds in small spaces, angry shouting, verbal and/or emotional abuse, irresponsibility, abandonment of family/duty, self-destructive behavior, ableism.