Who Wants to Bench? (at the Unicorn Theatre)

On the 7th November 2008, the Unicorn Theatre hosted the third version of ‘Who Wants to Be…?’, the dangerously spontaneous, democratic game show where we ‘asked the audience’ of 170 people to come up with ideas and then vote on what to do with the £1700 of box office takings.

Previously on ‘Who Wants to Be’, an audience of 100 very nearly voted to sack the host, end the game early and put their £1000 behind the theatre bar. Suggestions included collective ownership of a dog, guerilla gardening in the City of London, and burning the cash there and then. You can read about that here.

Thanks to the preview interview on Radio London, and the London Games Festival Fringe publicity, the Theatre was almost sold out, and the energy in the room was amazing. Previous audiences had adapted the rules, and this time they really worked from the start! The audience immediately began pouring out suggestions:

‘Let’s make a Christmas Single!’

Was an early favourite, and generated many offers of help from the musical and media people in the audience. A cyclist in the audience suggested a bus-based advertising campaign against bendy buses, someone else wanted a bouncy castle, and a surprising number of people were interested in making a Guinness world record attempt for baking the world’s largest crumpet (currently held by Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason).


After the break, perhaps inspired by the Space Hijackers’ ‘guerilla benching‘ project, someone suggested that we could install a bench somewhere in London. Someone else proposed it could be dedicated to democracy with a nice brass plaque, possibly listing the names of every audience member. Several ‘voices of reason’ mentioned the possible difficulties of finding a willing London council, but, rallying enthusiasm everyone loved the idea of putting it on the 4th plinth in Trafalgar square.

Finally, after a tense vote-off between the guerilla benchers and the democracy bench, the audience settled on a compromise: we will use the money to commission someone to design and build a bench, then vote on our favourite designs online, and then get this bench installed in a public park in London.

The bench commission call for proposals went online, and soon gathered some fantastic responses. On the 5th April 2009, the winning bench was John Kennedy’s “The Thing“, which we are now working on installing in the wonderful Chumleigh Gardens.

News and updates about the bench installation and build progress will be posted to the ‘artbench’ mailing list. feel free to sign up here.


This version of ‘Who Wants to Be…?’ was part of the London Games Fringe, a festival of alternative gaming events at the end of October 2008, organised by artists, academics, gamers, game developers, educators and creative professionals from a wide range of different media: www.londongamesfringe.com

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7 Responses to “Who Wants to Bench? (at the Unicorn Theatre)”

  1. […] Saul Albert came next introducing The People Speak and talking through several case studies of their “Who Wants to Be” event format. This is a fabulous tool for stimulating ad-hoc collective decision making in a community. Up to two hundred people assemble in a hall or open space where they’re armed with coloured cards, a common objective and a budget to spend. There then follows a tightly-facilitated process where proposals are gathered, grouped, refined and whittled down to a collectively-determined outcome. The coloured cards, coupled with a visual recognition system, provide a lightweight tool for instant voting. The genius of the format is that it’s deliberately designed to evoke a television game show rather than an earnest debate. This leads people to take part in a more playful and dramatic fashion, better suited to creative problem solving and breaking down schisms in the community. Another crucial element is the freedom participants have to change the rules in any way they wish. It was fascinating listening to Saul describe how groups’ energy changes after they start to do this. it would be interesting to study whether such an experience has any impact on the individual’s engagement with the democratic system subsequently. I think many of us will now be joining in the next “Who Wants to Be” event on 7 November. […]

  2. […] Friday evening I pedaled down to the Unicorn Theatre for “Who Wants to Be”, along with James and Emma. Ever since Saul Albert’s presentation about the format at the […]

  3. […] the 7th November 2008, 180 people paid £10 each, and gathered in the Unicorn Theatre, London Bridge, to decide what to […]

  4. […] £10 and then proposing, discussing and voting on what they wanted to do with their £1800. You can read the whole story so far, or just watch the new video – hot off Rick’s workstation – […]

  5. […] Be…? audience, decided to collectively purchase and own woodland in Wales. Another voted to commission a ‘democracy bench’ for a London park, narrowly beating the second favourite idea: to make a Guinness Book Of World Records attempt for […]

  6. […] Dave Green and the London Games Festival for promoting the Unicorn Theatre version of the game. […]

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