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Play on board

April 7, 2010

Before the building was even completed, we started wondering how we should let visitors go on board the ship. There were structural questions about the durability of the ship, and also questions about how best to present the ship: is it a precious object that ought to be looked at but not touched, or should it be treated like an everyday object, and people can do what they liked with? Coming up with a good middle ground, where visitors physically engage with the ship but still respect it, was difficult. The building was designed so that visitors can walk under the ship, and I insisted it be low enough so that people could touch the keel, feel the grain of the wood. The computer monitors around the ship also encourage close looking and interaction.

But when we let visitors walk onboard the deck of the ship, well, the echo of footfalls on thick wooden planks filled the hall. Not only was it noisy, it was also dangerous. A Viking ship has a low freeboard, so it is easy for anyone on deck to jump off. But since our ship is elevated, and the floor below stone, this represented a considerable safety concern.

Then our business manager came up with the idea that we should stage a play on board the ship. A museum in western Iceland has been doing that, using the loft of their building for evening performances, and it has been a great way to get people to come to the museum. So from a business perspective it made sense. But I immediately thought it was also a good idea in terms of solving our “people on board” issue.

Now visitors can be formally invited on board when they have a ticket to the play. This addresses both the safety issues, since they will of course be ushured on board by staff, but also the issue of engagement. The play is about a woman’s journey from Iceland to Greenland and then to North America 1000 years ago. It is a perfect way to engage with the ship as an experience, a moment in time, a link to the past.

It is really exciting and such a nice complement to the current content of the museum. Looking forward to seeing the first performance, May 9th!!

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