How To Fake A Conspiracy Theory

The Origins of “Verve Is Fake”

Some time ago, Verve Poetry Festival asked us for a companion piece for their event: rather than yet another showcase, they wanted something different, something which ticket holders could experience in their own time, something which would add to the festival without adding to the schedule.

We came up with Verve Is Fake – a mock conspiracy theory website accusing the organisers of trying to mind-control attendants. To their eternal credit, the organisers decided to play along: this is how we got to design an fake dark side for what really is a wonderfully warm celebration of poetry and community.

The Story

We created a convincingly off-putting website & Twitter account and announced that Verve was using radio frequencies to control people’s minds. We also said poetry was a great vehicle to amplify those frequencies, and came up with a whole bunch of wildly impossible reasons to support this.  

After generating some buzz with these nonsense accusations against the organisers, we proclaimed that we had an insider within Verve. We began posting leads and clues she was ostensibly sending us, and from then on festival goers were essentially sent on a scavenger chase: leading to fragments of code and  (eventually) a mysterious audio cassette.

FR Verve Cassette with Clue.jpgFR Verve Cassette with Clue.jpg

On the last day, those who persevered found a secret room with a tape player, and used the code to listen to a brand new crowd-sourced spoken word piece on the half-true stories helping us through life.

If you missed out, you can trace the progress of the story on the site, with extra hints and responses on the Twitter account.

Why a Conspiracy Theory?

We chose to fake a conspiracy theory because it let us work on several levels at the same time. Here’s what our thinking was:

  • The online presence we built created an engaging story, one that Verve guests could follow and develop themselves; essentially another level of on which to engage with the events in the brochure

  • We turned the festival into a game: guests could play detectives, work as a team to uncover clues, and discover an installation and a unique new piece of writing as a reward for their efforts

  • We gave ourselves space to make two points we feel strongly about:

    • One, how wide-spread conspiracy theories are in the world, and how ready we are to treat them seriously

    • Two, that as ready as we are to laugh at those who think the Earth is flat, we all have stories we pretend to believe even though even as we suspect they may not be true – it’s just easier to cope with them than without them.


You can trace back the story all the way to the text of the final poem simply by visiting the website. Let us know what you think!


Stuart Bartholomew, Verve Festival Co-director:

“People noticed it who didn’t know us, and came to know us, so it did actually generate new interest in and traffic to the festival. It’s sense of mischief and fun added an energy that wasn’t there last year, and added even further (if possible) to the trendiness/moderness/radicalism of Verve. Some of our more loyal followers were worried initially, but this soon dissolved into a range of responses from dogged muddlement to a dancing joy. It was a topic of conversation throughout the festival. Impactful beyond my expectations.”

Cynthia Miller, Verve Festival Co-director:

“Collaborating with Free Radical on our very own ‘pirate poetry’ guerilla project, Verve is Fake, was an absolute blast. Not only did it generate lots of buzz and drive engagement with Verve online and in person, it added a different, mischievous element to the festival experience that was perfectly aligned with our brand: surprising, vibrant and delighting in keeping people on their toes.”

Thom Bartley, Participant

“When I first found the secret room I was pretty sure I was the first person to find it so that was exciting. I had a little mini panic when I realised I hadn’t used a cassette player in about 15 years but after I unlocked it I figured it out quickly enough. Once the tape started playing it was a bit eerie, I remember I kept looking back at the door behind me thinking someone was going to burst in on me. The whole process was cool. I love a scavenger hunt and the fact it took place over the entire event kept me busy looking out for clues.”

Written by Bohdan Piasecki

More information about Verve Poetry Festival, Verve Is Fake and Free Radical.


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