A man pitches an idea for a system of the theatre of the future. It’s feels present, but revealed that he’s a dotcommer, and it’s 1997 – in the recent past, the present is the near future. He possesses a utopian optimism: this is the advent of New Labour, the world is changing, there’s money to be made – but also there’s the potential system crash of the Millennium Bug on the horizon, and everyone can imagine where there’ll be when the world doesn’t end. His utopianism vanishes as the panopticon he’s helped build is revealed. He might be our narrative frame, which enables different models of interaction with the audience to be unfurled. The pitch allows a ‘bad sci-fi’ playful vision of the future present.
The audience is placed inside this system, analogous to an all-pervasive digital system offering them ‘freedom of choice’. The voice of the system is like a google algorithm.
“We’re here to help you be more like people like you. And we know that people like you like choice.”
The basic interactive model offers the audience a series of binary choices; raise a card for one option, if you do nothing it’s the other option. The consequences of those choices play out in different ways, sometimes tuning the system, sometimes influencing the world or the actions of the performers, sometimes even representing their inner psyche. In the world of the piece, they also have remote and surprising consequences in the invisible gigantic machineries powering the system. You feel like you’re an individual but you’re only one in a swarm of aggregated individuals, increasingly remote from genuine comprehension of what’s really in play, and where resistance is irrelevant. The audience may play to seek an elusive agency for themselves inside this system against the algorithmic god.
A story unfolds through this system. It’s imagined that the protagonist is a woman struggling inside this system, possibly played by an unrehearsed performer. Our empathy is with her, as we always gravitate towards the human story, the underdog striving for agency inside any system. But this is a reflexive system in which we are both subjects and complicit with the god, and our choices make unpredictable impact on our protagonist. Two rehearsed performers play the system – their recorded and live voices combined are the god of this game, and other roles in the system. Some starting references include Machinal, Attempts On her Life, La Dispute (where the children are algorithms), and the game The Stanley Parable.
This is a piece of playing theatre for a sit-down audience in a studio theatre. It aims to use a responsive sound and projection design, an installation conceived to scale to the available playing space. The aesthetic is likely expressionistic – what’s an expressionistic take on the new aesthetic? – lo-fi, and conceived as a framework, which uses the audience’s imagination to fill in its blanks.
Possible satellite projects:
• A salon on playing theatre, a sequel to the one hosted by Coney at CPT in May 2014, to exchange knowledge and open out conversation around the dramaturgy of playing theatre.
• A workshop on technology, our relationship to it, and how we play with it; especially for teenagers and Bedroom DJs, bringing them then to a performance.
• The Me-Machine, a stand-alone digital game which connects the fantastical system in the piece to the real digital platforms the audience already use, increasing the reach of the project
Development sketches presented so far:
• People Like You – a 30-min sketch piece playing with the basic interactive model, at Camden People’s Theatre in a scratch night as part of Hard To Resist season, Jan 2014; following 3 days’ work with GB, TL, JB and Kieran Lucas.
• Theatre Of The Future – a 20-min sketch piece playing with the narration and a different interactive model, at Camden People’s Theatre in Coney’s Scratch Night of Play, May 2014; following a development residency by TS in MAKE Ireland.
Next stage of development:
• BAC Grand Hall Scale Up Scratch – small sharings of set-pieces playing with projection, sound and with an audience possibly at scale
• CPT development sketches – a week’s development residency developing the world, story and play, culminating in sketch performances
Team for the next stage of development:
• Director/co-writer – Tassos Stevens
• Dramaturgy – James Bridle, Brian Logan
• Devising performers – Gemma Brockis, Tom Lyall
• Projection design – Will Duke
• Sound design – Melanie Wilson
• Assistant director – Joe Ball
• Ear – Annette Mees