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Initial ideas and proposal
 

The collaboration between Francesca, Arielle and Christof started with a conversation via Zoom during the spring break between term 2 and 3. All three of us had already collaborated to some extent in the Composition cluster of the Interdisciplinary Practice Unit during the first term. Additionally, Francesca and Arielle had worked together on the production Eyes On Me by Psychonaut Theatre which was shown in April 2023 at Tate Britain and Christof had joined forces with Arielle in the Practices Unit in term 2 where both of them created the production guess you had to be there with the company Triangles. At the same time, Christof and Francesca also collaborated for the production The Canon by Chaotic Good which was presented at Royal Central School of Speech and Drama’s SU Fest in June 2023.


This early conversation centred around four shared principles:

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Initial thoughts (10.04.23; Hofer, 2023, Initial thoughts)

The first point refers to the common vision, that all of us wanted to create a performance that goes beyond the mandatory requirements of our course and which we would be also motivated to run after our course ends. Other than that, all of us were interested in audience participation, a show that is humorous and uplifting for us as performers as well as the audience. And last but not least, we were all interested in the contrast of high culture (e.g. opera, classical music) and low culture (e.g. reality tv). Following this first conversation, we decided to work together as a SIP group and met again on 28 April 2023 to draft our SIP Proposal.


While going through all the requirements of the proposal we talked more about our content ideas for the show and tried to marry our interest in form with a political and relevant content. As all of us share an interest in the changing moral codes of different times and their expression, we decided to focus on the theme of oppression. At this stage, we intentionally kept open what exactly this term means to us and how it would be dissected on stage, to give us room to explore in the first rehearsals. Internally, we set up rules for ourselves to deal with this sensitive matter:


What are the rules we set ourselves?

  • In case of conflicting ideas, we make a conscious effort to understand the other position.

  • Respect each other’s roles and agencies that we defined

  • We choose our own challenges

  • Be on time (at agreed time) and stick to group agreements

  • Come prepared to the rehearsals

  • We only work with manifestations of oppression that actually exist or existed

  • We will ensure constant discussions will occur within the group about these subjects

 
After this discussion, we refined our SIP Proposal and handed it in on 2 May 2023. What follows are extracts of the most important parts of our proposal:   


What is your proposed activity and what do you want to achieve by doing it?

  • Within the next few months of research and rehearsal, we aim to create a 45 minute - 1 hour multidisciplinary, experimental, multimodal performance that experiments with pushing the boundaries of live performance and the theatrical frame.

  • The final performance will be performed for an audience of 50 people in a theatrical space and involve audience interaction.

  • We want to create an ever-changing performance that acknowledges and challenges its audience in a meaningful way.


What is the aim or question that underpins your proposal?

  • We aim to explore the development of humanity through time (historical/present/future) and changes of perception and practice ethics in relation to oppression.

  • How do you create theatre that allows for meaningful transfer between audiences?

  • We aim to explore and experiment with different frames of time (e.g. us in the physical space with the audience, the figures jumping between periods), and the relationship between the theatrical frame and the theme we are exploring; how can the concept be translated into an overarching metanarrative
     

How will you explore new ideas/concepts and/or processes in this activity?

We will explore these concepts through the following methods:

  • Physical improvisation/experimentation, workshops led by different group members incorporating their individual styles/practices

  • Personal research (theoretical and practical)

  • Interviews with other practitioners and experts in the field

  • Visiting performances, exhibitions, etc.

  • Experimentation with technology and audience interaction
     

Importantly, we already clearly defined our individual roles and responsibilities in the SIP Proposal, including the involvement of Iyas Duhaithem as supporting team member:

Who is involved (list all ATP students involved in your project)?

  • Francesca Fatichenti

    • Interested in: performing, movement, scenography, dramaturgy

    • Responsible for: Acting Coach, Physical Trainer, Scenography, Documentation

  • Christof Hofer

    • Interested in writing, directing, performing, dramaturgy

    • Responsible for: Dramaturgy

  • Arielle Zilkha

    • Interested in: performing, producing, music, dramaturgy

    • Responsible for: Choreography, Production, Music

  • Iyas Duhaithem

    • Supporting member: video consultant, tech consultant
       

Additionally, we defined our documentation process which we followed through as planned:


How do you plan to document and monitor the progress of your activity?

  • We will document each session in our Padlet working journal. Francesca will be in charge of coordinating this. We will rotate who is responsible for writing each week’s diary.

  • Additionally, we will keep a weekly Google Drive of pictures, videos and documentation, where media will be organised and grouped by session.

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First day of wig improvisation

Improvisation on constriction and oppression (09.05.23) and the first rehearsal with a wig (10.05.23)

Phase 1: Weeks 1-4 until Sharing I

The rehearsal process for our theatre performance began with a decision that each of us would take turns leading improvisational exercises. These exercises were designed to help us explore various forms and concepts for our show. Here's a detailed breakdown of our journey through this process:

 

Exploring different forms

On the first days of rehearsals, we engaged in a series of exercises focused on exploring different forms for our theatre show. These exercises engaged with stand-up, advertisements, the fitness industry, gameshows, character playing with the wigs, physical sequences. The themes we engaged with were the media, the influence of advertising on everyday life, and its subtle result of an oppressor-oppressed dynamics. Despite it was the first day, we already identified some of the elements that would compose the final show, such as wigs, the presence of comedy, a commentary to advertisements, and power dynamics.

 

Further exploration

We continued to explore various prompts, with exercises including an improvisation with animal characters, a further exploration of oppression featuring a performer giving a speech while being wrapped in tape, a declaration of new laws, and a brainstorm on audience interaction and the morality involved in the voting process. Today as well we conceived the seeds of what would become the final scenes, including the Animal Scene, the Conference Leader, and the different audience interaction mechanisms. 

Inspiration from the British Library

Our next rehearsals began with a trip to the British Library, where we explored exhibits related to our show's themes, such as documents on animal rights and scripts from Monty Python. We also continued to experiment with exercises including creating a soundscape that would hint to oppression, which completed idea would appear in the final show, too. We also agreed to each focus on an exercise to prepare for the upcoming sharing, with Arielle working on the dictator speech, Francesca on the animal date, and Christof on the sport exercises.

 

Preparing for the sharing

In the following days, we chiselled the selected scenes in preparation of the sharing, including the dictator speech, the animal date, the sport exercises. We also created new material, such as the 'Fast Fashion' segment (involving contestants making outfits from trash bags), which we added to the sharing sequence. Moreover, we experimented with the wigs and on the theme of ageism. In this week, we encountered the fist technical challenges, such as difficulties with sound playback and video recording, that we overcame during the rehearsals. We also solidified the framing of our final show, which would be called 'The Wigs of Oppression,' with each of us adopting different 'host' personas and incorporating recognizable TV programme structures to allow for a variety of forms.

 

The order of the first sharing was as follows:

 

  • Piano ready, chairs for audience set up.

  • We send all people outside.

  • Ella gets the people who submitted a wig picture.

  • Christof tells them we have limited time.

  • Ella plays oppressive piano intro while Francesca and Christof set up the space.

  • Christof gets the rest of the people from outside and tells them we have limited time.

  • Christof asks audience to count to ten for him.

  • Ella comes on as show master and welcomes everyone to 'The Wigs of Oppression'

  • Christof plays Dictator video which interrupts Ellas introduction speech.

  • Francesca, Christof and Ella do their Boal-Choreographies while Dictatorvideo plays.

  • Francesca calls for a break as soon as Dictatorvideo ends.

  • Ella and Christof put on their wigs and play animal scene.

  • Ella and Christof go directly into Workout scene, Francesca plays fat people slideshow.

  • Francesca joins workout scene with audience interaction part and ends scene and show.

Phase 2: Weeks 5-6 until Sharing II

After debriefing on the first sharing and reflecting on the audience's responses, we discussed more in depth the theme of oppression and the ethics involved in making a show about it. We also had a production meeting, defining what theatres we would be getting in touch with to extend our run at Camden People's Theatre. Additionally, we discussed the pitch and looked at potential reviewers.

 
On a practical level, in this second phase we developed the following scenes as described in our
Padlet working journal:


1. The dictator

Consisting of three videos: 1st video: The dictator's speech is authoritarian in content and delivery. 2nd video: The dictator's speech is democratic in content but authoritarian in delivery. 3rd video: We are in the future, the dictator is now on stage, two caregivers spoon-feed him. We recorded the three videos with Christof wearing a black wig covering his face, then edited the audio with Ella's voice. We considered how the videos can be augmented with AI.

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The Dictator (16.05.23)

2. The social injustice.
Inspired by Augusto Boal's Theatre of the oppressed, we put on stage three people from low, middle and high class talking simultaneously about their problems with a possibility for character development with cigarettes/ alcoholic drinks/laughter.


3. Fitness
Based on the scene from the previous sharing. The countdown starts from Ella's entry. Ella changes the way she walks, till she's ageing and crawling. Christof does a handstand. Francesca enters at the 50th second. 


4. Fashion show
Ella developed the presenter's monologue. Contestant's names: Christina and Francisco. They are very shy at the beginning and don't know what to do with the bags. Then they become more comfortable.

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Performance of the chicken trial and the fashion show in the second sharing (31.05.23)

5. Chicken trial

Based on real trials we wrote the trial of a chicken, a pig and a witch. We bought the animal heads. We will be turning roles to represent each one a different character (victim, judge, prosecutor). Question: How do the characters appear?

6. Commercial

We shot a very basic demo of the plough commercial, with a link to 'the rise of class society' (Socialist Worker, 2013). The objective was to see if it works and how we can shoot it (Stonehenge?). Additionally, we recorded a voice over for it.

 

7. Abstract scene

We shot 3 short videos related to 'oppression', and recorded a concerted laughter and found tag words for each video to edit them with AI.

Phase 2

Frame & Structure

 

Our frame for the second phase of the development of our piece was a fictional television channel, namely ‘The Wigs of Oppression’, which would explore multiple forms of oppression through an episodic, fragmented structure, with intermissions by ‘show personas’. In line with our intention to use recognizable formats, we wanted to further explore using television shows as our medium to deliver our material to the audience.

 

This iteration of the piece would consist of three separate worlds, with the action moving between them. These were:

  • The ‘show’ world: This would consist of a number of fragments from different types of television shows, for example a game show, a ‘Judge Judy’ type show and a late night talk show. This world would be a representation of society’s bystander effect, with the topics of the shows being oppression, but the figures being helpless and oblivious to the destruction occurring outside of this world.

  • The ‘abstract’ world: The rules of this world were more stylistic, involving physical theatre sequences exploring oppression as a more general theme, inspired by our work on Boal’s ‘Theatre of the Oppressed’. The ‘dictator’ would also live in this world, a faceless figure covered with a wig, who would appear via video projection.

  • The ‘real’ world: The acting style would be realism, but characters would be based on Theatre of the Absurd.

 

As this iteration of the piece was early in its development, we were yet to decide on an overarching metanarrative and what the ending point of the show would be. These decisions were set to be made after our second sharing in Week 6. 

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Rehearsals on the creation of the show world (18.05.23)

Phase 2

Persona

 

The personae in this initial television frame mostly evolved around representations of show hosts and celebrities. These were caricatures; stereotypical pastiches of contemporary celebrity culture. Additionally, we began our exploration of playing biological life, in this case, a horse and a duck. We decided not to alter our body language to represent these species, but rather hints were given to the audience via the naturalistic dialogue. This resulted in a comedic effect and we endeavoured to explore this further in the next iteration of our work. We also began to acknowledge the audience in some fragments, playing with the relationship between ourselves as the performers and the personae we were adopting. For example in one sequence, before the performance had begun, Christof requested the audience to complete a task-based activity, as himself. This was then used in a scene where Christof was adopting a persona of an athlete. This began our exploration of performance modes/persona, that would then be developed into performance layers. 

Performance of biological life in the first sharing (17.05.23)

Performance of show hosts in the second sharing (31.05.23)

Phase 2

Audience participation

As defined in our proposal, we wanted our final performance to feature audience participation. Already in the first couple of weeks we had experimented with different forms, trying to make the audience complicit in the oppression we explored on stage. For that, we drew inspiration from game design ideas like Mark Brown’s video game analysis series Game Maker’s Toolkit:

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Morality in the Mechanics by Game Maker's Toolkit (23.02.16) and notes on ideas we created in response (10.05.23; Hofer, 2023, Week 3)

Initial idea of the fitness scene (09.05.23) and the same concept used in our first sharing (17.05.23)

The positive feedback to the fitness scene in our first sharing encouraged us to explore further mechanisms to integrate audience responses into the show. This reminded us of Mentimeter, a software that was extensively employed during the COVID-19 pandemic to make presentations more engaging and responsive. We therefore decided to use this software along with more simple mechanisms such as measuring the applause of the audience. In accordance with an earlier idea, we wanted to let the audience make a consequential decision of kicking one performer out of the show.

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Mentimeter and applause being used for audience participation in our second sharing (31.05.23)

But as a matter of fact, we did not use audience participation heavily in this part of the process. Shortly before the sharing, Christof wrote some more ideas for future development after the second sharing. Generally, we wanted to evaluate first what impact these forms of participation would have before further building on our already existing ideas.

Further ideas for audience participation (28.05.23; Hofer, 2023, Week 6)

Phase 2

Scenography

The scenography in this second phase was still blurred but we knew that we wanted a highly technological scenography. Elements of this included using microphones, live-feed projections, AI generated videos and images. We also started discovering the potential of the wigs as scenographic elements.
 

The second sharing involved a draft of a plough infomercial in an eclectic style that would recall classic commercials from the Sixties, which already contained the seeds of what was going to be the absurdist style of the later scenographic elements. The trip to the British Museum inspired us to think about a scenography that could recall a museum hall, but this idea was not followed until after the second sharing. A big question in this phase was how to make sure that all the objects that we used to change character on stage would be at hand but at the same time positioned in a coherent and good way. For the moment, we chose to just leave the wigs and other objects (bin bags, mics) visible and on the ground of the stage, but we knew that this was only a temporary choice. Nevertheless, it aimed not only at reducing the time for the setup, but also was thematically relevant for our idea of showing the absurdity of oppression through meta-theatre. 

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Playing the finalized dictator video (31.05.23) and spatialization of the wigs (02.06.23)                                                       

Phase 2

Costumes & Wigs

In this phase, we started conceiving the idea that our costumes would need a neutral common to all of us, to which return to and to use when changing between different characters. For this time, we wanted to try the 'nude' effect, so Christof and Francesca were wearing just nude underwear during the tv programme. We had very specific costume ideas for each character, in particular the presenters themselves would be dressed in a very bright, eccentric way that would manifest the idea of falsity behind mass commodities. 

We also started to introduce the wigs. At first, we had only very few wigs. But we already knew that we would need more. We also already thought about using not only wigs, but also hats, and, for this specific sharing, silicone animal heads of a horse and a bird.

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Trying on the wig caps (30.05.23) and shooting the dictator video (23.05.23)

Turning point: Week 6

The second sharing was a great surprise for us as the audience’s reaction was very different from what we had expected. In fact, what we had intended as a liberating comedy on oppression, was received as the opposite.

 

The comments we received is that we were making fun of the victims of oppression, rather than of the system, and that we were punching down instead of punching up. Our humour was defined as 'second degree' and the transitions between one object of fun and another were defined as 'murky'. This came as a big shock for us and led us to reconsider our work. We therefore analysed all the scenes, defining our objective in each one of them and confronting it with the audience’s perception. This was a great moment of learning, because we realised that without framing our commentary, and giving to the audience a clear perspective through which to look at each scene, we were putting them in a very uncomfortable position.

After the debriefing session and review of the video footage, we explored various possible show frameworks, including three distinct societal contexts and governing laws. We also considered contemporary settings. Eventually, we landed on the idea of a post-apocalyptic future where AI bots gather in a virtual conference to decide the fate of biological life. We envisioned an empty stage surrounded by wigs, performers in leotards, and dynamic projections to set scenes. The show's dramaturgy would present pros and cons of bringing back biological life, incorporating interactive elements for audience engagement.

Phase 3: Weeks 7-19 until the Shows

The decision we made in week 7 for a structure of the entire show as well as for the parts we would present during our interim sharing in Week 8 strengthened our resolve. The focus on a few scenes helped us to go more in depth instead of further accumulating material as we had done until week 6. This approach was honoured by really good feedback that we received for our interim sharing in week 8 where 'it felt like the audience were really intellectually and critically engaged with the performance' (Psychonaut Theatre, 2023b, Thursday 15th June).

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Mind-maps of each scene and over-arching structures (06.06.23) as well as a photoshoot for our poster (20.06.23)

Encouraged by the audience’s questions and suggestion we applied a similar process to the second part of the show, which we started working on after week 8. Next to introducing a to do-list for our individual tasks and production-related work like a photoshoot and contacting venues for additional shows, we also had meetings with our lecturer Nohar Lazarovich and our tutor Jemima Yong, who both gave us important inputs. On 17 July we held another sharing in front of a public audience, in which we ran the entire show. This sharing, along with a conversation with Helgard Haug of Rimini Protokoll gave us loads of ideas for further work on the structure and singular details of the show which we tested in another sharing on 22 August. We then integrated further changes until our final shows in Camdens People's Theatre on 29 and 30 August as well as at Etcetera Theatre on 7 and 8 September 2023. 

Phase 3

Frame & Structure

 

Having reflected on our Week 6 sharing, it became apparent we would need to change the frame for the audience to achieve a critical distance. The lack of a clear question in our initial proposal influenced our decision in terms of how to progress the work: it was evident that the most practical and direct way to achieve the desired effect was to simply frame the piece around a question. This resulted in the question ‘Should we give biological life another chance or not?’, in the context of a post-apocalyptic world becoming the core mechanic of the piece, asking the audience to consider the value of biological life in the world as we know it. 

 

From the feedback we received, it was also evident that the initial frame lacked clarity in terms of its world, and it therefore appeared to be somehow set in the present but in an alternate universe, which towards the audience, proved to be unnervingly close to home. As Lehmann writes, theatre becomes political, ‘through the implicit substance and critical value of its mode of representation’ (2009, p.178). By changing the representative mode and placing the event in the future, the audience would be invited to adopt a retrospective positionality to the material, and therefore, a greater critical distance would be achieved.

 

The decision to frame the piece as a conference was mainly inspired by Rimini Protokoll and their work to ‘transpose rooms or social structures into theatrical formats’, involving ‘interactivity’, especially their work ‘The World Climate Conference’ (Rimini Protokoll, 2023). As Angelaki notes, the piece ‘did not take a symbolic approach to the universality of the issue but rather a corporeal and literal one, with bodies at work on the ground: from discussions about to simulations of climate change conditions, this was a densely lived rather than merely live event’ (2019, p.43). The W.I.G of Life takes place in a theatrical space and plays with the social hierarchy of a conference, but unlike throughout The World Climate Conference, the audience do not move around the space. However, we implemented several factors to ensure the event would be ‘densely lived’ by the audience, inviting them to ‘embody’ their own avatar for the duration of the conference, allowing them to choose their name, field and personal accessories. Additionally, we invited them to introduce their avatar forms to their neighbours, as well as discuss the questions asked at points during the performance.

Phase 3

Persona

 

Having decided upon our frame as a futuristic conference, our personas needed to be reworked in order to adapt to the overall dramaturgical frame. Stemming from the moralistic concerns raised in the first sharing, inspired by modernist traditions, we adopted the ‘impersonal’, deciding to ‘impersonate machines’, as well as replacing some of our roles altogether with puppets and objects (Ackerman, 2006). The conference hosts became physical manifestations of AI bots, who would shift to embody humanity and biological life throughout the conference through changing wigs and/or accessories. 

 

Despite a futuristic, space-age setting, we were resistant to embody artificial intelligences in a cliche, robotic style. After trialling our new frame in the Week 8 sharing, it became evident from the feedback that there was not enough differentiation between our performances of the AI bots, and our performances of the humans.

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Performance of the AI bots during rehearsals (08.06.23) and the interim sharing in week 8 (15.06.23) 

The sharing began to prompt discussions around the multiple layers of performance modes we were inhabiting throughout the piece. As of the final stage of development and performances these were: 

 

Christof, Francesca and Arielle (the performers) the base performance layer

 

Playing

 

AI bots

 

Playing

 

Avatars

 

Playing 

 

Humans

 

Playing 

 

Biological life 

 

We began to consider how AI would be performed, hesitant for this to become too static, aiming to develop our personification of AI to contrast our performance of humanity. We began to build a vocabulary of movement qualities that would mainly evolve around directness and restriction. For example, our head movements would be slow, controlled and on direct planes, with no unnecessary movements or sudden changes in tempo. Our awareness of our bodies would be limited with less focus on our individual and collective gestures. We would also adopt stereotypical ‘avatar’ motions inspired by video game characters, such as waving, pointing and a standby mode; these movements would be precise, inhabiting a slightly unnatural quality and performed in unison. As the process continued, the precision of our movements became key to the vocabulary of the AI bots, as we worked to eliminate anything unnecessary and block each movement, whether performed individually or synchronised. We also implemented basic emotional expressions, such as representing happiness with a toothed grin and a thumbs up, and confusion with scratching of the head.

Performance of the AI bots at Camden People's Theatre (30.08.23) 

The development of performance layers meant we were now working on performing humanity from the perspective of an AI. In order to situate this in the current landscape, based on the rise of AI assistants and Chat GPT, we aimed to translate the overly-simplistic material AI generates into its representation of humanity. The figures, similar to Brechtian archetypes, would be representative of different social systems rather than characters in their own right; for example, ‘Man’ and ‘Woman’ of an egalitarian society in a scene discussing agricultural advancements in the Stone Age, and three figures named ‘Low’, ‘Middle’ and ‘Upper’, of the British class system. 

Performance of 'Upper', 'Woman' and 'Plough Seller' at Camden People's Theatre (30.08.23) 

Phase 3

Audience participation

 

With the new structure and the clear setting of a conference, our focus again turned to audience participation. The central question of giving biological life another chance or not made the involvement of the audience central to our performance.

Structure of the The W.I.G of Life in as draft in the rehearsal room (06.06.23) and as notes (06.06.23; Hofer, 2023, Week 7)

But in order to take the audience with us on this journey, we first needed to properly introduce the conference as a frame with which psychologist Erving Goffman ‘indicates a network of shared assumptions about what an interaction means for its participants, and what is appropriate behaviour at these interactions’ (White, 2013, p. 34). Additionally, we needed to make the audience comfortable in their role as artificial intelligences and conference guests as well as integrate the interactive presentation software Mentimeter much more seamlessly into our show, so it would become part of the performance rather than just a technology put on top.

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Preparation for the interim sharing (12.06.23) and use of Mentimeter in the interim sharing (15.06.23)

In our interim sharing in week 8 we were able for the first time to test our participatory conference frame. Next to a pre show of giving audience members labels already outside the performance space we also tried to address the audience directly as artificial intelligence programs. While not everything worked out perfectly, we received very good feedback and ideas to delve further into our performance’s world and bring the audience along.

Feedback remarks in the Padlet working journal (15.06.23) and personal notes (15.06.23; Hofer, 2023, Week 8)

In the following weeks we therefore not only aimed at developing the second part of our performance, but also tightening the participatory features of it. Realising that only direct audience participation would give us reliable feedback to test our interaction strategies, we organised further two public sharings on 17 July as well as on 22 August 2023.

Public sharing in the New Studio and feedback session afterwards (17.07.23)

Next to the valuable feedback we received through these sharings, we also greatly profited from a discussion with our mentor Jemima Yong, a workshop by Gemma Paintin from Action Hero and a conversation with Helgard Haug from Rimini Protokoll.

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Workshop with Gemma Paintin (23.06.23) and display of audience decisions about biological life in our four runs of the show (09.09.23)

These inputs motivated us to integrate audience input into the progression and language of the show as well as errors and technical failures . Additionally, the sharings gave us hints and clues how to introduce the audience participation and the frame as clearly as possible, so the audience could assume their roles with ease. For example, the audience got the opportunity to put on accessories in the pre show where the audience received to turn themselves into avatars. Also, we made sure to introduce the interactive presentation - that we eventually switched to Ahaslides for technical reasons - as clearly as possible and decided to share the audience inputs and decisions on our company website.

Phase 3

Scenography

Now we knew the space and time of our show: a virtual space, simulating a theatre where a conference is happening, discussing the future of biological life from an AI perspective. The time was in a not so distant future. With this in mind, we created a solid scenographic structure.

 

First of all, we decided that as many wigs as possible would be hanged. The wigs would be as coloured as possible, hooked with an invisible fishing line in order to guarantee the impression that they were hovering above the ground. They would also be hanging everywhere, not only on stage but also and most importantly above the audience, to enhance a feeling of immersion in an other-space. The result was a strange 'museum of the wigs', where each wig represented a deceased biological species, exposed virtually to the gaze of all programmes in order for them to assess its worthiness. Those wigs, we decided after, would lighten up in a joyous and unexpected feast of all buzzy colours, in the case that the audience would choose to bring back biological life.

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Hanging wigs design (31.08.23) and light design for the Trial scene (31.08.23)

Even before deciding about the rest, we already knew that 'the wig', the very last living being in the entire world, would be hovering in the centre of the stage, behind the performers and above the head of the conference leader. This wig was a memento of life, of death, and of the fact that technology would not exist without having been invented by someone. The wig would be rainbow coloured, to signify its standing for every deceased living being, and be lit from outside by a god-like spotlight. In the end, in the case of 'bring back biological life', it would descend, its string be dramatically cut, and it would start singing 'we will survive', while being puppeteered by a performer and lit up from inside. In the case of 'end biological life', it would be brought down, cut and expelled from the room. In the case of a majority of abstention, it would remain hanging. 

 

But that was not all. The wigs were everywhere. While before some of them were just laid on the ground, this time we decided to use as a support some shop polyurethane white heads, that we sprayed silver to fit our costumes. The heads would be resting on the ground, facing the conference leader, so that no human reference could be found in them. On the heads, we would put all the wigs needed onstage. 

 

At the centre of the background, we had, as before, a large projection screen, active for most of the show. It would project videos of the 'Conference Leader', audience interaction slides, commercials, climate change videos, a black and white movie, existential questions and so on. Most of these videos had been processed by AI. We also re-edited the plough slides, in order to fit them to the overall image. 

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Attempt at re-editing the plough slides (21.08.23), first attempts with Stable Diffusion AI (17.07.23) and creating the silver heads for the scenography (27.07.23)

Phase 3

Costumes & Wigs

Following our stylistic choices, we decided to use only one retro sci-fi costume piece: It consisted of a one-piece silver leotard, the same for the three of us, and black shoes. Our hair was covered by wig caps and we would wear blue wigs when performing the avatars. Our makeup was also avatar-like, favouring an uncanny feeling of discomforting fakeness. 

We decided to include the audience in the avatar game by inviting them in the pre-show to pick and wear an avatar accessory, amongst which we can count Hawaiian necklaces and headbands, differently shaped and coloured sunglasses, rainbow moustaches and other similar things.

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Different costume designs for different characters, same base (23.08.23)

Shows

 

Our four runs at Camden People’s Theatre and Etcetera Theatre provided us with further insights into our show. Throughout the runs we took note of observations and made the following adjustments:

  • We started to comment on the actual situation of the audience and the space like the temperature in the room or the attention of the audience. This helped to keep the audience engaged.

  • We discovered our roles as moderators of audience inputs and went from repeating what audiences put in to commenting and elaborating on the potential consequences of their inputs for the show’s world.

  • We made changes to certain introductions and questions that were unclear or did not lead to the desired outcomes. For example, we exchanged a silly question for a more serious one or cut a repetitive question entirely from the show.

  • We realized that the audience was repeatedly inclined to preserve life at the end of the show and consistently chose the same ending. Therefore, we resolved to adapt the script and certain parts of the show to make the other two endings equally attractive.

Final bows after the The W.I.G of Life at Camden People's Theatre, and the ending selected by the audience to save biological life (29.08.23)

The audience inputs as well as the final decision on biological life were displayed on the company website as well as shared on the company's instagram feed in order to let audiences reflect on their decisions and compare with the reactions in other runs of the show.

We were very happy that the show received four reviews, including two four-star reviews from LondonTheatre1 and Sadie takes the Stage. We reflected upon both the positive and constructive feedback received in each of these, some of which we are beginning to implement as we begin the next stage of development of this project with a focus on audience participation and accessibility. Looking back at the initial ideas and proposal, it became evident through our discussions as a group after the shows that we achieved what we set out to do.

 

To refer back to our SIP Proposal, this was: 

  • ‘Within the next few months of research and rehearsal, we aim to create a 45 minute - 1 hour multidisciplinary, experimental, multimodal performance that experiments with pushing the boundaries of live performance and the theatrical frame.'

  • 'The final performance will be performed for an audience of 50 people in a theatrical space and involve audience interaction.'

  • 'We want to create an ever-changing performance that acknowledges and challenges its audience in a meaningful way.’

We are thankful to the course team of the MA Advanced Theatre Practice at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama and everyone who supported us in the development of this project! The W.I.G of Life: A Conference is now entering its next stage of development, as we look to take the piece internationally and to other venues in the UK.

Bibliography

 

Ackerman, A.L. and Puchner, M. (2007) Against theatre creative destructions on the modernist stage. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. 

 

Angelaki, V. (2019) Theatre & environment. London; New York: Red Globe Press.

Boal, A. (1975). Theatre of the oppressed. London: Pluto Press.

Game Maker's Toolkit (2016) Morality in the mechanics. 23 February. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6RHH7M4siPM (Accessed: 20 September 2023).

Hofer, C. (2023) Personal notebook. Royal Central School of Speech and Drama. Unpublished.
 

Lehmann, H.-T. and Jürs-Munby, K. (2009) Postdramatic theatre. London: Routledge. 

LondonTheatre1 (2023) The w.i.g of life: A conference at camden people’s theatre. Available at: https://www.londontheatre1.com/reviews/the-w-i-g-of-life-a-conference-camden-peoples-theatre/ (Accessed: 20 September 2023)

Psychonaut Theatre (2023a) SIP proposal. Available at: https://478b05ea-56e3-42ea-af93-cf36fe280868.usrfiles.com/ugd/478b05_803925c5595346d6aaa23211d805600e.pdf (Accessed: 20 September 2023)

Psychonaut Theatre (2023b) SIP working journal. Available at: https://padlet.com/ellazilkha/sip-working-journal-j7zbxaiofxxhrciv (Accessed: 20 September 2023)

Psychonaut Theatre (2023c) Show learnings. Available at: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1HQbWmMvlWWo4RnL9v1aMxWvVIrJsXNSnezrsGHfkijU/edit?usp=sharing (Accessed: 20 September 2023)

Psychonaut Theatre (2023d) Statistics of the w.i.g of life: A conference. Available at: https://www.psychonauttheatre.com/statswigoflife (Accessed: 20 September 2023)

Rimini Protokoll (2023) About rimini protokoll - rimini protokoll. Available at: https://www.rimini-protokoll.de/website/en/about (Accessed: 20 September 2023).

Sadie takes the Stage (2023) The w.i.g of life: A conference -a radical exploration of collective responsibility hosted in the camden people’s theatre. Available at: https://sadietakesthestage.com/2023/09/02/the-w-i-g-of-life-a-conference-a-radical-exploration-of-collective-responsibility-hosted-in-the-camden-peoples-theatre/ (Accessed: 20 September 2023)

Socialist Worker (2013) Primitive communism: Life before class and oppression. Available at: https://socialistworker.co.uk/features/primitive-communism-life-before-class-and-oppression/ (Accessed: 20 September 2023)

White, G. (2013) Audience participation in theatre: Aesthetics of the invitation. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

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