Experimental theater - the real deal Feb 24, 2013

by Erin

A couple things I've been hearing about this piece that I wanted to address:

1. It should have been an installation 

I don't think would've had the same effect had it been an installation. An installation doesn't require the same sort of involvement - you can leave when you like, enter when you like. Sitting and staring at a stage implies quite a lot. You don't have to engage in the same way when you're just walking around in a museum or whatever. Since this *was* on a stage, I found myself thinking about the reasons *why* it was on stage. What happens to audience members when there is no one to identify with? Do bonds between people become stronger (even bonds of mutual loathing of the piece, haha)? Do you go down a personal rabbit hole and engage more with *yourself*? Dorsen et al clearly ain't stupid and I would certainly stake my next paycheck on the fact that they've thought about these things. If you trust the artist (I don't always. but in this case I do) then you have an obligation to engage with what they are trying to do.


2. There were really no strong ideas behind the piece. This sort of thing has been done before with cut-up text, etc.  

I think there were a ton of strong ideas behind it. It wasn't the same thing as Cage-ian chance or Dadaist deliberate chaos. The coding element makes a huge difference. This sort of coding is programmed to "learn" as it goes, and there *is* some sort of method behind the madness - a lot of method, I'd bet. The idea that is was computer coding with the help of humans implied a lot. Adding technology into the mix is a sort of brave new element that I haven't completely wrapped my mind around yet. It gave me a lot of ideas about language, theatrical manipulation, implying meaning when there is no meaning (and how human beings ourselves are sort of "programmed" to do this), etc.

As someone who thinks narrative theater is completely boring and manipulative, I was so happy *not* to have anyone onstage telling me what to think. "Feel happy! Feel sad! Now we play tragic music! Now we have triumphant trumpets!" or whatever. I thought a lot about how sort-of obnoxious that is. It was almost a gesture of respect to the spectator to require more of them than to just sit there and be entertained. More than telling you something or being about something, this piece opened a gateway for thinking about all sorts of things. Using Hamlet as a reference wasn't intended as a "fuck you" to Shakespeare, but was rather used because it's something so universally known in the Western canon. Even people who don't know Hamlet, sort of know Hamlet. So you already have a point of reference going in.

I also surprised myself by feeling excited about this piece because it is a straight-up experiment. As I understand it, Dorsen's first piece in this vein involved two chatbots onstage, drawing from algorithmically drawn text to create a real-time conversation. This one took a big step forward - like, ok, let's see what happens when we use an actor with algorithmically drawn text. Let's take *all* traditional elements of the stage and design them the same way - lights, sound, stage directions, etc. We don't know what will happen because it's new territory. It is literally experimental theater! It might work. It might not. We don't know! I was like, holy crap! I'm getting excited about EXPERIMENTAL THEATER, haha. Generally the phrase conjures up something I wouldn't want to touch with a 10-foot pole ('lil Artauds yelling at you or something). I was pretty happy to be tricked in that fashion. And I was really excited to be part of something that really doesn't have a precedent. And I think it's generally pretty fun and interesting when people have such heated and opposite reactions. I'm curious to see where this piece ends up and what the next step in this sort of theater will be. I hope I can be there to find out.