Layered realities & necessary over-complexities: REMOTE with Georgia

This Autumn, REMOTE in on tour across the UK. Landing in 10 towns and cities, this interactive live game is being played out by audiences from Devon to Derbyshire and beyond. With shows in Canterbury, Portsmouth, Sheffield, Derby and Leeds in the next month yet to go, click here to book your tickets.

Georgia Symons is a Melbourne-based theatre maker who flew over to join the REMOTE team as Assistant Director and to provide additional scripting for the freshly reworked version this autumn. And to say that she’s been busy since she landed in the UK might just be an understatement – but more from Georgia herself:

On September 10th, I flew into London from Australia to undertake a placement with Coney. On September 14th, we started building version 3.0 of REMOTE. On September 25th, we opened our regional tour of the show. To put it lightly, it’s been a busy time.

Screen Shot 2017-09-27 at 12.08.02

The image you see above is the script for REMOTE, in its current form. If it doesn’t look like any script you’ve ever seen, then I envy you. This image is a screen-shot taken a program for coding interactive narratives. And this script was a nightmare to code and compile… but one of those nightmares that you secretly enjoy and learn from.

The past few weeks have been a time of intensive learning and discovery for the team and for myself. Here are some of my own reflections on the process, and what it’s taught me about making art.

What Is The Show About?

Whilst Coney have previously done a show called REMOTE, and whilst that show bears some similarities to this new version, a lot has changed. Perhaps the biggest change has been to the team – the show now has an entirely new cast. So, on the first day of rehearsals, Tassos began by explaining to us everything that he knew about the show. The various themes and elements of the show included but were not limited to:

  • A theatre show in which any number of audience members can play a simple game by either raising or not raising a card
  • A company called REMOTE who are a big data/big tech company who wish to develop an AI to ***SPOILER***
  • A “theatre of the future” facility in which the AI can learn from a live audience, and from actors
  • An algorithm which auto-generates the scripts for the theatre of the future in real-time. This algorithm is the AI, or a part of it
  • Two actors who have been hired by REMOTE to work for the Theatre of the Future
  • The fact that the two actors are being “beamed in” from a remote location
  • The idea that the AI would become sufficiently sophisticated over the course of the show that ***SPOILER***
  • Philosophical underpinnings regarding the factors behind human decision making and the differences between human intelligence and artificial intelligence

After this information download, we had a conversation about the fact that REMOTE *could* be about so many different things; it *could* go in a number of different directions. But conversation and play with new cast members and actual human gemstones Jess Latowicki and Naomi ‘Nem’ Stafford helped us home in on what was essential, and what was window dressing.

Screen Shot 2017-10-13 at 15.50.27
Georgia, Nem and Tassos in rehearsal

What is fictional and what is really occurring?

In the process of refining the core of the show, we thought a lot about what is real and what is fictional. Because we’re making a live theatre show, even though the concept for the show is fictional, certain things are really occurring. Two human beings are sitting on a stage, facing an audience full of other human beings. The people on stage are reading from computer screens. The people in the audience are raising and lowering pieces of cardboard depending on their responses to what the people on stage say. In developing this show, we invested a lot of energy in discovering how many different kinds of experiences and sensations we could create within that physical reality. From there, we could make sure that any fictional exoskeleton we build around that physical reality can support – rather than distract from – the liveness of what is actually happening.

Why being complicated is both necessary and unnecessary

This is where I return to the script diagram that we saw above. Due to the choose-your-own-adventure nature of this show, we’ve had to write the script to account for a large number of variables. This includes not only a lot of script-writing, but also quite a bit of complex coding and mathematics (not something I’m known for!)

A number of times throughout this scripting process, I spent hours creating a very intricate system of nuanced outcomes according to the choices that audiences made. But pretty much every time, once I gave this script to this actors, it became apparent that a much simpler option was available, and that the simpler option would better serve the actors, the script, and the audience experience.

Although they didn’t end up getting used, I believe (or am choosing to believe, for my own sanity!) that the complex versions of the scripts that I built were necessary; that it was helpful to build the most complex version possible, so that we could see which parts of it were essential, and which could be refined.

What are you trying to do?

The primary way that the audience interact with the game is to make binary choices by raising a card to choose one option, or doing nothing to choose the second option. When a choice is presented to you where you don’t agree with either option, this choice can be really frustrating. And it also risks becoming very monotonous. From what I’ve been told, the previous version of this show leant into these frustrating elements, in a bid to get audience members to push back and revolt against the system. However, for this version, Tassos highlighted to the group that his primary objective was to make the experience fun and playable. This meant pulling back on the frustrating elements of the system, and trying to make the audience experience as fluid and interesting as possible. Based on audience responses so far, I like to hope we’ve done a pretty good job of this!

The show is now officially tour-ready. We’ve performed five shows, travelling from Lincoln to Exeter and more, and we’re looking forward to the rest of our season. And although the process of making such a complex show was at times brain-frying, I’ve learned a lot from it, and I’m excited to see what audiences make of it!

Find Georgia here:

And more about REMOTE here.

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