Interview: Roisin Feeny of youth theatre group Sounds Like Chaos on its new sci-fi play and use of multimedia
Sounds Like Chaos is a youth theatre group co-founded by Roisin Feeny and Gemma Rowan and their latest piece, Wow Everything Is Amazing, imagines the digital world in 50 years time.
I spoke to Roisin about the inspiration behind the piece, the use of multi-media and whether theatres should embrace digital media more.
Tell us a bit about Wow Everything Is Amazing and what inspired it?
Wow Everything Is Amazing is a sci-fi hallucinatory madness set in the church of the future.
In this new world, sermons are stored on servers, and data has replaced deities.
Lead by our new AI leader, Godhead, it asks the congregation to trust in progress to be saved, as the boundaries between humans and tech become ever-more blurred.
The story is told through music, film and movement in an explosion of energy from the young performers.
There is an underlying discomfort about who is represented in this new world, with ideas around race and gender embedded in the fabric of the piece, in part through experimentation with audio description
The initial idea came after a friend showed me that if you google the word feet and image search you get pages and pages of white feet. Eventually, there is a pair of black feet that are deformed.
This prompted us to think about how the algorithms shaping so much of our experience work and more importantly who is programming them?
With our ever-dependent relationship on digital technology, so much of our world is filtered through the biases of Silicon Valley.
What does this mean for a diverse group of teenagers, who have only known a world with the Internet?
For young people today, their identity is shaped as much online as much as off.
How do these algorithms impact them, and what might their future hold?
How was the piece devised?
Once we have a concept we work in two stages with the company to build the show.
With have an R&D stage, where we generate lots of ideas. At this point, we are looking at the young people’s experience of digital technology, how they feel about it, how it affects their lives.
We will start to find ideas for moments in the show, voices, and characters based on each performer. We worked with a Digital Anthropologist, Miranda Marcus, who gave us lots of information about the history of tech and the prominent issues being debated today.
We make key decisions such as it will be sci-fi, it will take the form of a sermon or it will be part concept album.
To develop the form of the show we worked with our sound designer and filmmaker. We knew that music and film would be a huge part of this show.
Film felt essential as so much of our experience with technology is through a screen. Music is such a huge part of the young people’s lives; they have so much natural talent that in order for the show to be an expression of their culture it has to be musical.
After this R&D stage, we have a rough shape of the show that I develop into a script in conversation with (co-director) Gemma.
This is then brought back into the rehearsal room to be work-shopped and developed.
The language needs to feel authentic. The script is a skeleton with devising tasks built within it.
We are constantly devising with the performers, to ensure their ideas and personalities are shaping the show to the very end.
Was it important to use digital media and technology in order to tell this story?
Yes, it felt absolutely essential. The show is set roughly 50 years in the future.
We wanted digital tech to not only communicate our experience now but also look at what the next step would be. We wanted it to feel like you are submerged in the technology.
The projection screens cover the whole back of the stage, and you also have to enter through them. The screen itself is a personality, an AI god made through all our data, a few steps on from Alexa or Siri.
The film work is also incredibly beautiful, as so much of digital media is.
We are drawn to it for both aesthetic and functional reasons, and that attraction and convenience encourages us to have blind faith in its purpose.
Should theatre makers embrace digital technology more and what would you like to see?
I think digital technology is an incredibly exciting medium to work with.
It offers a whole new dimension to the story you are telling and the theatrical world you want to create.
In this show we would have loved to communicate directly to the audiences’ phones, to create the sense that the AI god is everywhere.
We also experimented with the ideas of collective decision making through tech, which was one of the early forms of the Internet.
Digital tech is a great way to communicate your work to wider audiences; we always make a trailer now for our shows that is its own piece of art.
Ultimately, I think theatre makers should create work through languages they feel best represents their ideas.
It is the variety of mediums and ideas that will create an interesting theatre landscape.
The play explores what lies ahead in the digital world - what is one digital advance not yet developed that you’d love to see?
It seems a great deal of technology is about creating space in our lives through convenience.
But ironically we are busier than ever, as the technology enables us to work longer hours and essentially never switch off.
I’m interested in how technology could support people to find more balance and space in their lives.
Especially as AI develops, can we use these advancements to create stronger social support systems, stronger health services and alleviate pressure?
In order for these things to not be at the expense of human jobs, I think digital advancement needs to happen hand in hand with a new economic model like basic income.