Audiences have long been engrossed by the impact of technology on our lives. Three artists bring their perspective on cutting-edge technology and its implications to the forefront in “The Summit,” an experimental performance premiering at East Hampton’s Guild Hall on Friday, August 31, at 8 p.m.The experimental piece—created, written and directed by millennial artists Christian Scheider, Tucker Marder and Isla Hansen—is more akin to a living, breathing piece of artwork than a traditional stage play. It follows a select group of “techno-elites” in 2081 who receive early access to technology that makes immortality possible, Mr. Scheider said.
“This is not really a play with actors primarily speaking a bunch of dialogue,” Mr. Scheider explained. “It’s actually like a slapstick comedy in the vein of a Peter Sellers film, hopefully in a style that the action suggests the message.”
The premise revolves around technology that allows individuals to upload their minds into a digital, virtual reality and to have their bodies simulated in this virtual space, Mr. Scheider said. The group gathers together for the upload process, but trouble ensues when the “empathetic embodied neural network,” known as “E,” meant to oversee the process, malfunctions.
“As wild and sci-fi as that sounds there are actual people trying to do it. And when we realized that, when we realized there was this market shift happening, we thought, ‘Wow, that’s not only contemporary, it’s also an age old problem—the elites getting to live a certain way while everyone else drags behind,’” Mr. Scheider said.
Popular culture also serves as a point of inspiration for the piece. The creators said the Netflix anthology series “Black Mirror” triggered inspiration through its social commentary on technology and the human condition.
“We all sort of love [Black Mirror],” Mr. Marder said. “It’s one of the few things on mainstream television that’s openly critical of technology. We loved its new-age ‘Twilight Zone’ feel and tried to work some of those themes into a slapstick comedy.”
The creators were also inspired by technology and the role it plays in their own lives.
“My stance on technology is one I think shared by many people—it’s ambivalence, a love and a hatred, a notion that there are certain things technology could be able to do in an ideal world that would make the world a better place,” Ms. Hansen said. “There’s an optimism there, but at the same time a skepticism that the technology we currently [have will do] any of that or will ever do that.”
Ms. Hansen, an artist who teaches at the University of California, Los Angeles, department of design and media arts, expresses these points in her own works, which often reflect on the relationship between the human body and technology.
“I think that Christian and Tucker and myself are always interested in popular science and using art as a bridge to not necessarily educate people about the sciences, but using topics in popular science as inspiration for art works as a way to kind of just begin a conversation,” she said.
Both Ms. Hansen and Mr. Marder also have extensive experience with puppetry, which is integrated into the piece. A previous project involved the two using puppets at a microbiology conference where the scientists were not allowed to use PowerPoints. Instead they were paired with puppeteers to express their theories.
“There’s a kind of language you can communicate with through objects that’s a little different than a screen based image,” Ms. Hansen said. “Theater is kind of the perfect apparatus for sending the same message—kind of like an object-based way of communicating.”
It’s also the perfect medium to criticize technology, Mr. Marder noted.
Although the project isn’t a typical play, it utilizes a wide array of actors from both New York City and the local community.
“[They are] highly talented actors in their own rights and we’re lucky to have them here doing this as a labor of love,” Mr. Scheider said.
The trio also expressed their gratitude toward Guild Hall, which directly commissioned the piece to be performed in the nonprofit arts institution’s John Drew Theater. Guild Hall Executive Director Andrea Grover and John Drew Theater Artistic Director Josh Gladstone were integral in bringing the work to East Hampton, said Mr. Scheider. Ms. Grover previously worked with the team on their piece titled “Galapagos” in 2014, which debuted at The Parrish Art Museum.
“[Andrea] approached us about doing a new piece here at Guild Hall and we were very flattered by that,” Mr. Scheider said. “We are so grateful to them for their support and their enthusiasm in doing this. It might be our best venture to date.”
In addition to the financial support from Guild Hall, Ms. Hansen explained that half of their funding came from the generous donations of family, friends and the network of peers and supporters the trio gained over the years.
“It’s mostly an enthusiasm for all the people working on the show and that there’s 20 to 30 people involved, which creates this network of people trying to support us,” she said.
However, the group said they thrive on the prospect of creating something out of nothing.
“Part of the fun of this show is trying to make something extraordinary with not a lot of resources. It’s not fun when you’re doing it, but it’s very fun to see what it’s become and to remember theater is an ancient medium that can be done with people on floorboards,” Mr. Scheider explained.
“We have resources that we’re pouring into it, but primarily it’s a show about just actors and some technology. It actually doesn’t take that much money to do this. It takes a lot of ingenuity, but the benefit of theater is that you can get up and do it—that’s the fun of it.”
When it comes down to it, the trio said they primarily hope that audiences will walk away with a new perspective about technology and how it impacts their lives.
“I think there’s a collective sense that we all have that we can sort of pull ourselves out of any situation if we just have the right techno-fix,” Mr. Marder said. “I’m not so sure that is going to continue to be the case—that more technology is not always the best solution.”
“The Summit” will be staged at Guild Hall, 158 Main Street, East Hampton, from Friday, August 31, to Sunday, September 2, and Tuesday, September 4, through Saturday, September 8, at 8 p.m. and on Sunday, September 9, at 2 p.m. Tickets range from $18 to $75. Call 631-324-4050 or visit guildhall.org.
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