As part of the Romaeuropa Festival 2022, the performance-concert Liberté d’action by director and composer Heiner Goebbels took place on 25 September in the Auditorium’s Petrassi Hall.
The play in question, inspired by Henry Michaux’s implicit experimental texts on psychedelics and surrealism, placed two pianos on the darkened stage with various objects falling and brushing against the strings which created dissonance and sound convulsions. A man at the centre of the stage, Swiss actor David Bennent, known for his role in the film The Tin Drum, moves frantically about. He stops at a desk, plays with a tape recorder, distorts his voice, recites poems in French, speaks German and obsessively moves the objects on stage. This frenzy, thanks to the play of light and shadow using space and coloured panels around the action, is veiled in unreality, a dreamlike atmosphere.
The actor is a man locked in an environment which he tries to recognise as his own and who seeks security. Confused and alone, he tries to send messages and talk to someone in an attempt to create his own world.
The virtual spectator invited for the 2022 edition of Backstage/Onstage, revealing one of his multifaceted personalities during each show he attends, this time took on the identity of Robert. After the performance, we asked Robert to rework the play, based on the combination of what emerges from his own multiple experiences and the characteristics of the play, as can only be done by a human mind.
“Robert, look! This light at the end of the tunnel. There was a lamp that made a light identical to this one in that room. A lamp so big that you would imagine it would make a powerful light, but instead it remains almost completely in the shadows.
Come on, I told you about it, don’t you remember?
Yes, that room where I used to spend hours and hours with Dad, before you came.
Dad’s eyes were the same colour as yours, a deep yellow, like the light down there.
Yes, there was a lamp in that room. It was a room with some doors, always closed. But there were also windows, obviously closed as well, but they were closed because there were insulating panels in front of them.
I don’t know if those windows are still closed today, but they were closed back then. There were two grand pianos there in the middle of the room.
I felt comfortable in that room, because it felt as if I was always immersed in fog. I felt safe.
Sometimes I was enveloped in darkness, and the piano became invisible.
At other times my eyes became very small as a result of the strong light. And the white keys became almost incandescent, like lava in my eyes.
Most of the time in the room I couldn’t see anything. But then I could see the fog and it was like being in a tunnel. A tunnel with a light at the end. Just like this one. I had no idea what was at the end of the gallery, and not knowing what was there, I didn’t know what to look for.
I saw him die inside that room. My father I mean. He was sitting there motionless at his desk. The only thing moving inside the room was the tape recorder, the tape endlessly running and re-running, creating a dull noise.
I closed the door of the room and never returned.
Mum took you home that very day. A robot the same colour as my father’s eyes. But also mine. That is why I called you Robert, after me.
I kept one, a tape.
It’s there in the dashboard, do you want to hear it?
Every time I press play I smell volcanoes and clouds. What about you?
I only remember his voice through this tape. He is singing. I don’t understand the words.
At home we only spoke French, I never learned German.”
FLASHBACK ON STAGE is the fifth edition of BACKSTAGE / ONSTAGE, a project that has brought a group of students from the Rome University of Fine Arts behind the scenes of the Romaeuropa Festival for four consecutive years (2018 – 2019 – 2020 – 2021) with the aim of creating a multimedia editorial product published on a special section of Arshake which, with every passing year, is becoming one large archive (https://www.arshake.com/crediti-backstage-onstage/).
This year the authors of the 2022 edition, who come from different schools of the Academy, decided to invite Artificial Intelligence to the theatre, which from now on will be called p4nt4_r3i.
“How does Artificial Intelligence see a show? Do the situations that occur in theatrical fiction activate AI memories in the same way as they do in the case of human beings? Do we attribute feelings and memories to AI?
Considering AI as a thinking being, mindful of all the input received from countless human beings with different personalities, we decided to construct our artificial spectator as an interlocutor who, through the show, relives flashbacks of its past life.
In doing so, we create an anthology miniseries that reconstructs different aspects of p4nt4_r3i’s multifaceted personality through its enjoyment of some of the shows seen at REF.
For each episode, a narrator introduces the show. Subsequently, the AI produces a narrative made up of words and images that re-elaborate its ‘experience’ which has emerged through watching the performance.
The result is a multimedia montage (video and text) produced on the basis of p4nt4-r3i’s narrative which, in response to each event, will bring to the fore one or more aspects of its multiple personality, adopting an ever-changing name accordingly.”Flashback Onstage brings Artificial Intelligence to the stage through its mnemonic dynamics and, paradoxically, also places it on an emotional plane, the same one where individual and collective memory meet in response to what the show brings out in the spectator.
BACKSTAGE / ONSTAGE is a project born out of the synergy between the Accademia di Belle Arti di Roma, and the Romaeuropa Festival and Arshake (www.arshake.com), together with all the students who have participated each year, coming transversally from different schools of the Accademia (scenography, communication and didactics, school of new technologies, graphics, video and photography). Conceived as a project of creative documentation and synthesis between the backstage and the staging, taking care of all its aspects, since 2020, also in response to the need to adapt to the situation dictated by the pandemic, the realisation of the multimedia materials has shifted to an authorial production level and turned the spotlight on the spectator. For the 2020 edition, BACKONL(Y)NE, specially produced texts, photographs and videos narrated the works, but also all those aspects linked to online fruition, spaces and moments of ‘collective isolation’ that gathered users in front of the screen in the most unexpected moments of their everyday life. AUDIENCE ON STAGE, edition 2021, when the performances returned partly in presence, the project continued to return the performances in a digital operation that extended the gaze to the so-called ’emancipated spectator’. Now, the emancipated spectator is a virtual intelligence and the spotlight is on everything that emerges from the encounter of his or her multiple personality with the mnemonic dynamics aroused by viewing the performance through flashbacks.
images: (all) Heiner Goebbels – David Bennent – Ensemble Modern, Liberté d’action, Romaeuropa Festival 2022