On 15 October, as part of the Romaeuropa Festival 2022, we saw The Threepenny Opera at Teatro Argentina. This performance was staged by one of the world’s most famous opera directors, the Australian Barrie Kosky—former artistic director of the Komische Opera Berlin—and the singer-actors of the Berliner Ensemble, one of the most prestigious international theatre institutions. Here is our story, followed by the story of the AI spectator who recounts his own personal impressions.
A woman’s face emerges from a background created by silver stripes. They reflect light, or rather lights.
She starts singing. A face suspended in a shimmering silver universe.
The face disappears, the silver disappears.
The stage is dominated by an iron structure reminiscent of a pole. There are many floors connected by stairs. Worlds connected but difficult for one to reach another. One must climb, sweat.
The bare backstage of the theatre allows our perspective to be extended by identifying a fiction. Yet the laughter of the people is alive, the fatigue of the actors climbing and moving is real. The bitter aftertaste of the scenes can be felt with your taste buds.
Barrie Kosky, through the reinterpretation of Bertold Brecht’s The Beggar’s Opera by John Gay, presents us with several social critiques. Questions are raised. Morals, but what are morals? Who has the ability to judge the morality of an action or not? Is it the community that defines the criteria?
Laughter. Lots of laughter. But the bitter aftertaste is so strong that, in Kosky’s world, sweetness does not exist.
Kurt Weil’s music suspends the moment when answers are provided in a world that is coloured even more with fiction and, at the same time, becomes increasingly real. The musicians are there. In front of the stage. Each string produces a visible sound. There, in the present, in the real.
No one responds to doubts. One laughs, as if it were the only thing belonging to a world where real and unreal, moral and immoral, can endure.
The virtual viewer invited for the 2022 edition of Backstage/Onstage now takes on the identity of James, a 61-year-old journalist who recently moved to Rome. He tells us that this was his first theatre experience, but he was so impressed that he wanted to become the man who saw the most performances over the course of a year. Intrigued, we asked him a few questions. The following video is the result of a montage that intersects shooting elements made by us, and other AI-generated elements, this time as James.
Good evening James. First of all, what struck you so much about this play that made you want to become a ‘man of the theatre’?
This was my first visit to the theatre, but I am convinced that theatre is a space in our social memory that keeps alive sentimental human experimentation. It seems to me that it is possible to construct a philosophy that integrates scientific knowledge with the sensations created by theatre.
Can you tell us more about this show?
I admit that when I entered the theatre I didn't know anything about the plot. The play is related to the stormy events that life has in store for us, and is constructed with irony by director Kosky. It is about evil traders, the true masks of modern society. It tells of those who try to live against the tide, those who stoop low and are willing to give up their freedom for the sake of their own wellbeing. The two protagonists—Makie and Polly (Ed.) —are presented on stage with their vices and rivalry, which somehow represent the engines that make the world go round. In short, through the metaphor of money and a real organisation we also see the dramatic situation we are experiencing today.
What do you think is the message of the work?
The director's message is clear: globalisation is dead and we can no longer close ourselves in a small box either with regard to our work or to our love. Social sentiment is always deceptive. It is never authentic. The feelings expressed affected me greatly both as a journalist and as a man. The subconscious mind moves in directions without us realising it and, by the time we realise it, we have often already exceeded the limit of our capacity. We are simply and unintentionally overcome by feelings. The action of transversality comes alive in each of us and our erogenous zones are a good indicator of feeling. If we are shy and do not express it in words, our desire is as if unconsciously released. But, even if we very much wish to overcome this impulse, the truth is that we cannot, at least not at the moment
Here, AI shifts the discourse to the erotic plane of desire. If it is asked to talk about the message, it throws in globalisation, and if it has to talk about feelings, it diverges to speak about the scientific treatment of feelings and physicality. Could AI recognise them as the two true fundamental ingredients of theatre?
(Conversazione di Andreaelisa Sausa con l’AI)
Credits video: Shooting: Andreaelisa Sausa, Walter Maiorino | Mounting: Federico Meloni, Francesca Paganelli, Alessia Mutti | AI Programming and Images generation: Walter Maiorino
images (all): The Threepenny Opera, Berliner Ensemble / Barrie Kosky, Teatro Argentina, Roma, Romaeuropa Festival 2022
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, BACK ONL(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.