There are themes in this year’s Belfast International Arts Festival (BIAF) and it links the great Tinderbox production of Rhino to the unsettling interactive theatre piece, Work.txt, I saw last night at The MAC. The show, written by Nathan Ellis, examines what happens as we lead increasingly robotic work lives. Our oddly named hero or anti-hero, Lauxelly, lies down one day in the entrance hall on his way to work and doesn’t get up. For decades, if the droll, slightly Absurd narrative is to be believed. It isn’t all work, there’s some play though for the audience as we are invited to go onstage and place small brown wooden blocks as we wish. I would bet different audiences choose similar architecture but we created some mini forests of blocks, plus a wooden tower (I was proud to have started that) and various small constructions. Like a town as the plane lands as our given script, beamed onto the back curtain, told us.
In the city that rarely sleeps but is wondering about its next meal, lots of work is “being done”. And it’s becoming less human, more AI. That’s the link as Ionesco’s play examines the temptation of joining the herd and leaving behind humanity. As Camus, another great French thinker, had it about the weekly grind in a quote running from lundi onwards, we get up, wash eat, go to work, come home, eat, sleep and repeat it all again.
We had some mini dramas read out well by pre selected audience members. Some were funny, some a little banal, some thought provoking, like the working day really. The entertaining bit involved the protester’s parents, on a world cruise and wondering why the Pyramids were important apart from their antiquity. It was well done and there were some good moments in the earnest art curator’s speech about the wooden blocks, passing them off as great art, in dispute with the gallery functionary. We learn the difference in their salaries and how they’re valued. We also learnt the funding details of Work.text which was bold.
At the start of the evening, or journey as no doubt some spectators thought of it, we learnt Nobody is in charge. In other words, we all are or should be but because of our algorithm-addicted age, we are not. Lots to think about anyhow as we went home before the next outing to the workplace. Interesting, workers from home are thought to be less productive, something I dispute.
And if you want to examine the AI issue further, there is a BIAF discussion on Saturday afternoon at the Ulster University Belfast campus at three pm in lecture room 2, with experts and creatives tackling it head on.