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Interview: Time To Decide, Is The Human Race Doomed?

Psychonaut Theatre discuss The W.I.G. of Life: A Conference

‘You are all here, because we need your input on the final question on biological life: Should we give it another chance or let it perish forever?’

Well, that’s not strictly true is it. You’re hear because you want to read about Psychonaut Theatre‘s The W.I.G. of Life: A Conference, which is coming to Etcetera Theatre this coming Thursday and Friday.

From the neolithic to the age of AI, The W.I.G. of Life: A Conference is a witty and thought-provoking look into human history and our collective responsibility towards nature and ourselves, devised by the artists of Psychonaut Theatre. Dance, comedy and TV are blended into an interactive journey through changing moral codes and futuristic visuals, as you are invited to put on your chosen avatar and confront your very own preconceptions.

Sounds just the sort of thing that we love here at ET, so we managed to book some time with Christof Hofer and Arielle Zilkha inbetween rehearsals to find out just what to expect with the show.

We’re loving the title, but can’t work out what WIG might stand for, are we allowed to know or is this a big secret?

CH: No, it’s not a secret! The full title is The Wildly Inexplicable Goal of Life. But we want people to think about the wig in the title as well as in the show, as they represent a whole array of different concepts and things. Attend the conference and all will be revealed…

Besides the meaning of the title, what more can you tell us about The W.I.G. of Life then?

AZ: The W.I.G of Life is a really unique theatrical experience. It’s an interactive conference set in the not-so-distant future, where biological life is extinct and the world is ruled by an AI network. The ultimate mission of the conference is to decide whether biological life should be given another chance or not, with the audience being shown evidence from history to help them make their decision. This evidence ranges from a film noir, to a game show, to puppetry, from the neolithic to the present day and beyond.

Even though we’re tackling a topic at the heart of humanity, one of our priorities was to make the show as light and entertaining as possible. The audience really has the power to influence the journey of the piece, up until the very last moment, which is definitely exciting for us, and hopefully exciting for them too. We’re inviting them into a simulated reality, where they can create their own avatar, meet their fellow programs, and make individual and collective decisions.

Are you really planning to cover the whole of human history, is that all going to fit into one hour or are you having to be a little more selective?

CH: It would be amazing to cover all of it and we are doing our best to include as much as possible. At the same time, we also have to be economical with the audience’s time. Conferences are notorious for running over time and also for technical mishaps. So, yes, we do present a selection of the development of life on the planet as well as different human societal forms throughout time. But we also give the audience opportunities to add moments or developments that might have been wilfully or unwilfully omitted in the conference.

How much is this a show about the climate emergency, and why is this such a vital subject for theatre makers to tackle now?

CH: The W.I.G. of Life is very much about the climate emergency, but it takes a bit of a broader scope. Instead of investigating humanity’s choices in the here and now, we take the audience on a detour to the future and look back at humanity’s rise and fall through the format of a conference. In this sense, the climate emergency is just one of the developments the audience gets to explore in the show. Theatre, as any medium, should reflect and answer to the crises of the time. In this way, it is high time we explore responses to the climate emergency. But it feels there’s still room for more, especially positive narratives of overcoming crises. There’s always something that can be done!

Another thing that we’ve enjoyed seeing are the outlandish wigs in your press images, they have a feel of 1960s Star Trek about them, was that the aim you were going for with the look?

AZ: Surprisingly you’re not the first one to say that! It wasn’t our direct intention, but we definitely wanted to capture an essence of a retro aesthetic, as the piece in itself is a nod to the past. We intentionally wanted to break the impersonal and cliche aesthetic of futuristic visions around today, and instead invite the audience into something that feels more nostalgic and recognizable. As Christof said, wigs are a major part of our concept and as you’ll see, come in a range of different colours, shapes and sizes!

You’ve created previous work as a collective, is W.I.G of Life being made in the same way, and if so, how does this work in ensuring it doesn’t become a collection of individual pieces rather than one coherent show?

AZ: With the work Psychonaut produces, the creative team is not always the same as we’re a collective rather than a company. It’s therefore inevitable that stylistically the work changes and our processes change depending on the project. It’s important for us to stick to our artistic integrity and experiment with different processes and styles, while still being driven by our shared core principles.

The process for this project was highly collaborative and non-hierarchical; the script was written by myself, Christof and Francesca, each of us taking control of different scenes. Though we’re three very different artists, we strived to find a way to combine our individual styles into one coherent piece. We’re very lucky that we have a really robust skillset between us, so we were able to lead on our different specialisms, for example myself on the music composition, Francesca on the scenography and Christof on the dramaturgy. Because we’re simulating a reality for the audience and creating a total experience, it was integral that we had regular discussions on the rules of this world to prioritise the audience journey throughout the piece, which was a shared intention for all of us.

With the show still a few weeks away, how is it coming together, and is it shaping up into what you originally envisaged it to be?

CH: Well, there were a few very different versions of the show throughout the process. But that is part of the fun and the challenge of creating something new. Overall, we are on a good way to bring all the parts together for the final stretch of rehearsals and we are excited to see what the audience will do with it. Of course, audience interaction always leaves parts of the work somewhat unpredictable. But as performers there is also something exciting about not knowing how each show will play out, and we can’t wait to see what the final decision will be on each night! 

Thanks to Christof and Arielle for their time. You can catch The W.I.G. of Life at Etcetera Theatre 7 and 8 September. Further information and bookings here.

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