the Extra People in America

here’s an email I sent to my contacts in the States prior to the upcoming mini-tour and premiere

dear friends in NYC, Philly and beyond,
I’m coming over with a big new thing called The Extra People, which I’d love to share with you. I don’t think i’ve ever worked for so long on something – it’s been a long journey. And yet despite that, due to the nature of the project, crazy thing is it’s also one of the first truly experimental works i’ve made. I like to think that we do our experiments before we present the work and that the tag doesn’t really apply for the most part – but now, with 30 people at any one time all listening to binaural audio compositions together in sync… and in overlapping cycles for anything up to 6 hours… well we’ve done as many trial sessions as those kind of numbers allow, but the final piece has evolved beyond the last one, so we’re coming with truly new material. But, i’m in luck – we premiere at EMPAC which means EXPERIMENTAL Media and Perfoming Arts Centre. And beyond that, I’m quietly confident that this ship will sail rather beautifully. So join us upstate, or in Philly (at the huge Merriam theatre), or finally at FIAF in NYC, and be part of something which for sure will be memorable – even if the experience aims more for oblivion…

I’m so lucky to have shown a lot of work in the States over these last years. Many of you have shared my different forrays (with different collaborators) into live performance which is also automatic, and unpeopled beyond an unrehearsed audience. After the early shows with curated guest performers – from BLOKE (1999) to Doublethink (2004) – things took a turn for the micro, and for several years my work was better known for its intimate and reciprocal nature (Etiquette, GuruGuru, Cue China, The Quiet Volume).

The Extra People brings you back to the theatre building and its scale, but the system (a synthesized child’s voice) seems not to know what a theatre is, or what it’s for. We don’t use the building’s lights or sound – it’s all in the headphones, and in your hands (powerful LED flashlights). You’re given a high-visibility vest, and you’re cast as an Extra. But for what?

The overal picture is out of your reach: too big, beyond your comprehension or simply not your job to know. With hints of today’s fast-developing “voice-directed” warehouse management systems, the child / system leads you through the cracked dreams of today’s temporary, ‘flexible’, high-viz and debt-ridden worker. Highly realistic binaural recordings lend this stark zone, somewhere between Beckett and Ballard, a hallucinatory edge: an audio landscape so real and complete that at times you may mistrust your eyes. Public-private divisions are also messed with: the voice reverberates off the walls of the auditorium – and yet not-one else can hear it.

In a challenge to the assumption (often taken for granted) that collectivity is what you find in the theatre, the building here reflects society rather differently, with its audience situated as atomised individuals adrift or even asleep among both seating and stage; plugged into their own audio streams, patiently awaiting their call, and eventually acting upon it. And all the while the fabric of their realities disintegrates until the proceedings on stage resemble, from within, a looping, dementia-ridden process, where roles of attendant and dependent rise to the surface, before switching as easily as the flashlights changing hands. An initial sense of exposure is slowly overcome by one of oblivion until the memory of what it was like to sit quietly with critical distance seems as far away as the seats – somewhere out there in the dark.


That’s the pitch.

One final thought – in going over the shows i’ve presented over the years in New York, one was left out – Five in the Morning. Jason Zinoman totally got what it was about, writing in NY Times here. Somehow i found myself going back to this work a lot during the writing for the Extra People. Those of you who remember it at PS122 may enjoy some echos this time.

The dates and links are below. If you’d like a little more info there’s some here on my website
and a nice interview here where I expand a little on the thinking behind it

I hope to see you soon



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September 10 > EMPAC, Troy, NY, USA
September 17 – 18 > FringeArts, Philadelphia, USA
September 25 – 26 > Crossing the Line, NYC, USA

The Extra People

written and directed by Ant Hampton

sound design and composition – Sam Britton

artistic advice – Kate McIntosh

editing / system design / tech director – Hugh Roche Kelly

early development / brainstorming at Empac – Geoff Sobelle and Trey Lyford

assistance at Empac – Julia Asharaf

commissioned by Ash Bulayev / Empac

Creative producer – Katja Timmerberg

Extra People was commissioned by EMPAC (Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, NY, USA)

with coproduction from Kaaitheater (Brussels) and Malta Festival (Posnan)

supported by the Culture Program of the European Commission via the House on Fire network, French Institute Alliance Française (NYC), Kingsfountain (Paris)

Thanks to Vallejo Gantner, Britt Hatzius, Matthieu Goeury / Vooruit, Edmund and Tina Manwarren Roche-Kelly and to the many volunteers who have helped with tryouts and development in Troy, Brussels and Gent.

Special thanks to Coda Cola, London, for generous studio support

For next assignment, say ‘READY’.

Continuing work on THE EXTRA PEOPLE, I’ve been investigating the strange new world of voice-directed warehouse managment systems.

Hi-lights on youtube include some great ‘testimony’ to camera from Roy Andersson-tinged employees and bosses from Finland (see pic below, and here)  and this promotional video from DematicCorp where we’re told at the end that

“You can even ask the system, HOW AM I DOING? – or, HOW MUCH MORE?”

Finally, a worker (or ‘associate’ in Amazon-speak) on the job (‘temporary assignment’) with Voxware at ‘Performance Food Group’ in Richmond, USA, here. Grab one, position Alpha, confirm.

Novartis rooftop

A new kind of photograph taken by someone apparently lacking legs or bodily presence.

It’s strange to be up here – we were below this building, locked outside the campus, looking up and wondering under what scenario they’d be using the loudspeakers.



From research into a new version of LEST WE SEE WHERE WE ARE for Basel – a collaboration with Tim Etchells, with research assistance by Jessica Huber.

Found this photo in the Basel archives – Spelterini going up from the gasworks, now Voltaplatz, where Novartis have their global HQ, and where we’re considering siting the project.
Having made this show already for Dresden, Gent and Utrecht, I know when a photo is going to work… the more you look at this one the more you see, and the more you look into what’s going on, the more you find.

It seems that by this point he was no longer working with the acrobat LEONA DARE. They met in England, but ended up travelling widely.

Here’s a strange entry in the NY Times about Leona before they had met.

Spelterini’s brief wiki-entry life story is at first heart stopping, then heart breaking…

The outbreak of World War I put an end to Spelterini’s travels. Borders were closed, and Spelterini’s balloons remained grounded. He retired as an independent gentleman to Coppet near Geneva with his wife Emma (née Karpf), whom he had married on January 28, 1914 in the church of St Martin-in-the-Fields in London.[12] But although he was well off financially, his savings diminished in the war years, and what was left of it was eaten up by the post-war inflation. The airplane had surpassed ballooning, nobody cared anymore about his pre-war exploits, and Spelterini was all but forgotten. In 1922, he hired out as a showman at theTivoli Gardens in Copenhagen, posing for photos and taking people for short rides in a captive balloon. He detested it.[13]Disappointed, he retired to Zipf near Vöcklabruck in Austria, where he had bought a small house and lived from the sale of the eggs of his 300 chickens. In 1926, he tried a last time to revive his old ballooning adventures. With the financial help of some friends, he started from Zurich in a rented balloon. But he fell unconscious during the voyage; his passengers just barely managed to crash-land the balloon in Vorarlberg. Spelterini returned to Zipf, where he died impoverished and largely unknown in 1931.[13]


Back to the photo above… the paragraph below suggests his basket was stuffed with scientists at this time. It wouldn’t be suprising – Basel’s pharma companies were already getting big, and very curious…

In 1891, Spelterini returned to Switzerland. By that time, he was famous for his ballooning adventures. On July 26, 1891, Spelterini made his first ascent in Switzerland, starting at the Heimplatz in Zurich.[7] The initial skepticism of the people vanished quickly, and his starts soon attracted crowds wherever he turned up: Zurich, Winterthur, St. Gall, Interlaken, Vevey, …[6] His endeavours also caught the attention of scientists. On various occasions, Spelterini made ascents with scientists solely for the purpose of conducting experiments: with physicists to study the atmosphere, with physicians to study human blood cells at low atmospheric pressure, with geologists to study the earth from above.[8]


From Aernout Mik >

I am intrigued by the figure of the extra because the extra has a certain dignity. That suits me because they are happy to be on screen and that’s enough for them. They have a certain modesty about them that they don’t want to put themselves so much in the foreground. They don’t disturb the group too much by having too much presence, and yet they still relate to objects in space. They have presence but not too much.

Aernout Mik –



I’m thinking about extras. And audience – as extras.

also getting inspiration from Phillippe Quesne’s Garden Party

last days – Lest We See Where We Are

My new work with Tim Etchells, called LEST WE SEE WHERE WE ARE continues for another 20 days (until 26 October) at Vooruit in Gent. It’s only the second time we’ve shown it since Dresden last year, and the first in English (Dresden was German only).

We’ve radically reworked it for Gent – partly due to the new site and the archive / local photography it incorporates, but also to try out something new. It takes place in two places – indoors, in the main theaterzaal, and outside on the street. You do it alone, it’s only for one at a time. The difficulty of really thinking about or imagining the future is explored by a voice coming from the boombox you hold. It takes the risk of speaking ‘for you’. I’m just standing here, leaning against the wall… holding a portable stereo.

It really sounds like the voice is coming out loud, echoing in the little passageway to the side… and that people passing by in the street must be able to hear it. This very complete illusion is created through binaural recordings and a synchronised bass track which causes the stereo to vibrate against your chest as you hold it. We imagine being responsible for a voice saying such things, thinking through speaking, albeit at times rather clumsily. No, no… that’s not what i wanted to say.

We’re proud of the work and happy to have created what can also be seen as a celebration of this great building, 100 years old this year.


‘Lest…’ is for one at a time and lasts about 45 minutes, but the cycle permits 3 per hour… so there are slots starting every 20 minutes. The hours vary – see the website below – mostly 10am until 5 or 6pm. There are late slots running to 11pm or midnight in the coming days – 10th, 11th and 13th October.


FULL project info (my site) >

monday to friday > 11:00-18:00
saturday > 15:00-18:00
T. 0032 9 267 28 28

Lest We See Where We Are

I give my print-at-home ticket to the inspector of the German ICE train as we travel at 300kph. As he unfolds it I notice some blotches on the reverse side, and worry that my printer has gone wrong and started leaking ink. Later I notice it’s not a stain, but rather Robert Walser, lying dead in the snow on Christmas day 1956… a hasty black and white printout of the famous police photograph that i’d made while working with Tim on ‘Lest We See…’

Walser never made it into the piece. There’s something off limits about the photo, like it really shouldn’t be disseminated any further. But mistaking it for a mistake – a stain on a folded, dog-eared, white sheet of paper – somehow feels right, like a ghost having found a new way to slip into reality.