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
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