The Extra People
Ant Hampton (UK)
Thursday, September 17
80 min.DescriptionAbout the ArtistInterview
“I think of theaters as very transparently psychological spaces – buildings which spring into existence as a direct result of how our minds work.” Ant Hampton
Put on some headphones. Enter the theater. Have your perception of reality break down.
Within a large, nearly empty theater, you sit, one of fifteen audience members, watching another fifteen audience members perform on stage. Then you replace those on stage, only to discover that a new audience occupies the seats you left behind. Now you are being watched. And so it continues. And as instructed via your headphones, you move though different zones of the theater, which is dormant, empty, and unlit save for your flashlight.
You’re cast—along with everyone else in the audience—as an extra. But an extra for what? Are you in a play, is it for a film, or are you like a temporary worker just performing the tasks you’re told to without explanation? You notice that your instructions differ from everyone else’s. Highly realistic recordings create an audio landscape so complete that you start to mistrust your surroundings. The only thing keeping you safe in a once familiar world becomes a childlike, computer-generated voice telling you what to do.
Coproduction partners: EMPAC, French Institute Alliance Française (NYC), Kaaitheater (Brussels), Malta Festival (Posnan). Supported by the Culture Program of the European Commission via the House on Fire network
About Ant Hampton and Autoteatro
“We’re far more isolated than we think, and I wanted to create an audience where that came over more explicitly: everyone plugged into their own streams, and sitting too far away from each other to be able to communicate.”
The “protocol” behind Autoteatro is an automated process by which instructions are given to audience members, most often through headphones, who perform the show themselves and experience it from the inside. Since his work on Rotozaza’s Etiquette (2007), Ant Hampton has created nine Autoteatro works. The Extra People drew inspiration from films, temporary workforce, modern management systems, and dementia. The recording were made binaurally (designed to replicate how your ears receive sound in three-dimension space), so that the childlike computer voice giving instructions seems to originate from the theater.
Interview with Ant Hampton
FringeArts: Why did you want to work with 30 participants/audience members, a large number for an Autoteatro piece?
Ant Hampton: It’s funny how thirty is both a large number, for an Autoteatro piece, and yet a very small number for the kind of theaters it will be shown in. And I guess I started with the idea of 15 in the seats, and 15 on stage, and a theater big enough to mean those 15 in the seats barely constitute an audience. I was interested to work against the notion, so easily taken for granted in an affirmative way, that the theater is a place for collectivity. I think probably that, especially nowadays—and with the kind of neoliberal working practices the piece reflects—we’re far more isolated than we think, and I wanted to create an audience where that came over more explicitly: everyone plugged into their own streams, and sitting too far away from each other to be able to communicate!
FringeArts: How did you come up with the title The Extra People?
Ant Hampton: It comes via the film Wings of Desire. Peter Falk looking at extras on a film set and thinking to himself. He thinks of “extra humans.” It’s a moment which manages to be both tender and disturbing. The Extra People is also inspired by the work of Aernout Mik, who often uses large amounts of “extras” in his video installations:
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, The Museum of Modern Art, New York City, NY, 2009.)
I was interested to relate all this stuff about extras to two things: firstly, contemporary/globalized labor conditions—which may seem an obvious parallel: zero-hours contracts, the anonymous, temporary Serco or G4S high-viz worker—and secondly, the experience of dementia. Both of these involve a crushing disorientation where you feel the larger context is too complicated or big to understand, or that it’s simply “not your job to know.”
FringeArts: How did you make the connection between “extra people” and the empty theater?
Ant Hampton: I’ve been researching warehouse management systems: in the last four to five years things have changed a lot, and now instead of using paper and barcode scans, workers are mostly directed by a computer which speaks to them in tetchy, terse code: Go to aisle 438, read code. Pick 4. Worker puts four boxes on the pallette, and so on. As theaters are so linked up with dreams, I thought of situating this kind of temporary, high-viz workforce within a theater, to create a kind of cracked-dream version of what is already a pretty weird and at times worrying reality. The piece, and your role within it, oscillates between this kind of fast and bright warehouse world, and something much slower, more akin to the world of waiting and patience we think of as being an extra for a film, some background character who spends all day waiting for the moment to cross a space from left to right, or raise a hand, or lie down and fall asleep.
As with so much of my work, the instructions you get are via headphones, and need a voice. So I’ve started to play with computer voices, which are fast developing and are sometimes uncannily realistic.
FringeArts: There’s an interesting relationship in the controlled nature of the experience and the project, from the artist’s side, yet with so many moving parts it could so easily get away from the artist’s control.
Ant Hampton: The possibility of chaos and disorder is always there of course—the risk that you won’t get the action right, that you’ll miss something, or someone else will. I’ve always been very much in love with the quality that comes from an unrehearsed, non-professional performer agreeing to put themselves at risk like that: it’s at the heart of most everything I’ve made, and I think is linked in this instance very strongly to the picture of dementia I have, based on experience dealing with family members with Alzheimer’s. That kind of wide-eyed, yet eager-to-please mode is heartbreaking to me. The look around the room that says “Is this right? Is this what I think it is? What do I think this is? Am I lost?”