- Posthuman Visions
In the recent premiere of The Slow Room, Annie Dorsen continues to pioneer what she has termed “algorithmic theatre,” adopting algorithmic methods explored in music and visual arts and applying these to theatre. As with her past experiments, such as The Great Outdoors (2017) and Hello Hi There (2010), Dorsen turns over the traditional playwright responsibilities to non-human forces. In these earlier examples, algorithms worked in real time to cull internet comments, forming a script for the human performer, or to guide chatbot conversations performed through computers. But in The Slow Room, Dorsen takes a small step toward a more traditional dramaturgical form by working with a set script and an impressively integrated cast of actors. The result is a work that uses algorithmic techniques to address very human concerns.
The Slow Room stages selected transcripts from the lobby of a virtual sex chat room over four evenings between 2017 and 2018. Each screen name (erotickitty, silverfox, etc.) and each inane line of textspeak becomes palpable when embodied onstage. The stage itself is grey and barren, an empty in-between space that realizes meaning only due to the bodies and their actions undertaken within. These bodies are a wide range of shapes, ages, and ethnicities. They are physically close on stage, sometimes nearly on top of each other, but they never make eye contact, never touch, and never betray any awareness that they are not alone. This physically distanced proximity emphasizes the characters’ attempts at intimacy through language. “Smooches” and “hugs” abound as greetings, and one character especially desperate for interaction consistently says she bops people on their backside with her Nerf bat. No one ever reciprocates. In another evening chat room, many report that they are dancing, even shedding their clothes, while the visible bodies are only minutely pulsing to the music’s rhythm. This staging [End Page 75] emphasizes the intimacy that is sought while asserting that the chat room format is wholly unequipped to deliver.
Themes of loneliness and emptiness overwhelm the production. The actors mostly maintain blank faces with dead eyes, only offering passing flickers of excitement when addressed or hints of hope or desperation when addressing another. The silence of most in the room is a notable revelation as many screen names enter and leave the room without ever saying a word; others enter loudly, begging to be heard. As one male character enters visibly upset, telling another that he’s not doing well, he only receives a quick apology before the chatter dies and he is forgotten.
The embodied nature of the conversation does well to illuminate the loneliness through a lack of connection, but it also highlights the lack of intellectual stimulation through such exchanges. Neither bodies nor minds are able to connect in this space. Underlying the more apparent themes of loneliness, the production seems to question the effects of this medial form on the human psyche. The physical, emotional, and intellectual isolation represented onstage seems to create a specific kind of body, and by extension, a specific kind of citizen, with a diminished capacity for creativity, imagination, and critical thinking.
The Slow Room was presented as part of Performance Space New York’s Posthuman Series, which expressed a desire to extend the traditionally anthropocentric theatre form beyond a human perspective, in part by challenging the definition of “human” itself and considering the creative capacity of the non-human. Dorsen’s contribution to the series works with this concept of non-human agency in its form; the chat room space creates the relationships and the “script.” But the subsequent themes of the artwork present a limited vision of what posthuman has come to mean. Dorsen’s posthumanism is concerned only with the disappearance the human, expressed through a sense of loss and anxiety. However, the posthuman can be considered as a more inclusive concept in the tradition aligned with Rosi Braidotti and Donna...