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For writer-director Annie Dorsen, The Great Outdoors connects ideas of infinity and the unknown from romanticism to today’s networked, hyper-connected technologies. “The internet is a new Romantic landscape where we can go exploring, as explorers did in the nineteenth century. Now we are sitting in front of our computer, with the same view of an infinite, mythological landscape. Who knows what we will find there? Hackers? NSA spies? Internet trolling?”
In The Great Outdoors audiences are invited to lie on yoga mats inside an inflatable planetarium and imagine the internet’s infinite possibilities as a new form of celestial authority. As we voyage under a digital starry sky—a 360-degree simulation of the universe designed by Dorsen with Ryan Holsopples—we become the new century’s explorers. Set to Sébastien Roux’s live-mixed composition (inspired by the theory that the universe’s energy is constantly being expended), this digital infinity articulates the same anonymity of the living rooms where, at any given moment, millions of people launch countless comments into virtual space.
To give voice and body to the thoughts of this aggregate of individuals, a female performer reads aloud 4chan and Reddit comments from the previous 24 hours. These fragments of chatter, which Dorsen selects and runs through an algorithm she created, emerge as the internet’s id—unrestrained and protected by anonymity.
The work is one of a number of projects that Dorsen calls “algorithmic theater,” in which digital tools shape the script and experience of live theater. Though the algorithm draws on human-made content, its actions run independent of human intervention, which seems to hint at how, even when we cease to exist, these hyper-connected technologies will continue on.
In an interview with Christopher Tibble for Medium, Dorsen describes the dualities that informed the work: “a theater stage is a very ambiguous space. . . . It is a simulation of life, but also actual life; it is at the same time totally fake and real.” Additionally, “the internet is both an inner and an outer space. . . . It’s a kind of node of connection between ourselves and the world beyond our physical self, our physical location. On the other hand, it also functions as an inner space, almost like a projection of ourselves that exists in the screens of our iPhones or laptops. A kind of very personal dreamscape, a cinema for one that is constantly changing, that’s responsive to us. It’s a space of fantasy in a certain way, even when it’s telling us horrible things about the world. It was this contradiction that I was thinking of with the title The Great Outdoors.”
With music by Sébastien Roux.
Image: Annie Dorse, the Great Outdoors photo by Julieta Cervantes