RR_S13E06 - Algorithmic Theater - Annie Dorsen


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This September, Bryn Mawr College Performing Arts Series will present the first career retrospective of theater artist Annie Dorsen titled Algorithmic Theater. The retrospective is part of a residency advancing Dorsen’s work and examining the consequences of digital communications through theater. Algorithmic Theater brings Dorsen’s work to Philadelphia audiences for the first time and features four of her past projects, including Hello Hi There (2010), Spokaoke (2012), A Piece of Work (2013), and Yesterday Tomorrow (2015). Together, these works tell a story about advancing technology, encroaching artificial intelligence, and post-anthropocentric art-making that attempt to reckon with the last decade of history.

Dorsen is a New York-based theater director and artist who works at the intersection of algorithmic art and live performance. Since 2010, she has built a body of work in what she’s referred to as “algorithmic theater,” creating custom algorithms that perform in lieu of or alongside human performers. The pieces position the digital world’s influence on our everyday lives in dialogue with classical dramatic forms to confront the consequences of our increasing entanglement with information technologies.

Algorithmic Theater will begin with a presentation of A Piece of Work on September 9 at 8 p.m. at McPherson Auditorium. Mixing live performance with algorithms and interfaces, A Piece of Work flips the switch between man and machine in a digital version of Hamlet for a post-humanist age. The spectators are absorbed in a swirl of connections amongst memory, language, and technology, implicating both the past and future of theater itself. New scenes, songs, scores, and visuals emerge from an intricate and ingeniously programmed web of technology that uses Shakespeare’s original text as data.

The next piece, Spokaoke, will be hosted on September 10 at 10 p.m. at the Marie Salant Neuberger Centennial Campus Center. Spokaoke is a participatory event that invites people to perform speeches as they would ordinarily perform songs in a karaoke bar. Speeches are, after all, songs of persuasion, argument, consolidation, or motivation. Over 90 speech videos are loaded into a karaoke system and arranged in a catalog for audience members to peruse. Participants will read various forms of public addresses, including political speeches, award acceptance speeches, press conferences, theatrical monologues, eulogies, and trial testimony. An additional presentation of Spokaoke will take place at FringeArts on September 16 at 10 p.m. as a part of this year’s Fringe Festival, featuring a special guest host.

The third piece, Hello Hi There, will be presented on September 10 & 11 at 8 p.m. at Hepburn Teaching Theater. Dorsen uses the famous television debate between philosopher Michel Foucault and linguist/activist Noam Chomsky from the 1970s as inspiration for a dialogue between two custom-designed chatbots. Material from the debate, along with additional text culled from YouTube, the Bible, Shakespeare, and western philosophy, is inputted into computer programs designed to mimic human conversation to create a new, “improvised” dialogue at each performance.

Finally, Algorithmic Theater will conclude with Yesterday Tomorrow at McPherson Auditorium on September 15 at 8 p.m., September 16 at 6 p.m., and September 17 at 8 p.m. In Yesterday Tomorrow, three singers receive computer-generated music and lyrics both aurally and visually. The algorithmically-produced score begins with the Beatles’ hit song “Yesterday” and slowly transforms into “Tomorrow” from the musical Annie. Inspired by an artificial intelligence known as evolutionary computation, Yesterday Tomorrow gives a unique experience of the complexity and unpredictability of the present tense contrasted with the known past and the imagined future. Each night, the spatial and musical path from the past to the future is different; neither the singers, creative team, nor the audience knows the route the performance will take them.

Free tickets will be available to students from the Tri-College Consortium (Bryn Mawr, Haverford, and Swarthmore) and can be reserved by calling 610-526-5300, or emailing reservations@brynmawr.edu.

General admission tickets for Algorithmic Theater performances will be available online for $20, $18 for seniors (65+), $10 for students (not from the Tri-College Consortium), and $5 for children under five.

In addition to presenting performances, Bryn Mawr College Performing Arts Series will release an accompanying publication titled Algorithmic Theater: Essays and Interviews, 2012-2022. The publication highlights the last decade of Dorsen’s work, and a limited number of copies will be available to the public for free. Edited by writer and theater critic Tom Sellar, the book features essays by Dorsen as well as illuminating conversations with her collaborators. It also includes a collection of essays previously published in journals, monographs, and anthologies by Miriam Felton-Dansky, Jacob Gallagher-Ross, Sarah Bay-Cheng, W.B. Worthen, and Johannes Birgfeld.


Annie Dorsen is a director and writer whose works explore the intersection of algorithms and live performance. Her most recent project, Infinite Sun (2019), is an algorithmic sound installation commissioned by the Sharjah Biennial 14. Previous performance projects, including The Slow Room (2018), The Great Outdoors (2017), Yesterday Tomorrow (2015), A Piece of Work (2013), Spokaoke (2012), and Hello Hi There (2010), have been widely presented in the US and internationally.

FOR MORE INFORMATION: https://anniedorsen.digital.brynmawr.edu and https://anniedorsen.com/

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