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The Builders Association and dbox, SUPER VISION: BEGINNING THE PROCESS

SUPER VISION tells three stories

1. As he crosses successive borders, a solitary traveller gradually is forced to reveal all of his personal information, until his identity becomes transparent, with no part of his life left outside the boundaries of datasurveillance.

2. A young woman (Jen), addicted to the white noise of constant connection, maintains a long-distance relationship with her Grandmother. As she makes efforts to digitally archive her Grandmother's past, the Grandmother slips into senility.

3. A father covertly exploits his young son's personal data to meet the demands of the family's lifestyle. This ploy escalates beyond the father's control, until he is compelled to disappear. His wife and son are left with a starkly diminished data portrait, and his escape is shadowed by the long reach of the datasphere.

Marianne Weems

Nick Kaye: How did SUPER VISION begin?

Marianne Weems: The project began with James Gibbs and myself. dbox had contributed in a limited way to some of our past projects and I was eager to ‘raise the bar.’ We had a couple of conversations – mostly between myself, Dan Dobson, Jeff Webster, and then James, Matthew Bannister and Charles D’Autremont from dbox. So it started as a kind of big think tank. James had suggested doing something about surveillance and the panoptical relationship to the theatre – an audience looking at the stage, and turning that back on the audience. But I felt that surveillance had been completely thrashed through - not in theatre per se, but certainly in the visual arts world since the 70s. So at that point we were doing a lot of research about surveillance – John Hanhardt, who is the curator of the Guggenheim, came in and gave us a kind survey of artwork in surveillance over the last 25 years and showed us an interesting film called The Giant from Berlin. It was very an early example of using footage from the surveillance cameras that were all over Berlin at the time - a very beautiful art film. I finally came up with the idea of doing a piece about the invisible world of dataveillance. I think partly because there was so much in the air at the time - post-9/11 - about chatter and data and identity. So I brought that to the table. And one of the first books that I found really exciting – I mean there are millions of articles about identity theft - but I read John McGrath’s book Loving Big Brother (Routledge 2004) in manuscript and I really enjoyed it. I felt some of it - for instance the section about “reality television” and the viewer’s almost activist desire to occupy the televisual space in a positive way as opposed to the typical, negative slant - was really smart and interesting. McGrath also mentioned, although it wasn’t his primary focus, the phrase ‘data body’ and the idea that we are shadowed by an electronic doppelganger - that really grabbed me very, very strongly. Then I started looking at his sources, mostly David Lyon, a sociologist from Queens College in Canada, who coined the phrase data body in the 70s - and the whole thing sprang from there. One of the ways McGrath described the databody, or rather the results of the body under surveillance, is as ‘a disjointed, hybrid, prostheticized, multiple body, appearing and disappearing in the irregular, contradictory landscape of surveillance space’ which is one of the quotes I brought to my collaborators to evoke the feeling I wanted in the piece.

James Gibbs

Nick Kaye: How and when did you become involved with the project?

James Gibbs: The project was really conceived by dbox and The Builders together. Before we really knew what we were going to do we started talking about doing something together - and the first conversations were probably just after the premier of ALLADEEN (2002-5). Charles D’Autremont and I went out to Chicago – I think it was the night of the premier – and ended up having a drink with Marianne Weems and that is when she kind of let us know that she was interested and serious about doing something together.

Nick Kaye: You had worked with The Builders on JET LAG (1998-2000) hadn’t you?

James Gibbs: Yes and, really, when I say me, it should be clear that I am representing dbox’s involvement in the project. So it’s a team. dbox worked with The Builders on JET LAG and we did all of the computer projections of the airport and the airplane – so for about half of the production. Then in ALLADEEN we had a similar role. There were a couple of key moments of computer projections for ALLADEEN – the building of the Virgin Megastore – that we created. For ALLADEEN, in particular, we designed the segments, but it was in answer to specific needs that had developed in the course of the work with motiroti and Marianne Weems. That is when we said next time around we would like to be more involved in the process over a longer period.

Dan Dobson

Nick Kaye:How long have you been a part of The Builders Association?

Dan Dobson: I started with The Builders in 1994. They had started MASTER BUILDER and I had known of Marianne Weems and Jeff Webster from previous work. They had already built the show and I was just kind of running it. That was my first experience - we have been working together ever since.

Nick Kaye:What is your role in the company?

Dan Dobson: Well, I make the music and run the shows. I am on the Board of the company, that’s quite a role. I am the Vice-President and just try to keep the ship afloat. It’s very tough, very hard. Then, when we talk about collaborations and conceptualizing shows, I like to think that I do have a greater role in that sense. But I do it kind of quietly. I play more devil’s advocate - and I don’t say anything unless it is quite necessary. It is collaborative work and everybody has a little bit of a say.

Nick Kaye:With Marianne Weems of The Builders as well as James Gibbs, Matthew Bannister and Charles D’Autremont of dbox you are credited with the conception of SUPER VISION.

Dan Dobson: The whole crediting thing happened very early, but the dbox gentlemen really had a very strong voice in the beginning. We had a lot of meetings early on - which I was a part of - but they really did take the ball and run with it with Marianne WeemsJames Gibbs and Marianne -

Nick Kaye:When did that process start?

Dan Dobson: We had been working with dbox for three or four shows. I think we probably started talking about doing a show with them during the making of ALLADEEN (2002-5) - so maybe four years ago. Then we really started having meetings about what the show would be about two-and-a-half years ago, or something.

Tanya Selvaratnam

Nick Kaye: At what point did you join SUPER VISION?

Tanya Selvaratnam: At the beginning, because I was working on ALLADEEN and Marianne Weems and I are also old friends. So when she started developing the substance of her ideas she talked to me about working with her on it. When we did the first workshop at the Wexner Centre (July 2004). At the beginning the only (actors were myself, Jeff Webster and Joe Silovsky), who plays the border control agent. He is our technical director as well – we brought him into the workshop process and that is where his role evolved.

Nick Kaye:This is before the script had been developed?

Tanya Selvaratnam: Yes.

Nick Kaye:What was the relationship between this process and the creation of the media environment?

Tanya Selvaratnam: The technical people are in the same room with us - Marianne Weems and James Gibbs from dbox. We also had two writers working with us at that time – Jed Weintrob and Andrew Osborne. So we used the technology as a starting point - and we also used the news. We had articles that we would read – and we would try and recreate scenes inspired by those news items.

Nick Kaye:Did some of those come through in the final form of the piece?

Tanya Selvaratnam: All of those definitely informed the stories now.

Moe Angelos

Nick Kaye:Could you describe your role in the process of developing SUPER VISION?

Moe Angelos: I came into the process at the rehearsal phase and final creation of the production, but the piece had been in workshop for maybe a year and a half prior to that. I wasn’t part of that.

Nick Kaye:When would that have been?

Moe Angelos: I was in a reading last November (2004). I might be wrong about that. Anyway, we began this process in August (2005). So that is when I really became engaged. The storyline of the Grandmother and Granddaughter was established before I got there, but some of our text came out of improvisation during the process.

Nick Kaye:Was that before Constance DeJong was involved?

Moe Angelos: No. Constance was there prior to me, actually.

David Pence

Nick Kaye:What was your involvement in the development of SUPER VISION?

David Pence: I came into SUPER VISION part way through the process this past summer (2005), when I came to New York to be part of the two script development workshops. Actually I suppose my involvement started the summer before—in 2004. I was in South Bend, Indiana, working with Marianne Weems, Moe Angelos, and Jessica Chalmers on a Builders’ piece called AVANTI (2003-5). During rehearsal one day, Marianne said, ‘I have this piece of text. Would you be willing to read it? We’re going to use it as a trailer for SUPER VISION, the next piece.’ So I read two pages of text as a monologue, and Dan Dobson recorded it. It’s an interesting recording to listen to now, especially to see some of the ways the piece changed. In that original monologue a man tells about how he died in a car crash and how his wife found his laptop, which was full of secrets. Some of those elements of the Fletcher narrative remain in the piece to the present day. Anyway, that was the beginning of my involvement with the project.

Allen Hahn

Nick Kaye: I want to start by asking you when and at what point you joined the evolution of the project?

Allen Hahn: Having worked with the company for a long time and having worked on the project immediately prior, I have been in this from - if not the earliest conversations then certainly the first conversations about the project within the company as a whole. The first time I remember speaking about it specifically was in Norway in the Spring of 2004 talking about my involvement in the first of the workshops in Columbus (The Wexner Centre, Columbus, Ohio) that summer (2004).

Nick Kaye: What is the nature of that involvement?

Allen Hahn: Because this work is created over such a protracted period of time, and because of the necessity that everyone is in the room from day one with the technology that has been decided upon - or the technology that is being considered - and that all of the elements, visual, textual, directorial and performantive, are being grown in tandem with one another it’s difficult for a designer of Jennifer Tipton’s stature to commit that kind of time. So, historically, it has been me that gets us to that point where she can do a more typical process of teching the show in a week or so. Jennifer will arrange to be at some of the critical meetings while the show is in development andthere is communication back and forth on all levels between Jennifer and I, between Marianne Weems and Jennifer. I am in rehearsal with the rest of the company throughout. So it is a much more web-like structure than a more traditional hierarchical structure.

see also: collaboration and development | projection | virtual spaces |


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