BWW Interview: Clare Testoni of THE DOUBLE at The Blue Room
The Double tells the Faustian tale of a woman named Victoria who sells her identity to a tech company. It's a gothic imagining of life in the 'close future' where this woman is trapped in what Testoni describes as a "Mac store meets IKEA apartment" where she is helping to build and program the chatbot that will take on her likeness. She interacts with the outside world through Skype chats, which are projected for the audience to see.
The technology becomes more complex as the actors playing Victoria perform into a GoPro camera live on stage, and the image from the GoPro is overlaid with augmented reality face filters. "I started playing around with developing my own filters for Instagram and Snapchat and I found out you can make very realistic faces where you can wear other people's identity. I think it's a terrifying prospect for the future of 'catfishing,' real news and journalism. It's very easy to make yourself appear to be someone else. Using the technology that you can just get on a smartphone, you can look like anyone."
Putting the ethical questions aside, using this type of tech in live theatre could give a less assured theatre-maker a fright. But that's not the case with Testoni. She has gradually gained considerable experience with live camera work on stage, recently operating cameras on two critically acclaimed productions that merged camera work into live theatre: The Last Great Hunt's Le Nor and Nat Randall's The Second Woman. She says her experience on these two shows has boosted her confidence in making her own work. "I would be nervous about the tech, but after Le Nor, everything seems possible. It was seat-of-your-pants. There were 4 to 5 cameras, and so many layers where it could go wrong, and did go wrong once or twice. It was so much more complicated in so many ways, so two live cameras and one projector, that's fine!"
The genesis and impetus for making The Double is just as complex as its tech, if not more so. Testoni spent some time studying shadow puppetry in Germany, where she was surrounded by tales of doppelgangers and characters selling their souls to the devil for gain. "I've always loved the uncanniness and terrifying nature of confronting yourself and what would it mean to meet yourself. You can learn a lot through that metaphor about identity. And that started to combine with a political interest in the lack of women in tech and how not many women are involved in designing the world we're going to live in. I was having real concerns about the way AI is being molded into a very subservient female image," Testoni says.
She continues, "I think a lot of it also comes from my uneasiness as an actor and an unstable relationship you have to identity when you play other people. That all kind of fed into it. [Victoria] has to confront what her 'self' is and what are her values. Who are we? It's a really old question dressed up to look like something new."
The Double runs at The Blue Room Theatre from April 23 - May 11. For tickets and more information visit https://blueroom.org.au/events/the-double/.