“The Terminator does a Ted Talk with Steve Jobs” – that’s what audiences going to see Daniel Nicholas’ Eugene have in store. Daniel chats to Theatre Bubble about super human artificial intelligence, creating accessible work onstage and why we should all be a little bit scared of driverless cars.
Could you tell us a little about Eugene and what the show entails?
So it’s a sci-fi Theatre show that leans into comedy more than it doesn’t. It’s set in the not too distant future, and Hugh – an Elon Musk type figure with a similar amount of notoriety. After years of bad press is launching Eugene- the first superhuman artificial intelligence, who is the answer to all the world’s problems – specifically climate change. Over the course of the launch however things don’t quite go to plan. Think ‘The Terminator does a Ted Talk with Steve Jobs’ and you’re on the right track.
What was the inspiration for the piece?
I think It was when I first heard about The Difference Engine and hearing about multiple channels as an option- having different pieces of text broadcast to different phones, that people could be experience different things in the same room – sat next to each other. I sat on that idea for a while, and then in the Summer of 2018 I went freelance and thought to make a go of it. It’s been a long process so I’m really excited to be here showing it to people.
Could you tell us about The Difference Engine, and how it makes the show more accessible to different audiences?
Yes! So The Difference Engine is this brilliant software made by Coventry based theatre company Talking Birds. It’s captioning software primarily for deaf and hard of hearing audiences. Basically as an audience member you log in to The Difference Engine wi-fi through an app or browser on your phone (or tablet if you’re a maverick) and then you can see subtitles of the performers dialogue. It’s quite unique as it means it’s a tool that can discreetly give audiences the captions/subtitles rather than some other captioning software which can be screens just to the side of the stage. In this show that is an option, and I’m aiming for it to be as deaf friendly as possible. But I also use this technology in creative way – one of the characters – Eugene (the world’s first superhuman A.I) also directly talks to audience members through their phones throughout the show. Usually giving snide comments about Hugh (it’s inventor and the character I play on stage). At a point near the start it will ask the audience a question, and depending on whether the audience answers yes or no, a different version of Eugene will talk to the audience, meaning two separate but intwined stories are happening throughout. This all culminates with me on stage performing two different endings at the same, what ending the audience gets depends on what option they picked at the start.
How do you think technology is going to develop in the next five years?
Hover cars! Who knows really though, I think we’re at the stage where technological advancements are incremental, getting a little bit better at a time rather than those huge leaps and bounds that it has been. It probably won’t be a dramatic change but maybe drones are hired as part of the postal service.
What can audiences expect when they come and see the show?
It’s a lot of fun, I think it’s important to just go with it and play along in the facade of this Ted Talk product launch vibe. There’s some bigger themes about what happens when we put technology in charge and the extremes the ego man will go to, to do what’s right . There’s interactive elements in it, but only in the passive sense, no-one is asked to come on stage or anything! A fair bit of reading as Eugene only talks through text so bring your readers!
Should we all be terrified by the control that technology has over our lives?
It’s crazy right? I think if we stop and think about how much we are plugged in it’s mad. I guess now it’s at a sense of the norm, but maybe we shouldn’t get complacent of how it impacts us, or let it make us lazy- just because a machine can do a task doesn’t mean it has too. I don’t like the idea of driverless cars that’s for sure, the idea of placing that responsibility into a machines hands is a frightening thought.
What’s next for you and Eugene?
We’ll be doing Eugene again as part of Vaults Festival next year as well as a national tour. Eugene aside I’ve got a work in progress of the stand up show I was working on before the pandemic, at Nottingham comedy festival (November) and Leicester Comedy Festival (Feb next year) which is all about different generations and there different attitudes to one another. And then doing some research and development into my next project which I think will again incorporate access tools in a creative way.