Super Vision

The Events Centre, Newtown, Wellington

01/03/2006 - 05/03/2006

New Zealand International Arts Festival

Production Details

directed by Marianne Weems

by The Builders Association & dbox [USA]

Can your data body keep a secret?

From the moment we are born a cyber composite of ourselves begins to take shape, growing stronger with each credit card transaction, email written and prescription filled. This data body carries stains that are harder to clean than mud or sin.

Kyle deCamp
Harry Sinclair
Owen Philip
Tanya Selvaratnam
Moe Angelos
Rizwan Mirza

Theatre ,

1 hr 30 min, no interval

Intelligence without magic

Review by John Smythe 03rd Mar 2006

Who am I? What am I? Where am I? Why?

Humans have wrestled with the first two questions since our brains expanded from storing knowledge to processing it with what we like to call intelligence. Although come to think of it, intelligence is also a word we use for knowledge, especially when it’s secret intelligence.

As for the "Where …?" bit, that’s simple. Setting aside the limitless possibilities afforded by our imaginations, our flesh and bone selves exist in time and space, in places named for easy reference and generally known. Geographical and cartographical coordinates can also answer the question. These days a GPS (geographical positioning system) can pinpoint our whereabouts precisely, which is handy if we’re lost and want to be found. And having one in your car, for example, linked in with the right computer software, can also tell you how to get where you want to go next.

Information technology. Where would we be without it? Who would we be …? What …? Why would we be without it?

On leaving Super Vision I found myself thinking that living an IT-free lifestyle could become the new vegetarianism. Because beyond the questions raised above, this hi-tech show explores the questions of where we’ve been, what we’ve done and what that means – or may possibly mean – regarding who and what we are. And who wants to know? Why?

These sorts of intrigues, and the identity issues, power struggles and moral questions that attend them, have been around since the days of ancient Greece, Rome and Mesopotamia. They have fed the imaginations of storytellers and furnished our stages with comedies and tragedies since theatre began. What Super Vision seeks to do is re-view the phenomena in the light of modern technologies, especially in this post 9/11, paranoia-driven, security-conscious world. Who better, then, to take it on than the New York-based multimedia theatre group, The Builders Association, and the multi-disciplinary design studio, dbox.

A speech of introduction informs us we have been analysed via our credit card payments we made for our tickets. But I don’t believe the statistical profiles that purport to reflect us because the presenter has memorised them. Okay, so it’s just a device for setting up the idea of the all-seeing electronic eye. Super Vision proceeds to reveal the impact of the new technologies on three sets of lives.

A couple, Carol and John Fletcher (Kyle deCamp and our own Harry Sinclair) and their 9 year-old son John Jr (Owen Philip, expediently and/or meaningfully depicted as a virtual reality) have moved their affluent but sterile lifestyle from Seattle to Denver but they won’t settle there. They have to move one more time, says John Sr. Mom wants Dad to come to the park with Junior to bird-watch but Dad’s too busy on the computer. His online project turns out to involve appropriating his son’s identity to do devious data deals that are supposed to set him up for life. Instead they go wrong, John Jr will forever be hampered with a huge black mark on his credit record, and John Sr banishes himself to the Arctic Circle. The sins of the father …

Jen (Tanya Selvaratnam) works in New York but maintains regular voice & video computer contact with her Grandmother (Moe Angelos) in Sri Lanka. Photographs and memories reflect the older ways of locating oneself. The phone allows Jen to resolve property ownership issues from afar. And when Grandma’s mind starts to pixilate and delude her, Jen knows much sooner than she might have (although we don’t know if she does anything about it). The image serves to remind us that electronic systems, too, can loose their synapses and generate wrong information.

A series of encounters between Mr Patel, an air-travelling Uganda-domiciled Indian businessman (Rizwan Mirza), and various border agents (Joseph Silovsky) demonstrates how much personal information is zooming about on the information highway, connecting with other bits, to be used and abused by government agencies. Ironically Mr Patel is selling GPS equipment. Sometimes the agent knows more about him than he does (the results of his latest cholesterol check, for instance). Old traffic violations continue to haunt him. Possible Islamic associations raise suspicions. Mistaken identity threatens to see him disappeared, especially when he finally loses his temper. But in the end the fact he’s arriving as the guest of a multinational conglomerate clears his slate and he gains free passage. His affiliation with a modern-day Caesar has seen him right. The more things change the more they stay the same.

All this is good material but the production is super technology-led and the medium becomes the not-very-penetrating massage. The human cores of each story remain untouched and untouching. Consider Sophocles, Aristophanes, Seneca, Scheherazade, Shakespeare ("More matter, less art!") as well as Wells and Orwell. Where do their stories live? What are they? Why? How do they make us care, cry and laugh?

Shows like Super Vision may fascinate an older demographic, still trying to wrap their heads around how the world works now, but younger people I spoke to afterwards said, "We know all this – and?" In a word, they got bored. As an English teacher in her early 20s put it, "It lacks all the things that make theatre magic."


Anonymous March 4th, 2006

Totally agree with the review - I was looking forward to hear what you had to say. The technical presentation and the visual was a real feast, but the story line and the drama was dull! It really demonstrates that a big budget is not enough to make good theatre. The show failed to grab the attention of the audience and people left feeling a bit unfulfilled. For up to $65 you really expect a lot more for your money: go to two or three normal shows at Circa/Downstage or Bats instead!

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Technology use makes for fascinated snooping

Review by Laurie Atkinson [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 02nd Mar 2006

BIG BROTHER is not only watching us, he’s data mining our details every time we go on the Internet, send e-mails, talk on our cellphones, use ATMs and shop with our credit cards.

Super Vision, the result of collaboration between the American experimental theatre group, The Builders Association, and design company dbox, makes us feel like Orwell’s subhuman proles. It’s enough to turn anyone paranoid and it makes the objections to illegal phone tapping in the United States seem almost irrelevant.

The technology on display is mind-boggling in complexity and dazzling presentation, as actors on stage merge with the video and film sequences. It makes us fascinated snoopers, silent accomplices of the unseen security officials who use video cameras and other monitoring devices to investigate the lives of people – who may or may not be as innocent as snippets from the data mining suggest.

There is a Ugandan Indian businessman who has passport problems because he is a frequent traveller to the US and is also a Muslim. The customs official knows the results of his recent medical tests before he does. There’s a family under surveillance because not only have they just moved to Denver, but they seem to be keen on bird watching _ the mother recently joined the Audubon Society and the father has bought a pair of binoculars. However, there are also suspicions the father is a fraudster.

The third investigation is the most affecting because the person in question is so clearly innocent. A young woman studying in New York keeps in contact with her grandmother in Sri Lanka by video link-up so that she can document her grandmother’s life before the woman sinks into dementia.

For all the technological marvels of Super Vision, the three stories are far too long and one starts to wonder what point the show is making. The audience had, according to a speech of welcome, already been analysed and turned into statistics based on the credit card payments for their tickets. If that was the message, we could have gone home then – but we would have missed, of course, the amazing technology.


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