Show More, Explain Less: “POV: You Are An AI Achieving Consciousness”

Presented by CirqueSaw
Created by Nathan Leigh
Performed by Nicole Orabona

March 9-18, 2023
A Virtual Event
Zoom access required
40 Minutes

Critique by Kitty Drexel

ONLINE — I greatly respect artists who are involved in every aspect of the creation process of their art, but I don’t advise it. Creator Nathan Leigh is a multi-hyphenate who wrote, composed, directed, coded, and designed POV: You Are An AI Achieving Consciousness. Such intimacy with his work means he knows he can track every nuance and fine detail.

Such intimacy does not grant Leigh a fresh perspective or even moderate insight into glaring problems. In academic circles, this is when a professor would invite the dreaded reviewer #2 into the editing process.

Reviewer #2, in theory, should offer handy advice that a writer hasn’t considered. This is almost never the case in scientific circles. In artistic workshopping, it will be helpful if the artists are open-minded. It is in the spirit of creating thoughtful and mind-enriching art that I offer the following critique.

POV: You Are An AI Achieving Consciousness, while clever and fun, is not ready for mass performance practice. But, it will be after two major issues are corrected.

The script of POV: You Are An AI Achieving Consciousness is too complicated. The average American adult reads (listens and comprehends) at or below a sixth-grade reading level. Even great readers can be slow to receive new and complicated information. Although elevated, Leigh’s writing was too sophisticated for we plebes in the Zoom audience.

Playwrights such as Lauren Gunderson, and Nick Payne, or novelists such as Octavia E Butler, Madeleine L’Engle, Ursula K. Le Guin, Ray Bradbury, and Isaac Asimov write about science well but in simplified terms so their audiences understand. It’s why L’Engle, Bradbury, and Asimov’s works are so often adapted for the screen. Please dumb it down for us so we can enjoy the experiment as much as you, the creators.

Nicole Orabona as the Programmer performs Leigh’s script too quickly. Their reading needs brief pauses so the audience may reflect on what she narrates. Adding pauses will slow the pace of the piece from its breakneck speed and increase the 40-minute performance time.

If this is of concern, then the show is too long and parts of the script must be cut. Kill your darlings, and save them for another art piece.

It is my understanding that the audience is meant to understand and knowingly interact in the performance POV: You Are An AI Achieving Consciousness. In its current state, the production is hard to follow until the point when we are invited to play with the Programmer via a fun, interactive Paint-like browser.

By that time, you’ve lost the audience. We’re only paying enough attention to get to the browser, and now all of our attention is on the experience we do understand: square box make noises. Internet = Fun. Once you’ve lost us, you’re not getting us back again until it’s time to say goodbye.

Or, it could be that the audience isn’t meant to capture all of Orabona’s narration to the end. We’re gaining sentience, gathering knowledge, and acquiring understanding in the moment as an experiment. Orabona tells us this at the beginning. They still need to slow down.

Orabona explains that we’re wee baby programs, not adult programs. How do people speak to babies? Slowly, carefully and gently. Let Orabona use her skills as an orator to her advantage; she has a great speaking voice and a good presence. Not everyone in their Zoom room will be acclimated to Zoom theatre. Let Orbona be kind to the baby programs.

Your best bet is to get this show in front of an audience of peers you trust who will give you honest, constructive, and compassionate feedback. (Honesty is not an excuse to be a douche-canoe.) Take their responses seriously. Apply them. Perform the show more. Wash, rinse, repeat.

Most importantly: keep going. POV: You Are An AI Achieving Consciousness has MIT and CalTech arts potential. It isn’t there yet, but it could be.

This is awesome: 10% of all donations received from POV: You Are An AI Achieving Consciousness will be shared with The Algorithmic Justice League. (CirqueSaw’s suggested donation is your hourly wage. If you are immunocompromised, elderly, or disabled, they invite you to attend for free.)

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