Theatre of NOTE's Welcome To The White Room: The Future of Artificial Intelligence?
“What happens in a world that has become so technologically advanced that that drive can be met while sitting on a couch?” asks the Artistic Management Committee (AMC) who runs LA’s Theatre of NOTE where the west coast premiere of Trish Harnetiaux’s Welcome to the White Room opens on August 17. “Nothing is more rewarding than having a problem set in front of you and chipping away at it, until that ‘eureka’ moment. It doesn't matter how old or how young, when a code is broken, when a problem is solved, when you finally have the solution you came to all by yourself, few things are as rewarding and satisfying as that.”
Theatre of NOTE is run not by an artistic director, but by the AMC – they believe there is power in numbers, and in rooms with a lot of brains. As a recent Chicago transplant, directing White Room has been a window into so much talent. Harnetiaux’s play can feel deceptively simple on the surface, but once you dig into the text, the play breaks open into complex, nuanced storytelling. I was able to work with Theatre of NOTE to put together a truly collaborative and resourceful design team and cast versatile, flexible actors to unpack and address some of the very big questions looming in Harnetiaux’s play. We are constantly adjusting and refining every choice on stage, from the smallest sound effect to physical movement to make sure we strike the perfect and precise balance necessary to land the play’s tone. The play purposefully does not give you all the answers, and leaves both artists and audiences with a sense of wonder and intellectual investigation.
White Room focuses on three experts, first met in white coats in a white room, who have come together to figure out what they are meant to be doing. Without giving anything away, so much of the play is about the journey, and so much about the reflection on the play after its purpose has been revealed in the last few pages.
Artificial Intelligence is taking over everything, and it will probably take over theatre…but that’s a long way off? The issues explored in White Room are relevant to the current discussions about AI and VR that are happening everywhere. “I’m interested in the intersection of ethics and morality and the dangers of our creations becoming smarter than us,” says Harnetiaux. “It’s hard to imagine how we could be personally effected by, say, our Roomba – but it’s possible. AI is all over our day to day life. As Deep Learning is becoming more advanced, the creators understanding and control becomes slippery because they are creating something that can start thinking for itself. Since AI is so result oriented, will it cross our human ethical boundaries without even knowing it? Or will there be some learned system of checks and balances? Anyway, I hope it’s pretty funny too – the play that is.”
White Room has the unique ability to bring you into that world with ease and keep you there as the story unfolds on many levels. “There are so many layers and elements going on at the same time,” the AMC noted, “Every time we look at it we see or hear something new.”
This play is a director’s dream come true and an incredible opportunity for actors to sharpen their skills and shape their own characters. Due to its open-ended nature, the direction and design choices can go in many different directions. Much like the debate of technology at the heart of the play, White Room is quick, smart, sharp, responsive and adaptive – qualities I don’t necessarily expect from a play. White Room means something very specific to our current relationship to technology, and will remain relevant in our quickly changing landscape.