Company of Fools is starting a new series of free, live play-readings, directed by and starring Fools stalwarts. The readings serve a plethora of purposes—previewing material that the company may produce down the road, exhibiting the actors’ creative processes and sparking community conversations about art and the important social and philosophical issues examined therein.
The first play in the new series of readings, Roslyn Helper’s “Lifestyle of the Richard and Family,” aims to spark debate and critical analysis alike.
“There are two important things to know about ‘Lifestyle,’” said Scott Palmer, producing artistic director for Company of Fools, settling in to lay out the bizarre nature of the text. “First, this play was written by a human playwright and an artificial intelligence program—in fact, we think this may be the first ever human/A.I.-written play in history.”
Helper split authorial duties with a complex algorithm that attempted to capture human melodrama and human emotions. Together, Helper and the SwiftKey Note program have generated a singular work, which leads in to the other point that Palmer mentioned to preface the play.
“Second, the play is a perfect way to launch a conversation about the uniqueness of human creativity and the future of artistic expression given the rising influence of A.I. programs,” he explained.
The seemingly unstoppable progress of technological advancement is at the forefront of the Sun Valley Center for the Arts’ current Big Idea project, “Marketplaces: From Open Air to Online.” It is in accordance to the thematic focus of this project that Company of Fools, a theatrical subsect of The Center, produces the reading of “Lifestyle.”
Company of Fools will present two performances of this unorthodox play, the first at the Liberty Theatre in Hailey on Friday, Oct. 18, at 7 p.m. and the second at The Community Library in Ketchum on Saturday, Oct. 19, at 2 p.m.
Following each reading, the cast will join Christine Harold, a professor and chairwoman of the communications department at the University of Washington, for a talkback session with the audience. Harold is an expert on rhetorical theory and the technological politics of consumerism.
They will take questions from the audience and discuss themes in the play as well as the questions it raises simply by existing as it does, as a collaboration between a human mind and an artificial one. Their discussion will also tie in to concepts featured in “Marketplaces.”
“Recently, some of the world’s most prominent magazines and newspapers have been grappling with the reality of A.I. and its influence on the art world,” Palmer said.
“For example, Christie’s Auction House recently sold its first piece of auctioned A.I. art for more than $430,000,” he said, referencing the recently auctioned “Portrait of Edmond Belamy,” which was produced entirely by GAN, the Generative Adversarial Network.
“A [computer-created] musical called ‘Beyond the Fence’ recently premiered in London, and a number of academic institutions are offering composers, playwrights, novelists and poets the opportunity to work alongside A.I. programs in their artistic work.”
Company of Fools will examine these changing times and all they bring with them in the upcoming reading, which stars Aly Wepploe, David Janeski, Denise Simone, Chris Henderson and Kagen Albright, and is directed by Jana Arnold.
“‘Lifestyle of the Richard and Family’ gives us, and our audiences, the chance to ask questions and consider the future of art in an increasingly technology-driven world,” Palmer said.
Both readings will be presented free of charge, but The Center is suggesting a donation of $10 and is heavily encouraging attendees to reserve their seats ahead of time. Prospective audience members may do so online at sunvalleycenter.org or by calling 208-726-9491.
Following the second reading, at 7 p.m. on the evening of Saturday, Oct. 19, Harold will offer a free lecture at the Liberty Theatre on humanity, consumerism and how technology remains a defining factor in society. As with the two readings, The Center suggests a donation of $10 for this evening event.
Harold’s upcoming book, “Things Worth Keeping: The Value of Attachment in a Disposable World,” examines the interplay between mass-produced items, human attachment to inanimate objects and consumer waste.
“In ‘Lifestyle of the Richard and Family,’ we find a bizarre, insightful and sometimes hilarious story that has been written by both a human and an artificial intelligence program,” Palmer said. “As we look across a range of cultural industries, such as pop music, musical theater, poetry and even novels, we see more instances of A.I. being involved in the creation of artistic work. The play, and Dr. Harold’s lecture, asks important questions about what artistic expression may look like with the introduction of A.I.”