Have you ever been so deep into a YouTube binge that you forget the world outside the screen even exists? A Map To Get Lost is a performance its creators describe as a ‘stage-art YouTube marathon, a hypermedia browsing race’. It’s a collaboration between Gothenburg’s Backa Teater and Stockholms Konstnärliga Högskola, a stage piece that explores the world of endless browsing windows and links. We caught up with the team behind it.
First of all, introduce us to A Map To Get Lost. Give us a quick description of this performance/ project.
A Map To Get Lost is a bachelor project with students from Stockholms Dramatiska Högskola, Malmö Teaterhögskola and Södertörns Högskola. It is an expansive performance piece, consisting of freestanding episodes or modules (movement, text, scent, music, light, images, songs etc) that we combine in different constellations each time we meet an audience. These constellations form the cycle that is A Map To Get Lost – a creation myth where everything within existence is valid within existence. Every individual show is a unique composition of smaller modules, and constitute a large module within the cyclic dramaturgy of the project as a whole.
Can you talk a little bit about the concept of hypermedia, and how it plays into the performance? Was it a key source of inspiration for the show?
The notion of hypermedia, or hypermediality, functioned as a starting point for our work. But not as a form of a digital aesthetic – “the digital” so often get confused with a certain look or style – but rather as an analogy for “thinking digitally”. And just looking at the word hypermedia, we see that it is made up of a combination of words ‘hyper’ and ‘media’, which basically means an emancipation from a linear structure, a freedom to move, to scatter the mediated material in different ways. Or more clearly, hyper(mediality) can be understood as a state where the medium is exceeding itself, no longer carrying out a message, but the possibility of messages.
For us, hypermedia has worked as a key to unlock ways of creating and approaching material without putting them in a deadlock.
The overwhelming information flow is one of the most crucial characteristics of internet consumption. How do you go about replicating that onstage?
The existence of big data, information flows, ‘digital tsunamis’, is not something that we are looking to represent. Today we live in a state that could be called ‘postdigital’. The word ‘post’ sheds light on a contemporary phase where the digital cannot be separated from the analogue. Thinking the theatre through ‘digital culture’ and the expressiveness of its concepts (e.g. what happens when hypermedia is put in motion with the theatrical machinery?) has been our way of acknowledging the merge of the living and the computed. And then we asked ourselves, if we could look at this ‘overwhelming condition’ from another, historical angle? During the more or less thousand-year long gap between antiquity and renaissance, many dramaturgical works existed that applied what, for us today, appears as a ‘hyperstructure’. These works are commonly called ‘mystery plays’, which were plays that incorporated both learning and sacramental functions within the feudal societies, where the lines between life and performance were blurred. The material from which the plays were organised was no less than the Genesis. And what has come to characterise the dramaturgy of the mystery play is its multiple timescapes, its anachronism, and mix of reality and fiction through a fictionalising of the Genesis. There was no conflict between the Birth of Christ and the time of the play since the notion of ‘realism”’ and ‘authentic representation’ weren’t applied as a hegemonic framework for how theatre “should be made and experienced”. So, seen through this long period of mystery plays, where life was fictionalised through the use of the Genesis as an eternal story about anything and everything, the idea of the postdigital as a fundamental blurring of borders between ‘digital’ and ‘analogue’, got a second nature. It started to behave differently. And if continuing on this correspondence between the medieval as a historical gap between two stages of systematisation, and the current state of an almost sacramental entanglement (a growing feeling of having ‘the world at our fingertips’), would it be farfetched to attest that Internet has its theatrical roots in the medieval theatre and its temporal embodiment of the creation myth?
A Map To Get Lost in is a show that is in a constant state of flux, change and renewal, as you say yourselves ‘every performance is a premiere’. Is that an attempt to replicate the hyperspeed of change that happens online?
No it is not about replication, but about embracing the feeling of “hyperspeed” and understanding it as a way of thinking, working, living etc. When you look at it, it is pretty obvious that the theatre goes where the world goes. If the production of the world is carried out with a speed close to the speed of light, then the arts and ways of doing and making will be seen through that hyperspeed as well. And of course this embracement of the speed becomes exhausting and creates a lot of difficulties and organisatory ‘glitches’ when dealing with theatre and performances that are mostly taking place as a composition of physical bodies and flesh-bodies. That is a big part of the interesting aspects of the collision of different speeds that we are experiencing today.
Do you think that the modern internet world has changed our attention spans and cultural consumption habits, and is that something that modern theatre has to adopt to?
Yes, it sure has changed our habits and ways of thinking and remembering stuff. And as we said above, the theatre is without a doubt seen through that lens of digitisation that is ever present. But our work is not to be seen as some kind of manifesto. We do not try to push theatre into a strict moral or way of being. As we said before, it all started off with the notion of hypermediality as an approach to create, organise and use material within the production.
Finally, anything you’d like to say to audience before they experience A Map To Get Lost?
Check out our Tumblr, come to the show, come more than once and get lost with us as many times as you like!
A Map To Get Lost plays at Stockholms dramatiska högskola between May 19-21, and you can find out more on their Tumblr: www.amaptogetlost.tumblr.com
This article originally appeared in Totally Gothenburg
Words: Austin Maloney