Thanks to Annie Dorsen, Natasha Katerinopoulos, and our partners, The Chocolate Factory and New York Live Arts for collaborating on bringing Prometheus Firebringer to New York!
May 11-13, 2023
“What shall I do?” is a question at the heart of every Greek tragedy, observes philosopher Simon Critchley. When there are no good options, when every course of action comes with unbearable costs, how do you choose? This question inspires a new lecture-performance by Annie Dorsen, Prometheus Firebringer, which continues her exploration of the ambiguous impacts of technology.
In ancient Greek mythology, Prometheus stole the gods’ fire to give to humans—sparking sudden and dramatic advances in technology and the arts, and dramatic new sources of conflict. His story is told in the 2500-year-old Prometheia trilogy attributed to Aeschylus, of which only Prometheus Bound remains in full. In Prometheus Firebringer, Dorsen uses the predictive text model GPT-3 (a precursor to ChatGPT) to generate speculative versions of the missing story.
Each night a chorus of AI-generated Greek masks performs a different iteration, while Dorsen engages the audience in reflections on power, knowledge, and doubt. Although the explosion of artificial intelligence technology into our daily lives feels unprecedented and new, Dorsen asks if we have been here before. She reflects openly on her influences, standing in contrast to how the black box of AI operates. How do we decide to act when we can’t trust our sources? And who do we become in the face of a technology controlled by a select few, especially when its workings remain a mystery?
“Algorithmic theater is not sci-fi,” says Dorsen. “The pieces I’m making are neither utopian nor dystopian fantasies of a far-off future. The question most fundamental to my creation of algorithmic theater is ‘What kinds of screens are we peering into, and what kinds of selves are we hoping to glimpse there?’ We have already given over large areas of decision-making to algorithms, and we have already (mostly) agreed to participate in the conversion of our lives into data, which algorithms use. Algorithmic theater makes their functioning available for observation and contemplation, so that we may begin to understand not only how they work, but how we work with them.”
Writer, Director, and Performer
Video and Systems Design
Lighting Design / Technical Direction
Okwui Okpokwasili, Livia Reiner
The creation of Prometheus was supported by a commission from Media Art Xploration’s MAXmachina laboratory funded in part by Science Sandbox and a commission from New York Live Arts’ Live Feed Residency program supported in part by Partners for New Performance. Major support has been provided by The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage, with additional support from Bryn Mawr College, the Eureka Commissions program created by Onassis Foundation and the Mercury Store.
More About Annie Dorsen
Annie Dorsen is a theater director and writer whose works explore the intersection of algorithms and live performance. Her most recent project, Infinite Sun (2019), is an algorithmic sound installation commissioned by the Sharjah Biennial 14. Previous performance projects, including The Slow Room (2018), The Great Outdoors (2017), Yesterday Tomorrow (2015), A Piece of Work (2013), Spokaoke (2012), and Hello Hi There (2010), have been widely presented in the US and internationally. Some of the venues where her work has been seen include Performance Space New York (formerly PS122), Le Festival d’Automne de Paris, The Holland Festival, BAM’s Next Wave Festival, New York Live Arts, Kampnagel Summer Festival, Kaaitheater, and The New York Film Festival’s “Views from the Avant-garde” series, along with many others. The script for A Piece of Work was published by Ugly Duckling Presse, and she has contributed essays for The Drama Review (TDR), Theatre Magazine, Etcetera, Frakcija, and Performing Arts Journal (PAJ). She has collaborated frequently with musicians and choreographers, including Anne Juren, Ethel, Questlove/The Roots, DD Dorvillier, and Sébastien Roux. She is the co-creator of the 2008 Broadway musical Passing Strange, which she also directed. A retrospective of Annie Dorsen’s algorithmic work was presented in 2022, at Bryn Mawr College with major support by the Pew Center for Arts and Heritage. The publication Algorithmic Theater: Essays and Dialogues, 2012-2022 was created as a literary companion to the event, collecting a decade of writings by and about Dorsen, including dialogues with artistic collaborators in addition to provocative essays on theater and technology. In addition to awards for Passing Strange, Dorsen received a 2019 MacArthur Fellowship, a 2018 Guggenheim Fellowship, the 2018 Spalding Gray Award, a 2016 Foundation for Contemporary Arts Grant to Artists Award and the 2014 Herb Alpert Award for the Arts in Theatre.