AN INTERVIEW WITH SIMON EVANS AND DAVID AULA

Edinburgh Fringe 2018 is over, but reviewer Hannah S. got to sit down with Simon Evans and David Aula, whose ‘The Vanishing Man’ and ‘The Extinction Event’ we’re absolutely obsessed with. Read on to find out about what it was like to create and perform these shows, and how they’re doing after spending a month doing two shows a day (they’re fine, they’re absolutely  fine, don’t bring it up, okay?) Warning: heavy spoilers ahead- if you haven’t seen these shows, figure out how to make that happen first.

Hannah: Important question first: you’ve done two shows a day for nearly an entire Fringe now- are you guys okay?

David: Mmmmmm yeah, okay, okay, okay, I’m absolutely fine, okay… (laughs)

Simon: Don’t ask us those sorts of questions.

D: So I also have…my son is with us, he’ll be eight weeks tomorrow, so he’ll have spent more time at the Fringe, proportionally, than anyone else, ever, in the history of mankind.

S: Of percentage of his life

D: of percentage of his life, yeah. So he’s been keeping me busy when I’m not on stage, so being onstage is like a little break.

S: It’s funny, we’ve been very lucky, we’ve been sold out quite a few times, and on the days when we haven’t it’s very noticeable, when the audience is a bit smaller and a bit quieter, those are tough shows to do. And you really feel it I think-

D: when you’re not riding the wave

S: yeah when you’re not riding the wave of them bouncing back at you, when we have our own momentum and it’s stopped by a quiet audience member who doesn’t want to play, that’s when we feel tired.

D: Yeah.

S: Whereas today, we sold out again, so I’m looking forward to -and when that happens, I think, we both come off, both, quite buzzy.

D: Yeah absolutely. And actually this morning I reflected, so we’ve had what, eleven days straight without a break, and only three more to go.

S: Yeah that’s right

D: And actually that’s fine, it’s fine, a final way to spend a bank holiday weekend.

S: So yeah we’re fine.

D: Yeah we’re fine, we’re fine. (laughs) Hope that answered your question.

So how has the response been? I know you’ve been performing The Vanishing Man for a while, but The Extinction Event is pretty new?

D: It is new. The response has been pretty interesting for The Extinction Event. One of the things that’s hard for us is, because we made The Vanishing Man earlier, we attempted to make the Extinction Event so you could see them in any order. So you could see it independently or you could see it first and then go see The Vanishing Man, so that’s been very interesting to see, to hear from people, what that experience is like for them, and try to get into their heads about how experiencing it back to front is-

S: So much so that if people have seen- people have seen The Extinction Event first, they have then gone to see The Vanishing Man, but then in a couple of case have then gone to see The Extinction Event again

D: again, right afterwards, yeah

S: Just to sort of work out, put it all, see what we’ve done.

D: Which is very flattering, that they’ve done that.

S: The shows themselves, because they play off the audience so much, it’s difficult for us to rehearse them.

D: Yes

S: So unlike a slightly more- so both of us are theatre directors outside this kind of work, usually you can be much more assured, still you have to wait to see what the audience thinks, but you can be much more assured before the first performance of what your ups and downs are, your weak and strong moments, whereas this sort of work, we can get as slick as we can in our rehearsals

D: yeah

S: but we need people in front of us to see where things will land.

D: Well yeah, one of the interesting things with The Extinction Event to learn, for me, particularly, was, cause the story of The Extinction Event is…it’s funny, the response we’ve had is in some ways it’s more subtle, the story, and I think a lot of people have said they actually prefer it for that, and feel the payoff is worth more.

S: The Extinction Event, it’s changed a lot over the course of the festival. Doing The Vanishing Man, we’ve gotten sort of slicker with it, snappier, but for the most part what you see now with the Vanishing Man is a slightly slicker version of what it was on day one. Where as with The Extinction Event, we’ve shifted, we’ve changed, and we’ve become much much better at landing, certainly the magic, and I think with that the story as well, just really landing those lines, knowing if we can hook you here we’ve really got it.

D: And The Vanishing Man is sort of dependent on the people we get involved, but, actually no, in The Vanishing Man our audience is playing audiences from the past, and so we sort of know what they have to do for the show to work. Where as in The Extinction Event there’s far less of that, far fewer instances of that, and people are themselves, or think they’re being themselves.

S: And that’s the nice thing, in The Vanishing Man, from the word ‘go’ we say- we don’t say this explicitly, but we are suggesting, that you are somebody else, you are playing somebody else, we know what you’re doing and we’re going to tell you what to do. Where as with The Extinction Event it’s the reverse, we don’t tell them what they’re doing, we give them the illusions of free choice. And we then go, ‘you were still doing exactly what we wanted you to do.’

D: Which is harder to achieve, and does therefore means that there is more flexibility that we have to deal with.

S: Also, as a final note, The Vanishing Man, we feel, ends in a slightly unusual way, because although what they have seen all the way through is, the play between the two of us, and at the end you actually change to someone different and become suddenly strangely a supporting character in the final moment, and the final moment is very much my relationship with the audience, which I think sort of leaves them, they don’t quite know how to respond to that sometimes. Where as I think The Extinction Event finishes much more as a complete piece of drama, our relationship, it’s not concluded but it certainly comes to a full stop at that point, which I think it quite important

D: One thing I have enjoyed is seeing people who’ve had quite a big part to play in The Extinction Event then coming into The Vanishing Man and I enjoy the end of The Vanishing Man where Simon steps forward and I step into this other role, I don’t say anything but I really enjoy that they might be seeing the beginning of The Extinction Event during that moment.

S: Mhm, because yeah, I have a line in that final bit where I go “sometimes even I’ll believe that a miracle has taken place” and I like to leave it there

D: and I like to look at you as if that’s a new idea, ‘oh I’ve got an idea, let’s go do another show’.

S: Yeah, yeah. So it’s going fine!

D: Yeah the response is good!

S: It’s going great

So the next question is- you’re playing characters named after yourselves, how much of those characters are actually you? And my editor wanted me to ask this because she stumbled across a lecture that you’d done, Simon, a few years ago on misdirection, and noticed some lines from The Vanishing Man in that.

D: What I will say is this showing off and going off script willy nilly, is all Simon.

S: Very much me, yeah, where as the slightly warped sense of identity is very much, is very Dave. I think, well I can begin to answer both of those questions by talking about the history of The Vanishing Man, which is led the The Extinction Event. I was a magician for years, and produced a show, a lecture, in which called the Lecture on Misdirection, which is about how it works because of the relationship the magician establishes with the audience, which is ideally non-combative, it goes: you and me together can make something amazing happen if we just suspend our disbelief, and just enjoy this. And Dave came to see that and just went, ‘there’s something interesting here, but we could do something a bit more complex.’

D: I thought we could tell a story with it.

S: That’s it. And I’d just directed something at the Unicorn and they’d really liked it, and they asked me if there was something I’d like to create for the Unicorn, which is the children’s theatre in London, specifically. And the only idea I could come up with was something about magic, because we’d had this preliminary conversation, and they gave us a week of development. And the beginning was, initially, on the first day of that it was going to still be a one man show with Dave directing it. Then as we went on- what’s the line about the assistant?

D: Well we found a lovely quote, I can’t remember who said it now, that said, ‘the perfect magician’s assistant should look like he or she can’t perform a trick to save their lives.’ And we were like, hey, well here I am! And you were like, well they should be able to do stuff, and I was like well we can get to that,-

S: That’s future David

D: -yeah let’s not worry about that!

S: So to begin with it was still, even before it became narrative, it was supposed to be a demonstration of what magic can do, just, with Simon and Dave.

D: Well then it became about belief. I’d just been doing a project that sadly never came to fruition, that was about Christopher Hitchens, who had just died. And Christopher Hitchens is a very controversial character, and, you know, a famous atheist, and I was sort of looking into a drama about kind of, belief, and yet even, in his story, even being kind of completely scientific and materialistic philosophically, this idea that there were things that were special and he used this word, luminous, that there were things that were really exciting about being human, what our imaginations do. And so I had that buzzing around my head and was slightly disappointed that I wasn’t able to show the thing that I’d been working on, so I sort of stuck that into this. And we kind of, we had that thought, one of the early questions was, what would it take for someone like Christopher Hitchens or Richard Dawkins or even just us, who are pretty skeptical ourselves, to believe in something supernatural.

S: The whole nature of this show- it’s funny, Juliet Stevenson was saying it’s very political, because it’s about what we choose to believe, so there is, I mean with anyone who walks on stage and goes “my name’s Simon and I actually am Simon, I’m going to tell you the truth” there’s sort of a strange assumption that’s like ‘oh!’

D: ‘Oh, you will do.’ We love the thing at the beginning of Derren Brown shows where he’s like “this is a combination of suggestion, traditional magic, and psychological techniques, and there are no stooges used in this production” and you kind of go, okay, why should we believe you just believe you just because you said it at the beginning? But it’s a wonderful bit of like, actually the wonderful thing, going back to responses is that so many people have said to us, have reported so many of their friends smugly saying “well it was so obvious where the stooges were”

S: yeah, yeah

D: and it’s like, no, no it wasn’t! But yes, about being believed, one of the interesting things, particularly about The Vanishing Man, is that there are layers of reality, so there is Simon in the play, David in the original version of each of the experiments at each of the locations, there is us in real life as the writers/ directors of it, there is Jack playing David at which point you see, we worked it out that there is only one line in The Vanishing Man that I say as me in 2018 and it is, “This is an experiment in how long it would take us to make you let go of what you know to be true and embrace what you’d like to believe.”

S: Another person that I think we both admire is, uh, Stewart Lee, the comedian, who talks about being Stewart Lee, the writer, and the character, Stewart Lee the comedian, who forms a relationship with the audience which is based on what they expect him to be, and just to be able to play with that. If we’d adopted different characters, it wouldn’t have been, if I’d come out and been like “hello, my name is James” and they’d have looked it up they’d have gone, “actually, his name is Simon, he’s playing James.” And I go, “this is a true story” and no one would have believed that. But somehow using my own name, people go, “oh, well it’s true” and it’s always, all the moments it’s fascinating to see are people trying to figure out, where am I being honest and where am I not. Like any magic trick, that’s hugely satisfying.

So you might have also kind of answered this a bit already, but did you have The Extinction Event in mind when you created The Vanishing Man, or did it evolve into something you wanted to develop further?

D: No, we didn’t have it in mind. We went on tour with The Vanishing Man in 2017 and during that we thought, there’s more we could do with this, there’s another show here somewhere. And uh- Simon bought us both little pink rubber balls, they’re called Spaldings, they’re from The West Wing, where Toby in The West Wing uses them and bounces them to think of things, and that’s how we think together, we throw those balls to each other. So we were throwing that around, throwing ideas around back then. We were thinking about… I can’t remember what point artificial intelligence got involved.

S: Well a friend of mine sent me a long article about artificial intelligence that I read, I just found it fascinating, so I sent it to you. So I was like, is there anything in this.

D: Right and I don’t know if it was before or after we started talking about fatherhood, because at that stage I wasn’t…definitely going to become a dad, but

S: but I think it was in the cards

D: I think it was in the cards, we started talking about the future, of fatherhood, and of real magic again, it definitely evolved out of ‘ooh this seems to be striking a chord with people’ and we think we’ve created something- the thing we like about The Vanishing Man is we think we’ve created something unique, or new, or quite unique, relatively unique. We think that there’s a number of things we do in The Vanishing Man which are unusual, if not completely original, so there’s something which we call the ‘puppeting of the audience’ although, imitators of ours using that phrase in their shows has upset us a little bit, and they know who they are. But the idea of giving the audience lines and sort of playing off that, we don’t think, we certainly haven’t seen anyone else do that, before we took it on. There are some stories that really are theatre shows but happen to have a character who is a magician who does a lot of magic

S: yeah I think The Extinction Event has been

D: and also a whole show, a whole story that’s a magic trick.

S: Yeah exactly, because that’s what The Vanishing Man is I think. That sort of was one of our starting points, I’d just done a floating card effect that wasn’t working, and I thought, ‘this should be bringing the house down’ and it just wasn’t, and I started layering little moments through a show that established a narrative so that when that final moment happened it was a sort of reward of everything that had come before it and suddenly it worked, and suddenly it got the response I thought it should have got. So I was fascinated by the idea of a whole show, a whole narrative, can be a trick in itself without you quite realizing. Not in a Derren Brown way where everything is revealed to be this, but in a sort of more, a slyer way, where you don’t quite realize that those elements come together to actually mean you as a person in the audience have agreed with something that you might not have agreed with. I think, for me at least, The Extinction Event was a slightly harder thing to wrangle into current shape.

D: We did a version of The Extinction Event at VAULT Festival this year, which was called Vanishing Mankind, which was a very clever title but people kept saying “oh you know I’ve seen The Vanishing Man” but it’s a different show! But uh, that was all about artificial intelligence much more explicitly, almost took the form of a lecture, and a silly story that we knew we were becoming the Ant and Dec of the Socratic methods in the future, and the idea that were were celebrities in the future, which was silly and funny but really the story was crowbarred in around the tricks, it was a sort of lecture with magic and had a thing at the end that was trying to be a story, and it was a pretty outlandish story.

S: I think with The Vanishing Man we both came to it already with quite a store of knowledge, and experience in our own areas, so you came to it with the Christopher Hitchens stuff that you got me into and you came to all of that with that degree of skepticism and that interest in the concept of belief, I came to it with twenty years of magic experience, going I know how to talk about magic, you know how to talk about skepticism, and the thing that was the end of that week is different than what you see now, but it was sort of there, it stretched and shrank as we went but that was sort of what we did, whereas with The Extinction Event, because we were both learning, although you knew much more about artificial intelligence that I did

D: and I memorized all the books

S: and you memorized all the books, but we came to it much less informed, we had to sort of cram knowledge in more, which made is slightly harder for us.

D: Also, stories don’t happen in future tense. They just don’t. That’s not how narrative form works. So that’s a problem generally. What sci-fi does, it takes everyone to the future so it can tell the story in the past. And it was frustrating, because of course the stuff around Hugo Cedar, it’s fragments, there’s truth in there but it’s, our research on it, there isn’t anything to research, there’s bits and bobs here and there, but there’s lots of stuff on artificial intelligence, and the very likely future is much more based on a completely known reality, but much harder to achieve. The thing that we both love about The Vanishing Man is that at the end of it you really, genuinely, as an audience, could believe every single word that we’ve said, and absolutely know that we’ve presented something that essentially is a documentary. Which is great. But The Extinction Event, it’s very different to tell a story about the future, with a human story involved as well, where the audience isn’t going to go, well of course you’re not a time traveler or a robot or whatever. And so that’s why my favourite line at the end of The Extinction Event is ‘you’ve been helping me with my program, no not a computer program, of course I’m not a fucking robot.’

S: Of course I’m not

D: and then we’ve got this other thing that finishes off very satisfying, for me. Oh, what was the question?

S: Did we have The Extinction Event in mind

D: Right, we did not.

S: We didn’t

D: We’re fine

S: We’re fine!

D: As you can tell, we talk. That’s how we work things out.

Did you have to cut any material out of either show to make into the Fringe’s expected hour per show, and if so, what didn’t make it?

S: Yes, yes, yes, yes.

D: Well The Vanishing Man, when it was on tour, and in most of its previous iterations, was comfortable 100 minutes. Often with an interval added as well. And the thing that was comfortable about that was that we could really take our time with the audience. So I think the bit that I regret losing is that flexibility with the audience, because, because of the time issues, you know we get it in the ear if we’re three minutes over, and it’s like, usually that’s because someone has been a bit nervous, or a bit of a dick about it, or doesn’t want to play ball, and the way to deal with that well and keep the show going and keep everyone okay and happy is to take a little time over it. And we completely trust each other that we can deal with this, that we can bounce over each other and accept a new direction and we know exactly where we’re going back to and we’re very nimble with dealing with that. What you can’t do, though, is that you get maybe one chance with that, with the hours.

S: In terms of stuff that’s actually been taken out of it, a lot of the scene’s- there’s four or five little narrated sections in The Vanishing Man where we look at the audience and go

D: and I’m reading from the diary

S: ‘that show has ended, and now before we get to the next show, I’m going to tell you what happened in the interim, it’s this, this, and this.’ And in the last version those were much more played out

D: well they weren’t played out, they were played in

S: yeah I don’t mean that they were played out, I mean that they were drawn out, they were dramatized, they were dialogues. Our line was always, it’s after the show, we’re tidying up the stage

D: which was quite helpful for being able to tidy up what we were doing

S: there was more of it then, the audience felt like they were witness to something they shouldn’t have seen.

D: So my journey got- yeah one of the worries I had about The Vanishing Man was that I turn on a sixpence really, there’s a point about 60% through where I suddenly go WHOOP something’s happened, and it’s quite quick, where as what it had been before was a gentler thing and it was as sense of the audience bringing in things that were unexpected to me and convinced me more and more. A slower burn thing. I mean we had a lot of feedback from people who were friends and family who have seen every version and actually a lot of people say it’s great at an hour because it’s just bing bang bosh and you still get that, I mean I still think it’s 75 minutes probably, or 70 at least.

S: And The Extinction Event was, when we got up here it was a little bit longer.

D: Well when we did our first preview it was an hour and 45 minutes as well

S: Yeah, back in London

D: There’s an amazing book test in it which is an amazing trick but takes really long.

S: Such a long effect. There was a bit more manipulation at the beginning, we did a section where I was talking about how Jack was improving at magic, we tightened up, to try to make the language in The Extinction Event about that final reveal, we tell the story much more clearly now about when they make their choices. It took us quite a while with The Extinction Event to figure out what that final effect was going to be. I mean that final reveal with the script didn’t come until our previews, until then, it was going to be the bullet catch that was our end. It’s funny because once we’d sort of locked onto that, we started going back to the beginning and looking at the effects and going, is this a good effect, it needs to both be good in and of itself and be part of the larger narrative that leads you to that place as well. So that was where some things were lost.

D: And the weird this is, the filter that we put that through is, why is Jack allowing this to happen, again? So there’s that interesting thing, early on, Simon needs to feel comfortable and in control and powerful and like he’s the master, and then Jack needs to get him saying lots of stuff about improvement and reminding himself of what it takes to improve and needs to be saying stuff about assistants and how you need to trust them and needs to remind him of what happens if you don’t trust your assistants, so it is all, putting it all through that filter, which we did retrospectively, is why would Jack let that section in there, and if we couldn’t find a good reason that he would, we got rid of it. So yeah

S: it’s fine, you know, we’re okay, we took some stuff out, we’re all good…

So what do you think it is about magic that makes people find it so compelling?

S: I think…if done right, people can admire it very different levels. You can enjoy it as skill, like you can enjoy a juggler or anyone who can just do something technical very well. I do think that, as a magician myself, that’s the most satisfying thing to watch, just going ‘I know how difficult that is and you’re really good at it. I can’t do it, and not only can you do it, you can do it as well as that.’ And that’s a great satisfaction.  I think it also forms a lovely relationship with people where they do allow themselves to suspend their disbelief. It was lovely yesterday, we had three people in the front row who were just really, really enjoying the magic of it, every effect was just a proper ‘WOW, NO WAY’, and people like that are just joyous because they do come, eyes open, heart open, just ready to go ‘fucking dazzle me’

D: ‘fool me’

S: and, ‘I don’t mind you fooling me because we’re in this safe place where I feel like you’re not exploiting me, where you’re not going to use this for evil.’ And I think in a world where we are becoming more cynical, where we start to feel afraid of what we can’t trust, funnily I think magic offers you a safe place where you can suspend your disbelief without being fearing you’re going to be made to look stupid or ridiculed for believing something like that, and that’s a lovely thing for them.

D: Although I would also say, the advantage of our shows being narratives is that it has the thing that theatre has, which is to allow you to reflect on that after the moment, you don’t feel silly or duped but perhaps after that you go, “goodness actually, what does it take for someone to believe in something?” And actually, it was interesting we had the Church Times in to see us and actually they really liked us and gave us a lovely review and at one point the reviewer said, “and then my card turned up and at that point I could have believed in anything” and I thought, yeah, okay,

S: yep, next step…

D: keep going… Interestingly they picked up some other stuff… as support of there being trick magic and real magic.

S: That’s an interesting thing, we had a magician who came to see the show who tweeted and said a very lovely thing about the performances and the writing and the show, but then he said he was appalled, in capital letters, that we had revealed a few things. Now I stand by the fact that what we reveal is- it’s in the first chapter of Royal Road to Card Magic, you learn this on page 5. It’s in the first chapter. There’s nothing really beyond that. But also, and I hate saying this, we are in a sort of post-modern magic phase, where magicians don’t come out anymore and go “I’m real.” They don’t go, “I’ve been to Tibet and communed with spirits and therefore I’m able to do these marvelous things.”  It’s a much more “we as humans are fascinating people and I’m going to use psychology and suggestion and”

D: or, or, you’ve actually got to be, if you want to say you’ve been to Tibet and done stuff, you’ve got to work out a way in a narrative to make that plausible. Which I think is what we’re doing, with Hugo Cedar, and Jack Brown in a funny way. Although we don’t quite answer the question- I’d like in the next version of The Extinction Event to answer how Jack Brown got his powers. Just to go back to the question as well, some people do take it as wonder and a release from the kind of fake news world, but some people look at it as a kind of puzzle. And there’s a lot of people who can’t enjoy magic unless they think they’ve worked out how it’s done. And then, one of the things that The Vanishing Man offers is that sense of “oh, we’re telling you.” But we really don’t tell you how it’s done, we tell you how I think two tricks are done? But

S: there’s this bit at the end of The Vanishing Man that, I always get the sense when I do it, that, I always get a sense that there’s a portion of the audience that, the penny drops immediately and they’re like ‘I know how he’s doing it’ and in my head I’m always delighted that I’m going to reveal that in three minutes time. And you think as soon as you leave you’re going to get to turn to your friend and go “oh it’s this” but before you get there I’m going to go, yup, it’s this, of course it is.

D: I think people like the idea of a puzzle, but again it’s like, with a good book or film or play, it’s a bit of a puzzle as well. Whatever I make, I don’t just want people to come out and go “well that was great, wasn’t it” and then just go to the pub and forget about it. I want people to go, “ooh, what was that, what did this bit mean to you?”

S: The difference I suppose, between a normal play and magic is that magic….I think you can see a play that’s not brilliant and still find things in it that are rewarding. I think if the magic is not good, if it’s not a puzzle enough to try and work out or not good enough technically to admire, or or not wonderful enough to wonder at, it doesn’t work. And it’s sort of all about the audience. And theatre is too, but magic is especially where we’re going “we know things.” I’ve talked about this before but it’s fascinating to see what relationship a magician creates with his audience, considering that it is a state of imbalance straight off. It’s someone on stage saying “I have secrets, you don’t have them, and because I have them and you don’t, I can do this stuff and you better be amazed by it.” Whereas the really good ones, and I do count Derren as the sort of height of this, do come out and go, ‘together we’ll do something amazing.’ And that what we’ve always tried to do, go “in this room today something amazing is going to happen if we all work together.”

D: It was fine, fine, we were fine, okay.

S: Next question

So what do you hope people walk away from these shows with? Especially from The Extinction Event, which is so packed with questions about human nature and potential?

S: Ooh, we want them to leave with… questions about human nature

D: and potential. It’s a funny one that, cause with The Extinction Event, I always had quite a strong polemic intention with that that was at odds with us finding a narrative that worked. So, when we were doing Vanishing Mankind, I was really struck by artificial intelligence, by how serious and groundbreaking and mindbogglingly catastrophic or changing for humanity this technology will be. When they do artificial general intelligence, so when a computer will be able to do the same functions as a mouse, so you put it in a situation it will be able to see what’s going on, or like a human child, be able to function in that environment, the moment it achieves that, which experts disagree on when exactly it will be, but all think will be within 100 years, when it will achieve that, they think it will be 90 minutes before it has improved to the point it will be superior in intelligence to the most intelligent human being who’s ever lived. And within another 90 minutes will be, for all intents and purposes, a god in terms of intelligence. And anything that is physically possible within the laws of nature will be possible, including, the discovery of all the laws of nature and the laws of physics. And that could happen, in 15 years time, a computer could turn us all into paperclips, or, we could create cyborgs, a version of humanity where we are essentially immortal. The great example I always think of is, you could use nanobots to replace white blood cells in the blood stream. Which would mean that you cure all diseases and have some Wolverine style healing powers and be pretty much be immortal. And you sort of go to people and be like “would you want that” and they go, “no, that’s scary”. And then you go “okay, say you’ve got terminal cancer. Would you want it?” and they go, “of course.” So when we started out, I really wanted that to be explicit. Almost give the audience the choice of: do you want to be superhumans or do you want to be extinct? Because you can’t stay the same.

S: The thing that I found fascinating from the human point of view that we are really scratching at in the show now is, one of the chapters in those books talks about the ability to upload a personality into a machine. Sort of go, you could plug yourself into a computer powerful enough and download all of your memories, everything you need, in a computer. But that’s the interesting thing what they all say is what will happen is you will die still, but there will be a copy of you there, to everyone else, that will be real, be you, it will be like you disappeared and reappeared there. But it won’t be. It’s the same thing with like teleportation, it’s not your matter, you are not transmitted, the make up of you is transmitted. The thing is that you died, and a thing is created that has the same memories, same voice, but it’s not you, it’s the Prestige thing.

D: It think one of our blurbs says “this is philosophy on a deadline” because you know, it’s the fundamental question of going, I can’t really know if either of you have a inner life that going on at all

S: but see that’s what’s interesting, we were talking about, with The Vanishing Man, the whole effect is ‘how do you as the audience know who this person is,’ if it’s David or if it’s Jack. And that’s how, I believe, we do make the man vanish at the end of the show, we cover him with a sheet and then he’s someone else totally different now. He’s not the person we thought he was, that person’s just gone, disappeared. So the idea of taking that, that scene of going so what would it take for you to convince me that you weren’t Jack but David, what would it take for any of us.

D: I’d be happy if people left The Extinction Event and read some of those books that we have.

S: They all look at the back don’t they, and I’m like ‘seriously, we don’t have time, just hold them up.’

D: Yeah I actually feel like if we had a proper residency kind of thing we could sell those books afterwords. It’s funny you ask that question actually because reflecting on it is, we spent the whole month trying to make the human narrative work , the story work, so I actually feel a bit disconnected from that initial intention. And maybe that’s okay. It’s also okay just to tell a story, it’s also a story about, it’s a pretty dark story about control in a relationship with someone becoming obsessed by their master I suppose. We talked about Jack sort of having Stockholm Syndrome, becoming unhinged. If you think about the reality of the stories we’re telling- again, spoilers, the story of The Vanishing Man is fucked up, you know, this man’s friend died and he has hired someone to play his dead friend and he’s made him go around being that dead friend for a long time, and won’t allow him to be anything else for the preservation of the trick. So the story is almost going ‘what do we do to each other?’ as well, and the idea that someone- the metaphor that I think is the strongest for the computer is: Jack wants to help Simon, and has understood the instruction from Simon that what he needs to do to help him is to be David and to improve all the time. Which is the sort of instruction you put into computers. So there was that paperclip example, which is: make a really good paperclip, constantly improve. Make as many paperclips as you can as efficiently as you can, and constantly improve. Those are the sort of instructions that get put in computer’s artificial intelligences. And the extrapolation at the end of that is you turn everything in the universe into a paper clip. And ours is: I am going to find a way so that you have David back. I think that’s satisfying as a human story- I do sometimes worried that it’s not explicit enough. I do worry that the metaphor is a bit subtle, but mayhaps that’s good. So yeah, good question. Great question. It’s fine.

There’s so much unpredictability in audience participation, have you gotten any memorably strange experiences from it?

S: The thing that’s happened at the Fringe a couple of times that I don’t remember happening before is that there’s a moment at the end of The Vanishing Man where we’ve found this audience member and we’ve told them their name is Max, and later on I go up to them David calls them Max again and I go “what’s your name” and they always say Max. And I go “no no no, what’s your real name” and they give their name, Jenny or whatever it is, and the purpose of that is to allow me narratively to go to David ‘you see,  you’re seeing things that aren’t there’ but just a few times they’ve gone, “no, it’s Max” “no, what’s your real name” “it’s Max” and they don’t let it go, and of course the great joy is if they do it then you can turn to the next person and go “well what about your name, it’s not Sally is it” “yeah, yeah it is” and they completely turn against me and don’t do what I tell them to anymore and that’s been fun. I don’t know quite what it means in the story, like, well if you are here then I don’t know where we are…

D: well it becomes me, it becomes my world

S: your fantasy and everyone is in it.

 

 

Editor’s note: We had to cut the interview down a bit because it’s quite long, but if you’re interested in the full transcript, please get in touch with us and we’ll send you a copy!

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