Jack Data – Lisa chats with Ruth Bell. (Theatre Interview)
Jack Data is playing at the 505 Theatre as part of their wonderful Fresh Works Program. You can grab your tickets here.
I had a wonderful time constructing my questions for Ruth Bell. This renewed interest in fembots (and now mascbots) is a writers fantasy of sci fi meets 1960’s spy thrillers. This new round of Stepford Wives tech males think is so revolutionary is being properly appropriated in 2018 by females placing orders for a male version – it seems as long as you have money, comodity is everywhere. Where will this lead us? Very few people can afford these sex robots, but perhaps they will be hired out in the future? But that seems to be tapping into an even older idea than the fembot. I was very grateful to get the chance to chat to Ruth Bell, writer and director of Jack Data, a wonderful new play exploring the idea of meeting parental expectations, intimacy with our technology and what it means to be human within the subject of the synthetic partner. The blurb for Jack Data reads like this:
As part of the Freshworks short, sharp season of experimental and new works at The Old 505 Theatre, Road Train Productions will present the Australian workJack Data.
Set in the not too distant future, the play opens on Alice’s thirty-first birthday when her overbearing mother presents her with Jack Data, a “perfect man” robot, with reproductive options.
At first Alice is horrified, but agrees to keep Jack soon after discovering that he cooks and cleans and “if you take off his shoe he turns into a Hoover”.
Jack Data is a comedic look into our future, to a time when robots become a viable substitute for human intimacy.
This play is not so much a cautionary tale about technology as a cautionary tale about human behaviour, and reminds us what it means to be human.
Ruth was kind enough to engage with my rather silly questions about the future of our relationship with synthetic humans, as they are referred to in Blade Runner. I found it difficult to restrict my questions, there was so much to say about this extremly interesting topic. Fortunately, Jack Data the play will address the key issues. Until that time, here is Ruth and I in an e-chat about the nature of theatre and the android.
LT: Do you think, in some ways, that theatre is the ‘live sex doll’ of reality? Isn’t all theatre a facsimile of The Real and therefore a synthetic approach to existence?
RB: I never thought of theatre as a ‘live sex doll’ of reality before but I suppose there are some similarities. But I think theatre serves to entertain and challenge us and make us mere mortals feel like we are not alone. That the struggles of the characters are struggles we all have within ourselves. Not that any of us are being given a ‘perfect man robot’ with reproductive options, yet but I think we can all relate at one time or another of our lives not living up to our own or our parents expectations.
LT: What characteristics did you focus on to move your actor from human to android? What are the key behaviours that allow us to recognize a difference between human and non-human? What is the difference between a human acting and a robot in action?
RB: In casting I was influenced heavily by films that had humanoids such as AI (2001), Ex Machina (2015) and Prometheus (2012) We were lucky to find Mathias Olofsson. Mathias reminded me a little of Jude Law and Michael Fassbender. Although he has been living in Australia for five years he is from Sweden and has a European accent which added a lovely contrast to the rest of the Australian cast. Jack also resembles a human so the differences were mostly subtle. Mathias is a great mime and physical actor so he came up with little subtle nuances that helped make him more robotic.
LT: Why do you think sex robots are necessary in a growing age of openness toward prostitution?
RB: I think it’s about control. Even if you are paying someone to have sex with you, you can’t control them. It’s also about choice and being able to customize a robot to suit people’s preferences and needs. When I was writing this play I read an article about this company where customers could chose their robots eyes and hair colour and breast size. Apparently there are 42 different nipple options!
LT: If sex robots are possible are actor robots possible? What would it be like to direct a play of humanoid robots programed to act precisely, fulfilling your vision of a play you had written? What about a synthetic audience?
RB: I think one of the wonderful things about putting on a play with human actors is the collaborative process. I don’t know if you would get that with robot actors. I think when you write a play you have a vision but in the rehearsal process this vision has been enhanced greatly by what the actors have bought to the production.
LT: Are sex-humanoids ideology without desire? They are political and ideological (they are a function of an idea) but they can’t desire. Do you think it is enough for a humanoid to be able to convince us it has desires?
RB: That’s an interesting question. I think it depends on the individual and perhaps the power of their imagination. Jack Data does have desires they have just been programmed into him, but they are still his. Jack has an innocence to him and at times in the play romanticizes the idea of being human.