Adelaide Festival Review: Sex, Death – and the Internet

Sex and death_and the internet It requires an uncommon dose of courage.

Setup is direct. Audience members arrive and listen to a short audio recording before they are escorted to a dark, private room where the computer is waiting. Through the unfathomable magic of bytes and internet signals, participants connect with a non-professional artist – someone in their 70s – who organizes an intimate conversation guided by a series of personal questions chosen from a virtual deck of cards.

The uncomplicated hypothesis is deceptive. For audiences accustomed to passivity in artistic experiences, asking for a contribution, especially in an honest and revealing way, is a challenge.

The same certainly applies to performers. As they rehearsed and questioned the concept with the work’s author and director, Samara Hirsch, as they sat on each post, there is an element of uncertainty. As with any deep conversation, there is the potential for misunderstanding or – worse yet – disrespect.

This need for courage on both sides is deliberately reinforced by Hersch and the creative team. Taking the leap together connects the participant and the performer, paving the way for their shared weakness to transform into a sense of connection as questions and answers begin to be asked.

These moving actions are quietly behind us Sex and death_and the internet Success. It’s tempting to look at the experience and assume that the artist has also built up courage by ceding control of their work to an outsider and unprofessional. But in fact, Hirsch’s hand is gently present at every turn.

From the introductory audio recording, which shows children reflecting on the aging process and how time distinguishes them from their former selves, Hirsch takes charge of the experiment. These insights guide the audience to interact with the larger themes of the work before they meet their performing counterpart.

Hirsch realizes the enormity of the embarrassing barrier she faces in bringing two strangers together, particularly through a virtual medium. It navigates this through a carefully designed set of rules. These hands-on instructions insist that the performer and participant take turns asking each other questions, eliminating the possibility of shyness or verbosity to balance out the experience.

Question formulation is where Hirsch is at its strongest. Each strikes a delicate balance. Ostensibly around life’s big themes, such as sex, love, death, family, and regret, they are also coded to make it easier to think about social norms and progress. This discussion is where the intersection of generations comes to the fore – the participant and performer can learn from each other’s perspective in a space where empathetic listening feels delightfully obligatory.

It removes the burden of social compliments

The downside to structured conversation is the inevitable limitations that it imposes. As the performer talks about their lives—about who and how they love, what they know about death, and the things they want to change about themselves—an organic curiosity erupts. The desire to question more ordinary topics, ask what kind of situation they grew up in, or follow up on answers with other questions, is quenched by the limitations of coordination. It’s hard to imagine a fail-safe way to get around this, but the result is a paradoxical sense of depth and superficiality at the same time. We are not social knowing nothing about a person except for their basic ideas, and the lack of context has a strange muting effect on the emotional intensity of the interaction.

This subtle, undulating but quiet stream of innovation is neither squandered nor spurred by the work environment. Outfitting the room itself, draped in dark curtains but featuring a crisp white platform leading to the computer desk, is an indecisive aesthetic. It’s neither entirely flowery nor entirely comfortable with the reflection of everyday life. The online interface is excellently functional and intuitive, and looks contemporary and relevant, but feels far from the business. The visual motifs do not speak to the nature of the experience, which may reflect the adaptive nature of this version of the work. Perhaps the personal iteration before COVID had a more standardized design.

It is also impossible to know if the coronation of the work would have had a greater impact in the original. It involves the participant reaching a depth of self-reflection, and then a process in which the performer reflects back on the participant’s visions. While it was still a moment drenched in kindness and care, the echo was softened by the practical, distracting aspects of it all.

Despite the climax, Sex and death_and the internet It still glows. Its strength lies in its ability to bring simplicity to the complexity of human interaction. It removes the burden of social pleasantries and leaves behind curiosity and gentleness, enabling two people who would not have spoken otherwise to truly see each other.

Sex, Death – and the Internet is shown at Union House at the University of Adelaide from March 9-20 as part of the Adelaide Festival.

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This article is supported by the Judith Nelson Institute for Journalism and Ideas.