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Nineties present 'To Be Continued', a bold AI-powered theatre production

STIR explores Dutch theatre collective Nineties' intriguing offering that examines our relationship with technology and time.

by Manu SharmaPublished on : Oct 04, 2023

Earlier in 2023, the Dutch contemporary theatre collective Nineties presented To Be Continued, which was a unique audiovisual production: there were no human actors and the production instead starred digital technology in the form of an artificial intelligence (AI) powered chatbot. Once audiences purchased their tickets, they could begin engaging with the bot over the messaging app Telegram, which served as their guide, and led them to and through the production. The piece sought to explore how digitisation and technology affect our temporal perception through an on-site performance. In order to achieve this, Nineties collaborated with the video artist Noortje van den Eijnde, better known as Noralie, along with the Amsterdam-based design studio Moniker, and the musician and producer Philipp Thimm.

Audiences view Nineties’ installation, 2023 | Nineties | To Be Continued | STIRworld
Audiences view Nineties’ installation, 2023 Image: Courtesy of Nineties, and Jitske Nap

This production is a big first for Nineties: it enables various aspects of digital technology to take centrestage, as the AI at the heart of the performance attempts to untangle the meaning of the “present”, utilising and over utilising its digital faculties such that it begins to glitch out. Noralie says that engaging with To Be Continued can feel as though one has entered an altered state of sorts.

Noralie discusses her creative approach for To Be Continued, 2023 Video: Courtesy of Nineties

Noralie, for her part, developed the visual aspects of the production, which certainly would not feel out of place in an electronic gig. This is unsurprising as she herself is a VJ, and has worked extensively within the electronic music scene. In a video interview with STIR, the artist explores her approach to the project, telling us that she took visual indicators of measurable time and gradually abstracted them, finally presenting them through the site-specific installation art piece that To Be Continued's chatbot funnels audiences towards.

An audience member views Nineties’ installation, 2023 | Nineties | To Be Continued | STIRworld
An audience member views Nineties’ installation, 2023 Image: Courtesy of Nineties, and Jitske Nap

The artist pursued illustration at St. Joost School of Art and Design in 's-Hertogenbosch in the Netherlands, after which she participated in the VjAcademy, Amsterdam, and then plunged into the world of live visuals and video mapping. This professional path would take her all over the Netherlands, and saw her collaborating with several entities within and beyond the music and concert spaces. Besides To Be Continued, some of Noralie’s recent projects combining art and technology include creating light projections on the former V&D building in Amsterdam, once used by the Dutch supermarket chain Vroom and Dreesmann; and the Tilburg Kermis in Tilburg, a massive fair with a history that goes back over four and a half centuries.

Moniker in conversation with the chatbot, 2023 Video: Courtesy of Nineties

Moniker is run by Luna Maurer and Roel Wouters, who founded it in 2012 to service the interactive design needs of a wide variety of clientele across sectors, through a bevy of mediums including phygital installation, digital art, print and video. Moniker has worked with names such as Google, Apple, the Mozilla Foundation and the Haus der Kulturen der Welt, which is a centre in Germany that hosts exhibitions and conversations focusing on contemporary art.

Noralie in conversation with the chatbot, 2023 Video: Courtesy of Nineties

In addition to client work, the studio also undertakes projects that highlight the tryst between technology and modern living, along with the various consequences that facets of technology such as AI art entail for human society. They were responsible for training the AI model in To Be Continued and can be seen in a promotional clip, engaging with it in an almost parental manner. In another clip, the bot discusses the essence of time with Noralie, prompting a rather evocative response from the digital artist.

Creatives that worked on ‘To Be Continued’, in front of the installation, 2023, Nineties | To Be Continued | STIRworld
Creatives that worked on To Be Continued, in front of the installation, 2023 Image: Courtesy of Nineties, and Jitske Nap

To Be Continued prompts audiences to explore and reassess their relationship with time and technology, and does this in a manner that is pathbreaking for performance formats. Nineties and the other artists and designers who worked on this project have created a memorable experience for all who will engage with the charming bot and the art installation that it centres around. It remains to be seen whether or not the production will set a precedent for theatrical performances moving forward, but in the meantime, the project is on tour across the Netherlands, set to undertake a total of 180 shows.

To Be Continued is currently on show at Het Nationale Theater in The Hague until October 7, 2023, and will be shown at Uncloud festival in Utrecht from October 12-15, 2023.

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