Horizon is a one-on-one immersive theater piece where an audience member is asked a series of questions by a 15-year old to imagine their future 30 years from now in 2052. It ends up being a world building exercise where the audience has to create an imaginal future for the next generation, but it also works as a broader metaphor for the intergenerational legacy that will be inheriting by future generations.
I found it to be both very challenging and confronting to translate my thoughts about the deep future that we’re leaving behind in a way that was very specific to one individual. We often think about the future in broad generalizations rather than how they may impact an individual’s life, and being asked to imagine someone’s story in an one-on-one immersive theater conversation like this was very striking and powerful in a way that both landed for me in the moment, but also really stuck with me.
There was also a podcast version of a Horizon performance that was shown during a IDFA DocLab Planetarium screening where the 9-minute podcast version played over images of the Earth. This was also a really powerful translation of this piece that for me evoked aspects of the overview effect given the immersive qualities of a full-dome experience of looking at our home planet from a third-person perspective. I was given permission to air a five-minute excerpt of this podcast version of Horizon in this episode in order to provide a bit more extra context for what this performance felt like.
I was able to catch up with the co-directors Joeri Heegstra and Samir Veen of Open Statement to talk about their creative process, working with young actors, and all of the various rules they created in order to creating this provocative and confronting piece that has the potential to change the way we think about our collective future.
Heegstra & Veen are having the actors summarize the futures that they’re receiving from the audience, and are interesting in bringing this piece to other places around the world or collaborating with other productions. Reach out to them via their site with contact information that can be found here.
This is a listener-supported podcast through the Voices of VR Patreon.
[00:00:05.452] Kent Bye: The Voices of VR Podcast. Hello, my name is Kent Bye, and welcome to The Voices of VR Podcast. So this next piece that I saw at IFADocLab was a one-on-one immersive theater piece called Horizon, and you're in a discussion with a 15-year-old, and you're being asked to imagine their future 30 years from now. So in 2052, what is their life going to be like? And it was confronting, in a lot of ways, to go that far out and to be very specific as to what this individual's life is going to be like. It was also captured in the form of a podcast, and then it was shown in a planetarium context. And so, you're in a planetarium, you're looking at the Earth, kind of invoking this sense of an overview effect. And so I'm going to play an excerpt of the podcast to give you a bit of a flavor of what it was like of this conversation, one-on-one conversation with a 15-year-old where the person's being asked to kind of imagine this future. Then I'll go into a conversation with the co-directors of this piece to help unpack some of the other dynamics of this piece and how they went to the process of creating it. But first, let's listen to an excerpt of Horizon.
[00:01:19.680] Sara de Monchy: okay i'm walking through a door down some stairs and i've entered the gully of a boat and i look outside of one of the portholes and it's a really sunny day there's some nice floating water and then there's a girl standing there She looks about the same age as one of my friend's kids. So I'm going to guess around 14 or 15. And she's wearing much cooler clothes than me. Jeans and a cardigan.
[00:01:52.569] Luz Lipp: Hi, my name is Luz and we are going to imagine the future. You're here. Let's imagine. 2052. Will there still be humans in 2052?
[00:02:06.792] Sara de Monchy: I hope so, yes, I think so.
[00:02:08.332] Luz Lipp: And will I still be there?
[00:02:12.453] Sara de Monchy: I definitely think you'll still be there, yeah.
[00:02:14.054] Luz Lipp: Okay, that's nice.
[00:02:15.894] Sara de Monchy: And where will I be? Oh, I don't know. I mean, maybe you will be just like we are now on a boat. I don't know.
[00:02:24.096] Luz Lipp: Where is my boat?
[00:02:25.816] Sara de Monchy: Your boat is on the eye, you know, floating along.
[00:02:30.137] Luz Lipp: Yes, Amsterdam changed.
[00:02:31.875] Sara de Monchy: Yeah, Amsterdam has changed a lot. So your neighborhood is one of many, but there are more poor neighborhoods now, well outside where the ring used to be. And in those areas, people have had to move into semi-submerged or completely submerged accommodation underwater, potentially.
[00:02:52.265] Luz Lipp: Is it like a city, like a real city underwater, so they don't really leave it?
[00:02:56.334] Sara de Monchy: Yeah, sometimes I think of it like another neighborhood, but underground. But there's not much daylight, so it's all artificial light.
[00:03:04.576] Luz Lipp: It's like a tunnel.
[00:03:06.297] Sara de Monchy: Yeah, exactly. And there's big controversy because some people feel human beings shouldn't be living like this, but that's the reality.
[00:03:14.579] Luz Lipp: And are they big, the houses?
[00:03:16.180] Sara de Monchy: No, they're very small.
[00:03:23.082] Luz Lipp: Am I ever scared?
[00:03:24.478] Sara de Monchy: Yeah, I think so. Where humanity is going, and you're probably scared about the bigger world and societies. It's probably something you think about every day.
[00:03:36.547] Luz Lipp: And Ron and I, do we have any children?
[00:03:39.429] Sara de Monchy: No, but that was your decision.
[00:03:41.470] Luz Lipp: And why did I decide this?
[00:03:43.432] Sara de Monchy: You decided that because you were worried about what their life would be like in this world.
[00:03:53.051] Luz Lipp: So do you think I will be happy?
[00:03:58.176] Sara de Monchy: Only occasionally.
[00:03:58.997] Luz Lipp: Okay, what do you mean by that?
[00:04:02.441] Sara de Monchy: I think life is really hard in the real world and in your metaverse chip world it's okay but you know it's not real, fully real.
[00:04:12.672] Luz Lipp: Is my life relatively good or relatively bad?
[00:04:17.705] Sara de Monchy: That's a really hard thing to answer. Maybe it's good in the fact that you're alive and you can find some happiness. So relatively, it's good, but it's pretty bad compared to 2022.
[00:04:28.989] Luz Lipp: Yeah. Am I aware of this fact?
[00:04:33.290] Sara de Monchy: Yeah, you live through both. So maybe you're remembering a time that was better.
[00:04:42.640] Luz Lipp: The world that you just have created, is it the world that you hope that's going to happen or you think that's going to happen?
[00:04:48.683] Sara de Monchy: I think, not hope. I would hate for it to become real. Definitely.
[00:04:55.866] Luz Lipp: And in 2052, will you still be there?
[00:05:01.149] Sara de Monchy: Oh, me? Okay. I will still be here, yeah, I think so.
[00:05:04.730] Luz Lipp: Okay. And will your life be relatively good or relatively bad compared to mine?
[00:05:11.382] Sara de Monchy: It won't be as good as yours. You're famous, but it will be okay. It'll be nice. I don't have children now, but maybe I have them then. They haven't left home yet.
[00:05:21.230] Luz Lipp: Okay. And where will you be?
[00:05:23.132] Sara de Monchy: Maybe I'll be in the same apartment block I'm in now because I was lucky enough to get it in the good times. So I'm just in the same place.
[00:05:31.038] Luz Lipp: Oh, so my life changed a lot more in 30 years than yours.
[00:05:35.562] Sara de Monchy: Maybe. Yes. I think so. Yeah.
[00:05:40.910] Kent Bye: That gives you a bit of a flavor of what the 101 Immersive Theater piece of Horizon was like. That was a podcast excerpt that was produced by podcast maker Sarah DeMonchi. The young actress featured there was named Loose Lip. This overall piece was made by the theater company of Open Statement and the co-directors of Uri Ekstra and Samir Vain. I had a chance to talk to them more about this process. This was a piece that really stuck with me. There is something about having a one-on-one conversation that is able to bring about all this agency and what is the connection to this imaginal space of trying to imagine potential futures and also the stories that we're actually living out and our actions and our behaviors and the ways that our collective behaviors are actually creating the future for this next generation. This piece is actually working on a lot of different levels. It just got me really thinking, and being confronted in this way actually led me to wanting to investigate these questions more. What are the different stories that we're going to be telling about the future? So that's what we're coming on today's episode of the voices of your podcast So this interview with Yuri and Samir happened on Saturday, November 12th 2022 at the if a doc lab and Amsterdam Netherlands so with that let's go ahead and Dive right in
[00:06:57.403] Joeri Heegstra: My name is Joeri Heegstra. I'm a director and I directed Horizon, which is being shown right now at ITVA Docklab, which is an interactive experience for one person and one 15-year-old.
[00:07:13.363] Samir Veen: Hi, my name is Samir Veen. I'm 33 years old. Together with Jury we are Opening Statement, which is a theatre collective and I co-directed Horizon and I'm a creative producer. We mostly did everything with the two of us.
[00:07:28.518] Kent Bye: Okay, yeah, maybe you could give a bit more context as to your background and your journey into creating these types of theatrical pieces.
[00:07:35.164] Joeri Heegstra: So we both studied together at Maastricht Theatre Academy, where we graduated in 2016. And from there, we worked together on a couple of different projects, but we also worked together with Onderroond Goed, where we were first introduced to interactive theatrical experiences. So there we got a lot of experience as actors. But a couple of years ago we started Opening Statements Theatre Collective, where we made a couple of more traditional theatre shows, but have now also created, for example, Horizon. Last year we were working on an interactive game with Theater Utrecht.
[00:08:20.847] Samir Veen: Yeah, because we were both trained at Maastricht. It used to be a really classical school, so it's really focused on your voice and your body as a performer for the stage. And then they started this sort of new arts part where you still get trained as a classical actor, but with like a broad focus on different sort of arts, performance art or interactive theater or fine arts or digital arts. And that's also where we met Alexander de Vriend from Ontro & Goed, which we worked as an actor but also as separately also co-created something or worked under them or with them as a creator for some of their pieces. And I think both of us, because we were already really good friends at the Academy, I've always really been into gaming and digital arts and contemporary art and I've always had this hunger and eager to see whatever is possible in the way of storytelling with for example gaming because for myself I already experienced like If I can be really into a story of a game, even if the story is in itself only half as good as a good story for film, but just the fact that I'm a part of it or having some kind of agency in it makes me connect with it in such a strong way that I've always had the feeling that there's a huge scope of possibility there to have the audience really interact with themes of whatever you're trying to say or that's a really strong way to communicate a message. And I think that's something we always shared. And sometimes we use that in our work and sometimes not. There's a really curiousness about the possibilities there, I think we always have.
[00:10:02.087] Kent Bye: Yeah, maybe you could give a bit more context as to how Horizon came about and how you developed this idea to have this conversation with a 15-year-old to have these conversations about the future with audiences here at IFA DocLab.
[00:10:17.191] Samir Veen: So the idea definitely started with you.
[00:10:21.154] Joeri Heegstra: There was a show like a monologue I made last year in 2021 with an 18 year old climate activist who performed a monologue and then after that show there was someone from the warming up festival who really liked the show but wanted to give an opportunity or give space to think of a concept where it becomes more confronting for the audience because in some way it also connects to what Samir just said. Sometimes sitting in an audience and watching something is also safe in a way. There's a degree of intensity that you can only really get when something's interactive or something's actually being asked of you as an audience member. So that idea turned into a pilot version for Horizon, which was a very much shorter experience with also an 18-year-old performer. After which Simone Hoogdijk from Over het IJfeerder Festival, she saw the test performance and she asked us to expand on it and create like a bigger version of it for the festival. So that's like practically how it came about. And then the idea artistically was that because the climate crisis is so big, it's very hard to imagine what its impacts are really going to be in the day-to-day life that we're living. It's something that's, for a lot of people, very abstract. And in thinking about the future, you hit a wall where it kind of becomes impossible to really think about. Because either you're thinking about the world in its totality, which is much too large to hold in your head at one given point, or you try to imagine your own future. But I think that's really difficult because you know too much about yourself. You know there's way too many variables that you know of. And so the idea of trying to imagine what the world will look like in 30 years for someone who is 15 years old and has had no real impact on the world yet, but is just at the age where they're comprehending the world and having to make the decisions that will shape their lives. felt like a really good avenue to be able to confront audience members with how they actually think the future will be because they're able to project it onto not a completely blank slate but something that's pretty close. Someone that they don't know but is going to have to live in the future that's they decide for them, both in a literal sense in the way that the audience decides for the performer in the show, but also, well, it's also another literal sense that audience members are people who generally have a lot more agency in this world than the performers who are only 15 years old. So the idea that the audience decides the world that the 15-year-old is going to live in is doubly true.
[00:13:20.307] Samir Veen: No, I don't think I have anything to add to that. That was a really good explanation.
[00:13:26.078] Kent Bye: So I'm 46 years old and I had a performance with an actor who was 15 years old and so I'm being asked to think about the future in 2052 when this 15 year old is going to be 45 and I'm 46 and so I'm the age at which I'm projecting back and so it was here I am projecting out to the future where this 15 year old is going to be in the future and I'm being asked to expand and extrapolate all these questions about what is the world going to look like. And so I found myself having a foot grounded into sort of a catastrophizing realism about the projection of what things are going to be like while also trying to hold at least some level of potential future where things are optimistic or maybe there's a contraction and expansion. So I found myself kind of in this dual spot of trying to be like, well, if things don't change and they extrapolate out into the future, here's what the world's going to look like. But it was this confronting moments where it was like a number of times where even the subtle aspects of language of the world that you have provided to me, what is this world going to look like that you have created? And it was sort of like this moment of being confronted with some of those points where I was like, oh, well, it wasn't just me. It was like everybody. But being directed to me as an individual as I'm speaking to this 15 year old. So I'd love to hear a little bit about how you were constructing this and guiding these 15 year olds to frame some of these confrontations.
[00:14:49.892] Samir Veen: I think so in the most basic sense what the show is there's this almost cliche which is also true that the generation now is creating the world for the next generation so in the most basic sense the idea for the show is okay if the generation now is creating that world then let the generation now tell the next generation what the world is that they will inherit because it happens but there's not really like an actual conversation about that So I think what you were describing, that is really what we envisioned. And then also you had the luck that you're exactly the age that they will be in 30 years. As to your question about how we directed them, we really trained. So we started off, they know what the concept was. You ask these questions, they have to envision a future for you and then we're going to reflect on that. So we started off with the first part, ask questions about what the world is going to be. and we have some sort of script with questions, but the most important part for them is that they have a set of about 20 or 30 rules, which is the sort of play rules for the performance, which is, for example, one of the most important ones, that they always should be trying to force the audience member in making it really specific, because that is also where you are forced as an audience member to go away from the safety, because it is in a way, like Joeri just said, very safe to talk about the world in a broad sense. there will be floods and floods will cause people to die, but a lot of people will survive and they will still have a nice life. But then if the performer says, okay, so I'm from Amsterdam, is Amsterdam also flooded? Yeah, yeah, probably it will. And did people die? Yes, also in Amsterdam. Did I know people that die? Then it becomes like really personal and specific, which is something we really always train them on. And we were really blessed with a really amazing cast. We are still both proud and also really astonished by how good they are. We recorded a conversation for a sort of podcast that someone else is making and I was listening back to it and I was really astonished. 16 year old is just like doing all these things I didn't even notice while listening the first time like how smart she is to turn it always back to her without it feeling forced or actual questions that are there written down in the script finding a way to ask that question that it seems so obvious to be just like it is the next question that is just on the top of their head. And so we were really blessed with finding six very talented, really good 15 year old actors. And then we trained them just repeating these things and practicing with them. How do you get it personal? How do you get a question in there? And sometimes stopping during the show. They did a lot with us and a lot with test audience. And sometimes we would just break in and say, this would be a really good moment to ask this question and then see if they understand why. And often it would be, oh, yes, of course. And just practicing that and getting this routine in, that's really how we trained them, I think, with having both this openness. to just run with the show however they like because we told them you have full agency it's totally up to you once you start there's nothing we can do. I think during one of the first rehearsals Joeri said to them so even if we find out afterwards that you've just been beatboxing for 30 minutes that's up to you there's nothing we can do about it so if you really feel like that is the best thing to do go with it and then afterwards we can talk about it and maybe find out like next time I'm gonna try the questions again. So they really have this openness and they're selfless agency and then we really trained them into all the possibilities and practicing and practicing how they can use that agency to get the focus and get the feeling of what we envisioned the show to be.
[00:18:38.833] Joeri Heegstra: Yeah, so what Samir said, the openness, that's the most important thing when playing the show. Both the audience and the performer should both forget that there's a script. And it's also very important, that sense of agency also makes that they don't feel like that there's not a third eye also watching over them or like that they're thinking, am I doing it right? I'm really glad that we've, from the moment that we've performed, they're really past that because that's the only way they can really be in the moment with the audience, which works both ways. Because if the performer is open, then the audience is open as well. And also, I think one important thing that we also really, Amartan, is that you can follow up on every single question. Because there is nothing that's a given in thinking about the future. That's also, of course, with the effects of the climate crisis. The world is going to change. And you can't just say, everything will be the same as it is now. That's an impossibility. We already know that. In every single question, there's something that you can follow up on or pick apart.
[00:19:52.007] Kent Bye: One of the things that I had come up again and again was the direction of like, this is really your world to create. You have the agency for whatever you imagine is going to be my future. So I felt like in some ways, this was a world building exercise for me to imagine this future, iterating the fact that my generation and generation older is that we have the agency to create the world that we live in. And what is the legacy that we're giving over to the next generation? So I guess the challenging part for me was that I'm just meeting this person. I have no idea anything about this person. This person asked me to project out all these intimate details about what the career is going to be, what the life situation is like. I found that sometimes hard because I was like, well, I don't know. What do you want? She's like, it doesn't matter what I want. This is a world that you're creating for me. And so I felt like in some ways I was the god that was creating this world, but not having enough information to help design that world for her personally, but also just the larger context of what the world is going to be. I felt like it was easier to kind of imagine that broad strokes what the world was going to be rather than what the specific life was going to be like. Asking me whether or not she's going to have kids or not. It's like, I don't know, do you want to have kids? And she's like, no, this is up to you for you to decide. And it's like, okay. So I felt that was like the one part that was challenging for me at least is to have this person that I don't know anything about to then kind of imagine all these specific things. But I think generally it came back to this world building exercise to try to imagine this future that I'm trying to create for her.
[00:21:17.570] Samir Veen: And I think, so we get that back sometimes, and I think that's something we can also still improve in the show. The thing about you don't have the information if they want kids or not, generally that doesn't matter. Because what matters is that when you envision the future for them, you have to make it specific, or we want the audience to make it specific, so that we can reflect on what the specific impact of the changing world is for a general life so it's not about envisioning a future for that specific person whether they want to have kids or not but just if you give that 15 year old kids in the future what having kids in the future means so in that way the kids are really like a blank slate we also don't want the audience to have any information so that they can project whatever they want on that future life, but then you have to start to reflect on whatever life you came up with, what the impact is of that.
[00:22:19.575] Kent Bye: There's a certain element there of like fate and free will, what is going to be predestined versus whether they're going to have agency. And I think in some ways it was like taking away their agency and the fatedness of their life was being put into my hands. And I think that's another echo of that.
[00:22:34.306] Joeri Heegstra: Yeah. And I also think that's also true in a large sense, in that large groups of people are deciding what the lives of people are going to be like that they don't know, that they don't have any information about. But it's the thing we ask of the audience, it's on a fine line between asking people to imagine and trust their imagination rather than their logical reasoning skills, because you don't know, like you said, you don't know anything about this 15-year-old, But also not having it be free of consequence So it's also important that as the audience you don't feel to this 15 year old it's inconsequential what I think of so I might as well just make her a hologram and Like we all live on Mars even though that's something that I really don't believe but might just be a fun world-building exercise so it does need to have that weight without having that weight paralyze you as an audience member. And that's also the spectrum I think that the show is in.
[00:23:36.018] Kent Bye: Yeah, being the age that they're going to be in 30 years puts me in a position of reflecting how I've seen aspects of the world change in the last 30 years. I live in the Pacific Northwest now and there's just been a lot of forest fires in that region and days you go outside and it's like the air quality index is so high that you have to wear a mask or not even go outside because it's so smoky because of the ecological changes in that region. And so having to articulate the amount of opportunities and potentials that I have at this age versus the amount of constrained potentials that the future generations are going to have, and then being forced to be in a position to say, this is the future that we're giving you. And through the questions that I'm being asked, reckoning with, okay, this is the reality of what things look like, I want to be a little bit optimistic that maybe things will change. But just having to imagine that there will be a more constrained future versus like one that may be opening up and maybe there will be a point where it inflects out and there'll be more possibilities. But at this point, until there's a drastic change, then it had me think, OK, well, what are those big turning points of what is going to have to change? It's like a big shift in collective consciousness, a big change in how we're acting and our behaviors. And so I guess that's what I'm left with as I'm coming away from this piece. But there was this moment near the end where there was kind of a recounting of the future that I was articulating. Love to hear a little bit about what you are doing with those little narrative chunks because that seems to be a pretty provocative one of the outcomes of this experience.
[00:25:04.613] Samir Veen: So what we notice is that I think about 70% of people envision more or less negative future or a world that is less comfortable than the world we live in now or less equal or less livable. But pretty much all of them give the teenager that is standing in front of them a life that is by chance or by choice relatively good. So the world kind of sucks and there are a lot of forest fires, but you were lucky that you bought a house when it was cheap, but the house turned out to be really fire resistant. So you're fine. Which is very logical because you want someone to have a good life and you can also really easily imagine how you can turn out to be lucky. And you can also really easily imagine that in a more negative world it's still possible to be happy. But with that realization of a worse world where you are relatively well off, Well, the majority of the people are going to be relatively worse off than people are now, because otherwise it wouldn't be a relatively worse world. So that's one thing we really noticed and also I think something we, or at least I, learned about. It was something I hadn't really thought about before making this show. It sounds logical that humans work in that way, but it was also a realization for me at least. So we're asking all the actors to write down a summary of what their life is in 30 years after each show. So we are building this sort of backlog of about 80 futures we have now and the more we play the show the larger that documentation will grow and the more information we get also maybe how that changes through time if we play it for multiple years or changes throughout the world or for whatever the location that we're playing the show really makes an impact and also the background what the age and country of origin from the visitor changes a lot. So I think the more that we play the more documentation we have and the more we start to notice things that people do.
[00:27:09.049] Kent Bye: Yeah, there was a bit of a twist at the end. I don't know if you want to talk about that part or leave it a mystery. I was a little bit taken aback in terms of what that experience was like for me reflecting on things that I had said, but also the broader context of what was happening here.
[00:27:24.156] Samir Veen: So yeah, if you don't want to talk about that, that's fine.
[00:27:27.237] Joeri Heegstra: Do we want to spoil it?
[00:27:29.256] Samir Veen: So maybe if you're planning on visiting the show then you should skip forward about two minutes right now.
[00:27:37.344] Joeri Heegstra: So what we do there is at some point the performance is done or at least you think the performance is done and then the performer you've just spent 30 minutes thinking of this whole life. takes you to another place, a different place, where you see the next performer standing in the space you were just standing yourself, getting ready to perform the show again. And you're asked to stand on a specific spot, and you're given headphones, you put on the headphones, and you see the next audience member joining the performer. And you start to hear the beginning of the next show. So you hear the opening text and then you hear a little bit of the first conversation. If there's still going to be people in 2052, if the performers still going to be there, where they will live. And then after one or two minutes of the next show, your headphones get taken off and that's the end of the performance. So you're kind of roped into the start of the next future, the next vision for a different performer, a different audience member, just long enough to get the feel for what this kind of future might be like, if it's going to be optimistic, pessimistic, if it's going to resemble yours, or not, to give the audience the feeling of every single person has a future, whether it's the one that they're going to be living in or the one they're thinking up right now here in the show. We hope it really opens the door to make Horizon less of a completely individual experience. And also, like what you said, it's a chance to give the audience a little bit of a jolt to reflect on, oh, what have I actually been saying? What have I actually been thinking? Because when you're standing there and you're listening in to the next performer and the next visitor, People also think, ah, someone else was listening to me in the beginning. So you become part of this chain of future thinkers that came before you and will come after you.
[00:29:49.010] Samir Veen: I think there's this moment of realization that is very common and people can relate to that you're sitting on a bus or a train which is busy and you maybe have problems at work or in your love life or in your relationship or with your children or your parents and you're thinking about it and you have all these emotions and feelings and you're struggling with them and you're really like focused on yourself and trying to figure that out and then at a certain moment you look up and you see the faces of 150 people and then you suddenly realize like oh every one of those people has all these feelings all the time everywhere around the world. And that creates a sort of empathy towards the world and also this feeling of unity of humanity, something like that. I think a lot of people can recognize this moment. I'm just looking at you two, we all have that moment sometimes, right? I think that we are focusing on one life in the future, so we really just wanted to open that door to give the audience member a big opportunity to have that moment of realization. Like, oh, the world I just created now, someone is relatively good off in a future that is relatively bad, that is good for that one person, but then every single person in that future world is going to be having a specific situation where they are either happy or not happy. And if that world is relatively worse than it is now, then a lot of those futures are going to be bad.
[00:31:16.816] Kent Bye: Yeah, it was a bit of a shocking moment for me to recognize that whatever conversation I might have had was recorded and being broadcast live to another person who was listening in.
[00:31:26.964] Samir Veen: It's not recorded, just to be sure. No, because also we do want not... It's okay, I think, if people feel like, oh, maybe someone's listening to me, but we don't really want to feel them betrayed or unsafe or something. So that's why we also don't record it and we take the headphones away from the audience about at the moment that it starts to become personal. So the first question is really about the world. Are humans still alive? Where are they living in the world? Are there still cities? Do they live near the sea or in the mountains? And then how about me? Where do I live? That is about the moment we take off the headphones. So that you know the questions that people are listening into aren't really the personal or sensitive questions. And also we don't record it. So it's just they wear a mic and it's broadcast live to these two headphones and that's it. So that there's still this sense of safety for the audience. It's not like people are secretly listening in to your personal, your really personal feelings.
[00:32:29.230] Kent Bye: Some of that wasn't made exactly clear as to what was happening to that, so there was a little bit of unsettledness in terms of having an intimate one-on-one performance but then realizing that there were parts of that that were being broadcast live. But I understand having the impact of listening to the next person making me reflect upon what I had said in a way that I guess was made a little bit more accountable because I could have gone up there and said a number of things that for me it was a little bit of like okay I want to imagine a future but then I found myself again and again having to like project out from where things are at now and then almost create an imaginal history from where things are at in the future but that imaginal future that imaginal history has also got these different potentials and so there's the positive more exalted potential and then the more catastrophizing negative potential and so I found myself trying to balance like, okay, here is a constrained future, here is the potentials, and here is an alternative history about what that must have happened in order to get to that point. So then having to kind of reconstruct each of those steps of like, okay, well, in order to actually get there in 30 years, how much is culture gonna have to really shift? And so I found myself having to think out loud in terms of what that imaginal history was in order to get to that point 30 years from now. So that was a really interesting world building exercise, but to be in conversation with someone like talking about the legacy that we are all collectively are leaving for this next generation. So yeah, I found like that intergenerational discussion and process of world building and imagining those potential futures and constructing those imaginal histories was a real provocation.
[00:34:05.199] Samir Veen: I think there are two, like in a broad sense, two types of audience members. There's the bottom-up approach, what you just described, like okay so what's the situation now and what are possible future steps and what is that going to entail for the future and maybe the outcome would be such and such which would make your life in a certain way. And then there's also the top-down visitor who just imagines a future, just runs off with it and then only at the questions that get back to them, how did we get there and how did the world change, start to think back like, oh if I am envisioning that future, how did that future come about? And then if it's a really negative future, When retracing those steps, then starting to realize, oh, if that's a negative future and now I have to imagine how that future came about. So those are the steps that we have to avoid or if it's already past the future. Oh, so maybe those could be possible steps that we as a collective humankind, which is huge. have to do. So yeah, I think what you were describing is really like a really typical consciousness that visitors have in our show.
[00:35:10.316] Joeri Heegstra: I think that for the performers it's often a matter of trying to get the audience members who answer intuitively to ask them the rational questions and trying to get the people who approach it more like the bottom-up rational way of thinking try and get them to be more intuitive. because I think ideally there's a good balance between the two in the show.
[00:35:35.794] Kent Bye: What has been some of the reactions either for the young actors that you have that are doing this experience with these older generations or the people who go through the experience, what their feedback is or what their reactions are to this piece?
[00:35:49.497] Joeri Heegstra: Well, it's really nice to see that the performers really enjoy doing it. even though a lot of the times the futures that are imagined for them are, in general sense, either pretty grim or pretty grim with a tiny carve-out for their good life. But they really enjoy it, which I also think is testament to their ability to perform it so well and so open. Before we started rehearsing we were not necessarily scared but we were thinking that it might be emotionally heavy for them because having people think of your life in light of the climate crisis isn't necessarily the most jolly material. But I'm really glad that that hasn't really happened, that they really become personally affected by the show. It's something that they can do, perform, then reflect on and leave behind them as well, which is really great. And then what we said before about the performers having agency is also something that we get back from them a lot, so that's great. And then audience, it differs, but a lot of really, I'm not necessarily, I was going to say positive, but it's more people who feel challenged in a good way or confronted in a good way by the piece.
[00:37:09.493] Samir Veen: I think the ending creates a lot of emotion often. Because that is the moment that often people are just fantasizing a world or imagining a world and then they're standing there and they see a different person coming up and sometimes they instantly talk about the huge problems of the world and sometimes it gets really reflective, creates a strong emotion in people. Also, sometimes people just thought it was really fun. We had that reaction as well. I think my stepmother was there, and she's a little bit older, and she's generally really positive about the future, really positive about the world. And she's really like, yeah, there have always been problems in the world with class or wealth or climate, and people always found a way to solve them. In other words, if we look at the time, the world is always slightly better and better off. Yeah, the future is going to be great for everybody. And she was really like, yeah, it was really fun to tell the next generation that they're going to have a great life because they get scared all the time. But it's not true. So it's a really broad range of emotional reactions we get from people.
[00:38:15.995] Joeri Heegstra: And also some reaction that we get sometimes that I feel is really valuable is when people say that coming out of the performance they realize that they're not really thinking about the future in the way that they think they think about the future. So, for example, people who say, I thought I was really pessimistic, but there might be some hope left in me. Or the other way around, people saying, I thought I was pretty sure that everything's going to be all right, but now that I have to make it so specific, I'm not really sure if I believe that. And that, to me, is so valuable to get back from audience members, because it's It also shows that people are willing to be vulnerable in that sense and have the experience they've just had with the performers really able to challenge things they take as a given.
[00:39:15.271] Samir Veen: I think something we also noticed that I hadn't realized before is that most audience members, it's easier for them to envision a very changing future for the teenager standing in front of them than for themselves. At more of the end of the show, they ask this question, how about you? Are you still alive in 30 years? And well, most people think that they are and probably are still alive in 30 years. And then when they say yes, the teenager asks, where are you living? And then most of them say, probably still in the same place that I'm living now. And often it's still the same house. And often they still do the same job and are still together with the same person. So all these big factors in life for themselves, even after having envisioned this entirely different future for this person standing in front of them, when they envision themselves, they're like, I'm probably exactly the same as I am now. which also creates this moment of realization for them that then often they say that out loud or not they say like yeah well well that's really unrealistic to think that i will be exactly the same person in 30 years so there's also this possibility of yeah that moment of realization for the audience it's also something i realized about myself because i have the same feeling like yeah i'm gonna be still living in amsterdam probably gonna have the same girlfriend because i'm madly in love and I hope she is as well. So I'm also starting to realize like, oh yeah, it's really a realistic to be thinking about my own future in 30 years that it will still be the same as now.
[00:40:46.804] Kent Bye: There's something about being asked all these questions over the course of the performance and then having the moment where all of that is being translated into a first-person narrative, saying, here is my life, here I do this, and basically translating all these abstractions that I have down into this real embodied future of this one individual. taking those abstractions and a collective scale and putting it into one specific person. I think that taking something that is this level of abstraction and grounding it into that first-person narrative I think is also really effective of what you're doing with this piece because there is a lot of scientific numbers in terms of averages and what the geographic landscape is going to be with the rising sea level, all the stuff that is very abstract at a collective level, but to ground it down into a single person who's situated in a specific time and place and what their life is going to be like, I think is also something that was able to take the generalizations of the future and really ground it into one specific future.
[00:41:44.598] Samir Veen: Yeah, that really is the essence of the performance, I think. And this is also what we spent 60% of rehearsals on, to train them and practice with them. Because it's really easy to say, I think there are a lot of floods or forest fires, or I think there are a lot more poor people in the future, and they've become extremely skilled at constantly reflecting that back on themselves. So there are a lot of poor people. Am I poor? No, no, you're well off. So, okay. So do I know a lot of poor people? Yeah, probably we do. How about people I went to high school with? Are there some poor people? Am I still friends with them? So they've become really practiced because it's one thing to say, well, more people are going to be struggling and poor than to really make it really specific about what that entails for life. Even if you're not poor yourself, like maybe you lost friends from your youth and making it so specific makes it much more real and much less abstract and safe.
[00:42:43.545] Kent Bye: Awesome. And finally, what do you think the ultimate potential of these types of immersive theater performances and immersive entertainment might be and what it might be able to enable?
[00:43:01.312] Joeri Heegstra: So I think one of the things that these kinds of performances can do is by giving the audience agency and responsibility. If the piece is effective and works well, then the audience feels that agency and responsibility in real life as well. So I think that's the ultimate potential of these kinds of performances, is that in a nutshell, that when you walk out of Horizon, that three weeks later you're making a decision and like in the back of your head there's a tiny voice that says you're shaping the future and I don't think it makes people switch up their lives 180 degrees although maybe it could if someone's like I was thinking that my life was going to be the same for 30 years but I think that's not true existential crisis can happen. But for the most part, I think that these kinds of things are really effective in bringing that kind of real life agency into the theatrical space and then making that stick, if that's a clear answer.
[00:44:08.876] Samir Veen: Yeah, I'm a really strong believer in that art can change the world and that art does change the world. I think stories change the world all the time. So what that means for this show specifically or what that does mean for this type of art in general? What was the question?
[00:44:27.632] Kent Bye: So the ultimate potential for what these types of immersive art might be able to enable.
[00:44:34.959] Samir Veen: Yes, I think the ultimate potential about this kind of art is that because it's interactive, Stories and art are constantly changing the world by activating people or deactivating them or by changing their actions and changing their agency. And I think what is really the strong point of any interactive art, so interactive theater or gaming or VR or listening to a story while you're eating, is that by the fact of experiencing the art, you're already acting. So you're already being pulled into an agency. which makes the step of influencing the actions beyond the scope of the art itself, the day after or the hour after or a month later, make that step easier to take, I think. I think a lot of people about things they hear or experience, they talk about it with their family or their friends at the dinner table. And just that conversation often influences how people vision the world and how they act within it. And activating that action and agency is sometimes done most easiest in interactive art, I think.
[00:45:46.993] Joeri Heegstra: And I also think that imagination is also the basis of action. What you said earlier about the big changes that we would need to implement in society or that would need to be implemented in the world in order to make sure that the climate crisis doesn't reach its most destructive form, needs to be also via collective imagination. Because so many of the things that also cause the future to be as it is, our collective imagination. Like the economy is also a collective imagination. Democracy is a collective imagination. So all of these things are already being imagined all of the time, but the nations are a collective imagination. And these things are already being imagined all of the time, but the scope we have for that imagination is very limited because it's mostly just what's already there. So trying to break that open and expand that, that's, I think, one of the potentials. Awesome.
[00:46:46.015] Kent Bye: Is there anything else that's left unsaid that you'd like to say to the broader immersive community?
[00:46:50.927] Samir Veen: Well, just expanding on this thought, I think people always unite behind a story, whether it's for good or worse. If you're looking at the short history or long history of the world, the big changes have always been that large groups of people have united behind a story about what the future could be. And that has brought the most horrific dictatorships and also the most astonishing social changes in the world and the birth of democracy and everything. But it's always a story about what the future could and should be. And the stronger, the clearer, the more convincing that story is, the easier it is for people to unite behind it and make that story into a reality by just sheer force of will or force of actions. And the fact that the most things, like you just said, the most things that are so important in our life, like democracy or nation states or economy or money, are just collective imagination. The fact that if we collectively imagine a certain thing, If enough people do that, by the fact of imagining it, it has become a reality.
[00:48:02.831] Kent Bye: Awesome. Well, I really enjoyed this performance. And yeah, lots to digest and unpack. And yeah, I think it's a powerful conceit to be confronted with a conversation like this, being asked all these questions and to be asked to imagine these potential futures. And yeah, thanks for putting together the performance and to sit down and help unpack it all today.
[00:48:22.626] Samir Veen: So thank you. Thank you so much. I really enjoyed this conversation as well.
[00:48:25.909] Joeri Heegstra: Thanks for having us.
[00:48:28.842] Kent Bye: So that was Yuri Higstra and Samir Vain. They are the co-directors of Horizon, which is a one-on-one immersive theater piece that was showing at IFADocLab. So I have a number of different takeaways about this interview is that, first of all, well, this is a piece that really stuck with me. I mean, it was confronting the way that I was being asked to take all these ideas about the future and to translate it into a story, but not only a story, but a story of someone that is standing right in front of me, a 15-year-old actress named Pip Kirtof. Just to have to translate all those broad generalizations about the future down into, like, this is going to be your future that I am personally giving to you. Kind of like this real-time world-building exercise where you're being asked to create a world using your imagination to translate all of the potential futures into one individual story, someone who's standing right there in front of you. And I found this tendency myself is to want to give the best possible future I could imagine. No one wants to be the bearer of bad news or giving the fates of something that's unlucky. And so I myself fell into that desire to want to turn up the most positive potential that even though all these things are kind of horrible in the world, you were a lucky one and you were wildly successful and rich and well-off and all these things that You would want to hear it. But also, I found this bottom-up, in a rationalistic way, imagine all the different steps that would need to happen in it. If there is this exalted potential, what would need to shift and change and at what point that we're going to get everybody on this trajectory that is going to produce the most exalted potentials of our future that we could possibly live into? And realizing that we're on a trajectory where the possible futures are going to be more constrained. They were saying some people find themselves being a little bit more realist and pessimistic in different aspects of trying to imagine different aspects of the future. Or if they had a negative or pessimistic outlook, by having this discussion one-on-one with a 15-year-old, they found themselves having a little bit more hope or optimism than they were expecting. They were also saying that people tended to either do a straight intuitive, like, this is what the future is going to be from a top-down, this is how it's going to be, versus more of a bottom-up approach of extrapolating all the different things that are going to accumulate up to this point, 30 years in the future in 2052, what the world is going to actually look like at that point. Also, a bit of a catalyst to get more information. I watched a whole documentary called The Oil Machine that was showing it at the Dock Lab. I had press access and was able to catch it. People that are in there saying that the next five to ten years of all these decisions that we're making as a collective society could actually be impacting the next 1,000 years. Just to hear different things like that. the moment and time that we're in, that our collective behavior is the way that we're acting is building the future for future generations. I know the indigenous philosophy of trying to project out into seven generations, not into just one generation, but to do that into like 150 years into the future as we're Starting to think about all these different changes that we're going to see across that span of time And yeah, it reminds me of the 2167 project that the Toronto Film Festival funded a number of different indigenous creators to do this as a world-building exercise that kind of escapes out of the existing inertia that we have in our world and to really go that far forward you're able to really I guess in some ways liberate yourself from a lot of the existing institutional constraints that we have, both culturally but also economically and everything else politically. You can just really go wild and imagine the types of futures that you want to live into. This is just doing it in the context of one generation, but if we think about it in terms of seven generations, then there's a lot more leeway of trying to figure out what are all the ways that we get to this point that far out into the future. So, yeah, I was really struck by their final takeaways, thinking about the role of imagination and collective imagination and how much that people really unite around stories. Science fiction does a great job of creating these futures that we want to live into, but, you know, there's other dystopic science fiction cautionary tales that a lot of times end up being almost like a roadmap that we're sleepwalking into. This is a point that Monica Bilaskita brings up again and again, that we really need to imagine these more protopia futures that we're trying to live into and, you know, other genres of like solar punk that's trying to use these ecologically sustainable technologies to imagine these futures that are in more relationship to the world around us rather than these more dystopic futures. But yeah, just the role of agency that you have in this type of one-on-one interaction, you're only limited by the words and imagination that you have. There's no constraints on the types of agency that you have in trying to build up this type of world and this world-building exercise because it's using language. This kind of more mental imagination realm but that imaginal space is giving you the highest level of agency to control what this world is going to look like and so as you give this experience to the audiences then Having them realize that their agency that they are expressing in a piece like this That that's actually being translated into physical reality as well with all the individual decisions that we're making and that add up into these Collective decisions that are also literally shaping the future and making a world that we're giving to the next generation generations. So, yeah, I found this to be a really deep and provocative piece, even though it's just a simple one-on-one conversation with a trained actor who is running you through this imaginal exercise. I found it to be confronting and challenging to collapse all the potential futures into one story with someone who's standing there right in front of you and all the different ways that it's working metaphorically, both in this way that you're shaping the future of this person with what you're saying and this world that you're creating, but also how we're doing that collectively. So yeah, I thought it just worked on a lot of different levels and it's a piece that's definitely going to stick with me. One last note from the producers is that they did mention that they were not recording the conversations, they were broadcasting them live, but they were having their actor recount and write down the essence of the story that was given to them. And so that's a bit of like a sample for an individual from a population, what they think the future might bring. And so as they gather more and more of these samples, they're in some ways tapping into the collective zeitgeist of what people from certain regions think about how to think about the future. And the producers just wanted to send out the message that they hope to bring this around to different places around the world, either directly from their people, if they're looking for co-producers, to be able to have different affiliate productions of this piece, but to, again, capture these stories of the future and take a bit of a sample from different regions from around the world. It's still unsure as to what they're going to do with those, but it's an interesting sample of thinking about and talking about the future. Whether it's a book or other things that they're going to do, they're seeing this as a unique way of gathering this type of information. Reach out to the directors through info at openingstatement.nl. That's info at openingstatement.nl. So, that's all that I have for today, and I just wanted to thank you for listening to the Voices of VR podcast. And if you enjoy the podcast, then please do spread the word, tell your friends, and consider becoming a member of the Patreon. This is a listener-supported podcast, and I do rely upon donations from people like yourself in order to continue to bring you this coverage. So you can become a member and donate today at patreon.com slash voicesofvr. Thanks for listening.