The Abbey Theatre presents Stacey Gregg’s new play Josephine K and the Algorithms on the Peacock Stage as part of the Dublin Theatre Festival this year from 11 – 21 October 2017. Orla Fitzgerald (The Wind That Shakes the Barley, The Guarantee, Pure Mule) plays the lead role of Josephine K alongside Carl Kennedy who is also Sound Designer. Caitríona McLaughlin, Associate Director of the Abbey Theatre, directs. We had the chance to ask her some questions. You can see the results below.
Josephine K and the Algorithms – Peacock Theatre – 11th – 21st Oct
What age were you when you first read the Trial? What did you make of it?
I bought it when I was about 20 after a trip to Prague and I read about 10 pages. I found it really unsettling but impenetrable. Later a boyfriend bought me Berkoff’s play version which I read as much out of obligation as anything else. Honestly, it is only through working on this production that I have properly engaged with the story and the ideas behind it. This is often the case for me, working on theatre productions is how I engage with new ideas and begin to understand and think properly about the world we are living in and the people who populate it. It is one of the best aspects of the job. For example this year I am learning a lot about transhumanism and I am walking around with Mark O Connall’s book To be a Machine in my handbag. It’s a great read and something that I would never have looked at if I wasn’t researching plays!
How much of the original idea by Kafka does this use. Is it a complete reworking of the plot?
I think it is fair to say The Trial is only a jumping off point. This is a play about the modern world and explores the idea that although we may believe we control our own public image and what we present to the world, particularly through social media and by using digital technology, the fact is we are giving away a lot more information than perhaps we realise or think about and maybe we should acknowledge that fact, think about it and try to understand it, then decide if that’s what we want to happen. After all “Knowledge is Power”.
Stacey Gregg often writes about fear of technology. Do you think it’s something we should be concerned by?
You know what, I don’t think she does. I think she has a fascination with technology and the way it is changing our lives. Stacey is incredibly intellectual and rigorous in her thinking about the world. Her ideas around this play develop as quickly as the technology informing them and I think she is not afraid of it in the least. I believe she wants to draw our attention to new technology and how we passively engage with something that is changing us fundamentally as human beings. She is not alone in that. I saw a beautiful moving show by Timmy Creed last night. In it he talked about how the GAA now uses devices to monitor its athletes performances, a seemingly benign and helpful advance in understanding a teams general fitness. However, there is an argument that this kind of device could have the opposite effect.
Will it mean team-mates could be pitched against each other in an attempt to achieve a certain idealised version of the themselves and their team? We don’t know. Will this information change future insurance policies? Probably. Where is the space for team spirit, for surprise, creativity, instinct, experience or responding in the moment if a logarithm is telling the manager who is the fittest, who to start in the first 15, where to place players and when to sub. Perhaps in the future we won’t even need managers, who knows? I am being facetious but it’s an interesting question and only one of hundreds and thousands of ways our personal data, information is now collected, stored and reused. Personally I think we should be concerned in so far as we should notice (which I believe is Stacey’s point) and be aware that everything we say and do, even within the private settings on our devices is being used to read our tastes, our behaviour and our thoughts, so far this data is primarily applied to selling us stuff but every day it is finding a new application.
So yes, for me it is a concern in so far as I don’t like it particularly when it comes in the form of push notifications.
Can you tell us about the setting for the production?
The play is set here, in the modern world, today.
How much freedom do you have as a director to impose your own thoughts on a production such as this?
It is always the same for me with a new play. It is very important that the production is true to the writer’s vision. A play being presented for the first time is a very delicate thing and it is not the time or place to impose anything on it. At the same time, I am a director with a very particular response to this play and ideas about how it should be presented to an audience. In saying that, I believe in a very collaborative environment that begins with the words on the page, also Stacey has been in rehearsal with us and she is very open and generous in the room. So I feel I have been very much part of the shaping and creation of the play and together we have discussed how best to present the story and ideas within it. What the text is exploring is quite complicated so what we are aiming for in terms of the presentation is something simple and fun. You can let us know if we achieve that.
This play is part of the Dublin Theatre Festival. Will you see many other productions during the Festival? What are you particularly looking forward to?
I will see as many as humanly possible. It’s a great program this year I could just list the program to answer this but; Girl Song, The Sin Eaters, Ulysses, The Suppliant Women and The Second Violinist are top of the list today.