Annie Dorsen

Prometheus Firebringer

Chocolate Factory Theater
May 11-13
Tickets available at The Chocolate Factory
Co-presented with The Chocolate Factory Theater and Media Art Xploration

“What shall I do?” is a question at the heart of every Greek tragedy, observes philosopher Simon Critchley. When there are no good options, when every course of action comes with unbearable costs, how do you choose? This question inspires Prometheus Firebringer, which continues Dorsen’s exploration of the ambiguous impacts of technology.

In ancient Greek mythology, Prometheus stole the gods’ fire to give to humans—sparking sudden and dramatic advances in technology and the arts, and dramatic new sources of conflict. His story is told in the 2500-year-old Prometheia trilogy attributed to Aeschylus, of which only Prometheus Bound remains in full.

In Prometheus Firebringer, Dorsen uses the predictive text model GPT-3 (a precursor to ChatGPT) to generate speculative versions of the missing story. Each night a chorus of AI-generated Greek masks performs a different iteration, while Dorsen engages the audience in reflections on power, knowledge, and doubt.

Although the explosion of artificial intelligence technology into our daily lives feels unprecedented and new, Dorsen asks if we have been here before. She reflects openly on her influences, standing in contrast to how the black box of AI operates. How do we decide to act when we can’t trust our sources? And who do we become in the face of a technology controlled by a select few, especially when its workings remain a mystery?

“Algorithmic theater is not sci-fi,” says Dorsen. “The pieces I’m making are neither utopian nor dystopian fantasies of a far-off future. The question most fundamental to my creation of algorithmic theater is ‘What kinds of screens are we peering into, and what kinds of selves are we hoping to glimpse there?’ We have already given over large areas of decision-making to algorithms, and we have already (mostly) agreed to participate in the conversion of our lives into data, which algorithms use. Algorithmic theater makes their functioning available for observation and contemplation, so that we may begin to understand not only how they work, but how we work with them.”

Writer, Director, and Performer: Annie Dorsen
Sound Design: Ian Douglas-Moore
Video and Systems Design: Ryan Holsopple
Voice Print: Okwui Okpokwasili
Voice Print: Livia Reiner
3D artist: Harry Kleeman
Dramaturgy: Tom Sellar
Producer: Natasha Katerinopoulos

Funding Credits

The creation of Prometheus Firebringer was supported in part by a commission from New York Live Arts’ Live Feed Residency program. The Live Feed Residency program is supported in part by Rockefeller Brothers Fund and Partners for New Performance. The piece is co-commissioned by Media Art Xploration‘s MAXmachina laboratory funded in part by Science Sandbox. Major support has been provided by The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage, with additional support from Bryn Mawr College, the Eureka Commissions program created by Onassis Foundation and the Mercury Store.