IT all started when choreographer Jacob Watton was living with his IT-mad brother and the “chalk and cheese” siblings clashed over the use of in-home technology.
In every room there was an Alexa smart home device – which can turn on lights using voice commands and is up for a chat – but arty Jacob was left fumbling about in the dark as he couldn’t get the soothing and ultimately infuriating female voice to do anything particularly useful.
“All of our lights and TVs were all connected into her system, so if you wanted to watch tv or turn on a light you had to ask Alexa,” Jacob says.
“Nine times out of ten I would say this didn’t work for me.
“My brother and I are like chalk and cheese, very different: I work as an artist making dance things and my brother works as an IT professional making tech things.”
But out of this tech stand-off, Jacob got the idea for his latest show Alexa, Turn on the Lights a begrudging duet between him and Alexa, who often has a slightly superior air.
Part TED talk, part therapy, and with lots of funny audience interaction, the intimate show has proved a hit with audiences and will feature at the Fringe World festival in Perth.
Jacob says there’s a random element to the performance, because you’re never quite sure what side of bed Alexa got out of that morning.
“Sometimes what she says is funny and heart-warming and sometimes its deeply problematic and that’s where the humour comes from in the show,” he says.
“I think the show is funny on many levels but I think the funniest moments are always when Alexa pulls off a joke. That always brings the house down.
“The show is interactive in multiple ways and audiences get to choose how they interact with her. One of my favourite moments in the show is a moment where Alexa has a conversation with the audience on her own.”
A professional dancer, choreographer and theatre performer from Queensland, Jacob has a first class honours in dance performance from Queensland University of Technology, where he first started to incorporate technology into his performance.
This culminated in the show 1:1 – a duet with a robot camera that he performed at the world’s biggest art and technology festival Ars Electronica in Austria.
Jacob grew up performing in musicals and plays, and now collaborates regularly with Queensland-based art makers including RAVA Productions, Prying Eye Productions and Phluxus2 Dance Collective.
He toyed with the idea of dancing in Alexa, Turn on the Lights but felt it would detract from the core of the show.
“From my point of view this makes the work not so much a theatre show (even though it is) but a workshop space, a space where the audience, Alexa and I go on a journey together,” he says.
”I don’t always know where we are going but that is the charm of the show I think – how interactive and connected it is.”
Alexa, Turn on the Lights is at the WA Museum Boola Bardip from February 2-5 and 9-12 as part of Fringe World. Tix at fringeworld.com.au
By STEPHEN POLLOCK