Social fiction plays a rather jarring game with us: on the cross road of what we know, what might be and what we can imagine out of that. A whole multitude of scenarios for us to digest. Scenarios that scream to be explored and embodied artistically.
Aggie Jurochnik explores social fiction in theatre ahead of By Proxy's upcoming show: Scattered Dreams.
When I think about my journey into social fiction I can’t help thinking back to my university days. It was the second year, we were given an assignment on augmented humans and mixed reality. I was all ready to jump into any next thing thrown at me. What actually happened was the start of a lifelong fascination of near-future speculation. By near-future I mean the next 10-50 years - stuff that realistically is likely to hit within our own lifetimes.
My first research point was a book called “Make Way for the Superhuman”, by Michael Bess. Without diving too much into the text, what it offered to me was a realisation that the most immediate future will change much more dramatically and quickly than we are ready to realise or imagine. Or that we are psychologically prepared for.
It has posed both a creative and an intellectual challenge:
- What or how are we actually speculating, what do we research, how do we keep it real?
- How do we translate all of those marco-narratives into tangible day-to-day experiences that reflect and speak to all of the other things that we are experiencing now?
Future is not one, tangible path, something we can or should try to foretell in a singular narrative. It’s a spectrum of interlinked possibilities. It carries a variety of options, every decision affecting the others, all of them rippling down to our day-to-day lives.
What even is our day-to-day life? How do we pin it down? Between every one of our lifestyle choices, set against our changing social setups. Places we interact with, dreams, people, feelings, conflicts and desires.
It became an intellectual and a creative challenge. A new mirror to society.
At its core By Proxy has grown to be a research-based devised theatre company.
That means, in short, that we start from research. These days with research advisors (and they’re brilliant). I genuinely believe that the difference between mainstream sci-fi and well constructed social fiction lies in the plausibility of it and the in-depth understanding of the currents we are speculating around.
We create narratives together, as an ensemble - based on our own curiosities and reflections of the world.
Currently our practice is engaging in multiple, overlapping strands:
- Current socio-political narratives
- Socio-psychological theory
- Human enhancements and technology
- Climate narratives
There are a lot of books, I suppose. Some films. Forums, mapping out of potential timeframes and the meanings of those. We started developing social constellations which are basically early day activities in which we imagine a group of different people within a similar set up, experiencing one, sharp change all together. Once we get the theory we try to anchor it as small and detailed as possible.
Our first public play (covid babies here!) was concerned with AI becoming a storytelling monopoly. We were told we are exaggerating. The narratives around AI at that stage were mainly about AI either being totally useless or taking over humanity. The idea of AI being creative was not something particularly out there.
Exactly 4 months after we performed the play, ChatGPT became a thing.
I think the importance of social fiction is to find the inbetweens, the one between nothing happens and the far out dystopia. It’s a jarring thought game that puts in focus our direct, embodied relationship to social forces and conundrums lying ahead of us.
In Scattered Dreams we aimed to identify our own realities: of migration, vulnerability to rationed resources and sudden changes in our social status. We then mixed those along with speculations around near-future climate narratives. The biggest question being: when things go bad how do we respond, try to adapt despite everything?
Scattered Dreams | Tue 3 - Thu 5 Oct at 7.15pm | Tickets £8 - £12