The “fourth wall” is the imaginary barrier that separates the actors from the audience in a traditional theater production. When it’s broken, the audience is shocked into an awareness of the role they play in supporting the spectacle at hand. In British artist Ant Hampton’s new production, developed in residence at EMPAC at RPI in Troy, the fourth wall is so thin as to be nearly imperceptible, with the line between performer and audience equally unclear. On Thursday evening (September 10), the world premiere will find audience members entering the dimly lit theater, equipped with earphones, a flashlight and a high-viz jacket to search for who might be considered “The Extra People.”
Starting with “Rotozaza’s Etiquette” (2007), Hampton has created nine “autoteatro” works, including his recent Bessie-award-winning collaboration with Tim Etchells for library reading rooms (“The Quiet Volume”). In autoteatro, automated processes are delivered to the audience, normally through pre-recorded audio, which allow the audience members to experience the piece from the inside. In the case of “The Extra People,” audience members will be issued iPods with earbuds that will deliver particular instructions to each person. In this way, every person in the room will experience shifting roles on the participant-spectator spectrum.