Tuesday 3 September 2019

TRUTHMACHINE - Melbourne Fringe Festival preview

One of my favourite Seinfeld scenes is when Jerry's new girlfriend wants him to take a lie detector test to see if he watches Melrose Place. His attempts to pass the polygraph prove futile as he crumbles under the pressure. Now it's your turn to beat the test with TRUTHMACHINE. Presented as part of the Melbourne Fringe Festival, audiences have the opportunity to be quizzed in an intimate gathering and then be judged by their peers if they have passed or failed the test.

Created by COUNTERPILOT, who brought us the incredible Crunch Time at last year's Next Wave Festival, this is another immersive and interactive show where the audience / participants play just as much a role in this work as its makers do. This involved aspect of the show is what COUNTERPILOT co-founder Nathan Sibthorpe enjoys the most and what he believes audiences are looking for these days. "Interactive work is popular with audiences because it capitalises on the very thing that makes theatre so unique in a saturated cultural landscape. The fact that an audience is present and that we are sharing this moment together is what will always give live performance its edge over Netflix," he explains. "But work that explicitly allows the audience to be present, to participate, and to be wide awake and active goes that extra step. Our usual theatre audience job is to sit still, be quiet and disappear in the darkness, but interactive work offers a hyper-theatricality that really pays us back for having left the comfort of our couches."

However, the award-winning work - including the Tour Ready Awards for the Melbourne Fringe Festival and the Hong Kong Let's Be Together Arts Festival at this year's Adelaide Fringe Festival - is about more than simply revealing your guilty TV pleasures. "After the notorious 2016 US election, the idea of truth as subjective has been circulating more and more. Oxford Dictionary’s word of the year for 2016 was ‘Post-Truth’ and everyone became very quickly familiar with the notions of 'fake news' and 'alternative facts'. There’s a lot of resistance to that at the moment, this sense that nothing is sacred and everyone is free to rewrite the nature of the world around them on a whim," Sibthorpe explains. 

"We became interested in these ideas and that led us to discover the history of the polygraph machine, which felt like an exciting allegory. Lie Detectors used to be considered scientific and factual; they were a hard and fast way to determine certainty. But for many years now, polygraph technology has been disputed. Now it’s broadly accepted that their methodology is inherently flawed," he tells me. "The truth can’t be found in your heart rate or breathing pattern any more than it can be found in the media or in the mouths of our political leaders. This show challenges us to navigate the slipperiness of truth by taking a formal polygraph test with the intention to lie. We’re not making any clear sole statement about truth or lies, but instead we’re asking our audience to consider these questions from inside a strangely personal experience."

When it comes to the questions themselves, Sibthorpe chooses to be honest and not answer the question. "We can’t tell you the exact questions that we will be asking because it would throw out the test if you knew what to expect! But I will say that the topics swing wildly from trashy truth or dare curiosities to true crime accusations and then to lofty philosophical musings," he says. "They won’t all be easy, but we do promise not to ask anything that can ruin your night. It’s meant to be uncomfortable in a fun way - like a rollercoaster - and not in the way that might ruin your marriage or prevent your friends from ever looking you in the eye again." 

COUNTERPILOT works seamlessly incorporate a level of technology that is rarely seen in other immersive shows or live art. Audiences can expect to be impressed with a lot more than the presence of a lie detector test in TRUTHMACHINE. "All of our work is built with tech-driven interfaces and it isn't that the technology is necessarily new, but we take a unique approach in how we re-purpose tools and technologies for our own means. We have a distinctive lighting design that is built into a set of custom interactive consoles and the lights and sounds respond to the biometric data from the polygraph to make everything feel very much alive." 

The environment created by all these effects pulls the audience into this world being presented that has led to some fascinating revelations for the transmedia performance makers. "The work constantly surprises us, but that’s because people are inherently surprising and sometimes it just takes the right provocations to bring that out," Sibthorpe says. "I can’t describe exactly what went down in the room, but there’s always a sense of magical vulnerability that brings people closer together in such a strange way." 


1. If you had to name your child after a vegetable what would it be? 
Radish. Rad for short.
2. Which reality TV show would you most like to appear/compete on? 
Dragon’s Den as one of the dragons. Because I’d have to be filthy rich first, right?
3. A movie that sums up my life is Charlie Kaufman’s Adaptation. But maybe that’s more aspirational than literal.
4. What's the one thing that happened during a show you were involved with that you wish you could forget? 
We work with a lot of technology so I can admit there have been more than one occasion where a glitch or malfunction has left me weeping beneath the lighting desk. We started a ritual where we go out for post-show pancakes if anything catastrophic ever melts down in front of an audience. Somehow since beginning that tradition we’ve only had pancakes once. But boy were they necessary pancakes...
5. Art is an attempt to share something beyond words, beyond description, and beyond logic from one human to another, using units of experience.


Venue: Trades Hall, Cnr Lygon & Victoria Sts, Carlton.

22 - 29 September | Tues - Sat every half hour between 6:00 - 9:00pm
20 minutes 

Tickets: $16 Full | $12 Group 6+, Cheap Tuesday
Bookings: Melbourne Fringe Festival

Main Image Credit: Kate O’Sullivan and Sean Dowling
Production Image: Dave D’Arcy

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