Avant Theatre Director G Selva Hopeful Of Making Audience Feel Part Of The Chaos With AI Aided Murder Mystery 'Avan Aval Athu'

Avant Theatre Director G Selva Hopeful Of Making Audience Feel Part Of The Chaos With AI Aided Murder Mystery 'Avan Aval Athu'

The Stamford Arts Centre will host a matinee show on June 22 at 3pm as Avant Theatre and Language stage their new production “Avan Aval Athu”, an AI aided murder mystery. The Tamil language production will have English surtitles for those in need. The theatre company will also stage shows on 20, 21 and 22 June.

connectedtoindia.comUpdated: Thursday, June 20, 2024, 02:05 PM IST
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Ahead of the first show, Connected to India’s Sudipto Maity caught up with G Selva, the Director of Avant Theatre and Language. A renowned thespian in Singapore, Selva spoke about the new play, the use of technology and his beliefs. In a message towards the audience, he said, “AAA is not meant to preach, glorify or villainise AI. Everything that support human growth and evolution can’t be ignored, but needs to be carefully handled and executed.”

Here’s the excerpt from the interview:

Avan Aval Athu is an AI aided murder mystery. How and when did such a concept strike you? Take us through this journey.

It was in December that I wanted to explore a murder mystery once again, the last two being Irruthiyil Yaar? (And Then There Were None) and Avanna Ivanna (He or Him). We realised that the ‘murder mystery’ genre is an intergenerational concept which has stood the test of time. No matter the setting, period or situation, a murder mystery can fit itself into a production.

AI through its constant growth over the past decade, has not only become powerful but also made us extremely dependent on it. Think of the concept in the movie ‘Wall-E’. Seems a bit too far-fetched. But we aren’t very different from the people in that movie.

We have reached a stage where travelling, eating, sleeping, communicating, and even loving is being aided by AI. Although it makes us much more efficient, we have to stop and think at times if we are controlling AI to be useful for us or if we are living in a reality shaped by this invisible entity. Based on this concept, we have explored the dangers of being too dependent on AI and pose a question — what will happen if it decides to work against us.

How long did it take you to write this play? Since the first draft to the final one, were there any changes made by you?

Many drafts were developed, I must say! When we conceived the idea of an AI murder mystery, we accepted and understood that we are not dealing with a futuristic concept that many have not seen or dealt with. AI, as modern and interesting as it may seem, is a concept that is highly understood by most of the audience.

The pressure and changes made to the script were mainly focused on how an AI can outsmart smart people and not to just show off the capabilities of an AI. Moreover, we had to make sure what sort of technological advancements that are happening as we write the script can influence the logic of the script.

There are a lot of characters in this. 11 humans and AI, correct me if I’m wrong. Was it daunting to fit in so many roles within 100 minutes?

To us, the main character in this script was chaos. All the other characters are parts of this chaos and contribute to it differently. Some reduce its intensity and others push it to a high level with the aim of striking a beautiful balance on stage. The aim of the play is not to highlight each character individually for the 100 minutes.

That would become a stage read. We intend to display chaos and the various emotions it can bring to the audience. The characters should be viewed as 1. What do they represent? That is a question you have to watch the play to deduce.

Only a few hours remain for the first show on the 20th of June. How are you feeling? Do you get tensed before the start of a show?

There is much more work to be done than in a normal play. The greatest challenge is synchronising the technological aspect of the play whilst bring the characters to life through performance. If the graphics outshine, it becomes a YouTube video. Should the performance outshine, it becomes a regular stage play. Should both impact the audience with an equal strength, the intended message will be translated to the audience.

Let’s talk about you now. You have been a theatre practitioner for over 20 years now. How did this start? When did you realise the stage is where you belong?

I am 56 this year and have been in theatre since 12, during school days where I was involved in TC and radio acting. I was introduced to Ravindran drama group, a local theatre group run by youth then.

I leaped into acting and directing there, and since then been in theatre. After graduation, Avant Theatre was started in Melbourne in 2001 and we did a lot of production with international artiste there, and in 2011 incepted Avant Theatre here in Singapore and growing with it with many genres of theatre. I am trained in Bharatanatyam and some times dance too surfaces in some of my production.

Will you adapt AAA for movies/drama series in the future? Do you have any such plans?

The uniqueness of this whole production is the fact that it is a stage play. AI in TV has been a task achieved long back in 1960 in the movie ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’.

In a movie or a series, you have the luxury of VFX and SFX to create a lifelike effect. But on the stage, everything has to be practical. There are many limitations when making a live performance with AI. But the magic is being in the intimate setting where the AI lets you feel its power.

AAA rehearsals

AAA rehearsals | Avant Theatre

Lastly, what’s AAA’s USP? Why should people devote their 100 minutes watching your creation?

The first thing we learn in drama is that it is a collaborative effort. Not just the actors or the crew. Everything on stage, the props, the lighting, the atmosphere, the emotion and tension felt by the audience. This play is aimed at being an example of how everything and everyone function simultaneously to show an effect larger than life.

Audience would have seen technology and the emotions it evokes on screen, but when presented on stage the effect is different and much stronger. Audience can expect to feel part of the chaos.

(The article is published under a mutual content partnership arrangement between The Free Press Journal and Connected To India)

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