In many ways, technology and theater exist at opposite ends of a spectrum: the one is typically replicable and individualized, while the other is usually unique and communal. Bricolage’s latest production, Project Amelia, sets its goals almost impossibly high in setting out to create an immersive theatrical experience that not only incorporates technology but also makes it an integral part of the show while simultaneously asking audience members to consider it critically. The overall effect is incredibly impactful, and my first thought after leaving the show was, “I want to do that again!”
It’s difficult to write a comprehensive review of what I experienced at Project Amelia. First, I don’t want to spoil anything–this production is best entered with minimal preconceptions. And second, I can’t speak to the majority of what could be experienced at the show. Upon arrival, all guests are assigned to one of ten (by my count) groups, ranging from Board Members to Brand Ambassadors to Investors. Membership in these groups determines how the evening will unfold. I was assigned to the Raffle Winners, a lucky group of loyal Aura customers who have received a golden ticket of sorts—though as my evening progressed, I was drawn into a scheme that tested whether that loyalty was really as deep as it seemed.
Broadly speaking, Project Amelia invites audience members to imagine themselves as guests at a special evening at the R&D lab for a tech giant called Aura (which, it becomes clear as the night unfolds, bears more than a few similarities to several other non-fictional tech giants also beginning with the letter A). Guests are invited to test Aura technology, to mingle with Aura top brass, and above all to get an exclusive sneak peak at Aura’s latest and greatest invention: Amelia, an artificial intelligence system that promises to exceed every expectation of how technology can ease and advance human existence. As the plot proceeds, though, it becomes clear that perhaps the Amelia system, and Aura more broadly, are more complicated than they initially appear to be.
As I hoped upon entry, Project Amelia wasn’t quite like anything I’ve ever experienced before. I’m used to thinking of theater attendance as one of the only times in my life when I don’t look at my phone for an extended period of time; this remained technically true at Project Amelia, in that I didn’t look at my own phone, which spent the evening locked in a provided pouch. Instead, I looked constantly at a phone loaned to me at check-in. This phone allowed me to receive messages from other audience members and from the cast of the show, and it tracked my progress through some of the tech demonstrations on display. I was astonished at how quickly I considered it my phone, despite the fact that it was indistinguishable from every other audience member’s phone and I had it in my possession for less than three hours. More than anything else in the Project Amelia environment (which is considerable), this swap—trading in my phone for a functional prop that became my compass for the evening—created the quality of a high-intensity dream, something like Alice down the rabbit hole by way of virtual reality.
But for all its engagement with and clever use of technology, Project Amelia serves above all as a reminder of the power of face-to-face interactions and the indispensability of spontaneous experiences in a world where both are in increasingly short supply. The caliber of talent involved in the production stands out at every turn, and the Bricolage team obviously cares deeply about its audiences: I can’t remember the last time I’ve walked into a show that was so clearly put together with as much thought and attention to detail across the board. Though I saw only the second performance, the timing was already down pat, and I have no doubt that what hiccups there were will be ironed out quickly.
So, although I’ll skip telling you too much about what happens there specifically, I can say: go see Project Amelia. I don’t think any audience member can ask more from a theatrical experience than Bricolage has provided.
Experience Project Amelia through November 3rd. For ticket information, visit Bricolage’s site.
Laura Caton grew up as a military brat and has lived in six states and two countries, but considers Pittsburgh her adopted hometown. She moved back to Pittsburgh in 2017 after four years of working in theater administration in New York City. When she’s not writing about theater, she can be found translating German novels, watching anything that bears even a passing resemblance to a Nora Ephron movie, and reading omnivorously.
Categories: Archived Reviews