An interspecies relationship podcast, silicone shamans, and an ancestral trip to a motherboard factory take centre stage in The Astonishing Comet Boombox. This is a brand-new show from Writer and Producer Vivian Ngyuen created with rising playwright Chenturan Aran. The sprawling one-handed satire circles around the relationship between Retro and her imaginary friend an antiquated AI called Comet. This dark comedy shines a light on the modern world and how humans function in it in relationship to their own technology. Comet undergoes an unexpected upgrade by Retro’s mother resulting in broken relationships. This is best friends to frenemies to lovers in a technological world.
Read on for more from Vivien Nguyen, in this one-handed dramedy:
What was the inspiration for the show and what is it about this show that you consider to be enduring?
The seed of the idea grew from a very unremarkable event. Myself and co-creator and performer Ruby, were writing grants for another project. Suddenly, her Google Assistant began speaking to us without being prompted. It was inviting us in, asking whether we were interested in its predictions of our future. Peculiar. Of course, innocently we agreed. Then, perhaps the strangest part of it all, there was a magical harrowing Harry Potter jingle accompanied by a very underwhelming set of advice. I would hazard a guess that they’re designed to be broad and unhelpful… But something about this inspired us. We were firing on all cylinders coming up with strange taboo premises, because this event represents a glimpse into our future.
During the new phase of technology, the rise of AI, where companies like Vimeo use AI device to remove ‘ups’ and ‘ahs’ from videos, where Grammarly edits your emails as you go or where ChatGPT assists anyone in re-writing marketing copies… This show puts into question the extent of our dependency with technology, and what can possibly unfold, especially within the context of internet history to our relationship to our own species as humans.
How would you describe the show to someone who knew very little about it?
A wild absurd comedy about Humans vs. AI through a best friend turn frenemies storyline that spans our internet ages and involves a lot of pop culture. Think Steve Job’s/iPhone and the beginning of everyday people having internet careers as ‘YouTubers or Bloggers’, to Esther Perel podcasts to the beyond where AI’s… Perhaps…. Might be the real supreme rulers after all.
What are some of the themes involved and why are these important?
These are some relevant themes involved in The Astonishing Comet Boombox. The relevancy of these themes hits on a different level because it’s happening right at this moment, as we go about our day to day lives. The distortion of our immediate reality and how we relate to others, how we see ourselves in the world as active participants or lack thereof… These are big existential questions that we need to be asking now and making art about now.
Has the show been modified for Fringe and, if so, why was this something that had to happen and how was it decided what the new show would look like?
This show has been written and designed for Fringe, with the premise to invite collaborators who are very instinctual. We are all lovers of theatre, but we’re also aware that times are changing. We wanted to give ourselves a challenge by incorporating theatrical elements we love to keep at the roots of the medium, however we’re subverting when we can and offering a glimpse into a new angle of making that responds to the core element of technology.
What do you enjoy most about appearing at Fringe and why is Fringe theatre important overall?
I’ve been a part of the Festival for almost five years now. I’ve worn so many different hats over this formative period, as a performer for other shows, a theatre maker, producer, a performer for my own show, a writer, marketing person, a tech etc. I’ve performed in bookstores, at Trades Hall, at bars… I do it because I’m amongst a community of makers who do it for the same thing. You get to try, you get to make and experiment, you get to be involved with others to collaborate.
Despite my own momentum in more professional projects, I never want to lose that spirit of making from a place of creativity and experimentation. How else can an artist and theatre maker grow?
What excites you the most about appearing live – what keeps the fire in the belly burning?
Theatre is a fascinating medium. The untethered connection to the audience (the one happening right now) and the unfolding of the story live from the performer (that’s happening right now) …
There’s this alchemy that happens. This limitating nature of a blackbox creates a dynamic freedom that excites me. The meaning, the attention, the way the performers voice can say particular words in one way or another…
It continues to change and evolve; a season is a breathing and ever-changing meditation through a story.
That’s what keeps the fire in my belly burning, I’m so curious to see what the experience can be like today, and the next day, and the next day until the final curtain closes.
Isn’t that beautiful?
What sort of artist do you consider yourself – how would you describe yourself as a creative?
Professionally I call myself a multi-hyphenate artist because listing everything becomes a long grocery list. Yet, what sort of artist do I consider myself?
Between you and me, I’m just an insatiable curious person… So insatiable that it gets me in a bit of trouble!
If I want to paint, I’ll paint, If I want to dance and make a dance piece, I’ll do it. If I want to make a play, a film, write an essay… Just do it. If I want to perform… I’ll produce something.
I follow my joy and my desires to its fullest. I see them through, because the worst thing that can really happen is that people don’t like it.
But to put on hold my need to express is not on the cards for me. As an artist and a creative, the biggest thing we have is our imagination and what we have to say.
Who inspires you and why?
That’s a hard question to answer. This is also a grocery list. Everyone inspires me, every single person, every single thing.
What is next for you?
Probably developing my new works I’m writing for with some theatre companies. I’m also producing new writing plays from phenomenal playwrights of colour I’m absolutely thrilled for people to see with Empty Seat Theatre. Also, we’re producing a lot of developments and public readings too! As a performer, I just wrapped a project and am now heading into other projects. I’m collaborating with a designer on something, and another team on another project we hope to launch in a TOTALLY different medium.
And to always dance dance dance the night away. That’s always next.
And finally, what would you say to encourage audiences to attend?
You’re not going to be bored, and you’re going to have an opinion. You’re going to have an experience. That I can guarantee.
This blend of surrealism, wit, and keen insights into human-AI dynamics beckons audiences to ponder their evolving relationship with technology. The Astonishing Comet Boombox is funded through Cash for Equity via the Fringe Fund and Ralph Mclean Microgrants program. The play will open on Tuesday, October 17th and run through to Saturday the 21st of October.