We can go around in augmented reality with our physical body – interview with Ambrus Ivanyos

I love theatre, that has always been so. For some reason, though, I have become a bit more estranged from classical staging lately. I am rather interested in interactive, transformative forms that involve audience as participants or even contributors. I came across a lot of intriguing ideas throughout the years, but HOW TO DISAPPEAR COMPLETELY, a performance of Meetlab presented in Budapest next week, is among the greatest ones. It seems that all the world’s not merely a stage anymore, but also the breathtakingly fast technical development that helps us to experience an exciting adventure and reflect a bit on our place among the big webs surrounding us. I discussed this with Ambrus Ivanyos, member of Meetlab and creator of the performance to be presented at the PLACCC 2018 festival.


If we think about HOW TO DISAPPEAR COMPLETELY as a theatre play, then it’s the most unconventional one I’ve ever heard of. What should we know about its background?

I have been working on this topic for approximately three years, and it took two and three quarters from it to find the perfect form for it. There is a big organization called In-Situ that I’m a member of; they are there to support public space artworks that differ from the traditional and the conventional, not to mention festivals focusing on all this. I received plenty of help from them to move on with this concept. I come generally from a theatre background, I graduated at the Academy of Drama and Film as a dramaturge some years ago. However, I started to go on a path that is really “unconventional”. I was interested in a theatre play without actors and a specific time frame between a start and an end. After a long quest, I finally found this technology and form that only had to be developed for this performance, play, or game, call as you like it.

What is Meetlab?

Meetlab started as a workshop where artists from different specialties can experiment, and nowadays it’s still more or less open. There is light engineering, laser, ceramics, concrete, programming, anything possible on the repertoire. I worked with them on a performance called Intraverse for the very first time, already some years ago. That one was prepared in Meetlab, and then I stayed with them, so now I’m one of their workers. Matyi Csiszár, Bálint Tóth and myself build the artistic part of the group, we focus on technology developed especially for artistic projects. Our aim is to create an interplay between the two, so that both sides inspire the other one. Our technological developments serve artistic projects, and one function of art is to present a new technology to the audience.

If I understand correctly, your audience wanders around in the city with a smartphone. That could be Pokémon Go or any other similar game. But where is art in it?

This is a good example, as the mentioned smartphone games are also manifestations of the so-called augmented reality. In all these cases, a digital equipment helps to encounter an expanded version of reality, and this can happen in lots of different ways. In this specific case, there is nothing on the smartphone screen, this is actually an “augmented audio narrative”. The technology uses geo-location to track the movement of the players and triggers audio files based on where we are. And how do you find art in it? The whole thing has a narrative, we are walking around in a story, where all the stages belong to the physical space we encounter.

What are the audiofiles?

We partly hear a storyteller and partly some music. The technology itself works in a specified space, but within this, you can and should go everywhere you like, and something’s happening everywhere. This is something like an open world simulation game where the movements of the audience – or more like participants – influence the story. For instance, if you turn right or left, something completely different happens in every single case.

Oh yes, I recall some booklets where a dice or a personal decision led the story in some direction…

The gamebooks. Our project has a similar narrative, but it’s a big difference that gamebooks were linear. Even if you think you go back in the story, it all leads forward to the same storyline. In our case, different decisions lead to different content, and you have the chance to move around in the narrative forward, backward or, in the context of some certain parts, even vertically.

Are all the different storylines and dramaturgic implementations your own work?

Yes, now I’m the only creator of the project. I came up with the concept and wrote the story, developed the application, it’s my voice telling the story, and I’m also the musical composer.

Have you also worked in a more traditional theatre?

During my university years, I worked with it all the time, both with theatres and independent groups. However, my main field of research was postdramatic theatre, I even wrote my thesis about it, and soon I cooperated with a German team, the machina eX, who worked on live games and theatrical games based on the structures of computer games. So I went in this direction even in Hungary, I joined Meetlab and some other projects, and now I distance even more from classical theatre with putting my story in the digital space.

Do you think it can say more to today’s audience than the traditional forms?

It surely says something different. Public space installations and classical theatres function completely different, I don’t think you can compare the perceptions of the two audiences. Otherwise, I as an artist enjoy experimenting a bit more than stucking to the well-known forms.

It has a very strong sense of the present time as well, hasn’t it?

Yes, this is where it connects to the postdramatic theatre on a theoretical basis. I gained a lot of inspiration and excitement from testing and using such a hypothesis in the practice. And there is the point of view of video games, featuring a story from the player’s own perspective. Traditional theatre means that there is an audience, an actor and a role, three different things. Here, all are one. It can be that a contemporary person, living among video games and being alienated from theatre, might have a stronger emotional experience from this play. But this is an anti-video game at the same time, for you don’t see anything and have to train your imagination a lot. Reality is created through language, and this also reflects on a more general philosophical, linguistical question. Audience gets a part of reality that is completely fictional, they can experience how different interpretations of reality are given to them through lingual production, but they can also learn how to shape their own reality if they are aware of and rule the language.

What is the story about?

There is a town where people have always been disappeared, nobody knows where. A character called Andrei arrives here and investigates where all these people disappeared. We follow him through the narrative, experience his adventures in a fictional city, whereas we go around in the physical reality of our own city.

Why is the title in English?

For me, the title not only means this performance, but also my years of work with this project, and this play is only one interim stage. I think HOW TO DISAPPEAR COMPLETELY sounds very good, it reacts on all the “how to…?” books, ideas and influencers around us. This meaning would be lost with every translation. Otherwise, I saw in Germany as well that a lot of English titles are kept nowadays. The practical reason also spoke for an English title that we present HOW TO DISAPPEAR COMPLETELY in two languages, English and Hungarian. Everyone can participate in the adventure who speaks at least one of these: the only things you need are your head, a smartphone and some headphones.


Meetlab: How to Disappear Completely

14-16 September 2018. 4PM- 8PM 

meet-up: Meetlab, 1111 Budapest, Stoczek utca 11.