Theatre: Real and in Real Time; No AI Here

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By Anna Fisher, Associate Artistic Director, Emerald Coast Theatre Company

The instinct to roll my eyes to the very back of my head was absolutely overwhelming when I read the headlines about the recent SAG-AFTRA actor’s strike. The writer’s strike I can understand—I mean how often do writers get the same recognition and pay as celebrities for giving us stories like Yellowstone and Succession. But actors? The ones making millions upon millions every year? As my teenagers would say, “Bruh.” But then I did a little research and now I’m almost embarrassed at my initial reaction.

What we’re really talking about are those thousands of hard-working actors who barely make a livable wage each year and just have to keep their fingers crossed for the next gig. The strike is about a lot of things—lack of residual pay due to streaming platforms, health insurance, cost of living increase, and here’s the kicker—Artificial Intelligence. What guarantee does any actor have that their likeness won’t be repackaged artificially and served up as an authentically disguised work of art? Fran Drescher, president of SAG-AFTRA (yes, the Fran Drescher with the laugh) said it best when she stated, “Artificial intelligence poses an existential threat to creative professions, and all actors and performers deserve contract language that protects them from having their identity and talent exploited without consent and pay.”1

The more I researched (and when I say researched, I mean spiraled further and further into an existential crisis) the more I wrestled with questions like, How can we as humans compete with the many tentacled machine we have wrought? Will anyone ever have an original thought again? Are human beings as we know them obsolete?

And then, I had a singular, glorious ray of realization: Theatre.

You know I had to bring it back to theatre, right? But really, theatre is the answer. For that matter any gathering of real human beings doing real things in real time is the answer. Actors, writers, storytellers, dancers, painters, chefs, garden club ladies, grocery shoppers and babies making weird noises in restaurants- we need you! We need your real authentic voices doing real authentic things that can only come from you. And if you’re looking for light and life and texture and people and real authentic human experiences, come to Emerald Coast Theatre Company. There’s something transformational about experiencing live theatre with other audience members, breathing the same air as the actors, and taking in a show that will always be a unique, one-time event.

And on that note, we have an incredible Season 11 this fall opening with Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins in Million Dollar Quartet and closing with the beloved classic Mary Poppins in the spring. You can catch a wide array of shows in between like The Play that Goes Wrong, The Marvelous Wonderettes: Caps and Gowns, Crimes of the Heart and the holiday favorite A Christmas Carol in between. For the younger audience members, we have Junie B Jones in October and Yes Virginia, There is a Santa Claus performed by our talented Junior Company members in December, as well as an original Theatre for the Very Young show Mother Goose on the Loose by Heath Carroll, ECTC Education and Outreach Director, premiering in April 2024. Our fall programming for children and teens starts at the beginning of August with Finding Nemo, Mean Girls and so many other musical theatre workshops, tap, jazz, and ballet classes, and acting opportunities for children of all ages.

All of these things are happening in real time at Emerald Coast Theatre Company. You won’t find anything artificial here. It takes a lot more passion, skill, talent, people, time, resources and hard work to create an event that can only truly be experienced live. And it also takes all of you, because you are the heart of ECTC.

1 Collier, Kevin. “Actors vs. AI: Strike Brings Focus to Emerging Use of Advanced Tech.” NBC News, 14 July 2023, https://www.nbcnews.com/tech/tech-news/hollywood-actor-sag-aftra-ai-artificial-intelligence-strike-rcna94191. Accessed 18 July 2023.

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