Night of Unsettled Stars

Apr 06, 2014

It’s an evening of performance where nothing happens, or tries to, 120 times.

“Night of Unsettled Stars” invites us, for three minutes, to be vulnerable for a computer-generated audience that watches more closely than any human ever could.

There are no lines, no rehearsal, and no hiding even our most fleeting impulses. A brain scanner and movement sensor catch every involuntary micro-movement in the face and body. The non-audience watches this non-performance, and it reacts accordingly: it gasps, it chuckles, it applauds, or it boos us off the stage.

Non-performance performance.

In the months before Nuit Blanche, social media shares a casting call for 120 performers. Performers receive a booking sometime throughout the evening of Nuit Blanche.

On the evening, everyone can watch a video feed of the performances. Passers-by can take numbers as understudies.

Each new performer enters the backstage, where the dresser costumes them with a cranial sensor. The dresser also offers last-minute advice:

  • Don’t move much, the audience will look away or disappear but the clock won’t stop.
  • Don’t make rude gestures (or any at all), or be disruptive: security is standing just a few steps away.
  • Don’t speak or make a speech, nobody can hear you anyway.

The performer walks to their mark and plants their feet.

It's lonely out here.

When they are still, the audience appears. Faces are dim and indistinct, except for the eyes and mouths. Their heads crane to get a good look at the inaction.

Each experience is different: perhaps the performer’s attention drifts, and the audience huffs with indignation. Or they betray fear, and the audience swells with catcalls. A shift of the eyes, and audience laughter turns to gasps. As the performer struggles to control their bare impressions and engagement, the audience finds its own reaction and lets the performer have it.

They seem to sense my fear.

If they perform well, the audience rewards them with polite applause or even cheers. If not, the audience might offer a cough or a reedy cry of “Get off the stage!”.

At three minutes, the audience fades from view, and this act is over. Staff retrieve the equipment and offer a few words of non-committal debriefing, and the star of their own life exits to continue their Nuit Blanche exploration.

There’s no intentional provocation programmed into the system, and no manual intervention. The actual algorithms are secret and non-linear, and performers must learn as they go.

What makes this, or any audience happy? Honesty, the way a lie detector likes truthfulness, and emotional engagement. Night of Unsettled Stars reveals our inner character by eroding the protective barrier of performance.


Kirk Zurell designed Night of Unsettled Stars as a Nuit Blanche Open Call project.