Writer/Director: Rose Condo
Reviewer: Sam Lowe
The Empathy Experimentis structured creatively and solidly, with titles borrowing from the scientific semantic field. It is that good, it has become the inspiration for the structure of this review.
Rose Condo is an award-winning poet from Canada. The objective of this spoken word, experimental performance about an experiment is whether or not there is a relationship between using our smartphones and the act of empathy. She wears a lab coat and on the board flip chart paper, titles, sketches, and diagrams with a colourful cartoon aesthetic dissect this objective.
- Fundamental questions
She brings to our attention the following existential questions: Is empathy facing extinction? Are mobile phones to blame? There have been plenty of fringe and festival performances about social media and phones. This is different because of the angle it takes in relation to empathy. It also features Condo’s eloquently and expressively written spoken word. It is performed with just the right amount of emotional investment and musicality. Her articulation is honed.
Appropriately and brilliantly, much of her show is underpinned with academic theory. But, the performance never ventures into boring lecture territory. The shift in performance style and tone keeps us engaged, something that no doubt Dominic Berry (Dramaturge) has kept an eye on. Sections of research, spoken word, or direct address to the audience link fluidly in how it is written. It’s satisfying to watch.
We meet Condo on the 24thhour after 23 hours of not engaging with her phone, particularly with social media. In an autobiographical manner, she becomes the subject of her own experiment, observing whether or not over time (show after show) her empathy will increase. Some shocking facts around human behaviour and psychology are littered throughout the performance. While it’s absolutely fine that the performance views phones and social media in a bad light, it would be effective if Condo examined the positives and advantages some more. Not to contradict herself, just to balance out the argument some more. After all, in an experiment you have to examine something from multiple angles.
- Test with experiment
Ideas around audience participation are moving, clever, and thought-provoking. We become subjects in the test as well. Usually, we’re asked to switch off phones during a performance anyway but Condo takes it to the next level in her show. In case anyone of us misses our phones or craves the dopamine hits, Condo comically plays some relaxing music. It plays through a small speaker, pressing play/stop is a somewhat fiddly process at times.
- Record data
A survey was sent out to followers and fans of Rose Condo in order to shed light on our day to day habits when using our phones. It turns out we don’t really use our phones much to call people anymore – how bizarre. The way she presents her findings is creative and easy to understand. We’re engaged because the performance touches on snippets of information we’ve thought about in the back of our minds.
- Draw conclusions
While Condo’s dream of observing an “International Day of No Phones” may not actually happen realistically, The Empathy Experiment succeeds (through its non-preachy persuasion) in making you want to use your phone less. You’re motivated to disconnect to connect with the world around you. Condo takes the time to connect with every member of the small audience in the brief time we are with her.
- Communicate results
#TheEmpathyExperiment deserves a retweet, a like, and a heart. Rose Condo has a warm and approachable personality, and has written a relevant and enthralling piece of work.
Reviewed on: 11 July 2019 | Image: Contributed