“Feel free to take a selfie,” the ushers chimed to guests entering the Helen Wayne Rauh Studio Theater, indicating three photo booths in front of a silver tinsel curtain, set for Philip Gates’ A/B Machines, adapted from the work of Pittsburgh native Andy Warhol. The tinsel dropped to reveal the three performers: Hagan Oliveras, Henri Fitzmaurice, and Patrick Davis, spotlit amidst a visual homage to the 1960s and it was immediately evident that this production would be unlike any piece of theater the audience had seen before. The characters peeled back perceptions of consumerism, wealth, and sexuality to reveal a basic human impulse to see and be seen. Drawing from an extensive theatrical toolbox, they led the audience through a full range of emotions and clearly had fun along the way.
At the end of A/B Machines, short videos revealed the audience preparing for their pre-show selfies: smiling, sticking their tongues out, wrapping their arms around friends.
Gates, a John Wells Directing Fellow, wrote and directed A/B Machines. When describing his artistic and personal kinship with Warhol, Gates said, “we’re both fascinated by how humans manage to exist together.”
The School of Drama spoke with Gates about creating the piece and why Andy Warhol would have loved Instagram.
School of Drama: What was the genesis of the piece?
Philip Gates: I picked up Warhol’s book “The Philosophy of Andy Warhol: From A to B and Back Again” in a bookstore and fell for it in just a few pages. The Pittsburgh connection is what really sold me on the idea of creating a stage adaptation here at CMU.
SOD: What about Warhol’s legacy excites you the most?
PG: Warhol was interested in how we create images of ourselves and consume images of others, in how desperate we can be to be seen a certain way, and in how this can affect our everyday interactions and relationships with other people. I find these questions as important now as they were in his era, and if anything our technologies have complicated them even further.
SOD: Technology played a big part in the show. Tell me about that decision.
PG: We wanted to use live cameras to show our characters constantly curating the view of themselves that they wanted to share, the way many of us do online every day. At the end, as the characters start to open themselves up to connection and honest relationships with each other, they start to use the cameras to display and support one another rather than themselves.
SOD:What was the rehearsal process like?
PG: The show is ambitious, wild, demanding, and asked a lot of everyone involved. And our team delivered. From actors to designers to managers to our assistants and crew, every single person brought their A-game.
SOD: What was it like watching audiences respond to the piece?
PG: To see people experiencing the Andy Warhol I’ve come to know, the Andy who was funny and raunchy and tender and unapologetically queer, was very satisfying for me.
Written by Kate Hamilton