Christopher S. Carroll has no enemies

Textured divide

Theatre-maker Christopher Samuel Carroll is one of the masterminds behind the new show I Have No Enemies – a theatre work that teases out the increasingly sharp reality of data collection and data surveillance that pervades our day-to-day lives. Before it opens to audiences at the start of March we spoke with Chris about the show’s development and what we can expect from this bold production.

Tell us a bit about yourself, how long have you been making theatre?

What’s with all the questions? Who are you working for? Are you recording this? Sorry, been getting a bit edgy lately, working on this show…

I’m Christopher Samuel Carroll, I’m a theatre-maker from Ireland, and I’ve made my home in Canberra since 2016. I trained as an actor in my native Dublin, and then in Paris at the Lecoq school. People in Canberra might have seen me acting in shows (as Malvolio in Twelfth Night with Shakespeare by the Lakes in 2019, as the father in Metamorphosis at The Street Theatre in 2020, and last year, as Marc in Art at The Street), but I’ve also been making theatre for fifteen years now under my company, Bare Witness. I Have No Enemies is the thirteenth show I’ve produced under my own steam. I feel like by now, I know what I’m doing – but every show is different, and the more I’m capable of, the more ambitious I get. There’s all that adrenaline coursing through me just now with the determination to make the very best version of the show that I can, and the mighty “who the hell knows?!” of brand-new work going before an audience for the first time.

Theatre still excites me. There’s something powerful in a group of people coming together for a shared experience: there, then, and never to be repeated. It’s like time, distilled. In this case, two years of work, distilled into 2 hours. Sip it like some damn fine whiskey, people.

I Have No Enemies is a brand-new work, created by yourself and the ensemble – how did this idea begin?

The idea came from a job I did, working for a transcription company. I had to transcribe this bizarre 7-minute voicemail from a highly paranoid man who referred to himself in the third person as Phil, during which he unfolded an incredible amount of personal information. The accidental voyeurism of the experience tapped into my own underlying anxieties about surveillance in the digital age. Seeing as I know nothing about computers, I did the only thing I know how to do, and made a piece of theatre. Myself, and the other actors developed the initial ideas over a couple of weeks at Belconnen Arts Centre in April 2021, and sketched out a first draft of what would become I Have No Enemies. Two years (and a covid postponement) later, we’re just about ready to share the most meaningful, enjoyable, exciting thing I’ve ever done. I only got paid $4.11 for the transcription, but man alive, I got me a show out of it.

Who else is involved in this production?

On-stage, it’s me, Ash Hamilton, Brendan Kelly and Rachel Pengilly. We’re all Canberra-based actors (SHOP LOCAL), and quite frankly, are quote-unquote “the sh*t”. We’ve got some low-key geniuses at SilverSun Pictures adding digital animation, Antony Hateley designing our lights, and a whole team of ASIO agents tracking our every move – they’re the real stars of the show. We love you guys. Keep keeping Australia safe. From the likes of us.

I Have No Enemies frames itself as ‘post-dramatic theatre’. How would you define that and how does that play out in your project?

‘Post-Dramatic’ is a form of theatre that goes beyond the traditional idea of a linear story with actors representing fictional characters – or maybe it’s more accurate to say, it plays around with those conventions. In I Have No Enemies, myself and the other actors play heightened versions of ourselves. We acknowledge that we’re in a theatre, with the audience, and speak directly to them. And the show draws on true experiences, so there’s non-fiction blurring with fiction, and a mash-up of different genres that riff on popular culture. We felt that in order to communicate something about the confusion, anxiety and overwhelm of life online, we needed a style of theatre that could be fragmented, surprising, chaotic, and still grounded in something very relatable. The resulting performance mimics the devising process, in which much of the show was created in the rehearsal room through improvisations, before being stitched together into something cohesive. The term ‘post-dramatic theatre’ has been around since the 1960s, so in that sense, it isn’t anything startlingly original, but I don’t think audiences in Canberra have had the opportunity to see much work like this, so I think it will feel fresh, and very different to your usual night at the theatre. It’s the kind of show that people who don’t normally go to the theatre will really enjoy.

What can our audiences expect from this production? 

We break down a lot of fascinating, complex issues in the show, alongside a staggering number of really dumb jokes – it’s all quite sophisticated. We’re passionate about all things surveillance, data, and the evolution of identity in the digital age (at least I am. I roped the others into it. I’m pretty sure they’re plotting against me), but we’re also idiots. Like, in the face of these issues, we all are: we don’t have a clue. So you could say the show is basically some morons with a platform, loudly telling you stuff they know nothing about – which is a pretty good representation of the Internet, really.

Theatre is all about the human experience, and that’s really what the show tries to get at: the weirdness of living a split-existence between the digital space and the real world; the niggling sense of doubt that your Alexa is listening in on you; the guilty fascination of watching people overshare on Facebook; the psychological toll of doomscrolling horrific global events followed by cute cat videos; the impulse to disconnect, delete everything, and go off the grid – and knowing that isn’t an option in an increasingly digital world.

Outside of theatre, how do you spend your time?

When you produce, write, direct and act in a show like this, there is no life outside of theatre – it’s the megalomaniac’s cross to bear. However, when this show is done, and the possibility of free time opens up, I will be lacing up my football boots for the new season. I also play snooker, drink coffee, and continue to optimistically amass beautiful books – even if I never get around to reading them.

Join Chris for a panel discussion with installation artist Jasmine Guffond and Dr Sean Donoghue as they talk data surveillance and privacy and activism. More info here.

I Have No Enemies opens Wednesday 1 March and runs until Saturday 11 March at Gorman Arts Centre.

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Photo: Novel Photographic