LOOKING AT YOU is an immersive techno-noir opera by Kamala Sankaram & Rob Handel confronting the issue of privacy in our digitized society. Our highly charged narrative, directed by Kristin Marting, is a story of love and espionage fusing Edward Snowden with CASABLANCA, driven by a dynamic score for three saxophones, piano, and electronics inspired by dance music, crime jazz, and operatic arias. Set inside a corporate headquarters and integrating data mined from the audience in real time, it lays bare urgent questions of our time.
The global architecture of the Internet is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it facilitates access to knowledge, economic growth, and freedom of expression. On the other, it erodes our right to individual privacy. LOOKING AT YOU questions how loss of privacy could transform us as a global culture and confronts the audience with the fact that their personal information is available to anyone who cares to search for it. Additionally, the piece explores the issues of women in the tech industry, surveillance of communities of color, and the chilling effect of surveillance on free speech. At its heart, this project is an activist piece, addressing issues that confront every class and demographic worldwide and include representation of groups frequently underrepresented. Aesthetically, it has also been essential to bring different musical perspectives together in service to the story. While opera and EDM might not seem like an obvious fit, they are both musical genres with a strong sense of tradition and place, and situate the narrative in specific cultures. Thus, our show is diverse in terms of the dramatic arc itself, the characters who drive the narrative, and the musical world.
Spectators are seated at tables with built-in touchscreens in a Silicon Hills company headquarters that encompasses a coffee shop, saloon, health club and roof garden. Once you click on a standard user agreement, information from your digital footprint — information you have shared publicly on the internet — begins to be folded into the lyrics and visual content of the show. As the drama of high romance amidst government and corporate surveillance unfolds around you, your screen reassembles into a series of a singing faces: your face, the faces of your tablemates, the faces of your loved ones. The drama reimagines the morally complex love story of CASABLANCA in our age of total surveillance. When Dorothy lands her dream job as chief software engineer at a social media behemoth in Silicon Hills, she doesn’t expect her past will come crashing in as her ex-boyfriend Ethan becomes the world’s most famous whistleblower. Pursued by the U.S. government and at the mercy of whoever harbors him, Ethan’s only hope is to delete his fragile physical existence and upload his consciousness permanently to the cloud — but for that he needs the help of the woman he abandoned without explanation in order to expose a secret worldwide surveillance structure. Will Dorothy choose to save Ethan or to hold on to her shiny life by turning him in?
LOOKING AT YOU has received support from Opera America’s Discovery Grant Program, Opera America’s Commissioning Award Program, New England Foundation for the Arts, New York State Council on the Arts, Kevin Spacey Foundation, and the Puffin Foundation. Developmental support comes from BRIC, Opera on Tap, Anti-Social Music, and HERE. Technical support comes from Carnegie Mellon University Privacy Economics and Experiments Lab.