15 Anniversary Artist Interviews: Joseph Price

Capital Fringe has always presented challenging works. But few Fringe performances that matched the innovative and genre-bending power of 2011’s e-Geaux (beta).

Creator Joseph Price – producing under the name Pepys, Inc. – distilled improvisatory theatre and burgeoning social media culture into a show that conveyed the transformative changes to our sense of community and privacy created by Facebook and other platforms. Indeed, the scope of those changes is clear now than it was nine years ago.

“The original germ of an idea came around wanting to expose my own personal data, but it took a few twists and turns” recalls Price. “I was working at a digital agency, and I had friends at the intersection of theater and technology. At some point, we started looking more into the interactive and performative aspects of playing with the audience’s data – especially at a time when I think Facebook was at its crowning moment for user adoption.”

Audiences willing to buy into the concept and share data were the key to the show’s Fringe success in 2011. Attendees were asked to download an app that would give the show’s “data improvisers” access to their social media data for the balance of the performance.

Over half, the audience members did so. The data whizzes looked for patterns – and what the audience itself revealed was woven deftly into a series of template sketches customized for each show by the e-Geaux (beta) performers.

“For the different games of the show, like ‘e-Geaux Trip,’” he recalls, “we would look for photos that we could jazz up, or put filters against — and we had a pretty cool console view that would analyze all the different kinds of data that we were getting. Teammates could jump in there and do their work very rapidly. It was funny, though, because it was like ‘just-in-time assembly.’”

Price says the technical dance of moving quickly between PowerPoint and shared folders on the cloud to quickly create stage content was something “which I think we take for granted today. But, for 2011, it was rather novel.”

Fringe critics raved about the concept and its dazzling execution. Price says his team was lucky to have the main auditorium of the former headquarters of the Goethe Institute as a venue – allowing them to stage each show from a formal booth. “It was more of a controlled atmosphere,” he says.

And while technology was at the heart of the concept, Price says his collaborators were the real engine of enterprise. The blend of stage professionals and savvy tech folks that he assembled turned an experiment in social sharing into a well-reviewed show.

“I think one of our real strengths was having co-producer Amy Couchoud,” Price recalls. “She was a theater veteran she took on the role of directing, and she helped manage all the craziness that was happening up there in the booth.”

Price says that e-Geaux (beta) “solidified a ton of friendships. I’m still close with almost everyone from this show.” It also pushed him as a performer – and he returned to Fringe with three more shows over the years: Random Access Memory (2013), Color Theory (2016), and Phantom Limb (2018).

“There was definitely a lot of buzz around the show,” Price says. “But there was a real marketing challenge expressing what this show was. It was simultaneously an innovative technology integration that was also a parody of our digital lifestyle and had a kind of zany view of technology.”

The audience, however, had the final word on the worthiness of the endeavor. “Many of the people in 2011 were a little bit more sensitive to privacy issues, and weren’t really sure that they wanted to opt-in,” Price recalls. “Over half of the audience did. And many of the people who did not opt-in regretted it – and wished that they had.”

— Richard Byrne