Playwright Eliza Gibson talks artificial intelligence and complex characters of ‘Bravo 25’

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Olivia Staser/Staff

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Six people join a support group, except this one is not led by another human but by an artificial intelligence avatar: Amber the A.I. therapist. In “Bravo 25: Your A.I. Therapist Will See You Now,” this particular plot takes center stage in Eliza Gibson’s one-woman show.

Playing at The Marsh in San Francisco starting Sept. 20, “Bravo 25” explores themes of human interaction and the relationship between people and technology. Written by Gibson herself, the show draws upon her real-life experiences as a therapist and humanitarian worker.

The writing process began for Gibson with the idea of creating a believable character arc for an A.I. avatar. Once that foundation was established, Gibson moved on to molding the six characters with whom the A.I. avatar would interact.

“I wove in all of these humans who create relationships with each other and with the therapist,” Gibson said in an interview with The Daily Californian. “What is their reactionary relationship to each other, to technology, to the idea of artificial intelligence? (I looked at) how they might react to superintelligence appearing, creating this tapestry or quilt where everyone had a slightly different perspective.”

Despite a plot that centers around a superintelligent being, it is actually the six human characters who have garnered the most curiosity from viewers of the show. Gibson credits this to audience members finding connections between themselves and the characters.

“It’s funny because creating this piece was about looking and understanding artificial intelligence and making it believable and finding the signs that (Amber is) developing toward human consciousness,” Gibson said. “But at the end of the day, the people who see the show care the most about the humans and ask me the most about the humans. They want to know, does Jeremy get a job?”

This easy connection to the characters is likely due to the complexities that are woven into each of their personalities. Gibson uses stereotypes to create an initial impression before revealing a more fleshed-out version of that stereotype, resulting in vivid characters.

Additionally, the six characters represent a diversity of sexualities, something Gibson sees as vital to creating a multifaceted, believable community. She creates a balance among sexual orientations with the six individuals who range from a polyamorous lesbian to a straight woman reeling from a short-lived marriage.

“It’s always important in my writing, actually, to create humans that reflect a diverse range of sexual orientations,” Gibson said. “I think as a queer artist, the way I address (creating diversity) is having straight people and queer people hang out together.”

Each character is distinct from the others, yet they share certain human experiences that everyone can relate to. Gibson uses these shared experiences to bring these very different characters together in the setting of a support group.

I’ve done therapy for a long time, I’ve worked with refugees, I’ve worked in health care. I’ve seen the things that we all struggle with, as humans. Grief, loss, betrayal, trying to find love, trying to make sense of our lives,” Gibson said. “There’s all these different, specific, unique things that are someone’s story, but ultimately those are the things that generally inspire people to show up to a support group to see if they can get help with something.”

With the support group setting and themes of mental health, the play is founded on a serious note, despite having an overall comedic tone. Finding a balance between the serious and the comedic was one of the most significant parts of the writing process for Gibson.

“It was fascinating to see how easy it was to make superintelligence into a dark thing, kind of along the ‘Ex Machina’ line. I could have this really dark play, and I very consciously decided not to do that,” Gibson said. “I chose to have this superintelligent being become benevolent, which is also challenging because it’s hard to be benevolent and not become too cheesy. But I think I struck a good balance.”

The science-fiction foundation focused around Amber allows for the introspection of the human characters. “Bravo 25” contains many weighty topics, but by promoting those ideas within a comedic framework, Gibson hopes that audience members will be able to relate to the many layers of the show.

“You know, there’s that good feeling after you go to a good movie or a good play and you’re like, oh, I touched some dark, messy painful thing. I thought about things in a different way, I was uncomfortable, but ultimately was left with a good feeling,” Gibson said. “My hope is to keep people thinking about the choices we make, about technology and about each other.”

Bravo 25: Your A.I. Therapist Will See You Now” is playing at The Marsh in San Francisco through Oct. 27.

Contact Nikki Munoz at [email protected].