The act and the algorithm: 1500 theater shows in Avignon
Can AI review a festival program thick like a phone book?
The biggest theatre festival in the world takes place every July in the south of France. It lasts a whole month, and brings together ~300 000 participants for 1500 daily shows in the beautiful medieval city of Avignon.
The scale of the festival is dazzling. How do you fit 1500 different shows, most of them playing 6 days per week, into a historic city center the size of 8 square kilometers? (for comparison, the Charles de Gaulle airport is four times bigger and typically features 0 theatre shows)
The Off Avignon festival pulls it off:
most shows are about 1h long and play at the same hour every day
the shows start at 8AM and go until midnight. So one theater space can fit ~10 plays per day. Everything starts on time, stages are set up in record time, Formula 1 pit-stop style
there are a lot of theaters! In the old town there seems to be one at every street corner, some seem to be improvised in churches, others look like someone’s apartment with lots of extra chairs
The paradox of choice
With 1500 shows, even the most dedicated attendee won’t see even 10% of the program. I’m here for a week and I won’t even see 2%. Choosing is the name of the game. On the streets, actors and hired “tracteurs” advertise the shows, people in lines exchange recommendations.
If only there was a way to explain my preferences to a helpful advisor and then ask them to review all 1500 shows for things I could possibly like :).
Let’s ask GPT
Large Language Model–based tools like ChatGPT and Bard are good at language. We can explain the types of shows we like and dislike, and then ask for it’s advice about one specific show.
See for example:
I'm at a theatre festival and there are a lot of shows. I'd like to see:
- elements of improv and audience participation
- characters in their 30s searching for meaning in life
- dystopian commentaries on society and technology
I'd like to avoid:
- mass-appeal comedy
- shows intended for children or seniors
Based on this, estimate whether I will like the show described below. Respond as a probability from 0% (no chance I will like it) to 100% (certain that I will like it).
(description of the show from the official site)
GPT gets it right:
for a contemporary show with elements of improv that I loved, it responds: It falls into the category of contemporary theatre with elements of improv and audience participation. Additionally, it features a character searching for meaning in life, I would estimate a probability of around 90% that you will like this show.
for a comedy play I wasn’t interested in, it responds: Based on your preferences, the probability that you will like the show described in the pitch is 10%.
Note: the descriptions of the shows I used are in French while the rest of the prompt is in English, the LLM doesn’t seem to care at all 💫.
The only remaining problem is that we can only ask ChatGPT or Bard about one show at a time. What we really want is to ask AI to review all 1500 shows and find the ones that look best for my preferences.
Ask and you shall receive doesn’t quite work. If we modify the prompt above:
(...) Based on this, can you review the program at https://www.festivaloffavignon.com/ and recommend some shows ?
then ChatGPT confesses its limitations: Unfortunately, as an AI, I don't have direct access to browse the internet or specific websites like the Festival of Avignon. (And then it nevertheless hallucinates a few suggestions of plays that don’t exist.)
Bard does much better in the sense that it suggests plays that actually play in Avignon :). But the results is a handful of plays that seem to be selected from web searches:
This is nice, but I’d like a more comprehensive report that ranks every play in the program with the likelihood that I’d enjoy it. How to get it? Stay tuned for part 2 next week :).
In other news
Bard is now available in Europe 🥳 !
💫 How do you spot an idiot? Look for the person who is cruel. The kindest person in the room is often the smartest. (short video)
Postcard from Avignon
After a few days of binging on theatre I’m looking forward to being back in Paris:).
Have a great week 💫,