Are the Birds Happy?
Participatory Performances by Simon Lee, Eve Sussman, and Volkmar Klien

Join us for the World Premiere of Are the Birds Happy?, a groundbreaking participatory performance by Volkmar Klien, Simon Lee, and Eve Sussman.

Are the Birds Happy?
By Eve Sussman, Simon Lee, and Volkmar Klien

May 9–11, 2024

Two Performances per night. Doors at 6:30PM and 8:30PM

Free for Solidarity, Co-Creators, and Cultivator Members

Age 10+

View our FAQ page for more info, or contact us at [email protected] with any accommodation requests.

All audience will be actively participating in the performance and be required to move around the space.

Attendees should bring their smartphones + headphones.

Gray Area is pleased to present the debut of Are the Birds Happy? — a digital take on café society — a new, fully interactive performance by Eve Sussman, Simon Lee, and Volkmar Klien that transforms the audience into the performers.

Join us on May 9, 10, and 11 to experience this unique participatory program, which places close consideration to control, agency, and community in our technologically mediated, networked society.


You enter a room. It looks like a cafe. Just like in a cafe, you take out your phone. You put in your headphones ready to tune out. You’re given a QR code that takes you to an app that will tell you what to do.

You join two others at a table. The three of you each have a private channel.

There are voices in people’s ears, there are other voices in people’s heads.
The voices seem to know about each other.
They seem to be coordinated, to act in synchronicity.
People comply; they do and say as they are told.

Something transpires that sounds like conversation, something occurs that looks like cooperation, something takes place that feels like community.

A master of ceremonies appears and addresses everyone in the café.
Are they also wearing an earpiece, receiving directions, just like you?

Finally, you give up your impulse to make your own decisions.
Simply connect and follow. Sync yourself to the central system’s agency and enjoy being gently guided through the performance. Embed and evolve. Flow with the show.

But who is running this show?
Who speaks?
Who speaks, really?


What to Know Before You Attend

Are the Birds Happy? is a fully participatory performance, and asks audience members to move around the space. (Those that need to remain seated can be accommodated). Participants will be asked to do activities in close proximity (within two feet of each other).

• While standard hygiene and sanitation measures will be taken, masks will not be required, and the performance guides will not wear masks. Please keep this in mind if you are COVID-19 conscious or immunocompromised.

• If you can, please bring your smartphone and a pair of wired earbuds (not bluetooth). We will have loaners available for those who don't.

• If you have any questions, please reach out to [email protected]

Are the Birds Happy? is performed by the public and guided by:

  • Steven Arnerich
  • Orion Camero
  • Kevin Clarke
  • Ana Rosa Noë
  • Nicole Peisl
  • Erika Chong Shuch

Are the Birds Happy? is run on SADISS, an app that bundles smartphones into monumental, intricate sound systems and provides a means for guiding ad-hoc ensembles. SADISS is being developed in a research project at Anton Bruckner University in Linz, Austria and programmed by Lukas Fischnaller and Mathias Bindeus. Find out more at: https://sadiss.net/

Are the Birds Happy? is the public world premiere of a co-production of Gray Area and The Long Now Foundation, created with funding from a Hewlett Foundation 50 Arts Commission and through the generous support of the Austrian Federal Ministry of Arts, Culture, Civil Service & Sport, the State of Upper Austria and the New York Arts Program.

About the Artists

Volkmar Klien

Growing up in Vienna (Austria), Volkmar Klien spent his childhood engulfed in the city’s rich musical life with all its glorious traditions and engrained rituals. Working from this background he today strives to extend traditional practices of composing, producing and listening far beyond the established settings of concert music. In his practice he navigates the manifold links in-between the different modes of human perception, the spheres of presentation and the roles these play in the communal generation of meaning.

Eve Sussman

Playing with the tactics through which narrative is conveyed Eve Sussman works in expanded cinema, video installation and live performance. Experimenting with the power of implication she uses improvised scripting, channelled dialogue and choreography, and live and algorithmic editing as a means of generating stories in which meaning is slippery. Collaborations with Simon Lee and Volkmar Klien have used cell phones as devices for performance, faciliting narrative interventions via the public’s phones.

Simon Lee

Simon Lee works in photography, video, performance and installation. His work has been described as “a powerful metaphor for the random flow of history and a low tech formal tour de force” (New York Times). His fascination with watching dailyness, shooting cinéma vérité, collecting tens of thousands of found photographs and working with actors feed into his work. Lee’s projects include live multi-screen theatrical events, ad-hoc performances in public space, single and dual channel films and sculptural installations.


Hewlett Foundation

The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation is a nonpartisan, private charitable foundation that advances ideas and supports institutions to promote a better world. For more than 50 years, the foundation has supported efforts to advance education for all, preserve the environment, support vibrant performing arts, strengthen Bay Area communities, make the philanthropy sector more effective, and foster gender equity and responsive governance around the world. Today, it is one of the largest philanthropic institutions in the United States, awarding over $516 million in grants in 2021 to organizations across the globe to help people build better lives.

The Long Now Foundation

The Long Now Foundation is a non-profit dedicated to fostering long-term thinking and responsibility, working at the civilizational timescale of the “long now” — the next and last 10,000 years. We aim to ignite cultural imagination around long-term thinking through our projects.

The Clock of the Long Now is an immense mechanical monument, installed in a mountain, designed to keep accurate time for the next 10,000 years. The Long Now Talks are part of our Library of long-term thinking, and have brought together scholars, artists, and leaders over the past two decades to explore key ideas for our planet and our society.

You can connect with our projects and ideas via our newsletter, YouTube channel, podcast and membership program at LongNow.org.

Motion Corporation

Motion Corporation are the developers of Shared Motion, making precise, distributed timing and control available as a cloud-based service. Shared Motion provides timing with accuracy of a few milliseconds, to all major Web browsers, enabling smooth and flexible user experiences across multiple-devices, networks, and platforms.

Are the Birds Happy? is developed by the Long Now Foundation in collaboration with Gray Area. Are the Birds Happy? is made possible by a Hewlett 50 Media Arts Award granted to Bay Area cultural institutions and nonprofit organizations by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.

Become a Gray Area Member

As a Gray Area Member you get special access to events, behind-the-scenes content and more. Gray Area is a dedicated family of supporters who believe in the power of creative action to catalyze social transformation. Join as a member today to provide sustaining support for our globally unique arts, education, research, and incubation programs.

Join as a Member

Subscribe to our mailing list