Actors on a New Stage

‘Just fancy that! One does depend
On one’s own creatures, in the end.’

(Mephistopheles commenting on Wagner’s Homunculus project in Johann Wolfgang Goethe’s ‘Faust: Part Two, Act II, translated by David Luke.)

Digital technologies and automated actors organise our daily interactions and spaces. Effortlessly we become actors on a new stage of emerging digital life. I co-created the Faust Shop project to explore the digital promise and the Faustian bargains we make by simply following our daily lives. I am especially interested in how they shape our performative environments in terms of their visuo-spatial arrangement and our agency. The dramatic premise of the Faust Shop is that we are always already entangled in machine-mediated transactions. What are you willing to give when technology offers us the world? What does technology take away? You choose.


After Abstraction

Performances of After Abstraction will be taking place on 25 February (2pm) and 17 March 2023 (5pm, as part of the Cambridge Festival) visit the event website and read more about After Abstraction and Discovering the Living Space.

Read more about this project in the news item here:

Read about the latest event here:

Performance and Panel Discussion 17 March | Cross-Connections: Discovering the Living Space – CDH (

Past events


An augmented theatrical experience

Sook Space, Grafton Centre
16-17 June 2022

Technology offers us the world – but what does it take away? What is the bargain here? The Faust Shop, an augmented theatrical experience embedded in an everyday street, asks these and related questions. Stepping into this pop-up shop you’ll be offered an experience of magical space that moves you: the only question is, where to? How does digital space influence us? Should you accept this offer? We take such decisions in our everyday engagements with technology: we routinely click, accept, and agree. The Faust Shop creates a theatrical experience of sensuous delight that suggests that you might just want to think again…

Join us for performances, an installation, and a talk, over this two day period!

Tickets for the performances are £5.
The installation and talk are free to attend.


Performances (£5)

16 June (3-4pm & 7-8pm)
17 June (2-3pm & 7-8pm)

FAUST SHOP: a mixed reality installation


16 June (5pm & 5:30pm)
17 June (11am-1pm & 5:30pm)

The Magics and Mechanics of Virtual Travel

A talk on historical examples, portal archetypes, and a proposition for a public infrastructure for civic teleportation

17 June (4-5:30pm)

We have everything you want.

Faust Shop

The Faust Shop is an augmented theatrical experience embedded in an everyday street that explores the Faustian pacts in our daily engagements with technology. I first conceived of this project as a dramatic experiment with augmented space. Stepping into this pop-up shop you will be offered the opportunity to re-claim your digital soul. A ‘digital soul’ is generally understood as the information about ourselves that we record online. In this way, personalized data, or a digital representation of ourselves, a kind of digital twin, is produced by AI-driven technology that draws on the sum of our connections, mouse and eye movements, steps, interests, search terms, beliefs, and clicks on the ‘I agree’ button. Allegedly coined by Hans Peter Brøndmo, who currently leads the The Everyday Robot Project at Google X, the term ‘digital soul’ has its roots in the corporate world but is closely related to its academic siblings, namely digital exhaust, digital legacy, personalisation algorithm or, by adopting an interdisciplinary perspective, digital afterlives.

Overall, the Faust Shop aims to create a theatrical event that empowers us to reassess the different avatars and performative environments we co-create in interaction with automated actors. Having explored different artistic directions initially, The Faust Shop marks the second phase of a set of activities which are part of a larger research project on the re-staging of public-spaces. In the latter, I analyse how our sense of the physical and digital has changed through pervasive digital mediation and in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. Essentially, the Faust Shop playfully sets up different relationships with digital technology. In an attempt of ‘taking off the lid’, as Beatrice Murch put it, it theatricalises what frequently goes unnoticed: namely that we are the lead actors on this new stage.

Faust Shop 2.0

Faust Shop initially premiered as a co-production between Cambridge Digital Humanities and the Cambridge School of Creative Industries at Anglia Ruskin University. ‘Space Popular’ – an Architecture, Design, and Media Studio – provided virtual stage sets. Dr. Kirk Woolford served as Artistic Technical Director. Dr. Eva Aymamí Reñé served as Movement Director and Dancer.

Faust is not dead, but AI is. Faust Shop 2.0 transposes two scenes from Johann Wolfgang Goethe’s Faust story into an AI Winter. It explores the impending collapse of the current AI hype as an opportunity to re-imagine machine learning.

AI is going offline. Faust Shop 2.0 is set in an age where AI is believed to explode into the physical world. It has spread across the screens, the shelves and into the streets; AI incarnates as mechanical turks, AI agents, court cases, time off work due to automation anxiety, click farms as machine learning invades organisations and businesses and our bodies.

Great projects at the outset seem insane.

But we shall leave chance out of it in future.

(Wagner, Faust’s student, in Johann Wolfgang Goethe, Faust II, trans. by David Constantine)

Staged in the Cambridge Central Library, a place dedicated to public knowledge and learning, this mixed-reality production invites participants to discover their artificial double. Meet Homunculus, a digital, multi-dimensional artificial life created by Collective AI and the Faustian pacts we make in our daily digital lives with tech.

Stepping into our pop-up performance, you’ll be immersed in a story that challenges the boundaries between virtual and physical space. A smart and augmented environment will use prompt farms and live motion capture to generate three AI experiments. Experience how automation creates movement and light and seemingly takes human form. Become part of an alternative digital future that is not inevitable.

How human beings torment themselves, that’s all I see.

Earth’s little god keeps true to type. Humans were

An oddity the first day and still are.

Somewhat their life would be in better plight

Had the Lord not given them the shine of heaven’s light.

Humans call it reason and use it

Only to be more bestial than any beast.

Projecting it on machines now.

(Mephistopheles in Johann Wolfgang Goethe, Faust I, trans. by David Constantine; adapted for Faust Shop 2.0)

The Faust Shop performance is a performance as research (PaR) project led by Dr Annja Neumann and Alex Mentzel. It is part of Neumann’s ‘Re-staging public spaces’ project funded by Cambridge Digital Humanities and the Isaac Newton Trust and of Mentzel’s PhD project on ‘digital topographies’ funded by a Gates Cambridge Scholarship.

The performance will be complemented by a talk on anti-computing and digital futures by Professor Caroline Bassett.

For further details on previous iterations of the Faust Shop production see the press release on the University’s website or watch the trailer here.


Dr Annja Neumann is an Affiliated Lecturer in Modern German Studies, the Isaac Newton Trust Post-doctoral Research Fellow in Digital Humanities and Senior Research Fellow at Magdalene College Cambridge. Her practice-based research explores the staging of public spaces and politics of embodiment, with a particular interest in the theatricalisation of medical spaces.

Alex Mentzel is a second-year PhD student at the University of Cambridge, specialising in German with an emphasis on Digital Humanities, funded by a Gates Cambridge Scholarship. Alex’s research delves into the spatial principles and architectures of online ecosystems and emergent technology, resulting in the formation of a ‘Virtual Topography’.

Caroline Bassett is Professor of Digital Humanities, a member of the Faculty of English, and a Fellow of Corpus Christi. She is Director of Cambridge Digital Humanities.

This event was part of the Cambridge Festival 2024 and is organised in collaboration with Cambridge Central Library.

Cast List

Co-Direction and Co-Production

Annja Neumann & Alex Mentzel


Alex Mentzel, Annja Neumann, David Constantine (translator), Johann Wolfgang Goethe


George Crimes as Wagner

Udbela Escanero-Xi as The Technologist

Joseph Hanrahan as The Poet

Laura Maher as Faust

Alex Mentzel as Mephisto

Riaz Moola as The Intellectual

Annja Neumann as Shop Assistant

Laurisa Sastoque Pabon as Shop Assistant

Michelle Zhang as Homunculus

Technical Team

Peter Baker: Projection, Stage Manager and Sound Operator

Jacob Baldwin: Technical support

Riaz Moola: Digital Director and software engineer of the Faust Shop bot AI

Laurisa Sastoque Pabon: Technical support

Design Team

Jing Wang Thomas: Augmented Reality Director

Amaia Robertson Nogues: Digital Designer

Faruk Kara: Photographer

Space Popular, Architecture & Media Design Studio: Digital Scenographers

This practice as research performance was generously supported by the Central Library Cambridge and the West Cambridge Data Centre (WCDC), Magdalene College Cambridge, the Faculty of English, the Faculty of Modern and Medieval Languages and Linguistics and the University Library Cambridge.


Cast, production and design team of Faust Shop 2.0, a mixed reality performance that premiered on 16 March 2024, in the Central Library, The Grand Arcade, Cambridge; photograph by Jacob Baldwin.


Breaking free from technology performed by Faust Shop 2.0 cast with a projection of the Faust bot code, photograph by Faruk Kara.


Michelle Zhang as Homunculus, Faust Shop 2.0, photograph by Faruk Kara.


Dramaturgies and architectures of augmented space

By creating a relational space, we collaborate with, and invite different publics to become co-creators of the Faust Shop. This includes artists, academics, digital activists, local schools and students and Cambridge-based tech company Sook. A first hybrid event on New Lands: Sacred spaces and the digital brought together different publics in augmented space. Held in Magdalene College Chapel in Cambridge, and across multiple locations on 6 October 2021, this dramatic experiment and panel discussion asked how we create public spaces in a digitalized world (more on this topic in a forthcoming blog post – watch this space!).


Reimaging digital futures: a call for donations and actors

The Faust Shop takes its cue from outsider art. It is inspired, in particular, by this year’s Royal Academy’s Summer exhibition, curated by Yinka Shonibare, which not only asked the public to donate an artwork for the show but also claimed that anybody can be an artist. In the ‘WE ARE i’ episode of the Digital Cultures Podcast we discussed why it is more important than ever to be a creator rather than a consumer in a digitalized world. Following on from a reworking of the project, the Faust Shop calls for actors on this new stage.

Donate an artwork: how do you picture your digital soul?

The Faust Shop project invites donations from the public for an exhibition on Actors on a new stage to be held in a digital pop-up gallery in Cambridge in March 2022. My vision is for people from all walks of life to donate old or new creations, digital objects or artworks that explore their relationship or Faustian pacts with technology. These multimedia objects or rather their digital afterlife should offer glimpses into the imaginaries of our digital souls and in that way engage with questions around digital agency (further details about this call for donations are available on the Faust Shop website: Engaging with augmented spaces from an aesthetic and affective perspective directly reveals the consequences of our actions online. My work on the re-staging of public spaces draws on this transformative effect of mediatized theatricalisation by examining digital dramaturgy and digital aesthetic in cross-reality performance.

In addition, the Faust Shop project calls for local performers who are interested in playing a part in the Faust Shop performance, an immersive theatrical experience in a digitally adaptive space in Cambridge in March 2022. (for further details about how to donate and book an audition slot please visit the Faust Shop website).

Annja Neumann

Dr Annja Neumann

Dr Annja Neumann

Affiliated Lecturer

Cambridge Digital Humanities

Tel: +44 1223 766886